TOP SECRETS FOR BEAUTIFUL PASTEL PAINTINGS
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Cascade Glow–detail (cover), 22" × 28" (56cm × 71cm)
Summer Color (page 2), 12" × 18" (30cm × 46cm)
Spring Rains (page 7), 18" × 15" (46cm × 38cm)
PASTEL POINTERS. Copyright © 2010 by Richard McKinley.
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publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review. Published by North Light Books, an imprint
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About the Author
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Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Pastel pointers : top secrets for beautiful pastel paintings
/ Richard McKinley. -- 1st ed.
ISBN-13: 978-1-4403-0839-0 (pbk. : alk. paper)
1. Pastel drawing--Technique. I. Title.
edited by SARAH LAICHAS
production edited by MAIJA ZUMMO
designed by JENNIFER HOFFMAN
production coordinated by MARK GRIFFIN
Richard McKinley has been a professional artist for 38 years
and has more than 35 years of teaching experience. He writes
a weekly blog for The Pastel Journal titled Pastel Pointers that has
appeared on www.artistsnetwork.com since 2007, and he’s written for the periodical since 2003. He’s taught and participated in
national and international workshops for more than 30 years. His
work is shown in several national galleries, and he is an Artist
Member of the Salmagundi Club of NYC, a Signature Member
and 2010 Hall of Fame inductee of the Pastel Society of America,
a Signature Distinguished Pastelist with the Pastel Society of the
West Coast, a signature member of the Northwest Pastel Society,
and a member of the Oil Painters of America. His work has been
included in several North Light Books including A Painters Guide
to Design and Composition, Painting with Pastels by Maggie Price
and Pure Color: The Best of Pastel. Richard has also produced two
instructional DVDs on pastel painting for ArtistsNetwork.tv.
Visit his website at www.mckinleystudio.com and blog at
Metric Conversion Chart
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A Gentle Rain, 15" × 18" (38cm × 46cm)
Everything shared in the pages of this book comes from the applied lessons of those gracious artists that have
provided knowledge and inspiration to myself and other aspiring painters over the years. A special thanks is
given to all the students I have been fortunate enough to interact with. Far more has been learned from them
than any other source.
Credit must be given to: my mother Beneva McKinley, for instilling a sense of artistic wonder in me at an
early age; to my high school art instructor James Snook, for seeing potential and challenging me to use it; to
my ﬁrst artistic mentor Margaret Stahl Moyer, for providing guidance and discipline; and to master painter
Albert Handell, for giving permission to listen to my inner artistic voice.
Heartfelt thanks are given to Janie Hutchinson and Maggie Price for having the vision to found The Pastel
Journal and for allowing me to ﬁrst publish in its pages.
Gratitude is owed to the wonderful team at F+W Media: publisher Jamie Markle and editorial director Pam
Wissman, for having proposed the project and guiding it along to completion; to editor Sarah Laichas, for all
her patience and hard work in the laborious task of pulling together all the years of writings; to all the editors
and editorial staff I have been fortunate enough to work with: Maureen Bloomﬁeld, Chris McHugh, Jessica
Canterbury and Sarah Strickley; and most of all, the one person that deserves the credit of dual authorship,
Pastel Journal editor Anne Hevener, for making my words coherent and sound so good over the years.
This book is dedicated to all of my painting friends for years of artistic camaraderie and to Don Robertson
for his unwavering support of my artistic journey.
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Light & Color
Plein Air Painting
The Business of Pastels
Fun & Lifelong Learning
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I WAS HUMBLED BACK IN 2003 TO BE ASKED TO
WRITE FOR The Pastel Journal. What did I have to share?
Little did I know it would lead to over twenty-ﬁve columns
and become one of the most rewarding experiences of my
artistic life. In 2007, editor Anne Hevener approached me with
the idea of doing a blog about pastel. I didn’t even know what
a blog was. With encouragement from the staff at F+W Media,
the weekly posts began, covering topics from palette choices to
what we listen to while painting. As the material accumulated,
the idea of a compilation ensued. Then the herculean task of
organizing began. With the considerable help and patience
of editor Sarah Laichas, it has ﬁnally come together.
My introduction to pastel began in 1975 when a fellow
artist that admired what I had been doing with oil paint
handed me my ﬁrst set of pastel sticks. Instantly, I was
hooked. The immediacy of its application and its forgiving
nature made it a pleasure to paint with. Even though I continue to work in other media, pastel will always be a major
part of my artistic expression.
Teaching has allowed me to become more analytical, something that comes naturally to my personality. By attempting
to communicate the concepts of why we do what we do when
painting, I have had to spend considerable time researching
the theories of representational painting. This research is
evident in the concepts expounded in the Pastel Pointers
columns, blogs and now within the covers of this book.
Thus many are not my original ideas or concepts, but retold
through my experience.
What I hope to share within the pages of this book is not
the formula of how to paint a pastel painting, but a pool of
information that may provide some tips to help you make
your paintings better, the process easier, and inspire you
to enjoy all of the diversity that is pastel.
The Cove, 14" × 14" (36cm × 36cm)
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Evening at the Malheur
12" × 16" (30cm × 41cm)
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Every pastel painting begins with the pigments in your palette. It’s from this source
that you make the choices that produce
your ﬁnal statement. Having a good system facilitates an efficient relationship
between thought and choice of pastel stick,
leaving you better able to accomplish a
successful outcome with less frustration
The palette needs to include every color
family, represented in a whole range of values from dark to light, as well as neutral
tones that represent these values mixed
together. Whereas painters who use a wet
medium might have as few as three primary pigments and white on their palettes,
pastelists need considerably more to be able
to reproduce what lies in front of them.
Hue, Chroma and Value
To work well, the palette needs a logical
system that represents the three aspects
of color: hue (the individual color famChoosing pastel sticks can be a daunting ily), chroma (the intensity or saturation of
experience. A working knowledge of hue, said color) and value (the relative lightness
value and chroma makes this much easier, or darkness of said color). Having colors
and this begins with a solid understand- laid out representing a color wheel clariing of the color wheel. When it comes to ﬁes their natural relationship, facilitating
understanding color, even someone who more harmonic choices. Placing values
never plans to paint with anything but pas- with light at the top and dark at the bottel can beneﬁt from some experimentation tom allows for quick selections within a
with wet paint. As any wet-media artist can variety of hues of similar value.
attest, learning how to mix individual hues
to arrive at speciﬁc tones takes trial and
error. Individual pigments have their own
personalities and, when mixed with others,
can create some exciting outcomes.
E XPE R I M E NT WITH O I L S
TO U N D E R STAN D CO LO R
I recommend using oils to strengthen your
understanding of color. As a wet medium, oils
stay wet long enough to allow for prolonged
mixing and experimentation. Use a minimum
of four pigments: yellow (Cadmium Yellow
Light), red (Cadmium Red or Naphthol Red),
blue (Ultramarine Blue), and white (Titanium
or a mixed white). Place them on a palette
(a piece of glass works well and is easily
cleaned). Then, experiment; play and mix
with abandon, taking note of the effects.
Here, I’ve used just four oil colors—blue,
red, yellow and white—to mix colors that
represent the color wheel. The perimeter
shows the colors with the addition of white,
and in the center, you can see the natural
graying of complementary colors.
Pastel Pointers by Richard McKinley
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Arranging Your Palette
A pastel palette should be regarded as a
working palette rather than a one-brand
assortment. Even if only one brand is utilized, it should be arranged in a way that
represents color and value relationships.
My palette is set up for a right-handed painter.
It begins with yellow on the left, and progresses to green on the right (a left-handed
painter should reverse the placement).
I segregate a selection of neutrals, or
grayer hues, on the right-hand side of the
palette. These provide a visually pleasing representation of the possibilities of
weaker tones. The neutrals are often overlooked if placed within their original color
family. By setting them aside, a painter is
better able to see the individual possibilities they provide.
There’s a shared misconception among
pastelists that simply acquiring more pastels will make things easier. And while it’s
true that working with a palette that’s too
limited can be frustrating, it’s also true
that too many sticks can be confusing,
leading to disjointed paintings that lack
overall harmony. When selecting pastels
for your palette, therefore, think of it as
you would mixing wet paint. Consider
what colors, values and tones you would
most often utilize, and then weight your
palette accordingly. Make sure a full spectrum of color and value is represented.
Since pastel shares a kinship with oil, it
works well to apply this principle to pastel
paintings and palette selections, utilizing
harder pastels in the initial dark, dull and
thin beginnings before migrating to softer,
luscious pastels for the lighter, brighter
and thicker ﬁnal applications.
Keep in mind that individual pastel
brands have their own characteristics.
Some are very soft and velvety, while others are slightly hard and gritty. Building
a palette ultimately comes down to individual choice. There are so many wonderful brands available and so many duplicate
colors between them. Individual taste has
to be honored. Experiment with as many
brands as possible before committing
resources to a major expenditure.
H OW I S E PAR AT E MY PALE T TE
I use the layout of my palette to help me
control the value and color in my paintings.
I start by separating pastels into color families. Yellow begins on the far left, followed
by orange, red, violet, blue and green.
Then I further divide the pastels according
to value. The lightest value pastels are at
the top; the darkest at the bottom. I also
separate the grayed, more neutral colors
from their color families and relegate them
to one side. Thus I’ll have gray-yellow, grayred, gray-blue and so on. Finally, I segregate
pastels according to their physical makeup;
i.e., harder and softer varieties.
Hard vs. Soft Pastels
When choosing between harder and softer
pastels, remember this old oil painters’
mantra: thin to thick, dark to light, dull
to bright, and soft to sharp. This guideline
has been the foundation of most representational painting over the centuries.
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Studio vs. Field Palette
In the studio, it’s much easier to set up large
areas for pastels and have a variety of sticks
at arm’s reach, but in the ﬁeld a painter has
to travel light. Fortunately, there are pastel
travel palettes available that make this much
easier. I’ve had a good experience with pastel cases from both Heilman Designs and
Dakota Art Pastels. Both companies offer
wooden cases in a range of sizes that make
travel much more efﬁcient. The cases open
like a briefcase to provide storage on both
sides, which allows for easy arrangement of
the individual pastels.
For travel, I ﬁnd it’s best to mix brands
to create a working palette. Mine consists
of harder pastel brands weighted towards
the darker, neutral areas of the palette,
along with softer, buttery pastels that ﬁll
in the lighter bright areas (see the photo
of my travel palette).
My palettes, both in the studio and ﬁeld,
have become a natural extension of my
mind, eye and arm. By using a consistent
arrangement, I never have to second-guess
what I’m looking for; my hand simply goes
to the right area of the palette, which frees
me to concentrate on the mental chess
game of painting the picture.
Regardless of which brands you eventually commit to, it’s paramount to have
a systematic arrangement. If your palette
is arranged differently for ﬁeld painting,
you’ll ﬁnd your concentration broken as
you hunt for that speciﬁc hue or value.
MY FI E LD PALE T TE
My traveling palette is much more compact and contains about
Tracking and Replacing Your Pastels
260 pastel sticks broken in half. It is arranged like my studio palette
Replacing a pastel stick can be a problem in a palette of mixed
brands. It can help to label a palette with the majority brand,
if there is one, and then make notes with handmade color
swatches of the supplemental brands. This way, when you
notice a stick wearing down, you can start your search within
the colors of the main brand ﬁrst. If you can’t ﬁnd it there,
then you can refer to your pastel notes.
to keep my work flowing smoothly. My studio palette contains
about 600 pastel sticks broken in half.
Pastel Pointers by Richard McKinley
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Holding the Pastel
We each come into our own technique with
time and experience. Mine is to think like
a wet painter and apply the pastel as if it
were a brushstroke. A nice side effect of
this is that my oils and pastels are hard to
tell apart because they both retain a similar
application, which represents my style.
Every surface accepts the pastel differently
and only through experimentation will it
be clear how best to apply the pastel.
Some brands of pastel ﬂow like butter onto
the surface and others scrape across it in a
gritty fashion. For this reason, I prefer to have
an assortment of brands at my ﬁngertips.
T H E T H R E E - FI N G E R H O LD
To hold the pastel stick, I use a three-finger hold. I came to pastel having worked in oil for
a number of years and this influenced my technique. I want the pastel to go onto the surface
like a brush applying paint and I’ve found that by holding the stick between my thumb, fore-
The third factor is how much pressure will
be used, and this is the thing we have the
most control over. Inherently, we might
have a light touch or a heavy hand, but with
practice, we can learn to control the pressure applied. Facilitating a varied touch will
allow for a variety of applications.
finger and middle finger I can utilize its side for broad strokes. If I rock it up slightly, I create
a hard- and soft-edged stroke. If I tip it up even more and work with the forward edge and
dab it, I create smaller dashes. These motions all relate to common brushwork I’d been using
in my wet painting that have stayed with me all of these years.
Selecting the Right Pastel Stick Size
Selecting the right stick size varies depending on the size of strokes desired. Most of the
pastel pieces in my cases range from a third- to a half-stick (for an average-size major
pastel brand, about 1 to 1½ inches [3 to 4 centimeters]). For a larger painting I would
use larger pastel sticks. This may be why most of my paintings range from 9" × 12"
(23cm × 30cm) to 18" × 24" (46cm × 61cm), as the sticks I have allow for strokes that
work well within those sizes.
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Cleaning Your Pastels
No matter how neat you are, or how tidy
you keep your painting equipment, pastel dust will eventually contaminate the
outer surface of individual sticks in your
pastel palette, making them hard to identify. If you frequently work with extremely
soft pastel brands or tend to apply heavy
applications of pastel above an open pastel
palette, you have seen how quickly the
dust accumulates, making all your sticks
appear grayish. We expect a stick to make
a mark that represents our intentions. If
the outer surface of the stick is contaminated, this can prove difﬁcult.
One of the best methods of cleaning pastels
is to place them in a lidded container containing course grain, and then gently agitate. A
simple household plastic container will work
well. For the grain choice, a common rice
or cornmeal will sufﬁce. Since this quickly
becomes contaminated with pigment, there’s
no need to purchase the pricier organic or
name brand variations. Depending on how
many pastels are to be cleaned, the container
can be small or fairly large.
Some artists even travel with their
pastels in these grain containers. Before
painting, they remove the sticks and
arrange their pastel palette. When done,
all the sticks go back in the container
for safe, clean transportation. No vigorous agitation is required to accomplish
the goal of cleaning the outer surface of
the pastel stick. If you frequently clean
a large volume of pastels or plan to use
the containers for transporting pastels, a
makeshift strainer can be fabricated out
of mesh, making it easier to ﬁsh the sticks
out of the grain.
Another consideration is to purchase
a strong pastel palette box that prevents
the individual pastel sticks from moving around in transport. As they bump
together, dust is produced, leaving varied
pigment deposits that hinder identiﬁcation.
Frequent hand washing will also help. As
we change sticks, we carry pigment on our
hands from one stick to another. Over the
years I have acquired the habit of holding a
soft paper towel in my non-painting hand.
When I set a stick down, I automatically
wipe my hand on the towel before picking
up a new one. Placing a catch trap under a
painting is also helpful. The dust from the
pastel will migrate down into the trough
instead of into your palette.
Note also that there are some artists who
enjoy the spontaneity of the “surprise color.”
It’s become a part of their technique. They
become motivated by the challenge it provides. If you’re not one of those adventurous
souls, it will serve you well to occasionally
clean your pastels to allow the true pigment
of the stick to re-appear.
CLE AN YO U R PA STE L S I N G R AI N
Place your sticks in grain and agitate to remove unwanted pastel dust.
Pastel Pointers by Richard McKinley
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Recycling Leftover Pastels
Quality pastels are expensive and I hate to
First, place the pastel fragments and/or
waste even the littlest sliver. Over time, our dust on the mixing surface and carefully
precious sticks wear down to tiny nubs, grind it by ﬂattening the putty knife blade
crumble when the paper label is removed, into the pile. Keep reforming the mound
or turn to dust that accumulates below our and repeating the grinding procedure until
paintings (which I carefully collect into no more grit is felt and the pastel fragments
jars). All of these leftover pastel fragments have been pulverized into a pile of pigment.
can be reworked into viable forms.
This can take quite a bit of effort and repI keep it simple, because I don’t want to etition. If you leave too much grit, there
produce pastels from scratch; I just want will be surprise ﬂecks of color in the stick
to redeploy my leftovers. For health rea- you produce. Create a small cone shape (a
sons, wear a mask that covers your nose volcano-mountain shape) out of the pigand mouth as well as surgical gloves to ment and make a crater in the center. Next,
protect your hands. Never blow the dust slowly add water, a drop at a time. It’s better
around; instead, use a damp rag to wipe to add too little than too much. Since you’re
up any messes. Along with the pastel frag- working with what was once a pastel, the
ments or collected dust, you’ll need a large binder and preservatives are already part
smooth surface for mixing (a marble tile or of the mix. Allow some time for the water
¼-inch [1cm] picture glass surface works to soak in and then slowly fold the pigment
well), utensils for grinding the pigments back into the mix until a paste is created,
together (a 1¼-inch [3cm] putty knife from much like a heavy dough.
the hardware store will work), distilled or
Pick up with your fingers the amount
puriﬁed water, and paper towels.
you wish to form into a shape and gently
roll this out on a paper towel into a stick
form. (Some artists like to pat the paste into
pillows or other shapes, rather than a log
shape; feel free to experiment.) Leave the
pastels on the towel to dry (usually a few
days) and then place them back in service
in your pastel palette. You can mix different
pastel colors to obtain interesting colors
or mix a lot of fragments and obtain grays
(neutrals). But don’t fall too in love with the
stick you produce, since it’s one of a kind!
Another way of utilizing these tiny pastel bits is to grind them down along with a
white pastel stick and create tints. A little
piece of strong pigment will go a long way
in making a lighter tint.
TO O L S FO R R EC YCLI N G YO U R LE F TOV E R S
TH E FI NISH E D PRO DUC T
To recycle pastel, you’ll need a pile of pastel fragments, the pulverized
Here is some mixed paste, the formed pastel stick (on the paper
pastel dust (here shaped into a mountain), and a few mixing tools:
towel), and an example of finished dry leftover pastels.
marble tile, water, a putty knife and a palette knife.
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Pastel Dust Safety
By its very nature pastel is a dusty medium. •
Depending on the brand of pastel you work
with and the surface you choose to apply
it to, dust can be minor or heavy. Harder,
less toothy surfaces tend to produce more
dust, while sanded surfaces tend to hold •
more of the pastel particles. These minute
pastel fragments are often toxic and can be
hazardous to your health. Here are a few
healthy habits to practice to avoid inhaling
the pigment particles:
• Work with your paintings in an upright •
position, allowing the dust to settle
gently to the bottom of the painting.
• Work in a well-ventilated studio workspace; cross ventilation is very helpful
if a mechanical means of pulling air
away from the easel is not utilized.
Use a damp towel to clean up around •
the painting area. A damp towel will
hold the dust instead of stirring it up.
This is also useful for wiping your
hands frequently while painting.
Avoid the bad habit of blowing on the
pastel to dislodge the dust. This removes •
the pastel that has not been well adhered
to the surface but also makes it airborne.
If you must blow, take it outside and
immediately stand back.
To better collect the dust below your
painting, create a trough, something to
hold the dust until it can be dealt with.
Otherwise dust will fall down onto
your workspace, creating a considerable mess.
If you plan on disposing of the dust at
the end of the painting, wide strips of
tape with the sticky side facing up can
catch the dust, making cleanup very
convenient. If you want to collect the
dust, a hard trough is more suitable.
Experiment to ﬁnd what works best for
your needs, then get into the habit of
using good dust hygiene.
CO LLEC T DUST WITH
A M E TAL TRO UG H
In my studio, I use a formed metal trough that
runs across the bottom lip of the easel tray.
This collects the dust that I carefully scrape
into a container. When traveling or working
on location, I use aluminum foil. It is easily
folded and stored in a plastic zippered sandwich bag, taking up no room in my travel
case. To attach the aluminum or reversetape trough to your painting surface, adhere
it to the back and fold it to the front. If tape is
used for the trough make sure the sticky side
faces up. Often a folded strip of mat board
is useful, making the trough more rigid.
Pastel Pointers by Richard McKinley
8/12/10 4:00:29 PM
Protecting and Transporting Unframed Pastels
Due to the fragile nature of pastel, it’s
important to employ extra caution when
storing and transporting paintings—
either home from a day of painting or to
the framer. One method is to attach the
pastel surface to a drawing board support that’s larger than the painting, and
cover the pastel side with glassine paper
for protection. Glassine is the barrier of
choice due to its anti-static nature. When
it’s removed, minimal amounts of pastel
are affected, leaving no noticeable alteration of the painting. If glassine is hard to
obtain, tracing paper can be substituted
(most retail art supply stores carry tablets
of various sizes). Some artists, when traveling, transport their paintings between
the pages of tracing paper within the tablet. Avoid plastic as a protective layer; it
has a high static charge and tends to pull
considerable pastel off the surface.
Place unframed paintings that require longterm storage in large ﬂat ﬁles with glassine
protecting the pastel surface. Or, sandwich
them together and place in archival photo
boxes (available at professional photo supply stores). I like to reassess these stored
paintings once a year, destroying some and
reworking others. Having a secure system
for preserving the paintings allows for them
to be as fresh as the day they were set aside,
even if I am not!
When working on location, a wet panel
box is great for transporting paintings.
These hold the drawing boards that the
paper is adhered to, allowing for travel
with multiple supports and ready to
employ in an instant. My cases and drawing boards are 16" × 20" (41cm × 51cm)
and 18" × 24" (46cm × 61cm). They hold
6 panels each and are stored in the rear
of my vehicle, providing easy access. If
you work on rigid panels like Ampersand
Pastelbord or Richeson’s pastel panels, you
can acquire a case speciﬁc to the size of
the panel. For information on transporting
pastels on a ﬂight, see page 96.
A PROTEC TE D PAI NTI N G
Pastel painting protected by glassine.
WE T PAN E L BOX
A case transporting pastels painted on location.
8/12/10 4:00:35 PM
Author Richard McKinley Isbn 9781440308390 File size 18.5MB Year 2010 Pages 128 Language English File format PDF Category Design Book Description: FacebookTwitterGoogle+TumblrDiggMySpaceShare Top Secrets for Beautiful Pastel Paintings Richard McKinley has been a professional artist for over 35 years. Factor in nearly as many years of teaching experience, and that adds up to a whole lot of know-how to share. In Pastel Pointers, he lays it all out: information on tools, materials, color, composition, landscape elements, finishes and more. Compiles the best of McKinley’s popular Pastel Pointers blog and Pastel Journal columns Covers frequently asked questions (“How do I achieve natural-looking greens?”) and simple solutions to common problems, such as excess pigment buildup Includes a chapter on “The Business of Pastels”tips for framing, shipping, preparing for gallery shows, and otherwise representing your work in a professional manner This book covers everything from the fundamentals to get you going (how to lay out your palette, create an underpainting, evoke luminous effects) to inspirations that will keep you growing (plein air painting, working in a series, keeping a painting journal). Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced painter anxious to explore the expressive possibilities of pastel, this is your guide to making the most of the medium. Download (18.5MB) Drawing and Painting Beautiful Faces: A Mixed-Media Portrait Workshop Strokes Of Genius 8: Expressive Texture Portfolio: Beginning Watercolor Green Guide for Artists: Nontoxic Recipes, Green Art Ideas, & Resources for the Eco-Conscious Artist Paint Mojo A Mixed-media Workshop Load more posts