Category Archives: In their own words

Pastel artists who either guest blog or answer questions in an interview with me

Emma Colbert, "Waiting," Unison on Hahnemühle velour paper, 18 x 14 in, Sold. One of the many paintings I have done of my own girl Brocci.

Emma Colbert On Painting Fur In Soft Pastels

I am delighted to welcome Emma Colbert as a guest blogger. Last year, I featured her work twice, in February (and you can see the progression of that piece below!) and in October.

Emma is known for her pet portraits particularly of dogs. As many members of the HowToPastel Facebook group have asked the best way to paint fur, I immediately thought of Emma Colbert and approached her to write something on the topic for you.

Don’t know her work? Here’s a teaser:

 

Emma Colbert, "Bud," 2017, Unison pastels on Hahnemühle velour paper, 12 x 12 in. Commissioned Portrait.

Emma Colbert, “Bud,” 2017, Unison pastels on Hahnemühle velour paper, 12 x 12 in. Commissioned Portrait.

 

Before handing the blog over to Emma, first a wee bit about her.

Emma Colbert Bio

Emma Colbert was born in Northern Ireland and is currently travelling in Europe, painting in pastel while on the move. (Check the bottom of this post for photos of the motorhome!) She specialises in animal portraits but enjoys painting a wide variety of subject matter. Emma was recently featured on the cover of Artists & Illustrators Magazine. She was also awarded the ‘Reader’s Choice’ award from Artists & Illustrators Artist of the Year exhibition 2016. Check her website for more information.

And now, here’s Emma Colbert!

~~~~~

Thank you so much to Gail for the honour of writing a guest blog. Gail has asked me to share my tips and techniques for painting fur in soft pastel.

I have always enjoyed painting living subjects, both animals and people. My older sister who was studying art in school introduced me to her cheap student grade pastels and I have loved the medium ever since.

I have worked hard to improve my landscapes, interiors and still life so I can produce more interesting paintings and challenge myself more. But I must admit that when I finish a background and start work on my main subject, I can slip into a sea of curls or brindle quite happily! I find the whole method of building up the illusion of fur meditative!

 

Emma Colbert, "Ruffles," 2013, Unison pastels on Hahnemühle velour paper, 18 x 12 in. Commissioned Portrait.

Emma Colbert, “Ruffles,” 2013, Unison pastels on Hahnemühle velour paper, 18 x 12 in. Commissioned Portrait.

 

Born in Northern Ireland, for the past two years I’ve been travelling around Europe in a motorhome with my partner, and dog. I took my business on the road and as it turns out, pastel is the perfect medium to travel with! I managed to work in a studio set up in the rear lounge of the motorhome.

I use a mixture of soft pastel, mainly Unison Colour, with some Terry Ludwigs and Faber Castell too. I also use Faber Castell pastel pencils for the finest details. Depending on the type of fur, I like to keep that to a minimum as I prefer the looser more vibrant quality of the soft pastel. But with certain coats, like on that of a smooth-coated dog, the pencils are very useful for moving the soft pastel around and creating those fine wispy ends.

 

Emma Colbert, "Sweetie," 2017, Unison pastels on Hahnemühle velour paper, 16 x 12 in. Commissioned Portrait.

Emma Colbert, “Sweetie,” 2017, Unison pastels on Hahnemühle velour paper, 16 x 12 in. Commissioned Portrait.

 

The more animals I paint the more I realise it’s not necessary to paint every single hair to create the illusion. Although I love realism, it’s actually the Impressionists who inspire me most in how they used loose, sometimes abstract marks, to represent something and let the viewer’s eye do the rest. I believe it leads to an even more realistic result as the subject is less static. I have seen few paintings more alive than those of the Impressionists from across a gallery room. I’m still working on my Impressionistic abilities but their use of colour definitely has inspired me, as it was when I was looking at a Seurat up close that colour theory really clicked. His obvious use of opposite and complementary colours literally spelled it out to me.

 

Emma Colbert, "Willow," 2015, Unison pastels on Hahnemühle velour paper, 18 x 14 in. Commissioned Portrait.

Emma Colbert, “Willow,” 2015, Unison pastels on Hahnemühle velour paper, 18 x 14 in. Commissioned Portrait.

I work on velour pastel paper as I love the soft quality of the finished piece. There are a few tricks to working on this paper in particular. But to create realistic fur, it’s necessary to have a pastel paper that allows many layers, and most importantly, the ability to add light on top of dark. Velour allows many layers and creates an incredibly soft appearance, but it also has a few quirks to deal with. Like all papers, it has its pros and cons. The best thing to do is to experiment. In my experience, the smoother toothed papers make it easier to create detail in animals.

 

Emma Colbert, "Yaya," 2017, Unison pastels on Hahnemühle velour paper 18 x 14 in. Commissioned Portrait.

Emma Colbert, “Yaya,” 2017, Unison pastels on Hahnemühle velour paper 18 x 14 in. Commissioned Portrait.

Step by Step of Dog “Yaya”

Don’t be too fussy with your first layer. Starting with the darkest values, mark these in following the general flow of the fur. When black is my darkest value I use a black Faber Castell stick. It’s great for the first layer as it doesn’t fill the paper and it’s a lovely jet black.

Emma Colbert, "Yaya," progress 1

Emma Colbert, “Yaya,” progress 1

Emma Colbert, "Yaya," progress 2

Emma Colbert, “Yaya,” progress 2

Emma Colbert, "Yaya," progress 3

Emma Colbert, “Yaya,” progress 3

 

Working down the face, building up the layers of brindle takes time. After the black layer, I bring in the warm red earths and oranges working up to highlight tones of peaches and yellow. Once I have a few layers down I can use the pastel pencils to tweak the ends of the hairs and refine. On their own, the pastel pencils are quite weak in pigment on velour. But by putting down the soft pastel first and then using a similarly toned pencil you can flick the ends of hairs out from your larger pastel marks.

 

Emma Colbert, "Yaya," progress 4

Emma Colbert, “Yaya,” progress 4

Emma Colbert, "Yaya," progress 5

Emma Colbert, “Yaya,” progress 5

Emma Colbert, "Yaya," progress 6

Emma Colbert, “Yaya,” progress 6

 

I use every size of pastel from the full stick right down to tiny shards. The full sticks provide me with thick marks that cover the paper quickly and allow me to start blending. On velour, I rub all the marks on each layer well into the paper. If you don’t, the pastel will sit on top of the paper and you will find it difficult to create the detail as the tooth will fill too quickly. The key is to use thin layers and many of them. Imagine how thick an animal’s coat is, I may cover an area 10 times in different marks before I feel it looks dense enough.

 

A few of my best tips for creating fur

Pastel sticks are a thing of beauty when you buy them, but don’t be afraid to rip papers off and break them when you need sharp edges. My pastels wear down as I use all sides of them for different jobs. I also occasionally drop one which often turns into a happy accident with the revealing of new shards. Some of my favourite pieces of pastel are smaller than fingernails yet I’ve been using them for ages. Often the smaller pieces are only for the highlights, so they last a long time. When you look at my palette I have the most amount of smaller pieces for those commonly used highlight colours.

 

Emma Colbert, "Water’s Edge," 2013, Unison pastels on Hahnemühle velour paper, 18 x 14 in. Sold. One of my favourite fox paintings and an early experiment with loosening up in water reflections.

Emma Colbert, “Water’s Edge,” 2013, Unison pastels on Hahnemühle velour paper, 18 x 14 in. Sold. One of my favourite fox paintings and an early experiment with loosening up in water reflections.

 

I think the fear is that once you break a pastel, it will fall away to nothing. It depends on the softness of the pastel of course, but I have not found this to be true of Unison. Breaking one pastel simply gives me several useful pastels in that colour.

I like to work my backgrounds first. As a general rule, I work from background to foreground, even on the animal’s face. For example, I’ll work the area behind a muzzle or chin, before adding the chin that’s sitting out in front. This way, you can achieve those fine hairs around the edges of the animal.

 

Emma Colbert, "Ailsa," 2016, Unison pastels on velour paper 10 x 12 in. Commissioned Portrait.

Emma Colbert, “Ailsa,” 2016, Unison pastels on velour paper 10 x 12 in. Commissioned Portrait.

 

When painting white fur, notice where the light is hitting the subject directly. The very brightest highlights should be the only area you use pure white. Ideally, you need a range of light tones, both warm and cool to create white fur. Some examples I use from the Unison range are Grey 27, A19, A31 and Blue Violet7. These are all in the Animal set I created for Unison and they are so useful for those ‘off white’ tones in both warm and cool shadows. [Check below to see the colours Emma is referring to.]

I also use some darker colours like Grey8 and A27 in the darkest of shadows. You would be surprised how dark you need to go sometimes in those first layers to create enough depth. If you go too light too soon, you’ll lose all the definition in the hair.

 

Emma Colbert, "Fluffy," 2015, Unison pastels on Hahnemühle velour paper 12 x 10 in. Commissioned Portrait

Emma Colbert, “Fluffy,” 2015, Unison pastels on Hahnemühle velour paper 12 x 10 in. Commissioned Portrait

 

There are some breeds of dog where the fur is slightly frizzy in places. Chow Chows especially require more of the individual hairs to be created and I use a slight shake in my hand when making those marks to create the wave. It’s tiring on a bigger piece, so I work smaller areas up, blocking in the darks and adding areas of detail. I work from the top left downwards as it always leaves me somewhere to rest my hand.

 

Emma Colbert, "Kobe," 2017, Unison pastels on Hahnemühle velour paper, 22 x 18 in. Commissioned Portrait.

Emma Colbert, “Kobe,” 2017, Unison pastels on Hahnemühle velour paper, 22 x 18 in. Commissioned Portrait.

 

When creating a large area of curls it can seem very daunting and difficult to keep your place. I look for the larger areas, the darkest and most prominent curls. Get a few anchors in place and then work at filling the gaps with a darker value from the coat. Once you get a couple of rough layers in, you can start to worry about refining individual curls with highlight colours. Try to see the bigger picture and not get lost in the detail too soon.

 

Emma Colbert, "Pepper and Polo," 2018, Unison pastels on Hahnemühle velour paper, 24 x 16 in. Commissioned Portrait.

Emma Colbert, “Pepper and Polo,” 2018, Unison pastels on Hahnemühle velour paper, 24 x 16 in. Commissioned Portrait.

 

Although I paint a lot of domestic animals, I also love to paint wildlife. I’ve spent a lot of time around nature parks and reserves and love to collect photo reference to work from. However, I’m not the best photographer and I rely on being able to piece together my photos to create the scene I imagine. This is where good use of colour theory can help in your painting. Look for colour substitutions in your palette to replace greys and browns. Try to use combinations of more vibrant colours to show how light dances off a subject. Bringing in colours from your background will help create harmony throughout the painting.

 

Emma Colbert, "Bathing in Buttercups," 2013, Unison pastels on Hahnemühle velour paper, 19 x 13 in. Sold. Created from several of my own photos when trying to break into using more vibrant colours.

Emma Colbert, “Bathing in Buttercups,” 2013, Unison pastels on Hahnemühle velour paper, 19 x 13 in. Sold. Created from several of my own photos when trying to break into using more vibrant colours.

 

For my wildlife paintings, I also find I use more random mark making in their coats. Wild animals don’t always have the same groomed appearance as our domestic friends, so remember to not make your marks too uniform. This is a good trick for most types of fur though. A certain looseness to the marks will take away that static appearance.

 

Emma Colbert, "The Belties," 2015, Unison pastels on velour paper, 40 x 30 in. Sold. My first giant pastel on velour paper I sourced from Dakota Pastels in the US.

Emma Colbert, “The Belties,” 2015, Unison pastels on velour paper, 40 x 30 in. Sold. My first giant pastel on velour paper I sourced from Dakota Pastels in the US.

 

One last tip is to spend time working on your edges. How an animal sits in front of its background will help the overall realism of the fur. Notice where the finest hairs are around the edges and use pastel pencil to lightly drag some pigment out. It also helps to have contrasting colours in the background.

You’ll notice in my stag painting that each edge of the deer is contrasted by its neighbouring background area. This is planned to make the animal pop out from the bokeh background. It was also an attempt to not use any green. Coming from Ireland I find that difficult! But I wanted to experiment with the blue/orange and yellow/purple opposites in this by exaggerating the colours.

 

Emma Colbert, "Brave Hart," 2016, Unison pastels on Hahnemühle velour paper, 19 x 19 in. Sold. Painted as part of a series of red deer from Gosford Park in Northern Ireland.

Emma Colbert, “Brave Hart,” 2016, Unison pastels on Hahnemühle velour paper, 19 x 19 in. Sold. Painted as part of a series of red deer from Gosford Park in Northern Ireland.

"Bravehart" reference photo

Emma Colbert, Hart Reference, 2016, Photo reference to accompany Brave Hart.

Emma Colbert, Hart Sketch, 2016, Initial sketch for Brave Hart. I usually sketch on regular drawing paper in pencil.

Emma Colbert, Hart Sketch, 2016, Initial sketch for Brave Hart. I usually sketch on regular drawing paper in pencil.

 

I hope you find some of these tips helpful. The main key to painting fur is patience. Once you crack that layering technique I bet you’ll find it relaxing too!

[And for Gail, some cats!]

Emma Colbert, "Cosy Cats," 2016, Unison pastels on Hahnemühle velour paper, 18 x 14 in. Commissioned portrait from several photos which proved to be a complete nightmare!

Emma Colbert, “Cosy Cats,” 2016, Unison pastels on Hahnemühle velour paper, 18 x 14 in. Commissioned portrait from several photos which proved to be a complete nightmare!

 

~~~~~

 

Fantastic info on painting fur in soft pastels don’t you think? Thanks so much Emma!!

Emma and I would love to hear from you. Was this helpful? Do you want to paint animals or already do so? Do you have any questions for Emma? Please leave us a comment 🙂

By the way, just below are two of her Unison Colour pastel sets. Click the link under each image and you’ll be taken to the Unison Colour website where you can purchase them. Or check your local retailer – they may have them or be able to order them.

Until next time!
~ Gail

 

 

And here is the paper Emma uses:

 

Photos inside and out of the motorhome in which Emma, her partner Andrew, and their miniature dachshund Brocci, are currently travelling. I guess it’s rather difficult to complain about lack of space in my studio when I see this!

Emma Colbert - StudioMotorhome

Emma Colbert - StudioMotorhome inside

 

 

Chris Ivers, "No Smoking Allowed," pastel on Wallis Museum paper, 17 x 23 in. Sold

Chris Ivers on Scaling Up And Painting The Dark Side in Pastel

Take out those dark pastels and get ready to paint the night!! I’m excited to have Chris Ivers as a guest blogger this month. I’ve been in awe of Chris’s night paintings for some time now and featured her work in one of my monthly-roundups. I hoped she’d accept my invitation to be a guest and yay! here she is! By the way, Chris has also included in her post some great step-by-step instructions on how to scale up your photo.

Continue reading

Marcia Holmes, "Floating at Dusk," 2016, pastel, 26 x 26 in. Sold.

Marcia Holmes – From Realist To Abstract Expressionist

For years, I had known Marcia Holmes as a representational painter but in the last couple of years, I’ve seen her blossom into a full-blown abstract artist! I featured one of her newer pieces in my March 2017 round-up and have followed her career ever since.

I was curious to know about her path from realist to abstract expressionist so I asked her to write a blog and I’m delighted to tell you, she agreed!

Continue reading

Maria Marino – Responding Emotionally To The Landscape

When I think of the work of Maria Marino, I think of pastel paintings full of vitality, texture, and colour. And when I say paintings, I think with Maria Marino’s work, they really are paintings! She applies the pastel so thickly, you feel you could be looking at a thick brush stroke of oil paint.

I’ve featured Maria in my monthly selections and have always been intrigued by the process by which she works. I’ve also been amazed by her very textural ink drawings full of density and dark. So, as you can imagine, I am delighted to have Maria Marino as a guest blogger!

Continue reading

Wade Zahares, The Shortest Day, 2008, Schmincke pastel on Wallis, 24 x 30 inches. City skies on snowy nights always amused me with the strange colors that light up the night. 

Wade Zahares – Whimsy, Colour, And A Winter Wonderland!

As we close in on Christmas and the holiday season and all the laughter and love that seems to be that much more apparent and visible at this time of year, not to mention all the sparkle, light, and in northern climes, winter temperatures and snow, I wondered who to invite as a guest blogger. How do we celebrate this time of magic and memories of childhood? And then it came to me, the work of Wade Zahares!

I’ve been delighted by Wade’s work for sometime now. His amazing perspectives and unusual viewpoints not to mention his saturated colour and sense of fun and magic appeal to me enormously, so much so that I’ve featured his work twice in my monthly round-ups (in September 2015 and March 2017). I was super pleased when he agreed to do this last guest blog of 2017!  Although Wade paints all seasons, I asked him to put the primary focus on his winter scenes, the season being what it is.

Continue reading

Tony Allain, "Low Tide Porthleven," pastel, 10 x 34 in

Tony Allain – How To Pastel (Loosely)

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.

Continue reading

Lyn Diefenbach, "Counterpoint," Sept 2017, Pastel on Ampersand Pastelbord, 24 x 24 in. Available.

Lyn Diefenbach – Revealing The Complexity Of The Natural World

I met Lyn Diefenbach at this year’s IAPS convention. I had featured her self-portrait in one of my monthly roundups and admired the detailed complexity of her work for some time so I looked forward to meeting her. And you know what? She’s as delightful in person as you could hope! She’s also a great storyteller and she had me laughing much of the time!

After creating a short interview video with her (see the end of this post), I knew she would have much to say to you so asked her to be a guest blogger. And yay – she said yes!!

Here’s a teaser in case you don’t know her work.

Continue reading

Sandra Burshell, "Rest," 2016, Pastel on UArt 500 grade sanded pastel paper toned orange and mounted to acid-free foam core, 25x23 in

Sandra Burshell – The Beauty Of Colour, Light, And Atmosphere In Her Roomscapes

It’s my great pleasure to have Sandra Burshell as guest blogger. I’ve featured Burshell’s work twice in my monthly round-ups – the first time was a figure (click here to see it), and this past June, I included her interior, “What Could Have Been.”

I’ve always been intrigued by the way Sandra Burshell applies pastel, with her marks coalescing into a readable form, one filled with light and colour and atmosphere. You’re in for a treat as she shares many images, and also takes us through the progression of “Rest,” a painting that just received the President’s Award at the current Pastel Society of America’s annual exhibition.

 

In case you don’t know her work, here’s a taste:

Continue reading

Jeanne Rosier Smith, "On the Edge," detail

Jeanne Rosier Smith On Finding Her Artistic Voice

Summertime…and the living is easy. And that means hanging out at the beach be it by the sea, lake, or river. There’s something about water especially warm, gently moving water that shifts our inner spirit. When I think about being at the seaside, in my mind up pop the wave paintings by Jeanne Rosier Smith.

I happened to pass Jeanne in the hallways of IAPS back in June and casually called out, “I’d love you to write a guest blog – are you up for it? And if so, can you manage to get it done for July?” Happily Jeanne said, “For Sure!”  AND she came through even though she only had about a month to put it together!

Continue reading

Artist Interview Videos From IAPS – 19 Of Them!

As you know, I was recently at the 12th pastel convention of the International Association of Pastel Societies (IAPS) in Albuquerque. One of my self-set tasks was to create as many short artist interview videos as I could during the four days and incredibly packed schedule. I’ve created these interview videos over the past three IAPS conventions and this time, I was pleased to interview 17 artists! I asked each a single question. Some of the same questions were answered by a few of the artists. And happily, two artists (Albert Handell and Bill Creevy) answered two questions!

Continue reading