How not to draw with pastels

In an attempt to make sure I got the elements of this biker girl in the right place, with the right proportions, I started with a very light pencil sketch. After a few minutes of applying charcoal and pastels I abandoned my attempt:


There are 2 problems I had with how this drawing was going: 1) it is flat; 2) it is lifeless. I could add more depth, but I don’t think I’d be able to rescue the lifelessness. I was getting this result because the initial sketch constrained my pastel marks too much. It was leading me to “fill in the gaps”, instead of letting myself draw in way that expresses how I was observing the form of the girl and the bike.

Although the motorbike in the original photo that I was working from was stationary, my drawing would be much improved if it had some feeling of the potential movement of the bike. This is also something my drawing was lacking. If I had been drawing as I observed, instead of after-the-fact of the sketch, I’d have been more able to incorporate that feeling of movement. Pastels are the ideal medium for portraying movement, cf. Degas, which made me feel worse with how the above was progressing.

Fortunately, in the classes I attended that used pastel, taught by Michael Mulready, I gained some experience building pictures up from the inside out, with strong emphasis on light and shade. This is how I should be drawing with pastels. I will start this picture again using those techniques, and see how it compares.



  1. Pingback: Silvia: Zara boots | art fn
    • Tim Hards Vicente

      I felt the new version (posted today at went much better. It was easier to achieve this following the techniques you taught. Thank you.

      I am now pleased with the balance between the girl and the bike: Silvia has more prominence than in my first try. Previously I think there was little to differentiate her from the bike, but in the new version I think she appears softer and hopefully with more importance – in control of the vehicle she is sitting on. What do you think of it?

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