View Full Version : The Spotlight - April 2016 - Spring Flowers

03-31-2016, 08:09 PM
Welcome artists!

Here is a quick recap of what The Spotlight is all about!

The Spotlight is an activity thread for pastel artists of all experience levels working from photos chosen by a monthly host. Most months, the host will choose photos from only one subject, putting that subject into “the spotlight,” so to speak! For example, one month the subject will be painting water, another month will spotlight flowers, etc.

Some months, rather than spotlight a subject, the focus will be on a challenge of some sort. In those cases, we might have a wider variety of photo references, but “the spotlight” will be on the challenge itself.

Since this is a group activity, we can pool our knowledge and resources, and grow as artists in a fun, “no-pressure” atmosphere.

And, remember, no critiques unless specifically asked for.

The intent is to have fun, try new things, experiment, and perhaps most of all, to see what our friends and colleagues are painting from the same reference material!

Please note: The photos this month were taken by me or are from the Reference Image Library. You have permission to use the photos as reference to create your artwork and to sell them and/or exhibit them. The actual photos still retain the copyright of the photographer. So you cannot copy the photo to your blog, for example, without the permission of the photographer, or digitally alter or reproduce the photo for any purpose other than for your personal use, with the exception of crops, digital alterations and posts of these photos within "The Spotlight" thread.

This month’s Spotlight is on…Spring Flowers!

After 3 months of hard work and experimenting with simplifying, this month I thought we would just take a month to celebrate the coming of Spring in the northern hemisphere and put the Spotlight on Spring Flowers! The first daffodils have just appeared here in Rochester, NY, (although snow is in the forecast for the weekend...:eek:) but perhaps where you live, more flowers are already in full bloom. So, feel free to use your own references - or even do some plein air paintings from life!

Feel free to use some of our simplifying methods, or just paint without any special lesson in mind!

The references (that I have assembled from previous years):






Enjoy Spring!!


04-01-2016, 05:14 AM
Lovely flowers, Don. Happy Spring.

04-01-2016, 02:43 PM
Thank you for the lovely photos, Don. I look forward to trying one, but in the meantime, the topic is opportune for me because I have a flower painting I was struggling a little with and would love to get some suggestions from others here on how I might finish/improve it. This is mountain laurel. It has potential but lacks impact and depth. I am not sure what it needs or how to fix it, so I had put it aside and moved on to other things. Ideas would be greatly appreciated


04-01-2016, 05:05 PM
Hi Kim,

I think there is a lot going on in your painting. Looking back at our simplifying Spotlights, I would try and reduce the painting to simple shapes and see where it is. If you take this and convert it to grayscale in any photo editing program, I think you will see that the lower 2/3rds of the painting is all very similar in value. So, in terms of contrast, I would try and decide which is the lightest value shape (I think it is clearly the pink flowers) and then try and see how you can make the lightest value shapes stand out (since they are the subject).

I've played around a bit in photoshop, I'll send you a PM.


04-01-2016, 05:36 PM
Kim, this is looking good. Do you need some pix of mountain laurel?
I would add a few blossoms to the lowest flower bunch. The spokes of the wheel catch my eye.
I wonder if the woods are a distraction. I like them. But I'm thinking if the flowers are the focus, maybe you don't need the woods. How about a little sketch...deepen the woods. And omit, blur the woods. Or make the woods right behind the flowers. (My Laurel are at the edge of the woods.).
Hope you don't mind truthful critique.
I'm very partial to pink flowers and love the laurel you've shown. This is going to be stunning!!!

04-02-2016, 08:46 AM
Thanks guys. Great ideas and lots to think about. Don sent me some very thoughtful suggestions on message too. Jay, it hadn't even occurred to me about the "spoke like" component of that left cluster. Maybe even just one more bloom there to break it up would help fill that section in. This was was one of those frustrating paintings in which it looked better in the early stages and I ruined it with detail.... But having fresh eyes and suggestions may help me recover it and learn in the process.

04-02-2016, 02:48 PM
You're so gracious Kim. I answered you because I know the frustration of needing SOMETHING...and also fresh eyes. It's a beautiful painting..I can't wait to see it finished. I'll be inspired to try some too.

04-02-2016, 05:56 PM
Argh... don't wait too anxiously. While the ideas were great, I just had too many layers at that point and it came out like mud. I could try to brush some off and kind of start over, but I think I'll call it a learning experience and move on :)

04-02-2016, 08:08 PM
Awwww, sometimes if you just put it aside a bit? Sorry. Hugs

04-04-2016, 06:56 PM
Well, the mountain laurel didn't make it, so I started a new a new flower painting, which I planned out a little better. I do have a lot of blooms in the garden, but it's snowing outside... poor flowers. Anyway, I used the bouquet on my table instead for the inspiration for this one


04-04-2016, 07:26 PM
Kim, it's too bad your mountain laurel painting didn't make it because it had so much promise. I really liked that. Love your vase, love the strong contrasts between flowers and background, setting darker flowers against what looks like a bright window behind gauzy white drapes is fantastic. Love the perspective too, very lively and immediate. The light through the vase is so beautiful.

Don, thanks for a great theme and beautiful references. I love the iris. We have some and one of them just popped up two buds so they'll bloom soon. We had lots of jonquils a few weeks ago and I had a hyacinth that I bought, but those have bloomed out and dried. I still have sketches and photos though. Your iris is awesome and I might start with that.

I hope to actually do one this month, last month was freakishly awful. Health permitting always applies.

04-04-2016, 07:43 PM
Love the light, Kim. Beautiful.

04-04-2016, 08:36 PM
Hi all,
Just wanted to ask a question. I am new, very new, at pastels and would like to join in on this Spring Flower spotlight.
I live in the desert of Arizona and have been photographing a few spring desert flowers. Is it ok if I use my own photo references?

Thank you in advance.


04-04-2016, 11:39 PM
Kim, Absolutely lovely painting! It's not easy to capture light coming in through a window, but you've done it! The whole painting just shimmers with light!


04-04-2016, 11:40 PM
Hi all,
Just wanted to ask a question. I am new, very new, at pastels and would like to join in on this Spring Flower spotlight.
I live in the desert of Arizona and have been photographing a few spring desert flowers. Is it ok if I use my own photo references?

Thank you in advance.


Hi, Sharon and welcome! Yes, absolutely OK to use your own references! Looking forward to seeing your painting(s)!


04-05-2016, 09:10 AM
Thank you for the kind comments, Don, Jay, and Robert. I have a tendency to avoid highly saturated colors, so I had it in mind I wanted to do something bold, especially after that last piece which was accurate but uninteresting. My sketch was a more well-composed composition and lost something when I altered it for the dimensions of the final format, but I think I achieved the greater vibrancy and impact anyway.

04-05-2016, 10:33 AM
Thank you Don for the quick response. I can now get started and see what happens..


04-05-2016, 12:29 PM
Kim, I really love what you did. Hope you'll help me with my effort that I'm posting below. Struggle struggle!! It's not finished but I always feel better when I post.

(Welcome Sharon!)

This is on Color...I forget the name. (Australian paper, I think.) 9 x 13 to fit a frame. Started with nupastels and tried Great American. They were awful with this paper! Terry Ludwig worked better. This is a challenging scene for me. I'm not happy with the leaves yet. I don't know if it is clear what is happening with the flowers. This was hard! Comments greatly appreciated as long as they don't involve the ellipse. :lol: :wink2:

04-05-2016, 01:23 PM
Hi, everyone. I've been gone awhile but may try to participate soon. Hi, Robert! I'm glad you got settled near your daughter. And welcome, Shari!

Don, your references are beautiful!

Kim, my suggestion about your mountain laurel would be to crop the to to where just a little background shows above the sprig of leaves on the top right flowers when the painting is matted or framed. I think that will bring focus more on the flowers instead of leading the eye into the woods. Your vase of flowers is absolutely beautiful! In it, you've incorporated the values advice Don offered on the mountain laurel. I love those dark blue/purple flowers and the sunlit yellow petals. The background is perfect.

Jay, your ellipse ... (just kidding! :lol: ). I think those tulips are lovely! I really like the interesting background, too. It makes me want to go into the painting and see what's going on there. As far as changes, I think maybe the leaves could pick up some of the dark blue from the background to tie the flowers in to what's going on in the background. Since the flowers are backlit, I think you could get away with quite dark values on the front side. That's just IMHO so don't change anything until you live with the painting a few days.

04-05-2016, 01:57 PM
Blayne! How nice to have you back. I missed you. Thanks so much for the suggestion for the painting. It's in my contemplation spot. You say you MAY be participating soon. I hope you do.

04-05-2016, 03:36 PM
This photograph was taken by me in April 2008. My granddaughter. Poor dear, I just can't seem to fix her nose. (was wearing snorkel gear on nose.)
11 x 14 on Uart with Nupastel and Caran D'ache pastel pencil. Comments appreciated.

04-05-2016, 06:38 PM
Jay, I like the pink flowers painting and think your ellipse is lovely, symmetrical and plausible. How deep it is just defines the angle of the viewer to the vase. Seriously, it's good. The leaves are a bit yellow-brown in hue, that might be what's bothering you. Looking at the similar leaves of jonquils and hyacinth in my yard, those tend to be a sap green in sunlight and an actual dusty blue-green in shadow, so that might be a solution - bring more blue into the greens. But then, I'm that weird green-lover, others may love the golden hue you've got.

I love the contour strokes you used especially in the flowers, they burst off the page in three dimensional profusion and have lots of motion. Likewise the twisting, interesting leaves - this beats flat-but-accurate color. The light and dark in the background works well. Your flowers are the warmest element and the most saturated, so they're a natural focal area. Well done!

Cool painting of the swimmer, again light and lively. Colors are cheerful and harmonious, the feel of the water distortion is there and it gives a great impression of being hot and bright out, plenty of motion! Good painting.

04-05-2016, 06:59 PM
Thanks Robert. I think that idea of incorporating some blue tone in the leaves is perfect. You and Blayne were on the same wave length. I chose all my greens from the warm side of the terry L box. I can simply move over to the other side and also incorporate a bit of the background blue which was dark teal, purple and even orange!
Nice to have you back.

04-05-2016, 07:27 PM
Purr glad I could help! Terry Ludwig has some wonderful dusty blue-greens, a whole range of them.

Today I finally did it, against all odds. Here's a fast loose little iris - I love irises. Ours are getting ready to bloom and hopefully I'll be up to painting from life and walking over to the patch across the driveway by the time they do.

5" x 7"
Cretacolor Pastels Carre' on Strathmore Artagain pastel paper.
Photo reference by DAK723 for April 2016 Pastel Spotlight

I might come back to this with other pastels and paper later on, or have a go at the live ones when they bloom. Artagain isn't quite as toothy as the Canson Mi-Tientes so layering takes some blending and I didn't play with the layers as much as I would on sanded paper. It's so tempting to come back to this and do the full four stage Colourist Method on it though!

04-05-2016, 07:53 PM
Robert, I love the iris. It has a real finesse to it. Essence of iris. There is a spontaneity and confidence in your sketches that I always admire. I would love to see your "four stage colorist method" ... especially since I don't know what that is :)

Jay, the underwater scene is wonderful. Wow! The water is so realistic and the figure is very well done. Really cool painting!

I like the floral too. It is pretty and the flowers do stand out well. I like the suggestions to add some blues and purples. Maybe play a little bit with complimentary colors in shaded areas to make the highlights on the petals and leaves really pop. Regardless, it is lovely as it is

04-05-2016, 11:23 PM
Here is my reference photo of Desert Daisies
The second is my Desert Daisies done in Soft Pastels on 9x12 watercolor paper.
I am very new at these pastels and any C&C are very welcomed.



04-06-2016, 06:50 AM
Sharon, your daisies are lovely. The watercolor paper is difficult with pastel but it made the background look like those pebbles there! Nice!
What is the size of the painting and what kind of pastels did you use?

04-06-2016, 07:33 AM
Beautiful job, Sharon. if you can do that with watercolor paper, You will really have fun with special purpose pastel papers. I love the desert flowers. I was in pheonix and Sedona area last month and was absolutely awestruck by the desert in bloom.

04-06-2016, 08:14 AM
Love the broken color background on your desert daisies. Good form and accuracy. The simplified, suggested foliage really works.

04-06-2016, 09:14 AM
Good Morning

Thank you all for your very appreciated comments.
I have piles of watercolor paper because for the last year I have been addicted to watercolor so the selection for pastels is very limited at the moment. I did use the smooth side of this paper.
The size is 9x12.
The pastels are soft pastels made by KOSS. These were given to me by my best friend. Rather than throwing this box of 48 away she gave them to me and I am sure they are more than 10 yrs old. Possibly Student grade and very dusty.
I plan on investing in some better pastels, but as you all well know art supplies are costly so the process will be slow in replacing this set with better and more varied types of pastels.
I have much to learn and the processes it take to get the feel and the outcome I am looking for. I will continue watching, asking questions and practicing whatever tips and tricks it takes to succeed with this medium.
Again thank you all for your encouragement.


04-06-2016, 09:39 AM
Kim, thanks for the helpful comments. I'll be back to the tulips for sure. Purple will be great there too. Thanks. My poor granddaughter's nose. Wish I could fix that without mucking up the whole thing. Have to study up a bit.

Sharon, someone told me once to buy some clear gesso to coat paper, to give it some tooth. I bought a little jar and put some on each side of a piece of watercolor paper. Two coats on the front. I made the watercolor paper more like sanded pastel paper. That was arches paper, so not very smooth. Some pastels are difficult to work with. That might be hard for you. Wishing you luck and happy to have you here.

04-06-2016, 10:29 AM
Thank you Jay for the information. I am happy to be here and I know I will be learning a lot of wonderful things.


04-06-2016, 01:11 PM
Sharon, one way to increase your collection fast and save some money is to email Dick Blick and/or Jerry's Artarama and ask for samples of every artist grade brand they carry in open stock. The samples won't match each other, will be random colors and will give you the feel and texture of the good brands before you buy. Artist grade pastels vary a lot in texture. Everyone has favorites and samples will let you find out what your favorites are before investing in a good set.

Sennelier, Unison, Rembrandt, Blick Artist and many other artist grade brands come in half stick sets. These give twice as many colors for the money and come in good sturdy boxes. That's what I recommend for anyone new to pastels - the biggest half sticks set you can afford. Past having all the spectrum colors and some neutrals, bigger sets also give more darks and lights and more gradations of value within a hue.

Semi-hard pastels tend to be the least expensive, hand rolled or hand made the most expensive. Different brands give different effects. Firmer semi-hard pastels give more control, make linear marks and sketching-drawing techniques easier and usually cost less. Hand rolled are fluffy, light in the hand per size and give an extra sparkle. Super soft ones like Schminke, Sennelier and Terry Ludwig give lush impasto marks, go on with the lightest touch over all other pastels and fill the paper tooth easily. Medium-soft ones like Rembrandt or Art Spectrum can handle all techniques reasonably well but don't quite reach the extreme impasto effects of Sennelier or the extreme linear effects of Nupastels.

The softer a brand is, the easier it is to get painterly effects with them.

Inexpensive good pastel papers start with Canson Mi-Tientes which comes in sheets and multicolor pads. Medium value colors allow working up and down light and dark to keep truer values in your painting. Mi-Tientes has a "weave" side that's good for broken color on larger paintings and a smooth side many pastelists including me prefer. In pads the weave side is bound up as the "top" side so I pull out and flip over the sheet I'm going to use before painting.

Sanded papers and textured or coated ones are awesome. Uart has different grits so you can decide just how fine grained you like it. Blick does paper samples too so you can test the fancier papers and see what suits you. All sanded and coated papers allow more layering and special effects than non sanded paper.

Richeson has some half sticks starter sets with three textures in the set available at Blick, their semi-hard, soft round (medium texture) and Hand Rolled. But you can try all those textures on free samples too before deciding on a starter set.

I recommend general assortment starters over Landscape or Portrait assortments because those will have gaps in the color range. There are flowers and sometimes figures in landscapes, people may be wearing a blue shirt in portraits or have dyed their hair cerise, and certain colors useful in both don't turn up in the specialty-by-subject sets.

I found out on my first set of Rembrandts that a grayed violet, turquoise and pink are really useful in pastels and turn up in almost all subjects. So there are some surprises in general assortments that turn out to be important colors that look as if they'd be extras. Black isn't as important as having several good darks unless it's a very small set and the black is there as a darkener.

Student grade pastels tend to have a very soft, very consistent texture across all colors. They aren't lightfast but aren't useless either, they're good for working in sketchbooks and doing color studies, also in pavement painting where it's important they're non toxic. I like having a couple of sets around because it'll also mean I have something safe to pass off to children for them to learn how much fun pastels and painting are.

With a low budget, check eBay for used sets. Sometimes they're mixed brands in good sectioned boxes or other pastel carriers, with the labels removed. You can get huge bargains on those sometimes and they come pre-organized, all you need to do is clean them. If they all look gray wipe them off with a soft rag or paper towel or toilet paper, they will turn their proper color and shine. Or put them in a bowl of cornmeal and shake it to clean them.

Pastels do not go bad if stored for decades. I have a set of Rembrandts from the 1950s that are still as good as the day they were bought, passed on to me through successive oil painters who tried the medium, didn't like it and gave it to someone else. I love pastels so it's not going anywhere! Your Koss ones are fine for sketching even if they're artist grade.

You can also find used sets here in the Swap Shop sometimes when people change mediums or clean out their studios.

I've built a huge collection by bargain hunting. I watch the Clearance tabs on Blick and other online retailers for gift sets being discontinued, another way to get fantastic artist grade supplies at very low prices, also watch the weekly coupons and place my orders on the high coupons rather than low ones. i've also been doing this for over a decade now so that's the other reason I have tons of them around in so many different brands and textures.

Oh- when working on watercolor paper, one trick is to underpaint with watercolor or thinned acrylic or just adding a water wash to the first block-in layer to turn it into something like paint. Good way to fill in the white flecks with color of your choice and decide where color masses go. You can also get sanded primers like Art Spectrum Multimedia (Colourfix) Primer or Golden Pumice Gel in three grits. That's the cheap way to get sanded paper, the primer covers a lot of area and pays for itself vs. cost of sanded paper. I like the Colourfix one but others swear by Golden's product or homemade mixes of grit, marble dust, sand, other additives and clear gesso. Clear primers will show the underpainting done under it but kill any metallic or iridescent paint - metallic gold turns to looking like yellow ochre under primer.

04-06-2016, 04:32 PM
WOW Robert,

Thank you sooooooo much for this mass of information (I also like your blog). It helps newbies like myself get a grip on all that is out there and the easier way of collecting the tools needed to continue moving forward.

I am 20 minutes away from Jerry's Artarama and Dick Blicks. There is also Arizona Art Supply when I go to Phoenix with my hubby. He visits the VA and I visit the Art Store. I have online accounts with all three and get great deals there also.

I love samples, paper, watercolor and now I will do the pastels..I am a deal seeker and came home this morning with a huge Canson's Drawing pad (18x24) 30 sheet for $8.00. this i plan on breaking down some pages to use as practice paper so 4 time the pages at least...

All I can say again is Thank you and you are a wealth of information.


04-06-2016, 07:15 PM
Robert, I missed commenting on your Iris. Such confidence! Lovely gesture. Well done

04-06-2016, 08:35 PM
Jay, You have been busy! A couple of lovely paintings! The flowers are lovely and very bold and simplified! Your granddaughter swimming is fantastic! What a difficult subject! The water is so colorful yet obviously water!

Robert, So glad you had a chance to paint/draw this! A great combination of line and shape!

Sharon, Thanks for posting! Very nicely done!


04-06-2016, 08:39 PM
I am so very rude so here goes.
Kim, after looking at the Mt. Laurel I understand what a few are saying about the to much going on. I love your vase on the table with the beautiful flowers and the background is amazing.
You will have to forgive, but I am at a loss for a name to go with the Tulips. Love the color and the softness.
Robert, my favorite flower is the Iris and it is beautifully done.
I will get better at commenting and Names..I am just thrilled to be here and watching at what is being posted..


04-07-2016, 12:57 AM
I gave one of the reference photos a try.
8.5 in x11.5 in Watercolor scrap
I gave it an alcohol wash over soft pastels for the background and a bit of alcohol on some of the branches. C&C welcomed.

04-07-2016, 07:59 AM
Wow, Sharon, you flowers are lovely and delicate. Your background is BEAUTIFUL! Well done. (My name is Jay. It's at the bottom on my comment. Sorry.). Thank you for commenting on the tulips.

Don, thanks so much about my paintings. I have been busy. Lots of requests. So I try to mingle requests with Spotlight references. Keeps me on my toes.


04-07-2016, 08:23 AM
Thank you so much Jay. I love flower and am working hard at getting it..


04-08-2016, 12:36 PM
sharon, I haven't tried an alcohol wash yet but I wasn't happy with the way the Great American pastels were going on to the A S Colourfix. So next time, I'll try your plan of alcohol wash and see what happens. Just to experiment. Btw, I find those painter store sponge on a stick very hardy for flicking pastel off the paper or smoothing it in. I use them often. Cheap tool.

04-09-2016, 09:46 AM
Jay the alcohol wash is interesting. I found it on a Youtube I was watching. When you apply it to the pastel it turns it dark, but when it dries it is pretty much back to the color you lay down. It gives a great background to use the pastels on.
I have a bunch of the brushes you have described but haven't used them on the pastels yet.


04-09-2016, 04:35 PM
Sharon, Very nice job on the branch of blossoms! Depending on the paper, you can also do wet underpaintings or washes using just water. Lot's of things to experiment with when using pastels! They are very versatile!


04-09-2016, 06:27 PM
Purr thanks for the comments! Shari, your flowers came out lovely. I like the background, your alcohol wash really worked well. Great going!

I don't know if the physical stores give free samples or just let you try a stick at the store, but the online places always send them. It's cost effective, they know they're going to sell a medium to large set of your favorite afterward! Heh for all the ones I've bought, that handful of little freebies really paid off.

But you are lucky being so close to the physical stores. Watch for sales and compare both, also Clearance is going to be potentially awesome at the physical stores. I get so much good stuff on Clearance.

And I love posting about supplies, it shows. lol

04-09-2016, 08:54 PM
Thank you Don. I am going to try a watercolor wash at some point for the pastels.
I am enjoying the learning phase of this new to me medium..


04-09-2016, 08:56 PM
Robert, I just ordered some samples of soft pastels and it includes some sample pastel paper also.
I go to Jerry's about once a month to buy or just to look and add to my wish list.
You are a great resource of knowledge thank you so very much.


04-12-2016, 02:41 AM
its good

04-12-2016, 02:42 AM
I gave one of the reference photos a try.
8.5 in x11.5 in Watercolor scrap
I gave it an alcohol wash over soft pastels for the background and a bit of alcohol on some of the branches. C&C welcomed.


04-12-2016, 05:08 PM
ok, my tulips again. I think this is the best I can do. Any suggestions? Welcome! Have to stop. I may have done too much already. Critique and comments welcome.

04-14-2016, 08:34 AM
Wow! I like it a lot. Small changes in the colors and values really ramped up the drama. The new crop works well too, as it makes the flowers a larger proportion of the canvas.

Shari, nice job on the flowering branch. It is pretty and delicate.

04-14-2016, 01:42 PM
Thanks Kim. I have to sneak up on things sometimes. I appreciate your comments.

04-14-2016, 09:35 PM
Jay, Very lovely! Time to frame it!


04-16-2016, 07:20 AM
Thanks Don. It's out of danger. I agree.

04-16-2016, 08:02 PM
Jay, strengthening the contrast really made this shine! Love the flowers and that brilliant light from the window. It grabs me and doesn't let go. Awesome!

Purr! Thanks, Shari! That's great they sent papers too, you can always get the best idea of what's right for you by trying things yourself. Everyone's favorites and favorite combinations are different.

04-17-2016, 09:22 AM
Thanks Robert. I love tulips. I take lots of pictures when I have them. Fun. And they don't mind posing. Hope you're enjoying spring.

04-17-2016, 04:02 PM
Oh definitely! So tempted to start getting out the pastels!

04-22-2016, 11:49 AM
Just returned from a week of solitude to get some energy back. No computers, cellphones..and boy do I feel better.
Thank you all for your comments, I totally appreciate them.
Robert I received my samples and now it is time to get them sampled..


04-27-2016, 09:47 AM
Don, haven't abandoned the spotlight. We are painting the deck. Not pastel so I can't show you all. I can't wait to get back to the spotlight.