Is it really December already? (Someone tell me no, it ain’t true!) Look out for my monthly picks next week. In the meantime, this week I made a video about why I don’t blend pastels.
I frequently get asked the question – Gail do you blend your pastels? OR Gail why don’t you blend pastels? In the video below, I set out to show, with sample swatches, why it is that I prefer to layer rather than blend pastels.
You know I’m always on about the benefits of limiting your palette. When you’re starting out in pastels, the choice (and price!) of soft pastels can be overwhelming so I always suggest beginning with a small set of quality soft pastels. Play around with that set, get to know what the pastels in a limited palette can do, and then start adding sticks as you find your way. Starter sets are definitely not going to have an ideal range of colours and values but they are a good place to start. So I thought I’d practice what I preach and show you a number of pieces created using only the pastels from the Best Loved Basics set from Terry Ludwig.
I couldn’t decide what to paint for my next video demo until I saw a big beautiful eggplant (aubergine) in the market calling out to be painted! So I created a video on the complexities of painting an eggplant. Have a look.
Occasionally I get asked the question: Do you ever use soft pastels on black paper? And the answer is: Well no, I don’t. Mind you, when I first started in pastels over 20 years ago, I worked on a dark green mat board. So I have worked with pastels on dark paper, just not black paper. But once I discovered sanded paper, ie Wallis paper which came in the warm mid-value colour known as Belgian mist that I used at first, it was bye-bye dark paper!
When thinking about what I could do a new pastel demo for YouTube on, I recalled the question about pastels on black paper and here you have the result. I’m using pastels from Mount Vision’s workshop set of 50 pastels on Schminke’s Sansfix pastel card.
In my last post, I shared the first half of the interviews I made at the International Association of Pastel Societies (IAPS) in early June. Here is the second set – the landscape interviews I call them since they’re all related to painting the landscape. Let’s go!
I managed to persuade 10 artists at the International Association of Pastel Societies (IAPS) Convention to say a few words on video in answer to one question. This post will include half the IAPS interviews, the next, the rest. (One interview went way over the one-to-three minute mark and the story was so fascinating that I thought, hey, this would make a great guest blog so look for that next month!)
I have done a few pastel demo videos now, all of them on toned Wallis paper. A question I’ve been asked is, Why don’t you use white paper? and What would the pastel painting look like on white paper?
I have taken these questions to heart and decided to do a demo on white paper even though it’s not my usual surface colour. In the demo, I use, for the first time, Terry Ludwig’s set of 14 Best Loved Basics – the company’s uber starter kit. When I first looked at these, I was surprised and a little bit anxious, if I’m truthful, because there wasn’t the usual saturated colour selection I’m used to, for instance, no bright yellow, orange, or green. But I was up for a challenge! Here’s the result.
So let’s have a closer look. First the set-up:
The set-up of bowl and fork on a green background. You can see how orange the bowl is and how bright the green.
Next the thumbnail.
The thumbnail sketch, pen and ink, about 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 in. This delineates the three main values: light, middle and dark
So let’s look at a few progression pieces:
Vine charcoal sketch on Wallis white paper
Three values beginning to show in first layers
The pastel all blocked in and value areas settling in to what they should look like
The final piece after 35 minutes of pastelling. Gail Sibley, “Orange Bowl, Red Fork,” Terry Ludwig pastels on Wallis white paper, 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 in
And just for fun, the final piece in black and white. Gail Sibley, “Orange Bowl, Red Fork,” Terry Ludwig pastels on Wallis white paper, 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 in.
The combination of the softness of the Terry Ludwig pastels and the sanded texture of the Wallis paper allowed layers to be built up thus eliminating most of the white specks of paper showing through. Where you can see them, I rather like the sparkle that the white paper brings, for instance in the shadow side of the bowl.
Here are the photos of the Terry Ludwig set:
Terry Ludwig Pastels – 14 Best Loved Basics. Box cover
Terry Ludwig soft pastels – 14 Best Loved Basics. The pastels circled are the two I didn’t use
I love the name of this set of pastels – Best Loved. It doesn’t have the name “starter box/kit” or anything like that. Instead, it appeals to our emotions. And this is typical of the way Terry works. For instance, while at IAPS conferences, I have received free samples. (You can see a whole piece I did from this selection of IAPS samples by clicking here.) Terry (and team) also posts artwork by others created with his pastels on the company’s Facebook Page. It’s through this generosity that we not only come to love his pastels but also the man himself.
I was curious as to how this selection of pastels came about – how were the colours chosen? I put the question to Marie Ludwig, President of the Terry Ludwig Pastels. Here’s what she had to say: “The Maggie Price Best Loved Basics, a set of 60 pastels, is the set we most often suggest to new pastel artists just getting started with the medium. We became aware this set would be a price stretch for those new artists and decided to create a small set geared toward them. Terry selected the 14 pastel colors and values he believed would be most useful for the new pastelist.” So there you have it! A fabulous beginner set for sure.
Limitations, counter-intuitively perhaps, enable you to grow as an artist. A limited colour selection, working with colours not usually in your palette, these things will lead to creativity and progress. I leave you with this quote (substitute the word ‘artist’ for ‘writer’):
That’s it folks! Tell me, do you use white paper? If so, why? I’d love to know how you use the white paper. Let’s get a discussion going!
Until next time,
PS. I recently did a pastel self-portrait using the same set of 14 Best Loved Basics. Watch for that coming soon!!
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.
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.
Uncropped photo taken on a trip to France
First let’s try out two square crops:
Square crop of original photo. You can see there is more attention on the water in the canal
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:
Vertical crop focusing on the water in the canal. The bridge is now a prominent feature.
Vertical crop with attention on the background hills and sky
Now let’s try horizontal crops:
This horizontal crop tells the whole story of what’s there without the distraction of the background.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 the low key painting.
The thumbnail in preparation for the low key painting
The initial drawing in vine charcoal on toned Wallis paper
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).
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. 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.