Hedgerows and flower heads, skies and leaves, paths and vistas – welcome to the world of Judy Tate! I’m comforted and delighted by Tate’s abstractions of the Dorset landscape. For some reason, they recall images from my English childhood books. And so I looked forward to the day Judy Tate would (hopefully!) be a guest of the HowToPastel blog. And yay, here she is!
(You can see her work on one of my round-ups here.)
Don’t know her work? Here’s a teaser:
Before I hand you over to Judy Tate, first a short bio.
Judy Tate Bio
As a mature student in the UK, Judy Tate undertook a structured learning approach with The Open College of Arts and attended a wide variety of workshops in different mediums and techniques. In the last decade Judy has focused almost entirely on pastels and mixed media. You can see and read more on her website.
And now, here’s Judy!
My addiction to soft pastels came fairly early on in this process (as did my pre-existing addiction to colour!). I found the versatility immediacy and vibrancy of pastels hard to beat. Nevertheless, I do find that swapping mediums sometimes (acrylics, oils, whatever) is really helpful in sparking new ideas and creative thought processes.
So, 12 years on and I began to wonder whether my lack of a distinctive style was a bad thing. At the same time, I was moving house and finding myself the lucky owner of a studio in the garden. Inspired by the garden and the new space, I started to create new, larger work (pokey small bedroom with white carpet was never ideal for pastels!).
Early on in my painting adventure, I was encouraged to go out ‘en plein air’ painting by a very talented artist, Richard Price, now sadly deceased. With his encouragement, I found the courage to paint in situ. Living in a beautiful part of the UK (Dorset) meant there was always plenty of inspiration. I do find a lot of my work is now more studio based but there is no doubt that those ‘en plein air’ experiences constantly inform my studio work.
My studio work is now difficult to categorize but I would say my recurring motifs are ‘beyond’ and ‘behind,’ often with paths to infinity. They’re based in reality but with ever increasing amounts of abstract wanderings.
I feel as if at any one time, there may be 20 different creative ideas floating around in my brain. Still, there is no doubt that if the subject does not excite me then I will not do it justice.
So where do I start?
I often do not have a detailed plan of where I am going with a painting. Instead, I often have a few key words relating to what I want to achieve Examples are: colourful (maybe specific colours in mind already), muted, tranquil, tension, limited palette, cold, Summer and so on, with some sort of plan to incorporate a landscape. Basically I am trying to clarify what my intention is. I often write this on the back of the board. I will also have some basic thumbnail sketches of content and light direction.
Sometimes I am just using my sketchbooks.
Sometimes I consider what music I feel would ‘go’ with my intended painting. I cannot listen to the spoken word whilst painting as I either lose the painting or the story! But music that I know is an enabler. I would be fascinated to hear what musical preferences artists out there have? Do you match the music to your work?
I do think about what sort of paper/board to use. What is most important to me is that it can take water and/or pure alcohol as well as be sufficiently primed to take several layers of pastel. I generally use Colourfix paper or Ampersand. For me the advantage of paper (over board) is the ease with which I can crop it.
I always start with a very loose underpainting. This may be with pastels that I then go back into with water or pure alcohol. Or I might use acrylic inks or fluids. Nine times out of ten it will involve bright colours. I enjoy a messy underpainting as parts of it will probably give me my starting point.
I almost always work from chaos to order (as well as dark to light). I prefer to tease my image out of the muddle. Personally, I find it easier to know when to stop when I work this way. It seems to be part of my process of limbering up for the painting to come!
For my underpainting, I do like to ‘ring the changes’ i.e. change things up a bit. I’ll think about colour, texture, and tone.
With colour, normally at this point I will be considering the palette. I envisage the final painting and whether I want a complementary background or whether I want to live dangerously and see where the colour takes me.
Texture is usually a Colourfix primer (in addition to an already primed surface) or it might be gesso. I will sometimes make specific marks in the wet primer – eg charcoal lines top to bottom. Often with tone I will look at my sketches with a black and white filter to clarify darkest darks and lightest lights.
I adhere my paper to a board with masking tape. This tape (often messy with inks, pastels etc) may be replaced a number of times during my work on one painting. I do enjoy replacing with clean masking tape – the clean surround encourages me to stand back and consider. I do a lot of that.
Sometimes I do some monoprinting onto the surface – this could be anything from sewing cotton to elastic bands to leaves.
Then the true painting with pastels starts. I have acquired a whole range of pastel brands – different types can achieve different things. I particularly like Unison pastels as they are mostly soluble and super soft. Harder pastels are useful for thin lines. Charcoal may come out again as well.
I rarely blend but when I do, I use chopped up pipe insulation. By cutting the piping up at angles I find I can get sharp edges or rounded edges for smudgier effects etc . I am careful to use a clean piece of insulation on each different part of the painting.
I have a lot of tools, which help me to manipulate or remove pastel. In particular, hard bristle brushes to remove pastel, and hard erasers to remove pastel or to create different marks. A craft knife is useful for gentle scratching.
Pastel dust? I have tried masks and failed. Instead, I have an air filter in the studio. A bit of guttering on my easel helps to collect loose dust which I then vacuum up. I occasionally fix partway through my process but prefer not to.
Stand back. Squint. Stand back. Squint. Negative spaces. Squint. Getting tonal values right early on helps with issues of too much pastel on the paper later on.
Whilst working, I always take photos of my work from underwash onwards. In fact I bounce between my easel and my computer. Cropping or turning the image upside down on screen can sometimes help with the unfolding plan!
I always have an open mind to cropping. In the latter stages I will use two mount corners to help me ‘see’ what is happening. In fact if you asked me what three utensils I could not do without it would be mount corners, pipe insulation, and my computer. (Of course, this is apart from my pastels or my jewels as I call them.)
I leave the image for at least a few days but keep looking at it. Sometimes I have up to five or six paintings in the pipeline. Some will finish naturally while others will sit on the sideline for a long time.
I do find deciding whether my painting is finished or not (or whether it should go in the bin!) a hard one. My paintings can sit in my ‘holding bay’ for quite a while, often with some white mount pegged on the board. And I am sure, like other artists, weeks, even months later, a thought as to what to do next will pop in to my head. Not very scientific I know – but it works for me!
So once the decision has been made that it is finished, the work needs signing. Having made the mistake of having pieces framed and then realising I had forgotten to sign it, I try not to repeat the mistake. I never fix at this stage.
I store my work in glassine paper in a plan chest. This is a recent acquisition that I now find invaluable for storing work, paper to be stored, boards and so on. Up until recently under the bed was perfectly fine.
Job done. What next? Who knows which one of those multitude of creative ideas buzzing around in my head will decide to be painted?
Very Happy Painting to you and I hope my process has helped you creatively in some way.
Don’t you love the way Judy Tate manages to pull a painting from the gorgeous mess of the underpainting? Magical!
We would LOVE to hear from you!! Have questions for Judy? Don’t hold back! Go on, leave a comment.
Until next time,