I have tried several different ways of sorting my pastels. When I first began, I sorted them in one of those plastic sorter boxes that you get in the hardware department. I had a small set of colors back then. I had sorted them by color and could easily find everything I needed. At this time, I also added rice to my storage box because I read that it keeps your sticks clean. Depending upon your technique, a stick might pick up another color and thus cause confusion. So the rice was supposed to clean the colors as you moved your sticks around either through traveling or just by searching for colors.
As I began to sell, I enlarged my collection of pastels by adding more colors and softer pastels. I had pastels every where. I attended a plein air workshop and purchased an official portable, plein air pastel box. Which was a great decision. It made travel so much easier. But I then used this box for the studio and for out-on-location painting. Which was not really a bad thing, except that as my collection of colors grew, I didn’t add them to the the plein air box.
Finally, I attended a plein air workshop with the Indiana Plein Air Painters Association in Lafayette, Indiana. The instructor kept telling me that my lights were not light enough. I couldn’t figure out what she meant. Finally, I proposed that my darks were not dark enough. This was a huge a-ha moment, believe it or not.
After the workshop, I set out to sort all of my colors by value – how dark or light the color was. I bought 10 boxes, because there are ten values, and with value chart in hand, I began sorting. This was a big undertaking, but well worth the effort. It helped me to redevelop that sense of how dark or light a color was. Strange I know. I also decided that this was very helpful for anyone who likes to do portraits, as I do. Why? Because sometimes I would notice a color change and think that there was a value change when there really wasn’t. If that makes any sense. Maybe you have done a portrait where you put down what you thought was the right color, but then suddenly that area popped out or receded back when it was not supposed to. But the biggest advantage to sorting my colors by value was that I could quickly see that I only had three really dark darks, just lighter than black. And that solved my lack of contrast problem.
I also tried adding cornmeal to my boxes to keep my colors clean, because the instructor at the workshop did this. I ended up not liking this set up at all. I could not find my colors, colors that I knew I had, because of the cornmeal, and I had a hard time getting all of that cornmeal off of my fingers as I sorted through my colors. I didn’t want to transfer the cornmeal to the paper that I was working on. But I did like the idea of having my colors sorted by value.
So I bought very thin, long boxes to store my pastels in. I have sorted all of my colors by value and by color. It works very well. Now I need to pull colors from this master set to add to my plein air set. It is time to get outside and paint!