Mix Pastel and Graphite for Placing Dimension

Artists have employed a mixture of chalk or pastel with graphite for line drawings on toned paper for hundreds of years. Discover ways to use the approach to ship placing dimension and add shade to forest scenes.

by Debby Kaspari

Quansoo Oak Twisty (plein air sketch, pastel and graphite on Rives BFK tan 280-gsm paper, 15×22)

In 2008, my husband and I made a plan to reside in a forest in Massachusetts for six months. Amongst different issues, I noticed it as an ideal probability to give attention to a mixed-media strategy I’d been taking part in with: combining pastel and graphite.

After we arrived at our forest dwelling in early spring, snow nonetheless clung in patches underneath the naked bushes, however I instantly set out on a hike and began drawing. Since then, I’ve used this system for drawing in tropical Panama, within the Amazon rainforest and amongst Oregon’s old-growth big firs. It’s a beautiful methodology for portraying the intricate patterns of forest interiors.

Associated: See a demo of Debbi’s plein air setup and approach

The Approach

I exploit graphite and pastel en plein air, however the approach could be equally efficient within the studio, and also you don’t want a whole lot of pastels; a handful can present loads of values and a very good vary of shade. The paper units the center tone and unifies the piece whereas the graphite delivers quantity, shadows and darks.

White Pine (plein air sketch; pastel and graphite on tan Rives BFK 280-gsm paper, 22×15)
On this element of White Pine, you may see how I rendered kind with pencil, including pastel round and between the traces.

1: Begin with Graphite Outlines.

Engaged on a sheet of calmly toothed, toned paper, start by establishing outlines, shaded areas and darks, utilizing a smooth graphite pencil. Draw with loosely scribbled, scumbled or crosshatched traces, reserving open areas for pastel touches in some locations and permitting for the tone of the paper to indicate via in others. Keep in mind, the graphite creates your darkest worth.

Sanderson Tannery (plein air sketch, pastel and graphite on Rives BFK tan 280-gsm paper, 11×15) depicts a millstone atop a flume stack within the ruins of a Massachusetts tannery. The water was rendered in graphite with small areas left for pastel touches of cobalt and terra cotta with cream and white highlights.

2: Add Pastel.

Smudge, mix, push and pull, however keep away from layering over the graphite’s slick floor, because it repels pastel. Remember to use pastels which are lighter in worth than the graphite. Experiment. Play with papers in numerous mid-tones, colours and textures.

In Fallen Department, Panama (plein air sketch; pastel and graphite on Rives BFK grey 280-gsm paper, 18×24), I used a wider shade vary for painterly results. The nice and cozy and funky pastel colours play in opposition to one another across the graphite linear work to assist form kind whereas the darkest areas are strong graphite.

3: Set the Scene.

Work along with your supplies to set the scene. If it’s a shady forestscape, darker paper provides prompt depth and brighter highlights. Heat tan paper resonates with cool pastels. Cool grey paper comes alive with heat terra cottas, yellows and greens. On this approach, paper is your center worth, graphite is your construction and darkest darkish, and pastel brings shade and worth—plus some zest—to the image.

A deep blue-gray paper units the important thing for the shady scene in Forest Creek (plein air sketch, pastel and graphite on Canson Mi-Tientes paper, 12×18).

The Supplies


I exploit quite a lot of papers: Rives BFK, in tan or grey; Hahnemuhle Ingres; Canson Mi-Tientes and Fabriano Tiziano—all of which maintain pastel properly however aren’t so toothy that pencils can’t make clear traces. The paper’s shade and tone set up the important thing and unite the composition. Keep away from white paper, which is simply too pale, and sanded paper, which wears down pencils.

For my plein air sketch, Backlit Boulders, Massachusetts (pastel and graphite, 19×25), I used a gray-green sheet of Hahnemuhle Ingres paper.


Tender, darkish Nos. 4B via 9B pencils, graphite bars or leads in lead holders work greatest. My favourite is the Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth Triograph No. 6B. It’s a terrific pencil, however it doesn’t slot in most two-hole pencil sharpeners and, due to this fact, requires an extra-large diameter sharpener. Some artists sharpen it with a knife, however I’ve found that drugstore eyeliner and lip-liner sharpeners work nice. Go to the make-up counter with a Triograph and test for the most effective match. If it’s good to erase, achieve this gently with a kneaded eraser. A few of these papers don’t tolerate heavy erasing.


Arduous to medium-soft pastels work greatest. Nupastels, Faber-Castell Goldfaber Studio pastel sticks and Holbein pastels are my favorites. Very smooth pastels needs to be used sparingly as they have a tendency to overfill the paper’s tooth. You’ll want each gentle and medium values, a number of grays and a few saturated brights. Don’t use pastels which are any darker in worth than the graphite. I desire muted colours for nature scenes: yellow ochres, heat and funky grays, rusts, pale turquoises, yellow and blue-greens, lotions, mauves, ultramarine, gentle cobalt blue, dusty rose, white, and lightweight and mid-value browns. I exploit items of pastel which are about 1-inch lengthy or shorter, turned sideways, for good, broad strokes.

Be a part of our unique member occasion to see Debby Kaspari’s plein air setup, the supplies she makes use of within the discipline, and a demo of her approach.


When making giant plein air drawings, utilizing a wooden or Masonite board will present sturdy backing. Use a sturdy easel that angles again or flat, comparable to a French field easel or Jullian Rexy watercolor easel. Should you’re working smaller, a drafting board in your lap and a folding chair will suffice.

Hold your unfastened paper in a folio with glassine sheets that you could place in between completed drawings. I carry my supplies in a portfolio tote bag. A small backpack can maintain your pencils, pastels, masking tape, binder clips, a small sketchbook for thumbnails and, in the event you like, one thing on which to relaxation your hand to stop smudging. I exploit a clear peanut butter jar lid. A plein air umbrella is non-compulsory, however could be helpful for diffusing patchy gentle underneath bushes.

Dos and Don’ts

  • Don’t layer pastel on prime of graphite (however you may draw graphite on prime of pastel).
  • Do depart gaps within the drawing for added shade and highlights.
  • Don’t use papers or pastels which are darker than your darkest graphite worth.
  • Do depart some paper displaying via; its tone and shade unifies the image.

Concerning the Artist

Debby Kaspari explores the pure world with pencil and paper. When not working instantly from nature, she could be discovered drawing from excessive atop a one-story bungalow in the midst of Oklahoma.

Extra Sources from Debby Kaspari

Tips on how to Draw Birds: 8 Strategies and Ideas

5 Ink Drawing Strategies for Plein Air

Fearless Fieldwork: A Stay Dialogue and Demo for Artists Community Members