I thought you might like to see the pics and notes on a talk and demo I gave this week at my local art center. It is an originals only, member driven, arts center, which has been established for a many years. The monthly meetings are a chance for members to demo, talk and explain various techniques, and just a fun time to get together with fellow artists whom you may not have contact with otherwise. My ‘talk’ lasted about an hour, and I covered general information about pastels, including a lot if info about which techniques and materials I prefer, and my personal approach to painting with pastels.
….Please feel free to jump in with questions, comments, or input.
I passed around a sampler pack, (courtesy of Dakota Pastels)
, which comprised of one stick of practically every brand of pastel on the market. I demonstrated marks made by various pastels and talked about using pastels in various ways to create different effects on different surfaces.
There are many manufactured papers and boards for the pastel artist. Some are more abrasive than others and will hold more layers of pastel. I have tried many different brands of paper, but at the moment favor preparing my own boards. I make boards using white acid free rag mat board (4ply), which I cut to size before priming. As I generally work quite small I get a lot of boards out of one sheet of mat board. After cutting the mat board with a sharp craft or Logan matt knife, I apply one coat of acrylic gesso on both sides. Once this is dry, I apply one or two coats of AS Colourfix Pastel Primer, letting it dry thoroughly in between each application. Coating the mat board both front and back will stop warping. I generally spend two days preparing these boards and often make up 50 or so in various sizes in one batch. It is best to apply the pastel primer with an old gesso brush, as it will eat up good brushes. I usually do this outside, on newspaper and an old folding table.
As they are relatively inexpensive to make, I don’t regard these boards as ‘precious’, and feel freer to create without being attached to the outcome. These boards make wonderful Plein Air painting boards, as they are lightweight and easy to transport. I also use scraps and odd sizes to work out color combinations. Larger sized pieces can be taped to gator board or hard surface for upright easel work.
One reason I like creating my own boards is that I can control the brush strokes and marks in the pastel ground. Commercial papers have much too much of a uniform surface for my taste, as I like to see the brush stroked of the ground ‘popping’ up in the finished painting. It is a great way to add texture, especially to vast skies or sunsets. As I like to incorporate the initial brush marks of the ground in my finished painting, I am already visually painting in my minds eye while preparing the boards. This helps with the direction of brush strokes when laying down the ground. I often ‘see’ color combinations and compositions as I am painting the ground, and find this process mentally prepares me for painting. I guess what I am really talking about here.....is that every step of the process needs to be mindful.
Each stroke of ground could have a purpose or effect in the finished painting. For me the creation of a painting starts before I begin painting with the preparation of the boards.
There are different schools of thought on fixative. Some pastel artists do not use any at all, some just a light spray, and some who fix heavily. It really depends on the finished look you want to achieve with the painting. I personally fix quite heavily, as I often varnish my pastels later on. There are many different brands and you need to experiment with them to see which you like best. I use fixative as a painting aid, and for my style of painting, know that it will darken the darks and eat up a lot of the pale colors etc.... With experience you will come to understand the nuances of fixative, and can use fixative to your advantage.
I always spray fixative outside away from animals, humans and plants!
Keeping things clean:
In the initial stages of blocking in or blending, I wear thin latex gloves which I change often if switching from dark to light colors. I always keep a small bowl of soapy water close by to rinse my fingers to help stop transferring dark colors to light. I also use a damp paper towel or cloth to wipe down my table or working surface…this collects up pastel particles. I usually work flat on a table rather than to an upright easel. I clean the sides and edges of my pastels frequently by pulling gently across the surface of a dry paper towel.
Choosing your palette:
When I first began using the medium of Pastel, I purchased many boxed sets of different pastels. Having realized that I don’t use half the colors in the boxes, I now buy pastels individually in the colors of my choice. I generally work with a very limited palette of maybe two or three colors and three values within each color (light, middle, dark). I always pull out these colors before I start painting, and place them on a small plastic watercolor palette lid or plastic tray covered with a sheet of paper towel. I usually put the pastels I am not going to use slightly out of reach so that I don’t get tempted to use a ‘ridiculous’ color half way through!………(although sometimes I will need a special color to lift or enhance a passage. …and I will search through my pastels for it, as I need it). Color is very personal, and I believe our color choices define us as an artist as much as subject matter, composition, execution and medium.
Working in an intuitive way:
I tend to work in a very intuitive, unconventional way
in the medium of pastel. I often use my own watercolor wet in wet washes, or black and white (and grey) value studies as inspiration for compositions and to serve as a guide for light direction.
I hardly ever draw out a composition on the paper, or even block in with Nu Pastels, just plunge straight in with color on my board. This is a very visual thing,
as I am constantly making judgments and decisions about value, color transitions and composition all at the same time! It is not a way of working for everyone, but works for me with my style of painting. Sometimes the first layer of pastel will be enough, other times I may layer many layers and build up more texture and color combinations through scumbling and various layering techniques. I am in the habit of making color notes on small pieces of board, playing with unusual color combinations, blending, crosshatching etc which I may use for later paintings.
For the purpose of this demonstration, the following samples are not finished paintings (as I couldn’t use fixative inside, and time constraints of the demo), but snippets of how I begin a painting, and start the process of blending and creating atmosphere.
‘Varnishing pastels with Maggie Latham’
*I will post a new thread on this with samples next month.