This lesson is all about mood and color. Pushing, nudging and even inventing color to capture the essence and feeling of a scene rather, than faithfully replicating a piece of reference. So, this is one to really let it loose, dig out those not so great photos that still capture your imagination and have a go at them. The original piece was on the cover of Pastel Journal so it has special significance to me. I hope you have fun with the lesson!

This is a two-part lesson. First a Follow-Along Demo. Follow along at your own pace but remember my suggestions for time limits!

Next is an Independent Assignment meant to expand on some of the principles presented in the Follow-Along Demo and to personalize your work. When you have completed both parts you can upload one or both images to receive a personal video critique on your work. Remember that the more mileage you get, the more progress you make, so I recommend that you complete both parts before submitting your images.

Who it’s for – This lesson for all levels. Creating mood and a sense of the unusual from an ordinary piece of reference is something that I strive to do. I recommend following along for a first try, then using one of the alternate reference photos to do a second piece using the same steps; just applying them to the alternate reference photo.

What’s it’s About – This is about pushing and inventing color and orchestrating the elements to play up the area of interest or focal point.

Set a Personal Focus – Try to focus on just a couple aspects of the painting. For instance if you really are interested in color, focus on that and don’t worry too much if you don’t get the drawing exactly how you’d like it. Take it a step at a time!

Set a Time Limit – Keep it simple and don’t spend more than an hour on it. If you find yourself spending two or three hours on it, it’s time to STOP and try another version!


  1. Your pastels
  2. An 12 x 12 piece of Colorfix paper. I used Burgundy for this lesson, but you could use a different color or different brand of paper if you like. Please use sanded pastel paper!


  1. Easel
  2. Baby wipes
  3. An apron

Part I
Follow-Along Demo

Before You Start, a Few Tips on Following Along

  1. Stop the video whenever you need to – it’s one of the great things about learning this way. Plus, you don’t need to take notes!
  2. Don’t feel funny about copying my pieces! It’s a time-honored way to learn and I know you’ll develop your own “style” in due course. I give you lots of ways to take off on your own and expand on the demos/lessons.
  3. Take your time, but not really! I want you to speed up a bit so you can start to develop the “whole” piece all at once.
  4. Do it differently. If it feels uncomfortable, you’re likely on the right track.
  5. Remember the three “P’s” Perfection, Procrastination, Paralysis. There is no such thing as a perfect painting, so don’t even worry about it.
  6. If you have trouble, ask for help! My team and I want you to have a great experience doing the lessons!!
  7. There are 5 stages in each lesson. The beginning of each stage is a good time to pause the video, take a short break and check in on how you’re doing.

“Fables & Fantasies” Notes: This piece started from a pretty ordinary photograph, but I’d painted this spot on location and had very fond memories of it. The photo simply did not do it justice. The place was magical and I wanted to capture the feeling I’d had there. So, I pushed and pulled on the color and did a lot of editing to really break down the shapes in the scene into those that were really important to me. Simple, simple, simple. This piece has a lot of glazing; layering harder pastel over softer to blend. Think of it like putting a thin wash of watercolor over an area in a painting.

Part 2
Independent Assignment

For the independent assignment, I’ve provided a few photos for you, but I highly recommend that you use your own. This lesson is about capturing mood and the emotion of a scene, so you want to use your own reference.

These photos are of places that I had an emotional reaction to and found beautiful, but the photos don’t do them justice. I’ve found that many times this turns out to be a good thing. When this is the case there seems to be room in there for me. When I try to paint a gorgeous photo, it inevitably winds up looking just like the photo. I’m not interested in that.

So, use these if you don’t have any of your own, with the intent that you’re going to tease the magic from them. OK?

When You’ve Completed Both Part 1 & 2
When you’re done, click here to upload pics of your painting and I’ll send you a Personal Video Critique. I’m curious what you’ll come up with! The first critique request is a free bonus for you. If you’d like additional critiques, normally a Personal Video Critique is $97 but you can send a message my support team to get a discounted critiques package – I’ve already told them that since you are taking lessons from me, you get at least 40% off.

If you aren’t ready for a personal critique from me, then be sure to upload your work to our Community page where your peers can take a look. I often comment on the Community submissions as well – it won’t be a video critique but I really enjoy seeing your work and helping you when I can.

Next Up!
When you’re done, send me your image or images and I’ll reply with a video critique of your efforts! Just follow the simple directions on the site. I’m curious what you’ll come up with!

The Stages (applies to both part 1 & 2)

  1. Planning
    • Crop your reference, (feel free to crop it just like mine or change it up a bit).
    • Do a quick 5 to 10 minute thumbnail. This is a great way to get a feel for the piece and visualize the final version.
  2. Drawing
    • Scale up your thumbnail to the correct proportion Watch my video on scaling a sketch!
    • Lightly sketch in the essential shapes
    • Use your thumbnail sketch more than your photo reference at this point
  3. Blocking In
    • Establish the essential shapes of the piece, (3 to 5 largest shapes) Use the sides of the sticks)
    • Establish the values of those main shapes. What is the overall or average value of each shape?
    • Get a feel for how the piece works as a whole.
  4. Adding On
    • Add a variety of hues, and intensity to each shape.
    • Add texture and smooth out gradations where needed. Watch my video To Blend or Not to Blend.
    • Add a light source or direction of light.
    • Add detail.
  5. Finishing
    • Resolve any areas that need attention or TLC.
    • Slow down make color adjustments where needed.
    • Go the extra mile and exaggerate contrast and intensity where needed. Give yourself permission to do this!
Fables & Fantasies
Download the Lesson PDF

Enjoy “Fables & Fantasies”!

To Download the PDF file:
Ctrl-Click (MAC) and choose “Save File As”
Right Click (PC) to download files.

Click Here to Download the PDF

Download the Images PDF
To Download the PDF file:
Ctrl-Click (MAC) and choose “Save File As”
Right Click (PC) to download files.

Click Here to Download the Images PDF

Skill Builder
Making a Plan


Lesson 11