Using A Viewfinder Can Help You Create A Better Painting

One of the most common questions I receive about plein air painting is, “How do you decide what to paint when there is so much to choose from?” My answer? Using a viewfinder can help enormously! The landscape can be so overwhelming and using a viewfinder will help you isolate the part that appeals to you the most.

I recently made a video about using a viewfinder. Have a look at it below.

 

 

When using a viewfinder, you will need to close one eye otherwise you’ll see crazy double vision! If you can’t close one eye, then squinting will help but it’s definitely not as useful or satisfying as the one-eyed look.

 

Using a viewfinder to help you design your thumbnails

The viewfinder I show in the video is one called ViewCatcher. It’s the one I use myself. You can try out all sorts of formats with this viewfinder – just remember to use the same proportions on your paper. For example if you decide on a square opening, make sure your paper is square. If the format of your paper is pretty much decided, for example you have a piece of 9 x 12 in Wallis paper mounted on foamcore, then create a 9 x 12 in window in your viewfinder. The ability to change from one format to another is one of the main reasons I like ViewCatcher!

 

Create your own viewfinder

You can of course create your own viewfinder by cutting out a rectangular hole in cardboard. If you regularly work on a 9 x 12 in paper which is a 3:4 ratio, then go ahead and cut out a hole measuring 3 x 4 in or if smaller, then 1.5 x 2 in – anything that retains that 3:4 ratio. If you always work square, then cut out a square opening.

Make sure you leave enough cardboard around the hole (like that shown below) to block out the rest of the view. That way you can concentrate on what’s happening in the opening as you move it slowly over your subject. A large surround also helps the viewfinder retain its shape while traveling in your art bag.

Having said all that, I think that the ability to switch easily between formats in the Viewcatcher makes it worth the money. Also, it won’t get bent in your art bag like a piece of cardboard might.

 

Using a viewfinder: viewfinder mad from mat board that I've had for ages

Here’s a viewfinder made from matboard that I’ve had for ages. Note the heavy weight of board means it has kept its shape but you can also see the corners are a bit battered.

 

Using a viewfinder to crop a landscape

Let’s have a look at what I mean by using a viewfinder to help you compose your painting. I’ll take an uncropped photo and then crop it in various ways to show you what can happen.

Using a viewfinder: uncropped photo taken in France

Uncropped photo taken on a trip to France

First let’s try out two square crops:

Using a viewfinder: Square crop of original photo

Square crop of original photo. You can see there is more attention on the water in the canal

 

Square crop of original photo

This is the second square crop where you can see the focus is on the background and sky

 

Next let’s look at the same areas but in a vertical rectangular crop:

Using a viewfinder: Vertical crop focusing on the water in the canal

Vertical crop focusing on the water in the canal. The bridge is now a prominent feature.

using a viewfinder: vertical crop focusing on the background

Vertical crop with attention on the background hills and sky

Now let’s try horizontal crops:

Using a viewfinder: horizontal crop

This horizontal crop tells the whole story of what’s there without the distraction of the background.

using a viewfinder: horizontal crop 2

In this horizontal crop, there is a tension between the waterwheel and the bridge – both fight for attention.

Although I’m cropping a photo, I’m sure you can imagine how this would work on location. Which crop of those above is your favourite? What other ways would you crop the original?

 

Remember that using a viewfinder will help you not only with choosing what to paint in a landscape. It can help with any subject be it figure, still life, portrait, urban view. Anything!!

 

Using a viewfinder to help with your drawing

Not only does a viewfinder help you compose your painting, it also helps with the creation of your drawing. Find where lines intersect the edges of the viewfinder and note their position related to the whole ie. a third from the bottom, a quarter from the top. You can also relate the angle a line makes as it moves across the space to the vertical and horizontal lines of the viewfinder itself, for example the line and angle of the rose’s stem.

Here’s the image of the rose with the marks I mention in the video.

Using a viewfinder will also help you with your drawing

The marks made are the ones you can transpose to your paper. This will help you with your drawing of the subject.

 

Using a viewfinder to help with values

The other thing the ViewCatcher has going for it that I didn’t mention in the video are the two small holes. The colour of the ViewCatcher is 50% grey on the value scale of 1-10. This makes it ever so easy to check the value of a colour against the grey. Look at a spot through one of the holes – is what you are looking at darker or lighter than the grey of the ViewCatcher?

You can then move the ViewCatcher hole over your painting and check how the value there relates to the value of the viewfinder itself. You can also check how accurately you have captured the value  of the colour you saw ‘out there’.

Check the image below – look at the top hole and see how light the background is especially when you compare it with the other hole that shows the colour of my hair.

 

Using a Viewfinder: ViewCatcher showing the holes used for value checking

ViewCatcher showing the holes used for value checking

 

Using a viewfinder to help with colour

These small holes in ViewCatcher can also help you determine the saturation of a colour – how much colour do you see compared to the grey of the viewfinder – is it greyer or more saturated with colour than you think?  And what about temperature? Is it warmer or cooler than you think? Run the viewfinder over different areas to compare them one to the other. This is hugely helpful when you are unsure of colour saturation or temperature.

 

Viewfinder as gift

The other thing is, a viewfinder is a wonderful gift to give to non-artists as it will help them ‘see’ the world in a way they don’t now. I love hearing the ahhs and oohs as they move a viewfinder over whatever is in front of them.

This blog has turned out to be a review of the ViewCatcher as I like it so much!! You can pick one up in many art stores or order it from Amazon here:
Viewcatcher from Amazon.com

 

I’d love to hear if you use a viewfinder. How helpful is one to your work? Do you use a handmade viewfinder or something like the ViewCatcher? Do you use one all the time or rarely? Let me know by posting a comment on the blog.

I look forward to hearing from you!

 

~ Gail

 

Be inspired!! February’s Pastel Wonders

Oh my gosh, how did it become the end of the month so quickly? Perhaps having a couple less days has something to do with it :-)

Right, here’s the line-up for February. I think you’ll agree there are some pastel wonders here.

Without further ado……

Pastel wonders: Jean-Yves Marrec, "Concarneau, ses Roches," pastel, 36 x 36 in

Jean-Yves Marrec, “Concarneau, ses Roches,” pastel, 36 x 36 in

I love the simplicity of this piece. I feel as if I’m standing there among the rocks, looking out to sea, blown about by a fresh breeze. The horizon line is soft with the sea mist. I can smell the almost overpowering smell of the sea as it emanates from beached seaweed and the sand and rocks themselves. There’s so much said with a limited number of broad strokes and little fuss. Wonderful! Go see more of Jean-Yves’ work at his website.

 

 

Pastel Wonders: Linda Ramsdell Mutti, "Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining," Terry Ludwig and Unison pastel on UArt 340, 12 x 16 in

Linda Ramsdell Mutti, “Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining,” Terry Ludwig and Unison pastel on UArt 340, 12 x 16 in

I love the quality of light in this one. I also appreciate the simplicity of the evocative scene – a river (?) bank topped with shrubbery and an attractive clump of trees, with a backdrop of dreamy sky with the sun that’s trying to burn through the thin cloud. Haven’t you experienced just this time of day and the way the light is warm and cool all at once? You can see careful value study at work in the piece! See more of Linda’s work here.

 

 

Pastel wonders: Kim Lordier, "Bear Creek Alchemy," pastel, 24 x 18 in

Kim Lordier, “Bear Creek Alchemy,” pastel, 24 x 18 in

Another painting about the quality of light. And here it’s exquisite as we move from the sun tipped-grasses back into the picture that’s mostly about snow untouched by the sun.  Look at the beautiful display of grayed colours beyond the warmth of the sun. Go check out more of Kim’s beautiful descriptions of light on her website.

 

 

Pastel wonders: Lorenzo Rappelli, "Path Against The Sunlight," pastel on Art Spectrum paper, 12 x 9 in

Lorenzo Rappelli, “Path Against The Sunlight,” pastel on Art Spectrum paper, 12 x 9 in

Like Jean-Yves above, Lorenzo uses broad strokes to achieve this sunlight wonder. Can’t you just sense that taking just a few steps more and the sun will be blazing in your eyes. This piece positively glows. And he does it so simply! Look closely at the few marks he makes to achieve this light wonder. Notice too the balance between the warm and cool sides of the painting. You can see more of Lorenzo’s work by clicking here.

 

 

Heather Laws, "Kramer," pastel on Sennelier LaCarte, 16 x 10 in

Heather Laws, “Kramer,” pastel on Sennelier LaCarte, 16 x 10 in

Can’t you just reach out and stroke that fur? And those eyes, they’ll blink any minute. And can I hear purring or rather, is it a meow that’s about to be heard? I was completely taken by this painting. One of the things I appreciate is that although the cat looks real, Heather hasn’t gone into super-realism to do so – we can still see the hand of the artist in the pastel stroke. Heather is known for her cat portraits and I can see why! Go see more cats as well as dogs and more here.

 

 

Pastel wonders: Suzi Zefting Kuhn, "I Have My Eye On You," pastel on UArt paper, 36 x 24 in

Suzi Zefting Kuhn, “I Have My Eye On You,” pastel on UArt paper, 36 x 24 in

I laughed when I saw Suzi’s charming portrait of a giraffe. I love that she has taken this quirky animal and captured the character of its munching head. it brings into focus what a giraffe head really looks like. The wall tempers the delight as this isn’t the wild but probably a zoo. The close proximity of the wall to the giraffe could be making a statement. The lines of bricks form a cage and yet, they also mimic, in a way, the spots of the giraffe. There is a play of the rigidity of man against the flexibility of nature. When I first saw this painting, I read none of this into it but the more I looked, the more I saw. Perhaps this is a case of a viewer bringing her own experience to the picture. Go see more of Suzi’s work at her website.

 

 

Pastel wonders: Robin S. Nyikos, "Veni Creator Spiritus," pastel on Canson paper, 19 x 25 in

Robin S. Nyikos, “Veni Creator Spiritus,” pastel on Canson paper, 19 x 25 in

Canson paper? Really??? How does Robin create this kind of pastel on Canson and not on a sanded paper? I am rather in awe. I love how the line of mosaic echoes the embroidery on the young woman’s blouse. I also like the link between angelic girl and mosaic angel who seems about to whisper creative musings in the young woman’s ear. I was torn between this painting and the one on the front of Robin’s website but I think it was the juxtaposition of modern and Byzantine that captured my attention in this one.

 

 

Pastel wonders: Jody dePew McLeane, "Costumer With Dress Form," pastel, 18 x 24 in

Jody dePew McLeane, “Costumer With Dress Form,” pastel, 18 x 24 in

I’ve been an admirer of Jody’s work ever since I saw it in Carole Katchen’s book, Creative Painting With Pastel many years ago. Things I appreciate: the thick impasto quality of the pastel – there’s a lusciousness to it; the balance between the narrative and the abstract design; the emphasis on shapes; the broadness of stroke – you can see the mark of the artist; the extreme value range; the way Jody leaves out so much, including instead, only what’s necessary to say what she has to say. Go see more of her work here.

 

 

Pastel wonders: Claude Carvin, "Balazuc  en Ardeche," pastel on pastelmat, 15 3/4 x 15 3/4 in

Claude Carvin, “Balazuc en Ardeche,” pastel on pastelmat, 15 3/4 x 15 3/4 in

From the abstracted design above to this one of a pile up of houses in the Ardeche. This is such a difficult subject, all the various perspectives, all identically constructed houses yet with different shapes. How to make the scene fascinating rather than a boring repetition of similar houses? Claude has done that beautifully and boldly. The warmth of colour, the pattern of light and shadow, Claude’s obvious love of the subject, lifts my spirit. See more of Claude’s work on his website.

 

 

Pastel wonders: Bernadette Decesare, "Red Tulips," pastel, 20 x 30 in

Bernadette DeCesare, “Red Tulips,” pastel, 20 x 30 in

How fun is this?? A tulip lover, I was drawn to this piece by the unexpected and unusual portrayal of this flower. There’s also a mystery – what is the red shape to the right that also hovers over the tulips?  I am mesmorized by the combination of red and blue colours and the variation within. The pastel marks excite me. I also like the flow back and forth between positive and negative shapes and the dissolution in places between the two. Searching for a website, I came across a number of places to see Bernadette’s artwork but no personal website. Try this website to begin.

 

 

As always, it’s a pleasure to bring you this collection of pastels, some from artists more well known, others from artists I’d never come across before. Curiously, three of this month’s artists are from France!

 

Please let me know what you think about these pastel wonders. Did any surprise you? Delight you? Sadden you? Please leave a comment! :-)

And if you like what you see, please share!

 

Until next time,

~ Gail

 

A Lesson From A Plein Air Pastel Painted In La Manzanilla

Hola hola!!

Well I’m home from Mexico where I had a glorious time, first with my sweetheart Cam for a couple of weeks then with my lovely niece Aly for a week. Have to say it’s taken me some time to get back to this reality.

I did this plein air pastel while in La Manzanilla. I was going to post a blog about it while I was there but I just wasn’t happy with the pastel. So today I worked on it in the studio. I like it better but I’m still not sure about it.

Let’s have a boo.

Location of plein air pastel

Here’s the spot that caught my eye. What I saw was the shape of the almond tree trunks against the light background. I also liked the turquoise colour of the building

Thumbnails in preparation for plein air pastel

I made a couple of thumbnails (sorry you have to turn your head sideways for the lower one!) to decide on my composition. I chose the top sketch.

drawing for the plein air pastel

1. Drawing in vine charcoal on Wallis paper (drymounted on foamcore)

2. First colours applied for plein air pastel

2. First colours applied

3. More colour added to the plein air pastel

3. More pastel applied. Introducing warmth to the turquoise wall

4. Beginning to adjust values in plein air pastel

4. Beginning to adjust values

5. Having a look at the plein air pastel in black and white

5. A look at the pastel in black and white

6. Feeling the wall is too blank and for interest, add a plant. I also try out a figure in this plein air pastel

6. Feeling the wall is too blank and so or interest, added a plant. I also tried out a figure.

7. Realize the figure is to large and so reduce it, adding a child figure. Also added warm coloured flowers to the shrub

7. Realized the figure was too large and so reduced it and added a child figure. Also added warm coloured flowers to the shrub. This is the plein air pastel complete on site.

8. The final plein air pastel as seen in black and white

8. The final pastel as seen in black and white.

 

Back in Canada, I ponder the pastel. I think the bright purple spot in the centre captures too much of the viewer’s attention. I also feel the turquoise wall needs to be darker (darker than it is in reality – this is where artistic license comes into play!).

9. First thing I do back in the studio is to darken the wall. I also lighten the area of purple. As well, I add more colour to the figures in this plein air pastel.

9. First thing I do back in the studio is to darken the wall. I also lightened the area of purple. As well, I added more colour to the figures and brightened the flowers on the shrub.

10. I start working on the shadow cast by the building and add more light to the tops of the almond trees.

10. I started working on the shadow cast by the building and defined the leaves of the almond trees.

11. A look at the same plein air pastel in black and white

11. A look at the same pastel in black and white

12. I darken the area behind the roof on the left side and make more tweaks to the plein air pastel

12. I darkened the area behind the roof on the left side and made more tweaks. It’s complete for now. “La Manzanilla Almond Trees,” 12 x 9 in

Here are the Great American pastels I used for this plein air pastel

Here are the Great American pastels I used

And here are the pastels I had to choose from for my plein air pastel. These are the 18-colour General Purpose Assortment. It bugs me that there isn't a pure orange! But still, it's a pretty good set to get started with.

And here are the pastels I had to choose from. These are the Great American 18-colour General Purpose Assortment. It bugs me that there isn’t a pure orange! But still, it’s a pretty good set to get started with.

So what do you think? Did you notice anything about the plein air pastel as it relates to the thumbnail I chose??

One of the problems is that I didn’t follow my thumbnail!! Bad girl. You know how I go on about creating a thumbnail as a way to design your piece and then continue to use it as a guide as you go? Well, somehow, I did NOT accurately make the transfer from thumbnail to paper. I have no idea what happened. Distractions perhaps?? :-) Anyway, I think this is part of the reason I am not totally happy with the piece.

The thumbnail I thought I was following for the plein air pastel!

The thumbnail I thought I was following!

Look at how little of the wall is shown in the thumbnail compared to the pastel. In the thumbnail, I’m focusing on the design made by the tree trunks. (You can also see the hint of a possible figure.) In my pastel, I include quite a bit of the wall. I think that’s because I was so taken by the turquoise colour. You can see below that the wall is a prime part of the second thumbnail I tried. I think there is a residue of this thumbnail in the pastel painting!

The thumbnail sketch I didn't use for the plein air pastel

The thumbnail sketch I didn’t use

Anyway, wanted to share this lesson with you. Follow your thumbnail sketch!!

 

I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time,

~ Gail

 

 

January’s Pastel Delights!

The end of another month has rolled around and it’s time to inspire you with January’s Pastel Delights!

As always, the decisions were TOUGH, maybe even more so because of the 3/5 challenges being posted on various pastel Facebook groups over the past month. In case you are unfamiliar with this challenge, it means a nominated artist posts three paintings a day for five days. So you can see that there was even more work than normal to view and then choose from. I began with over 50 choices! Some got dropped because I didn’t have all the info necessary (that made it somewhat easier although there were a few choices I hated to lose!). Once I got the pool of images down to 20, it took me quite a bit of time, of rotating through the images again and again, to whittle the choice down to the mandatory 10 (it was almost 11 this time!).

My choices are totally subjective. Some artists are well known, some emerging. I chose the pieces that made me look and look again, and that made some part of my being vibrate.

So, enough talking, let’s get on with the show.

 

Pastel Delight: Alain Picard, "Evelyn," pastel, 11 x 19 in

Alain Picard, “Evelyn,” pastel, 11 x 19 in

I was absolutely charmed by this pastel of a young girl. I love the way Alain captured her sweet expression and the many colours in her skin. I also like his technique of blocking in the dress and the headdress (vegetation of some sort? makes me think of corn). The background is very simple and uses some of the colours from her skin and hair (purples and dark browns). Click here to see more of Alain’s work.

 

Pastel delights: Alan Flattmann, "Rainy Twilight at the Cathedral," pastel, 30 x 24 in

Alan Flattmann, “Rainy Twilight at the Cathedral,” pastel, 30 x 24 in

Alan is well known for his work portraying the French Quarter of New Orleans which he has been painting for 50 years. This pastel is of the St Louis Cathedral, a subject he has painted many times. In this version, Alan manages to capture both the architecture of the place and the mood of the  approaching evening, when the sky is still light but the warm lights have come on. The light is reflected in the wet pavement and the lights themselves are haloed by the damp air. The sky gives the feeling both of heavy clouds and sheets of rain. See more of Alan’s work at his website.

 

Pastel Delights: Corry Kooy, "Little Girl Playing," Sennelier pastel, 19.7 x 25.6  in

Corry Kooy, “Little Girl Playing,” Sennelier pastel, 19.7 x 25.6 in

I was totally taken with this piece when I saw it. Like Joan Eardley’s pastels of tenement kids, this pastel has a wonderful immediacy and energy. I love the colours and the blocky application of pastel used to describe a young girl in motion. Click here to see more of Corry’s work.

 

Pastel delights: Diana Fechenbach, "Canyon Rocks," pastel, 12 x 10 in

Diana Fechenbach, “Canyon Rocks,” pastel, 12 x 10 in

A beautiful rendering of rocks and look at the many colours that Diane used! The colours appear mostly in the areas of reflected light and areas of rock that face outward but are not directly hit by the sun. And look at the way she creates the same effect in the distant set of rocks but with values closer together, simpler shapes and greyed colours. The whole is a wonderful study of lights and darks and of shape patterns. This is a great example of how understanding values can open the door to colour! (And, be truthful, would you have thought of painting a pile of rocks?) See more of Diane’s work here.

 

Pastel Delight: Dori Cheseborough Dewberry, Demo, pastel, 9 x 9 in

Dori Cheseborough Dewberry, Demo, pastel, 9 x 9 in

When you’re demoing in front of a class or an audience, you’re under time pressure to produce work that you can feel good about and that teaches those who are watching something about pastels and how they work. When I saw this piece, I was appreciative of it as a demo but also as a completed work. There is a wonderful sense of light, of movement, of things (weather, light, people) changing, of place, of a mood. Interestingly, Dori’s colour choices remind me of those of Diane’s above. Check out Dori’s website for more of her work.

 

Pastel delights: Jennifer Buckley McCall, "Golden Shore, Golden Isles," pastel on MiTientes Touch paper, 11 x 14 in

Jennifer Buckley McCall, “Golden Shore, Golden Isles,” pastel on MiTientes Touch paper, 11 x 14 in

Just sea and sky, this evocative pastel gives me a feeling of being there. I can almost smell the sea, feel the salty air, hear the waves and perhaps even a distant roll of thunder. Jennifer used a simple complimentary colour scheme of yellow and purple effectively that’s for sure. There’s something about the colours and energy and line in this piece that remind me of Sargent’s watercolours.

 

pastel delights: Lysiane Lagauzere, "Cache-Cache Avec la Lumiere (Hide and Seek with the Light)",  pastel on pastelcard, 23.6 x 15.7 in

Lysiane Lagauzere, “Cache-Cache Avec la Lumiere (Hide and Seek with the Light)”, pastel on pastelcard, 23.6 x 15.7 in

I was totally beguiled by this piece what more can I say? It has a magical quality about it. Is it of this world or another reality? I find myself wanting to be there, and wondering where ‘there’ is. You can see more of Lysiane’s work here.

 

pastel delight: Marc R. Hanson, "Beaver Work," pastel on Ampersand pastelbord, 16 x 20 in

Marc R. Hanson, “Beaver Work,” pastel on Ampersand pastelbord, 16 x 20 in

Although this painting shows the destruction done by beavers, because of the sombre quality of the work, I can’t help but see it as a metaphor for a larger destruction. Nature’s destruction is one thing but that of human’s is devastating. A difficult subject of water, field and lots of things sticking out of the water, I’m rather in awe of Marc’s ability to capture it. Like Jennifer above, Marc successfully uses a simple colour scheme of compliments – this time blue and orange. You can see more of his work on his website.

 

Pastel delights: Marie Maines, "I69 House/Late Afternoon," pastel, 20 x 20 in

Marie Maines, “I69 House/Late Afternoon,” pastel, 20 x 20 in

The warm glow of this iconic painting belies the sense of a house abandoned. The house remains beautiful in its form even though it is no longer inhabited. I love Marie’s simple design and how she has elevated a particular house to represent the touchstone of ‘house’. The work reminds me of Bill Creevy’s skill with composition, texture, and colour. To achieve the texture, Marie primed gatorbord with a couple of coats of gesso and a couple of coats of pastel gel medium. (The pattern of brush stroke may be random or basket-weave as it is here.) She coated the entire thing with an orange acrylic wash before starting in with soft pastels. Click here to see more of Marie’s work.

 

pastel delight: Stacey R. Swann, "Sur De Soi," pastel and charcoal, 18 x 12 in

Stacey R. Swann, “Sur De Soi,” pastel and charcoal, 18 x 12 in

I was rather taken aback when I saw this pastel. I couldn’t decide if I liked it or disliked it. But one thing was for sure, it got my attention! Over the last little while, it’s grown on me. I’m fascinated by the juxtaposition of the sort of sickly sweet colours used for the human form, the rather awkward position of the hands, the terrific drawing skill and the rough application of saturated blocks of colour in the background that interrupts the body’s boundaries to the bottom of the page. I couldn’t find a website for Stacey but you can find more of her work on her Facebook Page.

 ~~~

So that’s it for another month. I have presented you with my choices, pieces that spoke to me. Such incredible talent and variety of styles out there don’t you think?

I would LOVE to hear what you think of my pastel delights! Please leave a comment and let’s get a conversation going!

I sure do appreciate your company :-)

Until next time,

~ Gail

 

“His Shaving Things” – A Small Pastel In A Limited Palette

As you may know, I’m spending a couple of weeks in La Manzanilla, Mexico. I’m finally settled in and the sun has once again graced us with its presence (the whole weekend was cloudy but that was still okay as it was WARM!). Realizing I had a blog post due, I finally set up a still life yesterday to get me warmed up before I head out to plein air later this week.

What to paint? It was my honey’s Cam’s body brush and shaving things that caught my eye this time and I thought, what the heck. So I set up the items on a table outside.

First the thumbnail:

Thumbnail sketch in pen and ink for "His Shaving Things," 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 in

Thumbnail sketch in pen and ink for “His Shaving Things,” 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 in

 

Outside of course means changing light! The shadow created by the can of shaving cream and the brush soon disappeared leaving only the shadow under the razor. Luckily I had my thumbnail sketch to consult!

Here’s the pastel progression:

Vine charcoal initial drawing on Wallis paper (toned with watercolour) for "His Shaving Things"

Initial drawing in vine charcoal on Wallis paper (toned with watercolour) for the pastel, “His Shaving Things.”

 

Getting the first pastel on for "His Shaving Things"

Getting the first colours on. Using a limited palette (chosen from Unison’s starter box) really did limit my choices. The brush hairs were an ochre colour and the table a turquoise colour. But I didn’t have these pastels available. I had to create my own versions of these colours. I could see a lot of reflected green on the brush so I started with that as a middle value.

 

Adding more colours and getting in the lightest values in "His Shaving Things"

Adding more colours and getting in the lightest values. Feeling my way around both the values and the colours.

 

Adding more pastel to "His Shaving Things"

Adding more pastel including a layer of yellow on the top of the brush. I wish there was an ochre colour in the box but there isn’t so I’m attempting to build layers to give the effect of ochre. This layering is what, for me, can give a piece a vibrating excitement.

 

Further defining of the brush tufts. Also starting to indicate the writing on the shaving cream can on "His Shaving Things"

Further defining of the brush tufts. Also starting to indicate the writing on the shaving cream can.

 

More work on the lettering on the can. I don’t want to make it too obvious but enough so a viewer will probably guess the brand if they are familiar with it. Some further definition of the razor and also the shadow of the brush. "His Shaving Things"

More work on the lettering on the can. I don’t want to make it too obvious but enough so a viewer will probably guess the brand if they are familiar with it. Some further definition of the razor and also the shadow of the brush.

 

Gail Sibley, "His Shaving Things," Unison pastel on Wallis paper (toned with watercolour), 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 in

Gail Sibley, “His Shaving Things,” Unison pastel on Wallis paper (toned with watercolour), 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 in. Perhaps you can see how I made the shadow line of the shaving can more diagonal. I also worked a bit on the shape of the shadow from the brush, including a hint of it on the left side of the can’s shadow.

 

The 10 pastels used for "His Shaving Things" and really, only the eight circled used

The 10 pastels used. The eight circled are the ones I really used. The other two I used just at the start so they are part of the whole but very little used.

 

Here is the Unison starter box from which I chose my colours for "His Shaving Things." You can see that there is no ochre and no turquoise colours. A good challenge to make your own!

Here is the Unison starter box from which I chose my colours for “His Shaving Things.” You can see that there is no ochre and no turquoise colours. A good challenge to make your own!

 

The photo of the set up. You can barely see the shadow cast by the brush and the shaving cream can. "His Shaving Things"

The photo of the set up. You can barely see the shadow cast by the brush and the shaving cream can.

 

And there you have it. What do you think?  Have you ever painted shaving things? I’d love to hear from you.

Next time, being the end of the month, you’ll be able to wonder at this month’s selection of pastel gems. Then, in a couple of weeks, I’ll have a plein air progression for you of some scene here in La Manzanilla.

 

Until then,

~ Gail

 

PS. Ahhhhh sunsets in La Manzanilla!

Puesta del sol en La Manzanilla

Puesta del sol en La Manzanilla

 

Casey Klahn: The Still Life Series

Have I got a treat for you!! I’ve been a huge fan of Casey Klahn’s work for some time now so I’m thrilled to have Casey here to guest blog about his new still life series. I’ve been watching him post fabulous painting after fabulous painting of these still life images on various Facebook art groups and I became curious – What was his inspiration? What’s driving him to create so many? What motivates him to keep going?

Born in 1958, Casey Klahn is an American artist whose “abstracted style and use of color embrace the expression of his personal idea.” He is a well loved art instructor and he also writes a blog: TheColorist.blogspot.com

Casey, take it away!!

 ~~~~~~

Hi, Gail! Thanks for asking me to guest blog at How to Pastel and to talk about my floral series. I’m making a series of 100 still life or floral images, and trying my hardest to make each one different from the last, and to make each one a fully realized artwork.

Making florals was on my mind for a couple of years, but I never imagined the direction these would take. They have become an important part of my body of work, now. I don’t know much about flowers, and as an example my wife will put flowers on the dining table, and it will be a week before I even know they are there. I’ll say, “how did those get here?”

 

Casey Klahn, "Mixed Floral," 2014, pastel, oil stick, and graphite, 8 3/4 x 7 in

Casey Klahn, Mixed Floral, 2014, pastel, oil stick, and graphite, 8 3/4 x 7 in

 

A great deal of my impetus in these paintings is my admiration for the art of Henri Matisse, the French giant of Modern art. I saw 2 major exhibitions in 2014 of his work and am reading everything I can get my hands on about his life and art.  Those were: 30 plus paintings and sculptures in St Petersburg, Russia, and The Cut-Outs in New York City. Let me tell you that seeing the art is the secret trick – much more important than reading about or just seeing stuff online!

I blogged about my trip to see Matisse in Russia last August at TheColorist.blogspot.com. Noteworthy works included the 2 monumental paintings, Jazz and Music. Also, my personal favorite was Portrait of The Artist’s Wife, 1913. I remarked to myself that the few still life works I saw there were not masterworks, but they were works by a master artist. That gave me some wiggle room in my own approach to my paintings. Who cares if each one is a smash hit? The idea is to paint much! You are expressing your ideas and, to me, your feelings. You might be surprised at what comes out. Certainly, these florals I’ve been doing are my surprise.

 

Casey Klahn, "Pink Flute," 2014, pastel and charcoal, 12 3/4 x 7 ?

Casey Klahn, Pink Flute, 2014, pastel and charcoal, 12 3/4 x 7 3/8 in

 

More secrets from Matisse. Matisse pays as much attention to the negative space in a still life as he does to the objects in the painting. Further, he wants the overall construction of the painting to be supported. My article is worth the read because I went all the way to Russia (during wartime!) only to see Matisse, and some very strange things happened. He revealed 3 guiding principles for his paintings to me. They are: passion, color, and (French word) insouciance. He feels intensely, colors boldly, and could not care less what you think about his works!

So, when I came home from Europe, I had this big floral that I was working on and I was at an impasse. I had started it from a set-up of irises in my studio, 2 months earlier. As I went back to it, informed by new inspiration, I quickly finished what has now become a very important work for me.

 

Casey Klahn, "The Conversation. 2014," 2014, pastel, 21 x 13 1/2 in

Casey Klahn, “The Conversation. 2014,” 2014, pastel, 21 x 13 1/2 in

 

For me, each new artwork should say something different. Creativity is about bringing the new thing about. Why retell what another has already covered? How boring is that? So, as a result of this philosophy, I decided to use this series of a hundred paintings to express this somewhat formal idea. New each time; same subject matter. See how the content becomes more ideal, and less particular?

Plus, there’s the challenge that I enjoy so much.

 

Casey Klahn, 5 Green Roses. The Ark of Movement, 2014, pastel, oil stick, & graphite, 10 3/4 x 10 1/4 in

Casey Klahn, 5 Green Roses. The Ark of Movement, 2014, pastel, oil stick, & graphite, 10 3/4 x 10 1/4 in

 

I am thrilled when I see some problems in a piece, because I have a direction for the next one. Attempting to fix the last one! However, I try to set up a different arrangement and make the “fix” about some formal quality of painting.

 

Casey Klahn, "Arrangement With Milk Bottle," 2014, compressed charcoal, pastel and vine charcoal, 11 x 13 in

Casey Klahn, “Arrangement With Milk Bottle,” 2014, compressed charcoal, pastel and vine charcoal, 11 x 13 in

 

After that first larger work, I continued with the genre and soon had done, I think it was, 20. I thought to myself if I had made 20 that fast that I could eventually finish a hundred. The challenge, of course, gets harder with every 10 or so works because they must differ! Whether I’ve achieved that or not, I don’t completely know for sure, but that is still the idea I’m after.

 

Casey Klahn, "Fraternity," 2014, Pastel, oil stick, vine charcoal & graphite, 11 3/4 x 14 in

Casey Klahn, “Fraternity,” 2014, Pastel, oil stick, vine charcoal & graphite, 11 3/4 x 14 in

 

At the time of this writing, I believe there are about 70 still life paintings completed.

I still don’t know much about botany, but at least now I am able to see the flowers put in front of me!

 

~~~~~~~

Thanks so much Casey!!

Aren’t those paintings something?? They invigorate my creative impulse and move my soul. I wish we could have had all 70 here. Check out Casey’s blog at TheColorist.blogspot.com to see the rest of the series – those completed and those still to come. Also, see them at the Pastel Society of America Facebook group page.

As always, I’d love to hear your feedback!

Until next time,

~ Gail

PS. Casey Klahn has a terrific video where he talks about and shows his painting process and where you can see more of his remarkable work.

PPS. I chose a floral by Casey Klahn for my first (September) Pastel Gems blog. Go see it here.

Overworked Pastel? No Problem! Just Rework It

I have this pastel. It was painted on location and then worked on in the studio. I wrote a blog about it (click here to read it). It received some wonderful comments. But I’ve never been completely happy with the pastel. I feel it’s an overworked pastel and just not the way I want it to look.

Since it’s been worked on so much, I decided to rework it into something else and capture the process for this blog. Although doing this was a risk, especially knowing a few people really liked the piece, I was ready to plunge in. I figured no matter what happened, since I was unhappy with the pastel as it was, whatever happened next was just fine. I may end up with a wonderful new piece or I may end up with a mess. If a mess, I can always wash the whole thing clean! And if a new piece, then yay!

Here’s the original overworked pastel:

Gail Sibley, “Afternoon Walk, Dukes Road,” pastel,  12 x 9 in - overworked?

Gail Sibley, “Afternoon Walk, Dukes Road,” pastel, 12 x 9 in

 

First off, I gently wipe the pastel with a paper towel to soften all the edges and blur the image.

Gail Sibley, “Afternoon Walk, Dukes Road,” pastel,  12 x 9 in. The wiping leaves the ghost of the original image.

Gail Sibley, “Afternoon Walk, Dukes Road,” pastel, 12 x 9 in. The wiping leaves the ghost of the original image.

 

Now where do I take it? Do I make it abstract? One thing’s for sure, I’m done working on the landscape that’s there. I’ve reworked it so much that I feel like it’s dead. But there’s still an interesting pattern of light and dark that I can work with. I’ll also look to see if there’s any other visible form, for example, figurative, or I’ll turn it on its side and see if there’s another landscape possibility.

I can no longer call the piece by it's original title as now it's a work in progress. I've decided to use the light and dark pattern and use vine charcoal to outline the main pattern I see.

I can no longer call the piece by its original title as now it’s a work in progress. I’ve decided to use the original light and dark pattern and I use vine charcoal to outline the main pattern I see.

 

Now what? I decide to choose a limited palette from the colours used in the original. I pick the yellow and a blue as the primary colours. I add magenta and a cool red. Then I began to add the chosen colours to the outlined shapes.

A new piece begins it's evolution. The pattern of light and dark is hinted at from the original but we no longer have a realistic looking landscape.

A new piece begins its evolution. The pattern of light and dark is still hinted at from the original painting but we no longer have a realistic looking landscape. (You can see I also tried a mauve colour which I immediately rejected and covered up.)

 

Hmmm, interesting I think. I continue.

More lines added, a couple more colours added.

More lines added, a couple more colours added.

 

I wonder about drips and add water along one edge. But I discover that drips don’t happen that easily in pastels. (You can see there’s a bit of darkness along the right hand side. That’s wet pastels.) I feel that how I’ve been working, hatching the pastel, has begun to look too much the same. Pretty, I think, and I don’t want pretty. I also feel the big swooping shape takes you right out of the picture. So I decide to introduce long lines across the whole picture plane to stop that movement as well as to add some discomfort to the prettiness. Will it work?

Lines added. These add complexity to the whole thing. Adding the lines, I was considering how the viewer moves around the painting. I want to keep the viewer there!

Lines added. These add complexity to the whole thing. When adding the lines, I was considering how the viewer’s eye moves around the painting. I want to keep the viewer there!

 

Stepping back, I think I’ve added more interest to the piece. But there’s still work to be done.

Worked a bit further

Worked a bit further. More lines added, more shapes delineated.

 

The same progression as above but in black and white. This really shows up the pattern of darks and lights.

The same progression as above but in black and white. This really shows up the pattern of darks and lights.

 

I begin to see light filtering through slats of wood or metal. Like the elevated train platform in Chicago or the Eiffel Tower. With this idea in mind, I continue on. I decide to break up some of the large dark shapes further.

The piece as far as it's gotten. I don't know whether it's finished or still has a way to go or if it's overworked.

The piece as far as it’s gotten. I don’t know whether it’s finished or still has a way to go. Or is it an overworked pastel once again? Time will tell.

 

And here it is in black and white:

The pastel as it is shown in black and white.

The pastel as it is shown in black and white.

 

The images above follow the vertical format of the original piece. Let’s see what happens when we look at it horizontally:

The same image rotated horizontally

The same image rotated horizontally.

 

And here are the eight Sennelier pastels used.

And here are the eight Sennelier pastels used.

I don’t know if it was a good idea to follow the light pattern that was there originally but that’s what I did and this is what I ended up doing and how the piece progressed.

I’ll need to sit with the painting and see what happens, to decide whether I’ll need to go further, stop, or let go of the whole thing again. I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I’d love to know your thoughts about what I did!!

Wishing you a splendid 2015. Let’s see what wonderful things we can create and discover in pastel together!!

~ Gail

 

PS. On my mind while working on this pastel was the 7th January shooting of 12 people at the Paris offices of the satirical weekly paper Charlie Hebdo. Although this painting doesn’t reference it directly, the awful event was in my subconscious for sure.

To see an amazing outpouring in cartoons by cartoonists from around the world, click here.

 

PPS. It feels good to be back in the studio. I’ve been working at completing the Pastel Painting En Plein Air online videos (done) and I’m now beginning to choose a place to store the videos online, decide on and set up a portal for access, and determine a method for purchasing. All computer stuff i.e. NOT in the studio!

 

December’s Pastel Choices

On this last day of 2014, I’m delighted to present my totally subjective pastel choices for December. As always, soooooooo difficult to choose. I sifted through all my choices seen throughout December over and over again, weeding one here, one there, until I had about 15 left. And then I was at the point when I didn’t think I could narrow my choices down any further.

But I promised.

10 only.

So I looked and looked and then looked some more and finally, I ended up with the 10 pastel choices that make my heartbeat quicken when I look at them.

Which one of the the 10 pastel choices does that for you??

 

Anita Stoll, "Bouquet in the Lotus Bowl," pastel on Mi-Tientes Touch board, 9 x 14 in

Anita Stoll, “Bouquet in the Lotus Bowl,” pastel on Mi-Tientes Touch board, 9 x 14 in

I’m drawn to this moody and deceptively simple pastel. It seems so unusual for a bouquet of flowers, coloured as it is with greys and blacks. I love that Anita has chosen to work in such muted colours. There is so little indicated in this evocative and illusive work and yet, we easily read a vase with flowers. Click here to see more of Anita’s work.

 

 

Bela Tarcsay, "In The Morning," pastel on paper, 13 3/4 x 19 5/8 in

Bela Tarcsay, “In The Morning,” pastel on paper, 13 3/4 x 19 5/8 in

Here we have the drama of sunlight streaming into a room, illuminating certain parts while some areas remain in deep shadow. I love the feeling, the energy conveyed by the pastel marks, the colours. Makes me want to rise and shine! I couldn’t find a website for Bela Tarcsay but you can see more of his work by clicking here.

 

 

Hamidreza Razavi, "Portrait," pastel on paper, 16 1/2  x 11 11/16 in

Hamidreza Razavi, “Portrait,” pastel on paper, 16 1/2 x 11 11/16 in

I think this is an amazingly powerful portrait. I love the directness of pastel application, the expressive use of line, the intensity in the eyes, the sculptural form, the tension revealed. Wonderful! There’s something about it that makes me think of the German Expressionist artists like Otto Dix. I couldn’t find a website for Hamidreza Razavi, but you can see more work on his facebook profile.

 

 

Motti Shoval, "Cafe Massada," pastel on paper, 25 5/8 x 19 11/16 in

Motti Shoval, “Cafe Massada,” pastel on paper, 25 5/8 x 19 11/16 in

There’s something about both the abstract design of this painting as well as the cafe setting that keeps pulling me back to it. There’s also the contrast between stillness and movement. No figures are shown yet their presence is hinted at in the car and by the chair in the foreground that looks as if it’s just been pushed away from the table. There’s also the dramatic contrast between light and dark, between colour and neutrals, between soft and hard edges. Apparently another artist without his own website, you can read Motti Shoval’s CV and see a few more pieces here. And you can find a link to his facebook page there.

 

 

Posa Ede, "Budapest," pastel, 19 11/16 x 23 5/8 in

Posa Ede, “Budapest,” pastel, 19 11/16 x 23 5/8 in

I had three pastels by Posa Ede to choose from! In the end I went with this painting, first because I love the bright colours used although it’s a night scene, the feeling of mist and wet streets with scurrying people, and the way the light is used in different ways – various buildings lit up from without and within- and second, because it’s a city we may visit in May. (My honey Cam and I are going to choose a city in Europe, one where we haven’t been, and stay for three weeks. We’ll both be working – he writing, me painting. Budapest is on the short list.) I love the combination of both the side of the pastel and the tip, ie. painting and drawing. I want to step into the painting and walk towards the light! See more of his work here.

 

 

Cameron Hampton, "Crouching Nude Study," Pastel on La Carte paper, 8 x 8 in

Cameron Hampton, “Crouching Nude Study,” Pastel on La Carte paper, 8 x 8 in

When I saw this pastel on the Pastel of America Facebook page, I was stopped in my tracks. Powerful, bold, unafraid, direct. I think of master artists like Lucian Freud (his later work) and Kathe Kollwitz when I look at this piece. Who is this woman? What is going on with her? Go check out more of Cameron’s work here!

 

 

Ellen Eagle, "Nude," pastel, 31 1/2 x 13 in

Ellen Eagle, “Nude,” pastel, 31 1/2 x 13 in

From the colourful expressionism of Hampton’s work, we go to the muted delicacy of this nude by Ellen Eagle. Legs together, we are presented with a completely different picture. Here there is contemplation and an ethereal quality. And yet, there is still emotion, of sorrow? of pain? There is something about this piece that reminds me of the work of Pierre-Paul Prud’hon. Go see more of Ellen’s work at her newly designed website!

 

 

Don Gardi, "Dialogue with the Ephemeral," pastel, 11 x 14 in

Don Gardi, “Dialogue with the Ephemeral,” pastel, 11 x 14 in

I love the exuberant mark-making Don Gardi brings to this piece. There’s energy and such fabulous colour. I feel excited just looking at it! It reminds me a lot of the work of Joan Mitchell, an artist I admire greatly. (Read a blog I wrote about her work here.) This pastel makes me happy to be alive :-)  Check out more of Don’s work at his website.

 

 

Tom Christopher, "Tower Rock," pastel, 25 x 32 in

Tom Christopher, “Tower Rock,” pastel, 25 x 32 in

I can feel the coolness of the snow in the shadows and reach for those areas still lit by the setting (or is it rising?) sun. Haven’t you experienced that quality of light in nature? I love the contrast between the limited palette of reds and blues and between large areas of colour and expressive line. I also enjoy the effect Tom creates with a textured surface (marks created by brush strokes?). Check out more of Tom’s work here.

 

 

Karen Pettengill, "First Light," pastel, 14 x 11 in

Karen Pettengill, “First Light,” pastel, 14 x 11 in

I kept thinking that this painting was going to have to go, but, in the end, it ended up as one of my 10 pastel choices. There’s a powerful simplicity to it that haunts me. That intense light through the doorway, something mystical is happening. What is this place? The whole thing has an iconic feel about it. See more of Karen’s work here.

 

I’d love to hear what you think of my pastel choices for December!

 

And so endeth 2014.

Wishing you a most joyful, a most adventurous, a most peaceful, a most healthy, a most successful, a most exciting, a most fulfilling 2015!

From my heart, thank you for joining me on these pastel journeys. See you next year!!

~ Gail

 

What’s a Low Key Painting?

Talking about a low key painting seems appropriate at this, the darkest time of the year (in the northern hemisphere anyway!). So what is a low key painting? It’s one in which most of the colours are predominantly dark in value and often subdued (i.e. not bright colours).

I’ve just uploaded a video of me demoing a low key painting. Have a look:

 

Low key painting demo video

 

 

You can see my set up below. I must have changed my angle when I began to paint though; I didn’t see any secondary highlights in the shadow side of the bowl like the ones you can see here.

 

The bowl and pepper set up for low key painting

The bowl and pepper set up for the low key painting.

The thumbnail in preparation for the low key painting

The thumbnail in preparation for the low key painting

The initial drawing for the low key painting done in vine charcoal on toned Wallis paper

The initial drawing in vine charcoal on toned Wallis paper

The pastels used in the low key painting

The Schminke pastels used in the low key painting. There are 14 of them! I was struggling to create the colours I saw, keeping them in the correct values, hence the need to use more pastels than usual. You can see what I thought was ‘black’  is actually a ‘cool gray’ (top left).

The low key painting: Gail Sibley, "Peppers in a Bowl," Schminke pastels on Wallis paper, 6 x 6 in

Gail Sibley, “Peppers in a Bowl,” Schminke pastels on Wallis paper, 6 x 6 in

 

Here is that low key painting again but photographed in black and white

Here is that low key painting again but photographed in black and white. This really shows you how dark the painting is.

 

A couple of months ago, I did a video on high key painting. Check it out on my blog here. You can see how completely different the painting looks from this one!!

 

Wow, it’s almost Christmas Day! Wishing you a very special holiday surrounded by love and laughter.  I’m so looking forward to spending the next few days with my Mum and Dad, my brother and his family, and my honey.

With warmth and huge thanks,

~ Gail

 

PS. Because of the time of the year, you may want to watch me painting a branch of holly :-)

Pastel Demo At Opus A Marvellous Experience!

Opus Art Store Pastel Demo

Wow, did I ever have a fun day on Sunday doing my pastel demo!! I can’t believe I’m saying that what with a bit of anxiety days before around the whole thing – what was I going to paint? how nervous would I be? how would it turn out?

I got there in plenty of time to set up, do a thumbnail sketch, and then get the initial charcoal sketch done on the Wallis paper I was using. Then I was ready. And suddenly, it was 11am, the store was open and there were about 20 people flowing into the chairs. I was surprised to see only a couple of people I knew. (With luck, I may have a few new subscribers to this blog :-))

I spoke a bit about pastel choices and the benefit of using a limited palette, about types of paper, and then I got into the demo. I really tried to make a point of verbalizing what was going on in my head as well as what I was doing on paper, rather than just drift into the ‘zone’ and work. It seemed to go pretty well! I was lucky to have an appreciative and encouraging audience who appeared to enjoy the pastel demo and find it useful. I’m glad that, in the end, I chose a subject I had painted before and also that I did a simple set up.

I don’t have progression steps but I do have a photo of the setup, my thumbnail sketch, the pastels I used from my limited palette of Schminke, and the demo at the end. (Kicking myself that I didn’t get a shot of the area with everyone in it!) The two hours flew by and of course I lost track of time so near the end, I needed to get to the highlights before I would normally indulge myself with this treat.

Take a look.

 

Pastel demo set up of two peppers and garlic cloves

Pastel demo set up of two peppers and garlic cloves. The photograph removes so much of the subtleties and colour shifts you can see in life!

 

Thumbnail sketch in pencil for pastel demo

Thumbnail sketch in pencil for the pastel demo. You can see the three main value areas of dark cast shadow, lightest value where the light hits the peppers and garlic cloves, and middle value for most of the rest.

 

The pastel demo at the end of about 1 1/2 hours of working and lots of talking between!

The pastel demo at the end of about 1 1/2 hours of working and lots of talking between! The piece is definitely not complete but that’s as far as I got in the allotted time. One thing I found was that the Wallis paper had a different texture from what I’m used to. It’s fine but was a surprise as I worked. The texture almost shows through more like watercolour paper. There’s so much more I wanted to do – work on the orange pepper, darken the clove in the cast shadow, work a bit more on the background cloth. Ah well.

 

 

The eleven Schminke pastels I used for the pastel demo, looking rather dirty

The eleven Schminke pastels I used, looking rather dirty.

 

The small set of Schminke pastels from which I pulled my pastels for this pastel demo

The set of Schminke pastels from which I chose my pastels

Yes, doing the pastel demo at Opus was really a great experience for me!!

 

Featured Artist!

I am honoured to be chosen as the feature artist for December on the Pastel Artists Canada Facebook Page. Check it out here!

 

That’s it for this time. Love hearing from you!!

 

For now,

~ Gail