Portable studio tips for hiking and sketching with pastels

Spring is finally here, and that means sketching outdoors! Here are a few ideas for setting up a compact, sturdy kit for pastel sketching on your next hike.

Pastel Cases

An assortment of soft and hard pastels in plastic hobby boxes are prepared for travel sketching.

Hobby Lobby has a strange obsession with the color pink! The 2 binder pockets were the only ones I could find that were translucent colorless. Photo storage boxes are made of acid-free polypropylene. Use the foam liners your pastels came in to cushion them inside the hard cases.

Pastels are fragile sticks of powdered pigment. How do you protect them from getting crushed in your backpack? Before my February trip to the Grand Canyon, I went to Hobby Lobby and bought a clear-plastic school supplies box for ring binders and two polypropylene plastic 4″ x 6″ photo-storage boxes. I lined these with the foam rubber inserts used in the cardboard packaging the pastels came in. Further cushioning came from my chamois rub cloths. This set-up kept my pastels nestled securely while I hiked the trails.

Refillable sketchbook

I love making my own sketchbooks because you can customize the papers and size format to suit the type of sketching you’ll be doing as well as to fit snugly in your daypack. This sketchbook’s pages are 5″ x 10″, which is great for panorama landscapes, plus it fits perfectly in the Patagonia Atom mini-daypack that I’ve carried for about 10 years.

Handmade refillable sketchbook for sketching pastels in plein-air.

Store-bought sketchbooks are never quite right. Why not make your own refillable version in the exact size you want with the paper you prefer?

To make a refillable sketchbook like this, you need:

  • 2 pieces of chipboard, cut 1/4″ longer and 1/4″ wider than the size you want your pages to be.
  • Textured, archival cover stock
  • Decorative archival paper—scrapbooking sheets are a good weight and attractive. As long as the paper is heavy enough to withstand gluing, you can pick almost any type of paper. Japanese mulberry sheets are probably too thin.
  • Hole punch
  • Water-soluble PVA glue
  • 3 hinged key rings from the hardware store
  • Your preferred pastel paper, cut to your desired page size.
  • Glassine sheets or tracing vellum, cut to page size.

Assemble the covers and pages:

  • Cut the cover stock about 1″ wider and longer than the chipboard covers. Spread the glue evenly over the wrong side of the cover stock and place the chipboard onto the center of the glued surface. There should be about a 1/2″ of extra cover stock all the way around. Fold this excess over the edges of the chipboards, and miter-fold the corners. Place a board over these wet covers and weight them down so they’ll dry flat and even.
  • When they’re dry, cut the decorative paper about 1/4″ smaller than the chipboard. It should cover the raw edges of the folded over cover stock. Spread glue on the back side of the decorative paper and place on the side of the chipboard that still shows raw chipboard. Again, cover with a board and weights and allow to dry.
  • Punch 3 holes in the finished covers.
  • Cut your paper and tracing vellum to the desired page size. For this pastel sketchbook, I used ColourFix Suede texture pastel paper from the multi-color pack. Punch 3 holes in the papers to match the hole placement on the covers.
  • Make a stack of pages, alternating 1 pastel sheet with 1 tracing vellum sheet. The holes should match up.
  • Make a sandwich: 1 cover; stack of pastel paper/tracing vellum; 1 cover.
  • Thread 1 keyring through each set of holes.

Hope you find that some of these ideas work for you! Do you have any favorite tricks or gear when you hike and sketch with pastels? Please let me know in the comments. 🙂

On my walk: Aspen Vista trail in winter

What color do you think aspen tree trunks are? White with black scar-splotches, right?

Not exactly.

Earthy yellow aspen trunks against white snow.

It ain’t necessarily so: Aspen tree trunks provide a useful lesson in relative color and color contrast effects.

On Sunday we hiked along the Aspen Vista trail, taking advantage of the firmly packed snow paths created by cross-country skiers. The aspen trees we had enjoyed in their bright golden autumn glory were vertical stripes against the snow.

When seen from the side, you can clearly observe that their bark is actually a light, earthy, gray-yellow: almost Naples yellow in tone. It’s so yellow in fact, that when looking through the trees to the horizon, the blue Cerillos hills look pale lavender.

But if you take a look at the side of the trunks fully exposed to the morning sun, you get a different color sensation.

Very tall aspen trees against a blue winter sky.

The white, sunlit aspen trunks and the blue New Mexico sky intensify each other.

The trunks turn brilliant white in full sunlight. The December sky is turned a deep, intense blue by the contrast with the white aspen trees.

It’s so much fun to observe how color is altered by the angle of light and the colors adjacent to the object you’re looking at. Something to remember when you pull your paints out to sketch!

Radiant Orchid is the Pantone Color of the Year 2014!


Color management and forecasting company Pantone has announced that Radiant Orchid, 18-3224, will be Color of the Year 2014. Via the press release materials on the Pantone Universe website.

 After months of speculation on Pinterest and elsewhere, Pantone has announced that the Pantone Color of the Year 2014 will be Radiant Orchid, color number 18-3224 in the Pantone color organization system.

According to Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute,

“. . . Radiant Orchid reaches across the color wheel to intrigue the eye and spark the imagination. An invitation to innovation, Radiant Orchid encourages expanded creativity and originality, which is increasingly valued in today’s society.

An enchanting harmony of fuchsia, purple and pink undertones, Radiant Orchid inspires confidence and radiates great joy, love and health. It is a captivating purple, one that draws you in with its beguiling charm.”

Fashion designers have already featured the new color extensively in the recently unveiled Spring 2014 collections. The sherbet shade is flattering to many skin tones and can be easily added to the cosmetics bag in the form of a lipstick or nail polish. Variations on this color have already been seen in home decor magazines. 

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty on Pantone Color 18-3224, aka Radiant Orchid:

  • 18-3224 TCX or 18-3224 TPX for the fashion/home design client has digital and 4-color press equivalents R177 G99 B163 and C33 M77 Y0 K0.
  • Plus Series 2060C, the closest match for the graphic design palette has equivalents R200 G107 B168 and C19M70Y0K0.
  • Plastic color listings are PQ-18-3224-TCX
  • Web HTML values are B163A3
  • The update for Adobe applications can be downloaded from Pantone here

Here are some fun color-loving forums hosted by Pantone:

Personally, I’m very excited about this new color. Emerald was hard to work with, as the particular Pantone color specification was not one that is seen frequently in nature. It was also hard to wear as a makeup or fashion color.

Stay tuned for some more posts about using Radiant Orchid on your paint palette!

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