How To: Pastel on Linen

Many have asked about my procedure for painting large pastel paintings. Here’s a visual step-by-step of the process.  I initially learned this from my teacher, Joanette Egeli, and have since refined it over the years. It makes for a great surface to work on, is very forgivable, and I love the final look, very much possessing the look of pastel’s older sister, oil.


I tack my canvas to a board (such as Homesote board), cutting it about 6″ larger than I estimate I’ll need.

After sketching out the drawing w/ charcoal, I quickly cover the canvas with acrylic paint. Being that acrylic dries way too fast, I use an extender to increase the open time (mixing time) of the acrylics.

I keep the masses (shapes) large, only breaking them down per changes in value.

I cover the canvas rather quickly, keeping in mind that this is the underpainting to my pastel, yet trying to be as accurate as possible with the color.

A detail of the acrylic lay-in. I enjoy the quick pace and have fun.

After the painting has dried (a couple hours), I squeegee on two or three layers of Golden (brand) Acrylic Ground for Pastel. In a separate cup, I mix the pastel ground with about 20% water to the mix to increase texture and improve flow.

I follow up the squeegee by brushing out the pastel ground with a wide, soft brush. When the ground covers the canvas evenly, I finish with a final smoothing by very lightly dragging my brush over the surface in two perpendicular directions (horizontal and vertical) so as to create a smooth surface for the pastel. Pay special attention to any areas that will demand more detail (e.g. faces, etc.).

The acrylic pastel ground goes on a milky-white, but dries relatively translucent.  The blotches you see are where the ground was a little heavier than in other areas. Not an issue, as I’ll be covering this up with pastel.  At this point, I am ready to redefine the composition.

When the lay-in is complete, I then finalize the composition and canvas size, marking the painting’s perimeters with charcoal. Keep in mind that standard stretchers are sized every 2″ (24′, 26″, 28″…), so size your painting in even numbers (e.g. 28″ x 36″).

I begin to lightly paint in pastel, establishing my values and color from the get-go. Though the prepared surface will retain a lot more pastel than pastel paper and other surfaces will, there is still a limit to how much it can hold. I use a stiff bristle brush to dust off unwanted pastel (i.e. mistakes!). This surface is very forgiving and has a lot of latitude, allowing you to really develop the painting nicely.

The final painting.

Re: Oil Portraits

Tim’s portraits convey the essence of his subjects. Not only is Tim an excellent draftsman, he takes the time to get to know his subjects, as we all know there is much more to a person than what’s on the surface. When viewing one of Tim’s portraits, the more you look at the portrait, the more you feel you know the person.

Dating back hundreds of years, oil is the traditional standard for portraiture. No other medium captures the richness and depth of a well-executed oil painting. Tim uses archival-quality materials
and time-tested methods in his work. Your portrait will last for many generations to enjoy.

“The portrait is gorgeous! I am blown away by it. It is really, really wonderful, and that is such an understatement.” -C. Saunders, Charleston, SC

“I just wanted to tell you how much I love the portrait. I just cried. It is definitely the best money we ever spent. To be able to capture that innocence forever makes letting Cayla and Joshua grow up a little less painful. I spent all weekend carrying a copy around in my purse and I could not stop peeking at it. I was just so moved by the energy and essence of the painting. It is like time stopped for one spring morning in May when our children were four years old. Tim, thank you.” Eileen S., S.C.

Re: Pastel Portraits

Tim Chambers believes a good painting is the culmination of keen observation, a joyful heart, and vibrant, confident execution. This is evident in Tim’s portraits. His pastel portraits combine
the richness of his oils, but have a delicateness and softness inherent of the pastel medium.

Tim approaches his pastel portraits just as he does oil portraits, both in approach and the integrity of the materials used. His pastels are framed similar to oils (no matting, only a traditional frame), the only difference being pastel is protected by an invisible, reflection-free glass (Tru-Vue AR Glass).

Some have asked if pastel is inferior to oil, or if it will last as long as oil. If you consider that oil paint is essentially pastel mixed with a liquid binder (such as linseed oil), you’ll see that pastel is actually a more pure medium than oil! In fact, when handled protected properly, pastels often retain their vibrancy much more than their oil counterparts, as seen in pastels by the French Impressionists. Tim uses only archival-quality, lightfast pastels and substrates for his paintings.

“Tim… thank you so much for Emilie’s and Colin’s portraits. I think they are amazing! You really captured their essence.” –Jenny

“Tim, The portrait looks great! I am thrilled. Someone came this morning to see Lucy’s portrait. She was extremely impressed. She said it was her favorite pastel she’d ever seen! Thanks so much!” -T.G., Raleigh, NC

Re: Charcoal Portraits

Charcoal is the oldest of drawing mediums, with charcoal portraits proudly hanging in museums throughout the world. “Charcoal is as close as you can get to painting without painting,” says Tim. It’s an amazing medium, lending itself to a very intuitive process. It has a wonderful range of values, and unlike pencil, is at home in the hands of a painter.

“I love how charcoal boils down the portrait its essence, similar to black-and-white photography. Nothing gets in the way of capturing my subject. There is a regality to its raw truth. Charcoal demands the artist's command of drawing."

Like his oils and pastels, Tim’s charcoals are archival-quality, and will last indefinitely with proper care.

“Tim, the portrait is INCREDIBLE. Thank you so much!!!! You really captured our parents.” -Bijan, Virginia

“The portraits of our children are STUNNING!!! I mean totally, completely stunning. WOW! We are so excited about these treasures. Thank you, thank you!” -Catherine G.

Re: Landscapes

"Landscape painting is dessert," says Tim. "It’s pure joy. No restraints, no one to please. Simply respond to the beauty of nature with heart and excitement; hold nothing back."

We all know that it’s more complicated than that. Tim tell's his students that “a good painting is a lot of good decisions.” His paintings’ beauty is a result of God-given talent refined by a lifetime of training and experience.

Tim aims for simplicity in his landscapes, to identify the essential elements. “You’re painting a moving moment. Can you see everything? No, but you do see something. What is it? What one thing sings to your soul here and now? Get that in your heart, in your head, and out through your hands onto the canvas.”

“Tim captured a Virginia evening on canvas for me, and I love the painting! The colors seem to glow.” -L. Paist, Purcellville, VA

Re: Still Lifes

Still-life paintings are like little portraits. I can arrange the elements any way I choose to convey a story. Sometimes the story comes first, and sometimes the players (the objects) make the story. I really enjoy the writing with paint.

The Fruit of the Spirit series is a great story. I read in the bible that the fruit of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and temperance. I’ve seen artists assign a different literal fruit (apple, banana, grapes, etc.) for each Spiritual fruit. But I wanted to see if I could take one fruit and put it in different settings to convey the meaning from Scripture. It has been a rewarding experience ruminating as I paint.

Winter months are ripe for still-life paintings, a respite from the chilling wind. Winter is also a time of reflection, and stiil-life painting is a wonderful medium to articulate those thoughts.

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“I see painting nature as meditating upon the works of God.”

by Timothy Chambers

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