Thursday, September 18, 2014

"Three Sheep" Animals, pastel, 12 x 18"

"Three Sheep" Animals, pastel, 12 x 18"

In this painting I wanted to show depth and so I emphasized the warm tones, cool tones and the effects of softening the strokes as the painting receded.  I put the closest sheep to the left in hopes that the other two animals would lead the viewers eye back into the piece. I will be totally honest with you.  This is not my favorite piece.  The sheep look sort of goofy,but I got some amazing responses to it at my last show, so I guess it appeals to folks.   I posted some progress shots below.

Using pastel is all about layering.  Some artists stop with one or two layers,but I tend to add around 5 passes.  First I create an underpainting using pastel and rubbing alcohol.  I prefer ochre and warm, reds and browns for this step so that the painting will seem to have an inner glow when done.  I created this on Uart sanded paper using mostly Rembrandt and Nupastel pastels.

After establishing the underpainting I start to place darkest values followed by the mid tones.  The hues tend to be much more vivid than the local colors from the photo.  I am also establishing the temperatures at this point.  Cool colors belong in the shadows and warm hues belong where the sun hits the animals directly.

During the next few passes I start to add local colors.  I usually fix the painting in between these passes.  This allows the under layers to shine through instead of mixing with the top layer and making mud.

Here is the second to last pass.  I am starting now to focus on small areas at a time.  I zoom in on the photo on my computer as I do this.  I always draw from my computer when at all possible.  The final pass is very detailed.  It is during this step that I am often able to work with out the reference photo and just play with the colors and value until it looks right.

I should mention that folks often ask me if I trace my images.  In this case I did trace, but only the very outline of the animals to make sure that it was centered on the paper.  I do all of my preliminary rough sketches on the computer, drawing right on top of the photo using photoshop. It is this altered image that I am using as my reference.  I guess you could say that I am tracing my own rough sketch.  If you do much more tracing than just a simple transfer of your reference photo your painting can be quite stiff.  Besides, you loose all of the base drawing after the first pass since pastel is opaque.  Most of my likeness that I capture from the photo is achieved by turning the photo and the drawing upside down and using the grid method.  Most of this first drawing should be gestural, expressive and loose.

For those of you who consider tracing to be cheating and a sign that the artist can not draw, I challenge you to hand me a pencil, a sketch pad and have you sit for me for 5 minutes.  I promise that I can draw you accurately!  HA!  Just had to put that out there for all of you misguided haters.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"Patience" Animal, pastel, 16 x 20

"Patience" 16 x 20

I have been playing around lately with trying to find the right support and process.  I think I am going to stick with the sanded Uart papers, but this one was on watercolor paper.   It took a while to complete, but I am rather pleased with it.  When you look at it from this photo you cant see all of the detailed hatch marks and strokes.

Here are a few progress shots.  In this case I did a full watercolor underpainting before applying pastel.

First I did a light overall wash of ochre.  I applied blue to the background and the areas that will be darkest.

I applied local color in watercolor to the horse body.

I added warm tones to the area where the sun hit the form of the horse directly.  I did this also in watercolor.

My first pass with pastel was done very quickly.  I am starting to tone down the very bright underpainting.  Doing a pastel on top of such a bright base will make it glow from with in. I try to accomplish this inner glow with most of my paintings. I continued to add local colors for another pass.

The final pass was done with pencil and sharpened nupastels in order to accomplish those very detailed hatch marks.  This texture creates movement in the painting. On this close up you can see that the underpainting and many layers of pastels on top of it all shine through.

Monday, September 8, 2014

"Conversation" Animals, pastel, 11 x 14"

"Conversation" Pastel, 11 x 14"
I created this painting on Uart sanded paper using Rembrandt pastels and Nupastels. Check out my process below in the progress shots to see how I created this many layered piece.  I really like this painting and I am looking forward to showing it this weekend at Second Sundays art and music fest in Williamsburg.

My process of making a pastel painting
First I create  reference photo on photo shop.  Here is where I play with the composition , color and value.  I used to do this by hand as they taught in art school, but I am a product of recent times I guess. It is not unusual for me to combine multiple photos taken from my own camera as well as stock photos.  Once satisfied with the image I draw this onto my paper.  Sometimes I trace, sometimes I draw by eye depending on the subject matter.  If I do trace, it is only to center the piece since you loose all of the drawing after the first application of pastel.

Next comes the underpainting.  I do a quick application of ocher on top of my graphite pencil drawing and run a brush loaded with rubbing alcohol over it.  I simply add darker pastels, diluted with the brush until I have a full warm value scale.  I avoid using black or white directly so far. This process can be done in many ways and varies depending on my support, (paper). 

It is during the first pass with dry pastels  where I develop the temperature of the painting.  I add cool tones to the shadows and warm tones to the areas in direct sun, still avoiding the use of white or black. When I am done with this step I spray with Krylon Workable Fixative.  This sort of melts the layers together but you can usually still see both layers. Usually the painting is very bright after this step.  Sometimes I leave it this way if I am in a bright sort of mood.

During the second pass with the pastels I add the local colors. Local color refers to the actual color of an object.  The animals are brownish grey, the grass is green and the sky is soft greenish blue etc.  The temperature and value layers will shine through this layer.  I start to use white and black pastels.  Be careful how much you use them because they can suck the color right out of a painting. I spray after this layer.

During the last pass I turn the painting upside down.  I divide the photo into sections and zoom in to view only one section at a time.  This is where my painting gets very tight.  This is where I add texture and play with the colors.

I don't recommend this last step to my students who choose to work more painterly.  I however have always loved photo realism, so I do as the photo realists do. Do whatever brings you joy, that's my thoughts on the matter.  Of course my collage professors hated the way I painted and they told me all of the time that I lacked creativity. In the mid 80s my art school did not teach how to paint, but how to throw paint on a canvas and write a paper on it. ha! Photo realism was taboo then, at least it was at BGSU.  Fortunately photo realism has made a comeback.

Often times, when I think I am done I will marinate the painting if I have time.  Ill hide it somewhere for a few days, months or even years.  I also often view photos of it on photo shop where I can make digital changes to it before committing changes to the actual painting.  In this particular painting I changed quite a bit after viewing it on photoshop.  I increased the reflective light, softened some of the grass and edited the expressions on the faces.

When the painting is done you should be able to see the value scale, the temperature layer and the detail layers all together in a nice textured piece. I do not use fixative after the last layer, but blow on the paper to remove excess dust before framing.  The fixative can dull a pastel painting. The sanded paper is so toothy that it holds the pastels in place forever with out the use of fixative.

I will be teaching this method at This Century Art Gallery on Mondays from 1 - 3 pm, starting on September 15.   Join us!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

"Colonial Farm" Animals, Pastel, 5 x 5"

"Colonial Farm" Pastel 5 x 5"

This little painting was done on Uart sanded paper.  First I did a wet application of warm toned pastel.  You can see the orange and gold tones peaking through the other colors.  Once that dried I applied several passes of pastel.  I started with Rembrandt, followed by Nupastel and ending with pastel pencils for blending.    Some of the edges are a bit too hard, so the sheep are more flat than I prefer, but I like the way the colors glow in this one.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

"Buttercup and Son" Animals, pastel, 8 x 10"

"Buttercup and Son"  8 x 10" Pastel
The most successful artists that I know focus on painting what they love.  It took me a while to decide what to paint.  As a long time portrait artist of course I gravitated towards painting portraits of my kids.  When I decided to take my painting more seriously, only a few years ago, I jumped from subject matter to subject matter.  Now I have it narrowed down to animals of the area and paintings of docents from Colonial Williamsburg.  Makes sense I guess, I love all animals, love Virginia and I love local history.  Keep in mind that an artist who hopes to show their work should try to keep subject matte,  painting medium and process consistent.  The best advice I have gotten is from my friend Rita Kirkman.  She says to paint every day, paint small and paint in series.  Check her out at

For this painting I actually started out much larger.  The original (below), was 12 x 18".  I fussed with it and fussed with it and finally decided to throw it away.  One night, just for fun, I put an 8 x 10 mat over the focus area and realized that it might be saved.  I cropped it, sprayed it well with Krylon Workable fixative and went at it. Eliminating the plantation house in the background, simplifying the sky and horizon line did the trick.  I also added more  reflective light.  When I re-created the landscape I just relaxed, went into my quiet happy place in my head, gave up control of my hands to the universe and drew.  When I was done I was surprised to see that I drew my homeland of Bowling Green Ohio, with it's straight open horizons.  I guess I must be home sick.

This was created on Uart sanded paper with a pastel underpainting in warm tones, blended with a brush and rubbing alchol.  I did many passes over thie underpainting using Rembrandt first, followed by harder Nupastel then finishing with a final blending with pastel pencil.  I used Krylon workable fixative between passes.  This process works well to give my paintings an inner glow, which I love so much.  I want them to pulse with life and with love.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

"Carriage Ride in Williamsburg" Animals, Pastel, 11 x 14

"Carriage Ride in Williamsburg"  Pastel,  11 x 14
One day I took a ton of photos of the four horses on duty that Saturday who's job it was to pull tourists in the carriages down Duke of Gloucester street in Colonial Williamsburg.  These horses are amazingly patient as people surround them to stroke their fur and pose for photos.  During their day off you can find them grazing in various pastures around the museum.

This was an especially difficult piece for me.  The straps and such on the horses was really hard to draw.  I started with a fully completed watercolor painting on 140 pound Strathmore watercolor paper, using Windsor and Newton professional grade watercolors.  I kept this  underpainting quite vibrant so that when I applied the pastels on top the painting would glow.  I did 4 passes with pastels, starting with Rembrandt, blending with Nupastels and detailing with pastel pencil.  I used Krylon workable fixative in between passes.

Here is my reference photo.  Usually I mess with my photos quite a bit on photoshop before I commit to the first layer of painting.  Here all I did was flip the photo so that the wood bar at the bottom would lead your eye into the painting.  I used my imagination for the background.

Monday, September 1, 2014

"Solace" Animal, 8 x 10, pastel,

"Solace" 8 x 10" Pastel

I wanted to enter this competition called Reining Cats and Dogs in Richmond at the Crossroads Art Center.  I decided that I would do a drawing of my family pet Solace, since I didn't expect too many other artists to draw a bearded dragon.  The competition was pretty strong, but Solace and one other painting made the cut. Solace often spends an hour or so a day loose in the studio with me hanging out and tickling my toes as I work.

He is drawn on Uart sanded paper with a value underpainting done with orange and golden hued pastel and rubbing alcohol.  You can see the warm tones of the underpainting peeking through the pastel which I applied primarily with Rembrandt pastels and Nupastels.  Towards the end I sprayed it with Krylon workable fixative then did a final pass with pastel pencils.