If you’ve ever seen Tony Allain in action or seen his work, you’ll know why I’m excited to have him as a guest blogger.
I first featured Tony’s work in my first-ever monthly round-up blog in September 2014 (when I wasn’t writing very much about each pastel!) and then more recently in April this year. I’ve admired the confidence and colour in his work, and also the way he utilizes his sketches to create his pastels. So you can imagine how happy I was to bring his words and art to you.
If you’ve never encountered Tony Allain’s work before, here’s a teaser:
And before I hand you over to Tony Allain, here’s a wee bit about him.
Tony Allain Bio
Tony Allain has been a full-time painter, author, and international instructor for over 45 years. Being a member of the Pastel Society UK, a Signature member of the Pastel Society of America, a Master of the Pastel Artists of New Zealand and more recently honoured with the title of a member of the Master Circle of the International Association of the Pastel Society has allowed him to exhibit his work on a global stage from New York to London and as far as Auckland in New Zealand. You can learn more on his website.
And now, here’s Tony Allain!!
How To Pastel (Loosely)
I think an important quality in painting is that of individual interpretation. I think every artist should be able to say something different and have their own way of saying it.
Whenever I visit an exhibition or collection of paintings, I seem to always be attracted to the loose or impressionistic work on display. These qualities invite the viewer to respond emotionally to a time, place, and mood that they may relate to. I like the idea the artist has given me the opportunity to be part of the painting by mentally filling in the detail that may have been left out, and so I become a part of the painting process.
My passion will always be the landscape; it is why I became a painter. I want to share my vision of the world I see. My aim is to capture the essence of a time and place with the freedom of mark making that has its roots in the work of the Impressionists by way of introducing broad passages of vigorous ‘brush strokes’ expressing the effect of colour and light on a particular subject. With that in mind my approach is to capture my first impression with the least amount of ‘brush strokes’ as possible and that requires confidence, freedom, and speed when placing each mark.
I like to work quickly to ‘capture the moment’. The joy for me in using soft pastel is the sense of immediacy – no preparation of colour mixing on the palate, no waiting for certain passages to dry, no brush cleaning!
I always carry a sketch journal and a good selection of pens and pencils in the car. Sketching and drawing for me is the basic language of painting. Drawing is the tool that can help an artist see and understand his surroundings. Sketching forces you to analyse and decipher the subject for yourself.
When you get inspired by a particular subject, it is only when you start to draw you begin to fully understand its shapes, tones, and lines.
The accomplished painter who cannot draw well is as rare as hen’s teeth. It can be dangerous for the inexperienced artist to simply draw from photographs, because this encourages you to copy two-dimensional shapes of light and dark. In nature objects do not have a line around them; they have tone, depth, shape, and space.
When on location and in the studio I always work out any composition issues I may have with a good selection of sketches and drawing. Drawing and sketching forces you to look and fully understand the subject in front of you. I am still ‘feeding’ off sketches that I made 20 or more years ago. I have at least 30 sketch books filled with visual memories of my travels.
When you are faced with your subject it is important you let it reveal itself to you as you visually work out the shape, size, and position of the elements that first attracted you to the scene. You will find that in time you will become more proficient at analysing and rendering your chosen subject. It does take a lot of concentration, and you will with practise have the ability to have a good memory recall as you make your brain take the ‘photo’ and not rely on the camera which is far too easy and will not help with improving your work.
Most of my work is taken from life or sketches. I very rarely use photographs and if I do, I choose to have my images transformed to grayscale. If you want to paint in a loose manner you may have to abandon the comforts of your studio for a while and work outside!
The choice of colour of my support is also a contributing factor. For example if I were to paint a bright sunny summer landscape without a cloud in the sky, I would favour a warm rich raw sienna type of paper. A grey day would see me choose a dark umber ground colour.
My choice of pastel is also important to my work. I only use the best quality soft pastels. I roughly follow the same procedure for all of my subject matter. I start with using the side of my pastel to lay in my initial darks. My mid-tones will be added using broken colour with light delicate passages of glazing one colour over another. My lightest and final detail will be left and added last so as not to contaminate the very soft pastels used in adding highlights etc.
I work on the whole painting all the time; that is to say I do not start at the top and complete each row as I descend. If I put down a ‘bad’ mark I tend not to erase it but simply put a better one next to it. For me painting this way helps me keep the work fresh, clean, and balanced without the unnecessary detail clogging up my very first impression. I like to take an everyday scene and through a subtle approach focusing on colour and light, I try to take my work to an elevated level.
My own studio space has separate painting stations, one for pastel and another for oils. All of my tables and benches have wheels or castors for ease of movement and storage. I have a selection of plein air easels, pastel boxes all primed and ready to go, as is my travelling oil box and French easel. I use one of those two wheeled shopping carts to transport my plein air equipment all held with a load of bungee clips.
My painting process for pastel is very similar to my approach with oils, that is, I paint from dark to light and fat over lean. It worked for me and I have continued in that manner, rightly or wrongly ever since.
I was not influenced by any pastel artist at the time, but just stumbled my way through, as I do with all the mediums I use.
Soft pastels are very portable and are ideal for plein air work. There is so much more now in the marketplace to cater for the outdoor painter. I do keep to a small size for my plein air work, no bigger than 10 x 14 in. I generally prepare a number of supports before I hit the road. Using quarter or half sheets of Art Spectrum Colourfix, Pastel Premier or UART sanded paper.
For studio work I work on prepared MDF board which I apply several coats of gesso followed by a watered-down paste of pastel primer which is a fine grit suspended in a binder. A coat of my chosen colour with acrylic paint and the panel is now ready to receive pastel. Modern pastel papers are now coated with this type of grit.
As Degas once said, “Drawing or painting is not about what one sees. It’s about what one makes others see”.
- Always use the best quality artist’s pastels. Try not to buy your pastels in sets as you end up with a lot of colours you may never use. If you use inferior materials you will end up with inferior work.
- Always do thumbnail sketches first. This helps to solve problems like – composition, perspective and the general balance of the finished work. Carry a small sketch journal everywhere. I keep one in the glove compartment of my car for emergencies.
- Always stand at your easel if possible. This will give you freedom of movement and allow you to step back periodically and view your work in progress. Use a piece of plastic guttering on the ledge of your easel to catch the pastel dust in.
- Lay in the underpainting with broad, direct light strokes with the side of the pastel. Build up the layers again with delicate but positive strokes. If you paint a bad mark, leave it and camouflage it by painting a better one next to it.
- Squint as much as possible. This allows you to see shapes rather than detail.
- Paint what you see. Not what you know is there.
- Paint fat over lean, as you would in oils.
- Don’t fiddle. Keep it simple. Know when to stop. Less is more.
- Keep the highlights clean and bright by painting them last.
- Reading all the books, watching all the DVDs, taking workshops will give you all the knowledge to get started – but without a heap of practice this will mean nothing.
Well WOW! Thanks so much to Tony!
Now we’d love to hear from you! Do you have any questions? Do any of Tony’s tips resonate with you? Please do leave a comment.
Until next time,
PS. Here’s a video I shot at IAPS in 2017 – Tony Allain explaining his process:
To see all the 2017 IAPS videos, click here.