View Full Version : Pastel Spotlight Demo WIP xp Spotlight

06-08-2015, 04:35 PM

Here's the start of a landscape from a reference by DAK723 posted in Pastel Spotlight. Here's a link to the post with the reference: June Spotlight Top Post. (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showpost.php?p=20494389&postcount=1)

Even on the thumbnails where I've tried different crops moving the horizon line up and down, the first thing I got rid of was that perfectly straight shoreline. It's a straight horizontal line that has no points of interest and moves the eye right out the sides of the painting. So why not make it a little more natural with protrusions and inlets, just let it dance back and forth a bit? I didn't plan the musical line specifically in any of them, just let it flow naturally. i cropped out the canoe and the houses.

That is personal taste. If I'd kept either buildings or the canoe, they would have become a focal area for the painting. I prefer my wilderness landscapes to look like I was the first one there this summer, quiet and off the beaten track. I considered adding an animal but decided against that. A small flock of birds is enough.

In these thumbnails I paid attention to notan, the patterns of light and dark created in the painting. I'm not even thinking about color yet, just planning ahead. Each of them took only a couple of minutes to get down, maybe five tops, with brush pens in different values. I used three for mid-light value, mid-dark and dark values. Black is just dark areas in this kind of planning sketch.

I filled a page with them but try doing a bunch of different ones on your reference. At least half a dozen in different crops, different shapes, different patterns of light and dark. Thumbnailing is about design and composition.

I avoided putting the horizon line dead center in them. One element should have the strongest prominence and take up the most area in the picture. This is the trees n one of the crops, sky in three of them because I liked that cloudy sky with its lighter and darker areas, reflective water in one and the square one breaks that rule because sky and trees are close to the same area with mountains counting in the value mass as a tiebreaker depending on how light or dark they're painted. But the square format lends itself to unusual rule-breaking compositions.

I've managed to get a centered composition to work in a square format. But it works best to center that vertically or horizontally, not both. It can be interesting and pretty serious to zero iin on the center in a square, that has its own effect. Generally radiating out is a static arrangement so it has to have a lot of depth and perspective to work. It helps to push the distance way out by layering. I didn't do it this time but if I did paint the square one I would probably shrink the sky and add more rows of blue hills marching away deep into the distance, so the sub-horizon lines are there filling that whole middle section.

That's my last point about thumbnails. They're tools to plan the painting. I've often done a bunch of thumbnails and learned something from each one, then done my final design different from any of them.

The Spotlight lesson is on horizon lines. Rather than go over what Don wrote in his gorgeous illustrated essay, I suggest reading it. It's great.

After a few days of studying my thumbnails and deciding which if any to use, today I picked up a dozen hard pastels I got on Clearance at Blick recently and played with color on brown paper:


Looking at it at a distance, I need to adjust something with the values. Definitely wanted left side darker than the right. I broke up the straight shoreline with deliberate inlets and extrusions to slow it and make it more musical. Done from the middle left thumbnail on previous page.

Skyscape Color Study (Fixed)
5" x 7"
12 Derwent pastels on brown Bee Bogus Recycled sketch paper
Photo reference Pastel Spotlight #1 scene by DAK723

I realized after the fix that I'd left off the birds from the thumbnail. It looks much better with the birds in, but they are a small detail too. So I'll put them in on the actual painting. Birds will help break up that sense that both sides are hte same. I have more trees on the left side and larger ones, a dip where the mountains are more visible on the right and that's where I placed my birds.

The directional strokes I used in the sky give a sense that the wind is blowing rain from right to left, the storm is passing rather than rolling in. I like the effect but I'll decide later on the direction, whether the storm is blowing in or out. The storm is the main event in the painting. I might get more colorful in the clouds and hint at colored lightning, that does happen sometimes. I'll definitely include the birds on the right side and may break the line of trees more completely to give a visual path inward toward the leaves.

That's another compositional point. When you have a line of trees marching across the entire painting without a way through, it can stop the eye. I didn't notice this in any of my thumbnails, but part of the process is studying and changing my composition at each stage so that the best version is the one I spend more time on the painting.

I could alternately or also break up the shoreline even more by curving it toward the viewer on the left, so as to further keep the two sides from mirroring each other. Either slant it or curve it around or visually break it by dropping an island in front of it to create another layer.

It's much easier to critique a quick small sketch than the painting itself. Getting it nearly done and noticing these things would be seriously annoying. If I'd gone right to pastels on good paper I would be doing a lot of erasing at some point or come up with a much less inviting painting.

I want the drama of the storm, but havng the weight of the dark storm and the dark forest on the left while the right has the opening into the hills (far distance) will completely end the left-right symmetry that made Don's photo a good reference and a bad composition. The water's choppy with hints of reflections but not very much, it's mostly reflecting sky.

The color study does not need to be a good painting in itself. It just needs to be a general idea of how the painting will look in color. I might even completely change the colors and make this an autumn scene with a few pines and mostly warm trees, but I like this cool colors theme to fit the mood of the storm. Warm colors are muted into iridescent grays both in the sky and the water. You can do more than one color study too. It doesn't have to be as detailed or as attractive.

I could have done the color study in colored markers, just decided to go with hard pastels on sketch paper for fun. It's a bit closer than I'd get with the markers. I sometimes do all this in my head, but the advantage of real studies is seeing how it looks when my nose isn't right on top of it.

A good way to judge my color studies is to put it across the room or look at the photo I post as a stage when it's just a little thumbnail in the directory. Those thumbnails in the computer are great for self critique because the big masses of hue and value will show. Any unintended patterns like flat bands of color-value in this one are more obvious in a little thumbnail. Good design has balance, is usually not symmetrical and has repetition with variation. It's weighted more on one side than the other instead of mirroring. My changes all improve what I got from the photo. The photo's good for details, for ideas, for a sense of what's there. I can move what's there anywhere I want it - and that big tree jutting up in the center might look a lot better on the island!

So what looks good to me now is island on the left added to have nearer trees overlapping the far ones although water can be assumed to run between those groups, and use the water again to break through the lower tree group on the right and send a little creek running up into the woods. A visual opening doesn't need to be easily hiked, people are roaming in imagination and could be canoeing.

There's my concept and now I'm ready to start painting. Next post will just be a good line sketch of the final composition on good paper. Here I'll choose paper and pastels almost on impulse.

Well, the good paper jumped into my hand. I have an 8" x 10" piece of white sanded paper that might be the last piece of Fisher 400 that Colorix sent me. There's a previous sketch on it that I erased heavily. It's light enough to ignore. Since it's sanded, I might go with a full Colourist treatment on this painting. I'm used to doing that with still life subjects and have done it with one landscape previously. Now I think I'd love to see how that works with a better subject.

Birds are a small detail that will be placed at the very end. I'll use them to balance and adjust the composition in the final stage rather than work them in from the beginning. How many there are, what size they are, what kind they are can all be decided then.

Actually my picture area won't be exactly 8" x 10" but have 1/4" off on all sides for mat area. The 8" side runs right to the cut edge of the paper and I want to keep that balanced, so this will really be 7 1/2" x 9 1/2" - or exactly the size of a precut mat opening for an 8 x 10" painting. It's important to draw in the crop lines for this, at least to me. That's to keep me from putting important details too close to the edge or kissing the edge. I went through this when I first marked up the paper and that's why there's two sets of crop lines. The inner ones are the right ones, everything else is covered by the mat.

Measuring up the paper to fit a standard mat size is another part of what I always do. I like to be able to use standard size frames. 8" x 10" fits nicely in an 11" x 14" frame and way too tight in a 9" x 12" one though it can work if that's what I have. It saves the expense and trouble of taking it to a framer for a custom frame, or at least having to go lots larger with a standard frame. I use Blick Gallery frames either Spectrum or the nice metal edge ones I ordered last time. They're inexpensive and come with a back board and acetate glazing.

As a demo, either feel free to copy what I'm doing or take the reference and do your own crops. I zoomed in using Gimp so that I'd get more detail to the trees and could use the sliders to change the window size. That's also my lazy-man no-draw thumbnail technique. I just open the reference, zoom and start playing with the window shape in Windows till I see a composition I like. But this one requires my creating a little island by making up more trees closer to the viewer. We are now in the canoe approaching the island... running before the storm...

06-08-2015, 07:22 PM
wow. What a wonderful lesson on how to start a painting.

06-09-2015, 02:01 AM
Purr thank you! That's what I'm doing - and then will carry through the rest of my process with maybe a bit more focus on design than usual.

06-09-2015, 04:23 PM
good compositions ;
both the thumbnails and the writing . :)


06-09-2015, 07:38 PM
This is great, Robert. Thanks for making it demo. I'm saving the thread

06-19-2015, 01:53 AM
Thank you! Today I finally put my concept to sanded paper with a firm charcoal pencil. The island or spit of land on the left really worked. I forgot that I'd wanted to open a creek into the interior, though I know where I'll put it when I do the underpainting. So here's the sketch:

Storm Skyscape Charcoal Sketch
7 1/2" x 9 1/2"
Charcoal on (I think) Fisher 400 sanded pastel paper.
Photo reference by DAK723 morphed to my design.

I've got two value areas shaded in, the darker clouds and the darkest trees. But the mountains will be shaded too compared to the lightest parts of the sky and the water will have both some broken reflections and sky color rippling in it from a gusting wind. The wind will be coming from left to right, the storm coming in rather than going out. I may change some of the textures to have patches of rain rather than shading the whole with diagonal strokes. I also think I need to extend the dark area either at the top or the bottom, right now it makes too perfect a letter E.

All of these design decisions are constantly changing. This is still a flexible stage in painting. Any and all suggestions appreciated before I start doing color and working it in deeper.

06-21-2015, 06:56 PM
I'm so impressed with your thumbnails! They each seem strong and demonstrate well the importance of thinking ahead about values. Those color studies are nice, too. Looking forward to seeing the finished painting!