View Full Version : Newbie would love some pastel help please?

10-20-2011, 03:53 PM
Hi Peeps, I'm new to posting although I've been a member for a while! :eek:

I need help please with a pastel painting I'm trying to fix as I've messed it up. I'm painting a snow leopard from a photo which I took at a zoo. It was looking straight at me through some bushes so it's basically head and eyes and around it out of focus foliage.

I've messed it up because I've surrounded the leopard with a green blurry mess with no depth, shape or anything. I lack imagination as to how to add depth and shape. I presume I should add some darks but don't know how to and where to start with it. If anyone has any suggestions I would be sooooo grateful please? :crossfingers:

10-20-2011, 04:35 PM
Hi Dnily and welcome to the pastel forum! To be honest it's hard to advise without seeing where you're at so far.
You've taken the plunge by posting. Maybe you could bring yourself to post an image of your Snow Leopard portrait in the pastel studio and gallery. That's where you'll get good, positive advice.
Having said that I think you have to make a minimum number of posts before you can upload an image....sorry, I don't know how many!

10-20-2011, 04:41 PM
When I back myself into a corner, I use an oil bristle brush and gently press/dab into the pastel (I use sanded papers, you didn't say) and excess pastel falls right off. Instead of adding and adding pastel, sometimes it is wise to remove a bit, but I don't rub, just press a little. (I don't use fixative, but some would probably suggest that.)

Closer to you, the greens are warm - olive/yellow. Farther away they are cooler, so more blue. Play those difference up to gain distance. Closer should generally be darker, too. Closer is usually more clear with sharper edges, but you said that's not what you're referencing.

I would not choose a photo that had too many fussy/conflicting details, like blurry leaves in front of a detailed face. I'll be honest and say that it's okay to let a good photo stay a good photo. For example, I often see crooked, interesting trees/limbs when I photograph, but it is rare to see them executed convincingly in paintings and it's been a long time since I tried. Lesson learned. I am a believer that less is more.

10-21-2011, 01:39 AM
Welcome to the Pastel Forum and to WetCanvas! You do need to post three or four times before you can post an image. So answering this thread, then commenting on two or three of the paintings posted in the Pastel Studio will fulfill that requirement. I always find lots of cool paintings to comment on in there. If you look for similar paintings or similar subjects you may get ideas from how others handle backgrounds of big cats.

Try the Animals forum too for paintings of big cats. It's easier in pastels to get blurry soft edged areas than in most other mediums.

You should post it. This may actually be one of those times when you get something great by accident. Blurry green foliage colored mess and sharper focus on the animal can look wonderful. I'd put in some gold and muted orange-gold russet accents in the blurry green mess, like dead leaves and some brownish gray smudges like bits of branch showing.

If leaf shapes are crossing the cat's face then yeah, finding a leaf reference to use would be good, but still give it less detail and focus than the cat.

Think of the painting in planes, three dimensionally. There is background foliage behind the cat - all the way behind the cat. That can be so completely blurry that it's just out of focus and unrecognizable. The cat face plane is the focal area, the most important part of the picture. Put the cat's eyes into high detail and resolution. Really get those eyes accurate and have a little spot of light or several on the eyes - that reflected light is always there and makes any animal or person's eyes look alive and wet.

I usually place the "catchlight" (that's what the white dot's called) on the border between the black pupil and the colored part of the iris. That puts the most contrast on the eyes and drags attention to the eyes of the animal or portrait. It also makes it look alive and makes it look like it's looking at you.

The foliage in the foreground plane, which is nearer to you than the cat, can be out of focus too. Maybe a little bit more focus but that's not always necessary. Everything around the far edges of the painting, especially the bottom edge, should be blurry with very little contrast. If possible use muted colors - more grayish or brownish, greens like olive greens instead of kelly greens.

Doing this will create a different kind of realism. That's painting in a way that's more like the way people look at things than the way cameras do. A camera collects detail everywhere, but it has depth of field - the focus will be either close up or in the middle depth, or if you're a really good photographer you can focus on something far away and leave both the foreground and middle ground blurry.

An artist doing the same thing will create more realism than if everything's detailed. If all of the picture has the same level of detail then it looks flat and artificial unless it's something huge like a mural.

Depth in the blurry mess can be done by making the nearer foliage more golden and yellowish greens, and the farther background foliage bluer greens. Use less contrast in the farther away foliage, use bluer greens and more muted greens. If you have olive green in the foreground it should get more like a muted teal or turquoise in the darker parts of the background. Gray greens are cool in foliage too.

The brightest colors in the box are the pure colors. Green is a middle value pure color, when either white or black is added it is less saturated. So you can put dark areas into the background that are more bluish-medium dark shaded, so that the cat shines out bright against them. Think of the dark blue-greens of Christmas trees or the dusty gray-greens of sage brush and so on. Or go over the greens with a little lavender. This will cool them, blue them, mute them and push them back.

Lavender scumble to create distance in blurry foliage will create fog!

So you have out of focus greens in the foreground nearest bushes, they're olive greens with gold accents. Then you add a little more light lavender over the same olive and some gray greens in it, adding more lavender "fog" the farther away patches are. Bring out shapes in the background that hint at clumps of bushes or thicker fog.

Then what you have is a startling drama, a cat emerging very close to you out of a mist that could have cloaked it so it saw you and padded closer long before you saw it coming!

Which of these color treatments might work would be something you can test with the same sticks. Set up a little three inch "color study" of the cat and foliage. Try different colors in different areas, mentally separating the foliage into "planes" and see which method looks better. Don't detail the color studies. The cat doesn't need many or accurate spots, scribbled spottiness is good enough. Use the average color of the cat. Black dots of eyes are fine in a color study.

Try doing it with realistic colors and try with playful colors too. What if it's in some colorful flowering bushes? Or just walked through someone's blurry laundry? The undetailed background could be anything!

Think of making patches of light and dark in the planes that are irregular, abstract and undetailed. They'll still read as shadows of trees or patches of fog or shrubs or whatever. The best way to work those out is little value studies and little color studies. The smaller you do them, the more of them you can do.

If you got started, you can still do these little preliminary ones to test things out. For some of them put down layers of what you've got and add colors over them. For others try other colors since you can always brush out the colors you have to try that area again.

10-21-2011, 09:49 AM
Oh wow - thank you Robert for all that information I'm well enthused to sort out my mess now! :clap:

Lots to think about and try out so I am really grateful for your reply.

Thanks again and I'll post a pic - hopefully I'll be brave enough - when it's done.


10-21-2011, 08:47 PM
Hi Dnily I can add something to Roberts help. Welcome and happy Painting

10-21-2011, 10:02 PM
Purr, glad I could help, Dnily! Though it can also help to post it in the Pastel Studio with "WIP" in the subject line. Every time someone posts a WIP (Work In Progress) it gets a lot of response and excitement because it's fun watching someone's painting come to life in different stages. That's also one of the best ways to get help with one that's giving you trouble.

Another thing, it helps to ask specific questions. If you put "Request help, C & C appreciated" that means "comments and critique" and anyone who has faced any similar problem will make suggestions. If you add a specific question like the one you started with it gets more targeted responses.

I'm looking forward to seeing it either in stages or when it's done! Welcome to our dusty gang!

Merethe T
10-23-2011, 07:21 AM
Welcome to the pastel forum, Dnily!

Just to sort things out - you need to make two posts before you can upload an image, in other words you are good to go now! The two-post rule is part of WC! anti-spam policy to prevent spam on the boards.

I hope you'll post your WIP to get more help, and as Robert has already told you, the correct place to post your work is the Soft pastel studio and gallery.

Good luck on your painting, I hope we get to see it soon! :)