Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

The Quieter the Better…An Exercise in Limits

I recently entered a challenge put on by Terry Ludwig pastels wherein the artist needed to create a painting solely with one set of 30 pastels – namely his Umbers collection.  Easy, no?


To catch you up, here is a description on the pigment known as umber:

Umber is a natural brown or reddish-brown earth pigment that contains iron oxide and manganese oxide. It is darker than the other similar earth pigments, ochre and sienna.[2]

In its natural form, it is called raw umber. When heated (calcinated), the color becomes more intense, and the color is known as burnt umber.

The name comes from terra di ombra, or earth of Umbria, the Italian name of the pigment. Umbria is a mountainous region in central Italy where the pigment was originally extracted.[3] The word also may be related to the Latin word Umbra.[4]

Umber is not one precise color, but a range of different colors, from medium to dark, from yellowish to reddish to grayish. The color of the natural earth depends upon the amount of iron oxide and manganese in the clay. Umber earth pigments contain between five and twenty percent manganese oxide, which accounts for their being a darker color than yellow ochre or sienna.[5] Commercial colors vary depending upon the manufacturer or the color list. Not all umber pigments contain natural earths; some contain synthetic iron and manganese oxide, indicated on the label.

(Thanks Wikipedia…I heart you)

Don’t you guys all remember that Crayon that was called burnt umber?  I do, and I distinctly remember skipping over it because it was so…brown.  It came in my awesome large 64 set of Crayons (with the sharpener *inside* the box on the back – so cool!) but stayed pristine and sharp, never to be worn down to the nub like say, Cornflower, or my favorite, Periwinkle.

Usually as a new pastellist, we collect small sets of very bright rainbow colored pastels because they are readily available and relatively inexpensive.  True reds, blues, purples, etc. with a limited range of hue, shade, tint, or value.   Because pastel can’t be mixed like paint in a traditional sense, it’s hard to achieve paintings that reach subtlety and mood with these small sets.  If you decide to pursue your art more in depth, it’s time to venture out into expanding your palette to include grayer or more muted tones of those jewel-toned colors.

I’m always looking out for new muted pastels to use.  The grayer, softer colors are my workhorse pastels and I love to save those bright saturated bits for the final touches.  Enter the new collection by Terry.  I quickly jumped on his sale and got my order in very quickly.  His pastels are my favorite (not paid to say that by the way) and I highly recommend any of his sets to get you going.  I immediately saw those “dirt brown” pastels and knew I would be using them extensively.  My area of the country doesn’t have a lot of saturated colors (except for maybe the sky) but we do have a lot of land, a lot of wind, and a lot of dirt.

Enter the Umbers collection…

Bethany Fields Artist Pastel

Isn’t it gorgeous? I love the soft tones.  The values are very close which made it a definite challenge to work with.  I like a lot of contrast in my work but this set  (and using it exclusively) made me think outside the box.  I had to push myself to be able to see the very subtle differences in value and shading and I had to exercise the muscles I take for granted in order to complete a successful painting. I am so pleased with the result.  Had I not taken the challenge, I wouldn’t have achieved a painting that for me, is a big step in my growth as an artist.  I encourage you to set limits with your palette and I really encourage you to seek out more muted tones!  When we have a giant box of super saturated pastels and they are all screaming for attention, sometimes our finished pieces are screaming back at us! When we take the time to use the subtle and moodier colors, values, and shades, our work takes on a much quieter, different feel.

Bethany Fields Pastel Artist

Spring, Hesitating

5.5 x 11.5″ pastel on sanded paper


Email Me

Want more artful inspiration in your inbox?  Sign up for my newsletter today!

Subscribe Here!
By | 2017-02-06T10:56:12+00:00 May 5th, 2016|

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: