PAINTING LESSONS WITH MARLA FAQ Special Thanks to our Facebook Moderator, Donna Berkley, for putting this FAQ together!
Q. Do you have any free resources for pastel artists?
Absolutely! Check out the free mini-lessons on my website, https://paintinglessonswithmarla.com/minilessons/, and look for all my free demos and livestreams on Youtube under “Painting Lessons with Marla” at https://youtube.com/user/baggettastudio. And come join our free community support group, “Painting Lessons with Marla at https://www.facebook.com/groups/pastelpainting/
Q. Where do you buy your supplies?
I order most of my Pastels and Paper from DakotaPastel.com. But there are other great art supply stores – Terry Ludwig, DickBlick, Jerry’s Artarama, Cheap Joe’s, etc.
Q. What do I need to get started as a beginner?
Buy the best paper and pastels you can afford. Preferably professional brands rather than student grade. It’s better to buy a few good supplies than a lot of poor quality ones.
You will want to use sanded paper. There are many good papers – try Pastelmat, UART, Pastel Premier, and Art Spectrum Colorfix to start. Try as many samples from the art suppliers as you can to find out what you like.
A good starter set of soft pastels would be the Sennelier Paris Half Stick set plus a full set of NuPastels. That would give you a lot of colors. It is helpful to have a few individual Terry Ludwig Eggplant sticks. When you can afford it, you might like to have Terry Ludwig’s Intense Darks II set. If all this too much for you, you might go for a smaller set of Rembrandt’s and as many NuPastels as you can afford. It is to your advantage to try as many different pastel brands as you can before you settle on a working set.
Q. Which are your favorite pastels?
A. Spruce Blue NuPastel NUS305
Terry Ludwig Eggplant V100
Unison Yellow 13
Q. What pastels do you use? Are they hard pastels or soft pastels?
I use many brands of pastel – both hard and soft. For instance, in my box, you will see Unison, Terry Ludwig, NuPastel, Blue Earth, Mount Vision, and Sennelier among others. The taste of every artist is different so you will want to try different pastels to see what you like. There are many great brands out there! Each brand has different characteristics that you can employ in your work. Try to buy good quality, professional-grade products. The student-grade pastels have more fillers and less pigment.
Q. And how do you decide when to use a hard pastel or a soft pastel? Do you always use hard pastels first then move to soft?
Not necessarily. I am looking for the right color and value and keeping it thin. As long as I do that, the hardness or softness of a pastel doesn’t matter. Regardless of whether I am using a hard pastel or a soft pastel I am always going to try to stay as thin as I can for as long as I can. If I’m using a really soft brand at the start, I will use an even lighter touch, so I don’t start to fill the tooth of the paper too quickly.
Q. How do you organize your pastels?
I lay them out by value, hue, and saturation in a partitioned box where they can be viewed easily. These are the three aspects of every color responsible for their appearance.
Q. Do you sharpen your pastels?
No, the way I use the pastels during painting often wears them down to a sharp point. However, I do keep a few sharpened pastels only for signing pastels.
Q. How do you clean your pastels?
When standing at the easel painting I find that a tissue works best. But if you are not in the midst of painting and need to clean a whole lot of pastels and don’t want to clean them individually you can use a bowl of cornmeal. I have two videos you can watch where I demonstrate the process.
Q. What number is the Terry Ludwig eggplant?
V100. You can order individual sticks directly from TerryLudwig.com.
Q. Do you use pastel pencils?
No, I don’t use them, I prefer pastel sticks. But they can have their place. I just don’t favor them myself.
Q. Do you ever use pan pastels?
Not for painting, I prefer using pastel sticks. However, Pan Pastels can be great for underpaintings.
Q. Do you take the paper off of your pastels?
And if you do, then how do you know what to reorder?
Yes. It is important to take the paper off so that you can use the whole stick and not just the ends. The variety of marks you can make is much greater if you can use the sides and edges too. To make reordering simpler, you can make your own color swatch charts to make it easier to tell what you are running out of. You can get pre-printed color swatch charts from art suppliers like Terry Ludwig or Dakota Pastels and fill the colors in yourself.
A. Can you tell me what color/brand of pastel it is that you are using right now?
Q. Because I have handled the pastels for a long time I can usually identify the brand but I usually don’t know the color names or numbers. I use the color swatch charts I made to help me reorder.
Q. How do I tell which pastels are hard and which ones are soft?
Dakota Pastel makes a handy comparison chart that can help you identify them. https://www.dakotapastels.com/files/pdfs/Pastel-Lineup.pdf
Q. What is that pastel you always use to start a painting with?
Do you always start that way?
It is a Spruce Blue NuPastel # NUS305. My favorite! I like to use it to sketch in a basic gestural drawing as a sort of dry underpainting. Do I use it every time? No, but I use it often. Sometimes I start with a Cretacolor Monolith Pencil. Or there are other underpainting techniques l can choose such as watercolor, fluid acrylic, pan pastel, marker, etc. I use them all but I definitely like that Spruce Blue!
Q. What kind of drawing pencil do you use?
A. Cretacolor Monolith. It comes in a range of hardness/softness.
Q. Do you ever cut new mats?
Occasionally, but they get dirty fast!
Q. Do you ever make your own painting surface?
A. No, there are a lot of good papers out there and I would rather spend my time painting.
Q. What kind of paper do you use?
There are many good papers. I used to favor Wallis paper before it became unavailable. Lately, Pastelmat has become the paper I use most often. I like it – it has a smooth surface and takes a lot of layers. I like the way it grabs the pastel. I also like UART, Pastel Premiere, Art Spectrum Colorfix, La Carte. There are other papers that I have not tried that may be equally good. The only paper I personally do not care for is Canson Mi-Tientes Touch.
Q. Why do you choose one paper color instead of another for a specific painting?
Most of the time it’s a matter of using what I have. Sometimes I will choose a paper that matches some of the color in the scene, an analogous color. Sometimes I will choose an opposite or complementary color to the predominant color in the scene. And sometimes I will choose a white paper so I can do a colorful underpainting.
Q. Have you ever used my favorite brands of pastel and/or paper ?
It’s hard to try everything! We all have our favorites that we tend to go back to all the time. Just because I haven’t tried it doesn’t mean it’s not good!
Q. What products do you prefer for watercolor sketching?
My current favorites for sketching are:
Pencil: Cretacolor Monolith HB
Tambo markers: for value sketching
Brush for watercolor: Utrecht no. 12 sabelette
(Use old one with tape marking it for watercolor underpaintings for pastel paintings)
Pentalic sketchbooks 7×10 or Fabriano watercolor sketchbooks
Q. How can I learn to make better marks?
Well, that’s easy to answer. Check out my workshop on mark-making. Its called Making Your Mark and you can find it at https://paintinglessonswithmarla.com/making-your-mark-workshop-info/
Q. Why don’t you start with the darks and work on the lights?
I usually start by mopping in a thin layer of local color (the color I see) on the whole painting. Color is relative so I like to see how the entire painting is coming along. Generally, I start in the middle of values I see, maybe a little brighter because I can always settle it back down. I try not to get stuck in one section of the painting or finish a single section because the whole painting has to hang together. Of course, I have to work on sections at a time, but I try to keep the entire work moving along at the same pace. And I treat myself at the end and add the highlights.
Q. Why don’t you start at the top with the sky?
Why do you paint the sky around the trees instead of just painting the sky first?
I don’t want to put product over product so I don’t lay down the sky and then go back and put the trees in. I like to knit my sky around the other elements so I need to put those elements in first. And I prefer to develop the whole painting at once rather than completely finish sections of it before I move on to another section.
Q. And how do you decide when to use a hard pastel or a soft pastel?
Do you always use hard pastels first then move to soft?
Not necessarily. I am looking for the right color and value and keeping it thin. As long as I do that, the hardness or softness of a pastel doesn’t matter. Regardless of whether I am using a hard pastel or a soft pastel I am always going to try to stay as thin as I can for as long as I can.
Q. Do you blend? Do you use a tool for blending?
I do not blend soft pastels as a rule because blending destroys the delicate structure of soft pastel that gives it its freshness and vibrancy. However, you may see me touch the paper briefly sometimes as I soften edges. I prefer to employ optical blending when necessary by layering one pastel color over another. NuPastels are useful for marrying two color layers together because they don’t lay down a lot of pastel. I have a free mini-lesson that addresses this topic in more detail. https://paintinglessonswithmarla.com/18-to-blend-or-not-to-blend/
Q. How do you decide where to start painting?
A. I usually try to block in the largest areas first.
Q. What do you use to sign your paintings with?
A sharpened NuPastel. But you can also use pencil. Pen or a pastel pencil.
Q. Do you do thumbnail sketches or color studies before you begin?
Obviously, I do not do them EVERY time but I do strongly recommend doing them. I find them especially necessary for paintings that are complicated, for working out details of composition, value or color. It’s better to identify the problem areas and work out a solution for them ahead of time than to experience them while painting and not know what to do.
Q. Will this Livestream be available later if I miss it live?
You can usually find the livestreams on Youtube under Pastel Painting Lessons With Marla. Superstreams can be found under the Monthly Subscription course on Marla’s website.
Q. What other workshops do you have?
You can find a full list at https://paintinglessonswithmarla.com/workshops/
Q. Are you going to do any more live workshops ?
Covid-19 has made them inadvisable for the foreseeable future so I have been pouring myself into an array of online workshops. They are better in a way, because It provides many more opportunities for firsthand interaction with my students! We’ll have to wait and see.
FRAMING & SHIPPING
Q. Do you frame your own paintings?
I have in the past but I’d rather let a framer do that so that I can devote my time to painting. When I sell paintings, I prefer to let the customer handle the framing.
Q. How do you handle mailing a painting?
I prepare a painting for shipping by first fixing it then I tape a piece of glassine over the face of it. Then I sandwich it between two sturdy pieces of foam core. The important thing is to secure the painting between the pieces of foam core so that it doesn’t slide around and smear. I then place it in a cardboard mailing box for shipping, using whatever cushioning material it needs. For more information, I have a demo that demonstrated the process. https://youtu.be/I_Bcd36C7vo
Q. Do you spray all of your finished paintings? And what kind of fixative do you use?
I usually spray them with fixative especially if I have applied pastel heavily. Be aware that spraying can drastically affect the painting and must be handled carefully. I use a Krylon Fixative (NOT “workable” fixative). You might want to watch the video where I demonstrate how to do this. https://youtu.be/1VnBE7Jwm8g
Q. Do you choose the colors you are going to use ahead of time?
No, I do not. I like to put down a little pastel and then respond to it. It’s more fun that way!
Q. How do you select your color palette for each painting?
A. I choose each pastel as I go, reacting to the colors I have already laid down.
Q. Do you actually see all those colors in the scene ?
Sometimes, but my choices come from an understanding of the foundations of color theory. Of course, sometimes I will push it further than is there but usually there are hints of it.
Q. Do I really need to know color mixing?
Pastellists do not get the opportunity to learn about color mixing because we choose pastel sticks that are already a single color. Any color mixing we do is optical mixing or color layering. I feel that we are missing out on some important experiences if we don’t make the effort to learn color theory. To that end, I have put together a great Color College online workshop – very thorough and comprehensive. You’ll love it! Look for it at https://paintinglessonswithmarla.com/workshops/
Q. Which is more important? Color or value?
Think of it this way … Color gets the credit but Value does the work.
Q. Why are you using that shade of blue for the mountains?
Because … it looks COOOOOOOOOOL !!!!
Q. Why do you hold the photos?
It is just something I am really comfortable with. It’s just my own personal habit.
Q. Do you paint en Plein air or mostly from photos?
I do both but … I live in Oregon and although there are beautiful spots nearby, it is often rainy. And I don’t like to be cold! So I often work from photos in my very comfortable studio. Plus … I am often filming and working on lesson material which is more conveniently done indoors.
Q. Where do I find the reference photo?
If you are subscribed to my Youtube channel, you will get email notices and reminders of my demos and I often attach the reference photo at the end. Even if I don’t, you can often find it in the photo archives of our general pastel board on FB, Pastel Painting With Marla. And why wouldn’t you want to join that anyway? It is such an awesome group warm and supportive artist community! (Make sure you answer the questions when you ask to join so that you’ll be accepted.)
Q. Are there any free photo resources?
There are a number of Facebook groups that connect photographers offering free use of their photographs with artists. There are also several sources of free photographs on the internet. There are quite a few so ask the members of our Facebook groups for additional information about them.
Q. Do you always work from a printed photograph?
Not necessarily but it does work out well for filming the live demos. In some of my older demos, I used a tablet on a stand for my reference photos.
Q. Why don’t you print your reference photo bigger?
By keeping the photo smaller I am a lot less tempted to put in too much detail. It lets me focus more on the composition and values.
Q. Is it better to work from your own photos and if so, why? What if I can’t take my own photos?
There are certain advantages to working from your own photos. If you took a photo of it then obviously there was something you liked about the scene plus you have memories to draw on because you were actually there. And you already worked on the composition as you framed the shot. Most competitions and shows require the submitter to have taken the photo that the work is based on. But it is a fact that not everyone can take their own photos due to mobility or travel issues among other reasons. There are many good photograph websites and Facebook Groups where copyright-free photos can be obtained. I supply many reference photos in my workshops and members often upload reference photos to our Facebook group photo archives and through weekly challenges. You can also purchase reference photo collections from Amazon or through websites.
Q. Are you going to do more challenge photos? How do they work? Where are the challenge photos?
I post a different challenge photo every Tuesday in the Painting Lessons With Marla Facebook group. You can find past photos in the photo archives of that group. Challenges are open-ended so you can paint them any time. We like to have them posted to the mainstream as well as uploaded to the corresponding archive folder so we can see them all together.
Q. You share a lot of photos of Italy. Do we have to paint Italy? Can’t we paint another country now?
You use what you have. I love Italy and have been there several times for workshops so of course, I have a lot of photos of various places in Italy. But I use photos from other locations where I have conducted workshops as well: Locations from around Oregon where I live, the Canadian Rockies, Door County, Wisconsin, Taos, New Mexico, and Fiji, to name a few.
Q. How can I make that awesome dust catcher that you use?
A. Check out these links:
Q. What other tools do you recommend to make art a little easier?
Some tools that I have used in various videos and which you may find handy to have included a value scale (known on Amazon as a Gray Scale and Value Finder) , a color wheel, proportional dividers, and a viewfinder. While you can buy a grayscale or a viewfinder, it is easy to make your own. In fact, I have provided directions at … DEMO VIDEO
Q. Where can I get one of those cool travel boxes that I have seen in some of your videos?
Heilman Designs makes some great boxes that are very popular with the art community. You can find them at http:// heilmandesigns.com. Dakota pastel also has some really nice boxes for carrying pastels at https://www.dakotapastels.com/products/Pastel-Carriers-Storage. But every art supplier has some kind of travel solution to offer so do some research and find the one that is perfect for you!
Q. Where did you get that big pastel tray?
I made it myself. And you can make one too. You can find directions in my free mini-lessons, Lesson #24, https://paintinglessonswithmarla.com/24-do-your-pastels-need-a-home/
Q. Do I have to keep my pastels in a tray like yours or organized like that?
A. Having an organized tray has helped me to be a better painter. I can clearly see the color and how they relate to one another. I have all my pastels mixed in (all the brands), so I can see everything I have. I have seen students shuffling boxes around and not able to see everything. You just won’t use it unless you can see it!
Q. Do you ever use a mask or gloves while painting?
No, I don’t feel the need. I do try to keep the dust from flying around though. I refrain from blowing on my paintings and use a homemade dust trap under my painting board.
Q. What color printer do you use to print out your photos?
It is a CANON. It’s nothing special but it works for me.
Q. Do you trim the practice area off your painting or leave it? What do you use to trim your paintings?
Usually, yes. I have and I once had a client occasionally ask to leave it. I usually use scissors to cut the paper. Nothing special.
Q. Is it better to stand or sit while painting? Why?
That is a personal choice. I like to stand because It gives me greater freedom of arm movement and I like that. I think I get better marks. Plus, it’s easy to back away to view the painting from a distance to see how it is working. But not everyone is able to stand so it is perfectly acceptable to sit at a table and use a good desktop easel.
Q. Do you always use an easel? Do you ever paint on a flat surface?
I can’t say I never paint flat but it’s not my best choice. When you paint a flat there is nowhere for the dust to go. An easel that stands upright better because it allows the dust to fall to the bottom into my dust catcher which I can collect and discard it.
Q. Do you ever tape all around the edges of your paper? What kind of tape do you use?
Not as a rule. I like to use the edges for testing pastels and that would also hamper my freedom of movement and gestural mark-making.
Q. Do you use underpaintings? Why? And what do you use?
Yes, underpainting can be a great way to start a painting, especially on a piece of white paper. It’s always hard to start a painting on a white background. And you can allow bits of the underpainting to show through which can promote color harmony. I like to use a variety of underpainting materials such as fluid acrylics, watercolor, markers, graphite, pan pastel, etc.
Q. Why do you use an underpainting if you are just going to cover it up anyway?
Sometimes it can be hard to get started. An underpainting can make it easier to start with white or neutral paper. It can be a very spontaneous and abstract start or more controlled. You can lay down an underpainting in an analogous or complementary color and allow bits of it to show through to unify your color scheme. Even when you block in with a dry pastel you’re still laying in an underpainting!
Q. Does a watercolor underpainting change the texture of the paper?
Not very much, it’s pretty marginal. That’s why people do it – you can get in that extra layer of color.
Q. Which brands of paper take an underpainting and which brands cannot?
Usually, an underpainting is applied to a white or neutral surface. Pastelmat, UART can take a wet underpainting well. Sennelier Le Carte paper will be destroyed if moisture touches it.
Q. Do I get lifetime access to the monthly subscription lessons? To the workshops?
There is a difference between the workshops and the monthly subscription lessons. The monthly subscription works like a gym membership. As long as you continue to make a monthly subscription or yearly subscription payment you will continue to have access to the monthly lessons. Once you pay for a workshop you will have lifetime access to it. Both the online monthly lessons and the online workshops are work-at-your-own pace.
Q. Are you going to do a portraiture workshop?
Undetermined at present. Maybe.
Q. What other workshops do you have?
Good question! You can find a full list at https://paintinglessonswithmarla.com/workshops/
Q If we are subscribed to the monthly subscription lessons do we really need the Color College course?
Color College Course is more in-depth treatment of color theory. It is intended to give students a good foundation for any medium. Mixing colors in acrylic is a key component for learning, but some of the paintings could be completed in other mediums.
Q. Are you going to do more critiques? Where are the critiques?
How can I get a critique?
I do critiques primarily for my monthly subscription students and they are posted to their Facebook Support group. In the past, I have done some for the main Facebook Group, Painting Lessons With Marla. Students add paintings to a critique archive photo folder and every now and then I choose a few to critique. There is no set schedule or amount and no guarantee that yours will be chosen. You can get some feedback by emailing support if you need specific help. If you’d like a more personalized and detailed critique you can always purchase one through my website, paintinglessonswithmarla.com.
Q. Besides the monthly lessons, what other benefits do I get with my monthly subscription?
I have the opportunity to interact more frequently with the monthly subscription students. I do longer, more detailed, in-depth live demos for them once a month, provide them with an extra monthly mileage study guide that targets a specific focus area such as edges or foliage. I do critiques for them when time permits. This is my flagship course offering so they get extra attention!
Q. Is it okay to print the lesson pdf’s?
Absolutely. I keep my copies in a big notebook for easy reference.
Q. What do I do if I am having a problem with your website or access to a workshop, subscription lessons or your Facebook groups?
It is better to seek technical support help through the website by emailing
Q. Is there a Facebook group for every workshop?
A. Yes, each workshop has its own Facebook group. You should receive an invitation to join via email. If you didn’t get the invite you can contact tech support for my website by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q. Is there a Facebook group I can post on if I am not taking one of your workshops?
Yes, there is a great community of students on the Facebook Group, “Painting Lessons with Marla”. Make sure you answer the questions when you request to join. You are welcome to post whatever pastels you are working on. You will find students of all levels posting. All of my groups are moderated so there will be a delay between submission and appearance on the board.
Q: Can we have a photo of the rest of the team? They are starting to feel like family.
A: No, they are shy.
Q: Do you ever or never…
A: I don’t believe in formulas
Q. What music do you listen to while painting?
I am never going to tell you.
Q. Which media is your favorite?
Pastel, of course! But I enjoy oils, acrylic, and watercolors, too. Each media informs the others. And when you get tired of pastels, you can work in another media for a while and they become fresh again.
Q. Do you paint any subjects besides landscapes or other mediums than pastels?
Absolutely! I paint a wide range of subjects in my workshops – people, birds, pets, gardens, still life, found objects, flowers, urban scenes, food, vehicles, etc. Check out all my workshops and lessons at paintinglessonswithmarla.com in pastels, oil, watercolor, and acrylic.
Q. Do you ever paint people? or Animals?
Yes! I have a great online workshop called “Kitty & Friends” available on my website. It focuses on animals. I address painting people in some of my workshops. And I have some lessons on birds. Check out all my workshops and lessons at paintinglessonswithmarla.com in pastels, oil, watercolor and acrylic
Q. Do you ever do large pastel paintings?
Because you have to frame pastels under glass, the bigger they are, the more expensive they are. I have done some big ones in the past but now I prefer to save the larger ones for a medium like oils or acrylics.
Q. How do you like your eggs?
I like them scrambled…but in butter with just a little cream added…then you have to keep pushing them, not let them stand. Cook until not wet but not dried out. Then a pinch of parmesan cheese and ground pepper. Very particular about this!
Q. Who is Kevin? Is he your husband?
Kevin is NOT my husband. I don’t have one of those! He is a very valued employee.
Q. Do you ever sleep?
Ha, ha, ha, ha!