Wednesday, June 3, 2015

"Zebra and Clouds" by Emily Christoff, from the workshop of Leslie Harrison
A few weeks ago I attended my first workshop since art school in 1987!  Most of my learning since then has been from books and then later from the internet, so this was very refreshing for me.  The instructor's name is Leslie Harrison.  She has published a well known book and has been successfully selling wildlife paintings in pastel on velour paper for around 40 years.  She was a great teacher and the class of around 20 artists all seemed to enjoy her lessons very much. I urge you to purchase her book, "Painting Animals that Touch the Heart".

I took notes.  My  handwriting is horrible, so when I got back to the hotel I typed out her lessons as close as possible.  These notes are the way that SHE paints, so keep that in mind.  Out of respect for Leslie I have not posted photos of her own drawings or included the exact outline of the class.

First we did a demo of a Zebra eye, just to get used to the paper.  The second half of the 3 day workshop was spent working on the 16 x 20 zebra portrait.

 Zebra eye study with Leslie Harrison, drawn by Emily Christoff.  8 x 8".  Pastel on gray velour.

Carbon tracing the map
·         Once you put a line down on the velour paper it is impossible to erase, so use care when mapping out the under drawing. Carbon paper works better for tracing on velour than graphite paper, which tends to leave smudges which can not be erased.
o   If you choose to draw the image from eye, draw it on regular drawing paper and then trace this drawing onto the velour.  This will avoid creating unwanted lines which will not be able to be covered or erased. (Personally I like to scan this drawing and then print it right onto the velour paper.  My printer can print anything up to 13  x 19".  My printer is an Epson Artisan 1430.)
o   If you choose to trace a photo, create a black and white image on standard copy paper.  Print a second image in full color on good paper to use as your reference photo.  (Personally, I prefer to use my computer for my reference photo since I can zoom in to see details.)
·       Tape the carbon paper on top of the velour, then tape the photo or first drawing on top of this paper so that you can trace it onto the velour.
o   Lift the carbon paper to check your progress as you trace.
o   Use a 9b (very soft), graphite pencil to do the tracing to keep from pressing too hard and damaging the paper.  You will most likely still leave a dent when tracing even if you are careful.  This dent will disappear as you progress and paint over it.
o   When done tracing the image carefully remove the black and white photo and the carbon paper and discard.  You now have a very faint gray drawing on your gray velour paper.
o   Use white graphite or carbon paper when drawing on darker paper.
Detailing the preliminary drawing
·         Using a Generals 6b charcoal pencil or a 9b graphite pencil, carefully continue to map the painting by eye after removing the carbon paper.  Do not fill in darker values with this under drawing or attempt to create any texture or detail.
·         Use a white General’s pencil to fill in the white stripes on the animal.  If you use multiple layers as instructed, the white highlights will show throughout the entire painting process under all of the layers which will save your map throughout the process.  For this reason use the white pencil carefully since you will see the mark under all of the rest of the painting.
Base layer
·         Cross hatch with the side of the pastel to cover the surface over the entire paper. (Cross hatch means that you draw vertical strokes and horizontal strokes on top of each other.) Apply this chalk all the way to the edges, right over your preliminary drawing. We used 727 Rembrandt , med gray/blue. (almost the same color as the paper itself)  This will fill in the nap of the velour.
o   Always use blue gray for a base when doing subjects with white topical values.  (Topical means the color that an object is, such as the sky is blue or my shirt is red etc.).
o   (I tend to use too much chalk so I would keep this step very light.)
·         Harder pastels works best for the early base coat.
·         Rembrandt pastels come with a shellacked outer shell. To eliminate the waxy shell on the side of the Rembrandt rub it against sandpaper. NuPastel does not have this wax shell and can be used on it’s side very easily.
·         To steady your hand rest the heal of your hand on the paper. Avoid pressing too hard with your heal which will leave a mark.  Use a black sheet of cardstock over your painting to protect it from dirty hand smudges and to avoid eye glare. 
·         If you do crush the paper try to use a finger to blend out the marks and scratches. For the most part once you make a mark it is there permanently.
·         Do not draw hairs or details until the very end of the painting.   The basecoat will be darker than the final painting so that you can apply lighter hair texture on top of the base.
·         Note that many artists will apply the base tones of the background at this time too.  This will allow the artist to add strokes of hair over the background.  (We did not do this in our workshop, but I usually add some background before I go into detail of the animal.)
Paint the medium values 
·         Use a combination of dark browns and blues to indicate the shadows.  You do not want to use pure black or pure white until the end of the painting. Layering blue and brown on top of each other on the velour makes either warm or cool grays.  Use more brown for warm tones or more blue for cool tones.
·         We used 339.3 Rembrandt and 283 Nupastel for the browns.  For blue we used Rembrandt 508.5 and Nupastel 305 which are both Prussian blue.
·         Use the side of the pastel in soft cross hatching strokes to make the shadows very soft.
·         When creating shadows use soft transitions, no heavy lines or hairs.  Everything on animals have soft edges and no straight lines.
Paint the darker values
·         Using Rembrandt 704.3, (dark gray), emphasize the darker shadows
·         Be careful not to go so dark that you lose your preliminary map.
·         The animal will appear to be too dark at this point.  This is the “ugly” stage of the painting, before you add color or high contrast.
Paint the black values
·         Using Rembrandt 700.5 black and Nupastel 229 black, create soft edges into the darkest parts, cross hatching, keeping soft shapes with no detail.
·         Define and correct the map as you go, keeping it soft. Let the brown/blue peak through the black.  Use very little pure black.
Sharpen your Nupastel to create fine detail.
·         How to get fine lines with NuPastel hard sticks on velour.
o   Sharpen the edge of the pastel on sand paper to make a square edge. Use these 4 sharp edges along with pencils to create fine lines.  This seems to work better than sharpening the pastel stick into one point.
o   Hold the back end of the pastel, not close to the tip.
o   Use a lira, (pastel holder), to extend the length of the pastel stick.
Paint the light gray values, starting to add texture to the white fur.
·         Use a medium gray first applied softly, then lighter gray with texture over most white stripe shapes.
·         Use Nupastel 249, med gray, and 219 warm toner grey on top of the white stripes in short, random strokes with a sharpened stick of pastel.  Make the strokes in the direction of the fur.
·         You don’t want sharp details and fur everywhere, give the viewer’s eye some rest and be selective when choosing which parts of the fur to detail.
·         Use a red plastic value finder to check your values.  The animal will still appear to be too dark at this point.
Drawing the fur on the highlights of the black stripes
·         Hatch short hairs with an orange pencil on the highlights of the black stripes.
Highlighting with white
·         Sharpen your white Nupastel into points.  Randomly apply white to a few of the brightest areas of the painting including the highlight in the eye.  Be very selective on where you apply pure white.

Detail the eyes with a brown iris and white highlights.
·         If you want to show medium highlights in the eye use a light blue to indicate the reflection from the sky.
·         Draw the eyelashes.
 ·         The eye highlight can be done with dot of acrylic paint.
·         Draw light green around the zebras.
·          Use dark warm green to outline the mother.  Use black to darken areas of shadow.
·         Use a light grass green to draw random strokes of grass.
o   Use unpredictable strokes, some short some long etc.  Cover the hooves.
o   Grass becomes thinner, cooler and lighter as it progresses up the landscape.
The mane
·         Darken the darker stripes, lighten the lighter stripes using white and black pencils.  Use Light red to indicate the bleached tips
Sign it using a micron ink pen and a ruler.
·         Don’t use a sharpie marker, it will fade.
As a general rule of thumb, you want to change at least 10% of your painting when working from a photo or another artist's painting if you wish to show it in public.  For this reason I added an entire background  and  also added reflective highlights and additional pops of color compared to the workshop.  I wanted to make the painting my own but still learn from the master.  It looks beautiful in its new frame.



  1. As a former student of one of Lesley's workshops, these notes are golden and much better than mine. For example, I recently did a pastel painting on velour and noticed when finishing the outline, the blackish smudges all over the velour. I had used graphite (an aha moment when I read your notes). Many thanks for your generosity in writing these notes for all of us aspiring "Lesley Harrisons".

  2. In addition to my previous comments, I also wanted to mention I absolutely love the background in your large zebra painting - it truly sets off the beautiful zebras with a life of its own.

  3. Thank you! I hope she is not offended that I published my notes from her workshop. I rather doubt she will be since she is very passionate about teaching. I am glad that you benefited from my own experience with this wonderful artist and teacher.