Life experience in painting-for now, the final

Making Use Of Your Life Experience In Painting

I’m in La Manzanilla, Mexico. My first thought was to do a plein air piece to share with you but guess what? It was a cloudy day and without the sunlight to sparkle the scene, nothing inspired me. So what to do? I decide to make use of my life experience in the painting.

I’d been speaking to Jennifer here in La Manz. She’s recently opened a retail shop called Zingara. I asked her what the word meant. She said, “It’s Italian for gypsy, bohemian, wild thing.” Wow, I thought, that fits nicely with the Bohemian Girl series I’ve been working on in my studio (in acrylic). I had my idea.

What next? Rather than use colours randomly, I preselected a few colours to start with. Again, this was based on my life experience. As I was cruising through the kitchen, I saw these flowers. Look at that fuschia and lime! Now I had my core colour palette!

 Life experience in painting-Colour palette
Colour inspiration!


I grab the colours from the Sennelier 40 half stick set that I brought down with me. (This set is so light that it’s perfect for travelling when you need to keep luggage weight down to 50lbs.)

 Life experience in painting-Pre-selected pastels
The initial pastel choices


Next, a figure. I wanted to include a female figure (zingara!) but I had no idea what she would look like. I wandered the beach and started sketching on a phone drawing app and after mucking about, I chose this rather strange pose:

 Life experience in painting-digital sketch
The digital sketch


Alright. I have my start. Next I needed to draw up my idea in vine charcoal onto one of the 9 x 12 inch Wallis sheets (Belgian Mist) I’d brought down with me:

 Life experience in painting-vine charcoal drawing on Wallis paper
The vine charcoal drawing on Wallis paper


Now what? Start putting on colour. Here goes! I apply colour intuitively, picking up a pastel, laying it on, picking up another and choosing a different area, and so on, until the whole sheet is covered. Almost immediately, I feel the need to add an orange into the mix, mostly for accents. I also decide that I don’t really like the dark colour I’ve chosen.

 Life experience in painting-first pastel layer
The first pastel layer


Next I feel the need to redefine the figure with charcoal. I want the charcoal to be a part of the painting, not only an underlying medium. (I really like using and effects of charcoal!) I also add some pink and light warm gray Holbein marks. (I usually don’t use Holbein pastels but for some reason, I brought these two colours along with me.)

 Life experience in painting-charcoal outline redefined
Charcoal outline redefined


I look at the image and realize I need to get a whole lot more scrumptious pastel on the paper! I also pick an alternative dark colour – a soft black. I begin to fill the paper, moving colours into each other.

 Life experience in painting-black added
Soft black pastel added


How are things working out? I have a look at the piece upside down:

 Life experience in painting-looking at the pastel painting upside down
Looking at the painting upside down


I feel I need to add more excitement to the middle right (the left side when I correct the orientation of the image). I also see that I need to draw the viewer’s eye to the upper left (which is actually the lower right). I add some more marks in both areas:

 Life experience in painting-made some changes to the pastel painting while upside down
Made changes to the pastel painting while it was upside down


I flip it back around and continue to make marks, many of them with the two Holbein pastels. Then I take a look at the painting in black and white to check out the value arrangement:

 Life experience in painting: black and white version
Black and white shows the value arrangement


It seems to be balanced and working. I do see more marks are needed, for instance, in the left upper corner:

 Life experience in painting-a few more changes
Making a few more changes


I don’t like the way the fingers are touching so I rearrange them. And add still more marks:

 Life experience in painting-for now, the final
For now at least, the final: Gail Sibley, “Zingara,” Sennelier and Holbein pastels on Wallis paper, 12 x 9 in.


That’s it! At least for now. And here are the pastels I actually ended up using. The pastels on the left are the ones I used most of all followed by the turquoise and orange. I almost didn’t use the very light colour (maybe a yet will!) and I didn’t like the warm brown that I used right at the beginning. So really, I used nine pastels including the two Holbein.

 Life experience in painting-the pastels used
The pastels used


I am not sure if she’s finished yet. I may push more and see what happens. But for now, I’m happy with it.


You can see how life experience can feed into a painting. Here it was the concept (and title), the colours, and the pose. There’s a lot of risk involved working this way but it’s preeeeettttty exciting. It doesn’t have to be the big life experience, it can also be the small and seemingly insignificant ones. Look around and see what comes at you. Then be brave and get in there and paint it!


Thanks for following along. You know how I value your comments so please leave one 🙂


Until next time,



PS. My painting companion for awhile:

 Life experience in painting - my companion!

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14 thoughts on “Making Use Of Your Life Experience In Painting”

  1. I, too, am in La Manzanilla. My friend and I have been plein air painting for 10 days. We will be painting tomorrow & Thursday and then we go home on Friday. Would you like to paint with us?

    1. Wow – plein air painting for 10 days sounds wonderful! Thank you for the invitation to join you. I am in the middle of a tango workshop week but we don’t have classes on Thursday until the afternoon. Perhaps we can get together then?

  2. I LOVE this! The dynamics of the pose and the boldness of the palette are so exciting! (It reminds me a bit of Casey Klahn.) She’s a true Bohemian girl! 🙂
    Hope the weather clears up and you get some fun in the sun too!

    1. Wow – thanks Lorraine!! Funny you should mention Casey. I was thinking I wanted to do something as liberated as his work so I really appreciate the comparison!
      Weather has cleared up and as you will see above, I hope to join Anita and friend for some painting en plein air 🙂
      I also hope to do some more exploratory work like “Zingara” while here.

        1. Thanks so much Lorraine. As you know, when you take a step in a new direction, so many doubts creep in and so it’s always nice to get outside reassurance and encouragement! You too can be brave!!

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Gail Sibley

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My love of pastel and the enjoyment I receive from teaching about pastel inspired the creation of this blog. It has tips, reviews, some opinions:), and all manner of information regarding their use through the years – old and new. Please enjoy!

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