Pastel Translation to Watercolor

On this rainy Earth Day I decided since I can’t get out to paint en plein air I would continue working on a watercolor painting translated from a plein air pastel that I had done last March. Here is my pastel painting


It is as you see here as close as I could capture it with my camera except that I accidently cut off about 1/2 inch at the bottom and the whites are whiter than they appear in this photo. So I wanted to translate it in watercolor but was hoping to be looser with a washy appearance especially with the trees in the background.

I have noticed that often taking a photo of a painting, problems will jump out at you. Here is the watercolor version so far


I am having a problem with allowing the white snow to show up in shapes that look correct. Painting snow in soft pastel can be tricky but in watercolor it is a trial! That log at the bottom doesn’t look right and that little branch (two of them actually) in the upper left under the trees look too sharp and of course I don’t like them. The background behind the trees doesn’t have the depth or feeling I want. The edges of all the trees are too sharp, I want softness. I am thinking of flooding the upper half with water but of course that will bring up some paint that I don’t to be removed and I might end up with sludge.

I am determined to become more proficient in watercolor because after all it is my favorite medium and soft pastel is my second. I have painted in watercolor about 15 years but haven’t really taken it upon myself to tackle it with determination and seriousness.

I might try out something that a watercolor artist here on WordPress I follow does and that is to take many stabs at a scene to get it right. I have tried in the past at least two or three times but usually move onto a new scene and painting. What do you all think? Any suggestions?

16 thoughts on “Pastel Translation to Watercolor

  1. I’m with your wordpress watercolorist: do different versions. It takes pressure off “THE ONE.” Think how performers in the other arts prepare. Actors memorize their lines. Musicians practice and rehearse. Poor artists are supposed to do everything perfectly in one go. So, not fair.

    My second suggestion is about white. Some folks will tell you that in watercolor only the paper is allowed to be white. And that’s not fair either! But the great watercolorists — people like Sargent, Winslow Homer, Turner, et al selectively used white to lighten colors, sometimes to create white on the page. And it produces different effects than the paper’s transparency. Indeed, using the two methods together produces a wider range of things possible. Might want to try additions of white to colors on a practice sheet and see how it looks.

    Running a lot of the page under water is pretty drastic. One of the wonderful challenges of watercolor is learning to manage parts of the image, even to alter isolated passages. If the paper is tough you can wet just the part you don’t like and correct “mistakes.” So you’d decide where you want the edge to be soft and just wet that and rub or scrape or whatever to lift away some of the pigment.

    How fun to transform the pastel image to watercolor! They look quite different. Goes to show how just changing the medium brings in ideas, innovation. Some of the ideas you get from watercolor may influence the pastel too.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love doing translations but they don’t always work out but I don’t want to sit in my “easy chair” and never try because I learn the best when I am out there dodging cars! Thank you for your comments. I never thought it in that way of trying it over and over like a dancer or musician would. There is an unspoken idea that artists have to get it right from the very first get-go, you are right! And then the artist puts all this pressure on themselves to be “perfect” from the one painting, I do that all the time to myself. You are correct, the watercolorist greats have broken the rule of not putting white back in. Oh, I feel so encouraged. It took a lot to post these paintings. I am happy with my pastel but ugh that watercolor! I am tired to being afraid of what people think, I’ll never grow or step out if I go around in this bubble of sorts. Again thank you! 🙂

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  2. Keep trying the different versions – but I think that the pastel one looks great. I can see why you still want to work on the watercolour one – I often drench the paper with water, smudge things and almost start over. I like the way bits and pieces of the past drawing sometimes show through!


  3. Jerry Parker

    Being a person with no knowledge of painting and watercolor, I can say that I love your work. Work is not the word that I would like to use, because it looks as though you are having fun doing this….Well, I may be a little prejudice due that I am your brother….Keep up the good work….Jerry

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  4. Keep trying at different versions is what I would do – I think the pastel one is great already though. I often deluge a page with water if I’m not satisfied – smudging and fading things out. I like the way some remnants are left and show through in the final version.

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  5. lindywhitton

    Watercolour is such a hard taskmaster! It was my first love but did not love me back!! So now I just keep my watercolours for sketching and really love them. I admire your tenacity in continuing with your first love and not abandonning it as I did. One thing I’ve found really liberating is taking a painting that hasn’t really worked and adding and changing it with another medium. Watercolour with pastels over the top can look wonderful. The more I add the freer I feel as the painting was a “failure” and I am only making it better. I sometimes combine acrylic, pastels and inks in an all out assault and have had some very interesting results that have taught me a lot. I quite like the harder edges of the trees against the soft snow and the background trees. Good luck with your watercolour journey.

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    1. Your comments really warmed my heart so much! I think that often I forget not to try to control watercolor and with this one I tried a bit too much. I need to go in there as though it is an adventure and watch what happens. It is very good for my over-controlling nature and insecure one at that! I have a lot to learn from watercolor! thank again, you have helped a lot. 🙂


  6. Hi Margaret – felt such empathy with you reading this post… and then such responsibility!! In considering a response, I recalled an old definition of insanity (please, bear with me on this!) along the lines of insanity is doing the same thing in the same way again and again and expecting a different result. If you do decide to take on another attempt at this image – I’d really recommend spending some time to consider what you’ll do differently next time to keep what you like and improve on what you’re not happy with. I’d also recommend stopping as soon as you don’t feel you’re enjoying tackling the challenge. You can always come back to it in a week/month/year armed with everything you’ve learned in the meantime. (I really enjoy doing this as it feels like a good way of benchmarking my progress!). These are purely my opinions of course as I’m in no way qualified to offer advice! As others have already remarked – I think your work is already tremendously assured and accomplished – and you choose subject matter that I wouldn’t dare to go near!

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    1. Your thoughts and comments are appreciated so much. I always seem to choose the hardest subjects! I think I like turning the screws in tighter on myself, way fun, huh? Okay, so I totally get what you are saying. I agree. I also think that drinking a margarita before hand might help, or not. 🙂 I do think that you are qualified, I keep running into several bloggers that are referring to back to you….wanting to emulate what you are doing or have done. I am one of those bloggers! I’ll give it some thought before approaching this for a re-do and see which way I want to go. I have found that if I do something else and then go back to a troublesome painting, it changes my attitude and perspective. Once again thank you 🙂

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  7. My watercolors are always disasters…but not failures because I learn something each time. I’ve learned to look at what I’ve done and find something I like in each one. I enjoy what looks right, and then I can figure out what I did wrong in other places, and yes, try, try again. Practice, practice, practice. There’s no way around it. I save my watercolor disasters, and then turn them over and re-cycle them by using them for “exercises”. I might practice different brush strokes, or try using different kinds of brushes. Sometimes I’ll take a particular trouble spot — for me, it’s trees in the distance — and do them over and over, learning from each attempt. Another problem I have, though, is that I don’t work on watercolor consistently enough, so I’ll start learning one thing, but then I put my paints away and move on to other things. The next time I try doing a watercolor, I’ve forgotten all I’ve learned. It’s like starting over each time. I love your pastel drawing, and I think the watercolor looks good, too. Before you make any drastic changes, maybe it would be good to step away from it for a little while. It might look different when you come back to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like what you wrote about your watercolors are not failures because you learn from them. Love that! Yes, watercolor does take practice, lots of it. I think what I will do in May, this is fresh off the griddle, is to focus entirely on watercolor, including my plein air painting. I think this will be a nice way to get some head way! thank you for your comments and you had given me an idea! Oh, I do paint over my old watercolor paintings but I will do an entire painting, never seen a problem with that. 🙂

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