Demonstration of Creating an Atmospheric Pastel Painting

By Shawn Dell Joyce

In the studio, my technique is more relaxed. I start out with a value sketch, and color study, often done days ahead of time to plan the painting. I don’t always work from dark to light in the studio. Most often, I work from back to front. I look at what is furthest away, and start blocking in the distant sky and reflection.


If I’m painting large (usual studio painting size is 24×36), I may start with my board flat instead of on the easel so I have maximum saturation of pigment into the tooth of the board. I start with large abstract shapes, covering the whole pastelboard. Once the pigment is in the tooth of the board, it’s easier to blend into it.

You can see the pigment dust on the surface of the pastelbord. I paint thick and only use Ampersand Pastelbord since it stands up to wet/dry media and lots of abuse.

I then refine the shapes by scumbling and sometimes blending, especially cloud shapes in the sky.

Once blended, all the extra dust is incorporated into the tooth of the board and the blocks of color become blended and soft.


If I’m painting water, I paint it at the same time as the sky. Water usually reflects what’s in the sky, so while I have that color in my hand, I paint both. I vary my strokes for water and make the marks more horizontal. Water moves horizontally.

Once the large abstract shapes are painted, and the edges are blended, then the surface is ready to receive the next layer of pastel. “Pastel is the best medium for capturing dramatic lighting effects because you can layer light over dark, and scumble colors across each other without mixing them.”

Here’s the big cloud shapes in the sky-thicker overhead, thinner at the horizon.

I reflect the cloud shapes into the water with long dark side strokes using the whole side of a Mount Vision pastel stick.

Now it’s time to add the darks like the horizon line, and the shoreline. Here there are two parts of an island that were split by a hurricane that I painted on the horizon. Next, I add the seafoam and waves, and finally the pipers catching the last glow of the sun’s rays. I save the details for the pipers.

“Sandpiper’s Sunset” Pastel on pastelbord 24×36 2021

I’m endlessly inspired by the ever-changing light and landscape. We artists are lucky to be able to capture this place, at this moment. We are seeing history unfold before us. Let’s bloom where we are planted and paint it!

Shawn Dell Joyce was raised on her family’s citrus farm in the Rio Grande Valley. The young woman moved North and studied painting and drawing at the University of North Texas. After graduation in 1986 she began her career as an artist’s apprentice in NY’s SoHo area, and worked in the studios of many prestigious artists including Jeff Koons, Mark Kostabi, and Ronnie Cutrone.  Her love of the landscape called her North to the Hudson Valley, where she began teaching a series of plein air painting classes in 2000 throughout the Hudson Valley. Her classes became so popular that she hired other artists, and founded a plein air school with an Arts and Agricultural mission based on the historic Hudson River School.  Now in it’s 20th year, The Wallkill River School continues to bring cultural tourism to the Hudson Valley region through plein air painting workshops and events on local farms, historic sites and open spaces. She is still honored as founder and on the board of directors. She teaches workshops in pastel and plein air techniques across the country, and is endorsed by Ampersand Pastelbords who supply materials for her demos and workshops. In 2017, she was hired by UArt to do a plein air pastel workshop. She has also worked the plein air event circuit and participated in many prestigious events around the country, bringing home awards for her loose and colorful paintings. She recently placed 1st in the 2018 Inverness Plein Air Festival, and  3rd in the Hudson Valley Plein Air Festival. Last year she placed 1st in the Quick Draw at the 2017 Hudson Valley Plein Air Festival, and People’s Choice in the International Plein Air Paint Out 2005 in Niagara Falls.  She is a signature member of International Plein Air Painters (IPAP), and has been featured in many national newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Plein Air Magazine, Pastel Journal Magazine, and Tampa Bay Magazine, and featured on the Plein Air Podcast. She has participated in many national exhibits and plein air festivals, and is represented by galleries in NY and Florida.  Her works have been widely collected by corporations and families around the world including the Georges Pompidou Museum in France and the Museum of Modern Art in NY.

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