Pastels and Natural Light

General Description:

Nature, perhaps the greatest teacher of all, presents ever-changing real world examples of lighting issues that are always available for study. Working out of doors will give everyone the opportunity, and challenge, of exploring and expressing lighting ideas with their bare hands. Throughout the day and seasons, light exhibits an enormous dynamic range and complexity that is humbling to say the least, but it can inspire as well. Pastels being fast, simple, and primitive, make them an ideal medium for direct physical interaction with the lighting problems that working outdoors presents. This class is geared towards those who are interested in spending time outside, analyzing and recording light and color in nature with very simple tools. This is experience and inspiration that can be taken back to the studio and put to work in a very powerful way.

Pastels are messy, simple, and challenging. While it helps to have drawing and compositional skills, that is not a pre-requisite. What's more important is the curiosity and willingness to be a patient observer of natural phenomena, while getting your hands dirty

Demos will be given daily, and several slide lectures throughout the week, covering inspirational artists, composition, atmospheric color and light, and analyzing water. Plenty of one-on-one attention will be available throughout the week. Field work will take us to various locales within an easy drive of the campus to explore different aspects of the beautiful alpine landscape of the Sierra Buttes.


Bill Cone Bill has been painting outdoors for almost 20 years, and has exhibited his work in group and one man shows throughout California. His 'day job' is as a production designer for Pixar Animation Studios, and he has done hundreds of pastel, lighting and color studies for films. He has also taught classes on lighting and color at Pixar for the last 14 years, and has given lectures on design for film at museums and universities around the world.

Class Schedule

For those staying at the Field Campus, plan to arrive on Sunday to settle in to your accommodations. We can get acquainted that evening during and after dinner. Class proper begins the following morning at 8:30 AM. Class ends mid-day on Friday.

Supplies and Other Useful Items

Art Supplies

Please note that if you have materials and a setup you are comfortable with, you are welcome to use that. It is important that you be reasonably familiar with your gear, and that you are able to carry it for up to a half mile or so. For those that need a simple field kit, study the list below, and pick up the items you need. Keep it portable. You'll have more choices outdoors if you're able (and willing) to hike a short distance to find the best view. Having the right equipment will make a difference.
  • Pastels: I use a variety of soft pastels that are compatible with each other, Primarily Terry Ludwig, Blue Earth, and Unison, with some Sennelier and Schmincke. Any mid-size set of landscape colors will be a good starting point. Bring as many colors as you are comfortable hiking a short distance with. You can always leave some in camp.
  • Paper: Canson Paper cut into quarters of the original sheet size, so roughly 9 x 12" Some useful colors for atmosphere and water are Dawn Pink, Flannel, Tobacco, and Pearl Grey. I have mainly used the color 'twilight' for my work, but it is no longer in production. That color is available as part of the "touch" line of sanded papers that Canson produces. I do vary my choice according to location and lighting conditions.
  • 11 x 14 pad of tracing paper: This is a simple way to store your finished pastels, as well as your blank sheets of paper.
  • 11 x 14 sheet of 1/4' foam core, or lightweight wood panel. If you use wood, you can cover the wood with a sheet of Canson to use as a slight cushion behind your artwork.
  • Binder clips: You'll want at least 2 clips to mount paper on the foam core, or to clip your pad and foam core together.
  • Drafting tape: 1/4" tape to tack down any loose ends of paper in a breeze.
  • Sketchbook: Any small ring bound sketchbook in the 8.5 x 5.5 size is recommended for compositional studies and notes.
  • Black or Indigo blue Prismacolor Pencil(s)
  • Easel: A portable easel. There are a variety of these available, the classic wooden julian easel (full or half), the Soltek, as well as a variety of pochade type boxes that mount on tripods such as the Versa by Artwork Essentials , and the models available from I am currently using a Heilman Backpack easel that is mounted on a tripod. (
  • Umbrella: Shade is an essential component of working outdoors in order to balance and control the light on your artwork as well as your palette. I currently recommend the Best Brella -- The Best Ever Easel Umbrella for Plein Air Artists. The mount is quite adaptable, and the umbrella itself has several features that make it ideal for working outside. For one, the interior is black, which knocks out the potential diffuse glare of direct sunlight coming through the material. The ribs are fiberglass, which are flexible. Having lost an average of 2 umbrellas a year from unexpected gusts of wind for every year I've been working, this model has proven to be quite sturdy for over five years now.
  • Folding Stool: This is optional. For years I worked sitting down, with a board in my lap, and my pastels on the ground. I am currently using an easel, but prefer the option of sitting or standing while I work. There are several models available from REI that are quite portable.

Field Supplies

  • Sunscreen
  • Wide brim hat
  • Water Bottle
  • Hand wipes- These are useful with the nature of the medium we use to clean up.
  • Day Pack: Get one that fits as much gear as you want to carry in the field
  • Camera
  • Camping gear


    Days are warm, even hot, while evenings are quite cold (close to freezing). Clothing that can be layered for variable weather conditions is best. T-shirts and shorts are often perfect during the day, with a wind jacket or raincoat as backup. Long pants, warmer shirts and sweaters with a coat are necessary in the evening. Comfortable shoes, sun hat, wool hat and gloves are important. Old sneakers or rubber boots and a swimsuit may come in handy while visiting marshes.


    • insect repellant
    • alarm clock
    • plastic containers for packed lunches

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