Pastel still lifes - Michele Ashby,
Michele Ashby, "Grandad's Missing Button," pastel

Learn how to paint pastel still lifes > The following is part of a series of articles featuring a leader in the pastel community who has joined us on the faculty of Pastel Live, an annual virtual art conference – the next one is August 17-19, 2023.

Pastel Still Lifes: Little Moments, Big Memories

by Michele Ashby

I decided to paint a series of still lifes showcasing some carefully chosen items from my late mum’s old wooden sewing box as a way of helping with the grieving process; but more importantly, I felt it would be an appropriate way of keeping her memory alive.

My dear mum loved to sew and knit and was always making things for my sister and I to wear. The Singer sewing machine was almost always out on the dining table ready to use at a moment’s notice.

pastel still lifes - Michele Ashby, "Made with Love," pastel
Michele Ashby, “Made with Love,” pastel

It didn’t occur to me at the time that my little paintings (either 6×6″ or 10×10″) would conjure up such strong emotional responses and such feelings of nostalgia from friends, family, and followers online.

I have used photo references for all of these paintings, making sure the objects are beautifully lit with a low positioned light casting a strong directional shadow, allowing for the treasured items to be the ‘stars of the show’.

Pastel still lifes - Michele Ashby, "The Royal Button," pastel
Michele Ashby, “The Royal Button,” pastel

As an ex-graphic designer, I believe that composition is key and a fundamental element to making for a great painting – I take time to get just the look I’m after when working out the size, scale, and cropping of my chosen imagery.

The use of a neutral background tone (either a very light grey or mid grey) allows any areas of colour within the paintings to really pop.

I called my series “Little Moments Big Memories,” and so far I’ve painted over a dozen. I certainly have more I’d like to explore.

Realistic pastel art
Michele Ashby, “Measure Up,” pastel
realistic pastel art - Michele Ashby, "The Big Scissors," pastel
Michele Ashby, “The Big Scissors,” pastel
realistic pastel art - Michele Ashby, "Measured Success," pastel
Michele Ashby, “Measured Success,” pastel

Still life hasn’t been a subject area that I’ve been excited to explore until I started with this series, but I have tried to stay true to my mantra of ‘telling my own truth’ to depict imagery that has triggered in me similar emotional responses that my portrait paintings have.

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  1. Fascinating. What a great artist to be taught by, a wonderful communicator in words and images. I love Michele’s still lifes and figures

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