This bridge in a quieter area of Venice is achingly beautiful in it’s simplicity . The mellow red brickwork edged sharply in white stone , the geometrical angles contrasting boldly with the curving steps and Arabesque windows of the ancient palace facade and the stark shadow of the handrail delineating each step all add up to a visual feast.
There is mystery in the dark shadows under the arch, passion in the splash of red paint that echos the exuberance of the flowers, happenstance in the greenery clinging to the brickwork and balance in each curve and edge. This is the Venice I love.
I was playing around with shots through my kitchen window and was fascinated with how real the reflected plant looks – much more solid and real than the kitchen.
It made me think about how we often see some glaring fault in another, overlooking the real person, as we concentrate on their perceived shortcomings. As we pay more attention we might find that the fault is merely a reflection of our own lack of understanding, empathy and humanity.
I wrote about this photo – baring my soul – and then I went off and experimented with a theme change and bammo! all my words are gone. (So this is just summary of my previous poetic ramblings)
I had no trouble choosing a subject for this topic since I always think of my pastel sets as jewel boxes. Lift the lid and there lie luminous, pigment packed sticks of brilliance and light. Lucky me – I have boxes of treasure !
There’s such a huge range of pastels available at such different price points it’s difficult to know what to buy when you first decide to dip your toe in the enticing world of pastel art. At least that’s what I found when I decided I wanted to try my hand at pastel painting. I didn’t have much spare cash for art supplies so I couldn’t afford to spend a lot of money and then find out it wasn’t for me. So I bought a very small and cheap set of earth toned pastels from my local newsagency. Turns out it was love at first sketch!
Adding to the first set – half sticks.
Once it was clear I loved pastels I wanted to expand the colour range. You will probably feel the same! I still stayed with a cheaper brand ( Munygo) and bought a box of 64 half sticks which gave me a good range of colours to further experiment with. The advantage of half sticks is you get twice as many colours for your money . Because you rely less on actual colour mixing with pastels it makes painting so much easier if you have as big a range as possible of colours to choose from. Half sticks also have the advantage that they don’t come with wrappers so I didn’t have to spend valuable painting time peeling off the papers! The cheaper brands all have a good colour range and work fine when first starting out – I still use them sometimes for underpainting. They do make more mess and dust than the more expensive brands.
Good choices at this price point are: Munygo, Faber Castel, Cretorcolor
Growing the collection – quality counts!
My first expensive, quality brand purchase was a box of Schmincke pastels I bought in Germany. We’d been travelling on holiday and I’d been thinking about buying a set as they’re a German made pastel and I thought it would be a great souvenir . On my last day I passed a small art shop and when I looked around there were no boxes of Schminckes! I was very disappointed as it was my last chance so I decided to ask the sales person who got a ladder and found a box on the top shelf. How could I not buy them? I still remember the first stroke with these soft, buttery sticks that just glide across the paper leaving thick swathes of brilliant colour in their wake. I was officially hooked on high quality pastels from that moment on.
Good quality pastels come in all sorts of sets as well as individual sticks. You can buy landscape, seascape, portrait, floral or general sets. Sets generally work out quite a lot cheaper than buying the same number of individual sticks.
My favourite brands.
My favourite brands are Unison, Great American Art Works, Schmincke, and Sennelier.
Unison is a hand rolled British pastel with a wonderful colour range. I think they have some of the best landscape colours around. The pastels are soft but not crumbly and the sticks last longer than some of the softer, more crumbly brands. I have a number of their sets- Landscape, Darks, Lights.
Unison Lights Pastel set
Great American Art Works are an American brand that is buttery and soft and just glide right onto the paper. Their Seascape selection is just fantastic with some beautiful acqua and turquoise colours. I also have a set of greys that is very useful for more subtle , moody paintings and general cloud work.
Sennelier are a French brand with a beautiful colour range and same very good value half sets. I do find them a bit crumbly but they are still a great choice.
Sennelier soft pastels
Travel box of pastels
Sennelier soft pastel half sticks
Hard pastels, soft pastels and inbetweeners.
At the hard end of the pastel range are brands like Conte, Faber-Castel and Cretacolor. These are usually square sticks that can be used to lay in the initial blocks of colour and add some crisp details at the final stages.
I’ve covered the soft brands above – they’re great for adding the top layers and highlights. Because they’re soft it can be difficult to get crisp lines and details .
Sennelier soft pastel half sticks
Schminke set of 60 soft pastels
The inbetweeners are often classed as soft pastels but they just don’t have that buttery softness. They can be good for underpainting and details but I prefer soft pastels for the majority of my painting. Brands in this category are generally a bit bit less expensive than the really soft brands . Good brands in this category are Daley Rowney, Rembrandt and Art Spectrum.
Where can I buy pastels?
Most good art stores will stock both cheaper and more expensive brands. Depending on which country you live in you may find it hard to get some brands. I live in Tasmania and it’s difficult to buy Unison here without taking out a second mortgage. I’ve never seen Great American Art Works but I can buy Sennelier and Schmincke for a reasonable price. I do shop online for brands that are too expensive to buy locally or that I just can’t source and here are some of my favourite shops. When the exchange rate is good I can get some great buys from the US even with the postage costs.
Join me on YouTube for my pastel painting course. The course will be structured to cater for the absolute beginner and progress from the materials you need to get started through basic mark making techniques and on to composition,creating textures, underpainting right through to how to fix your painting and prepare and frame it.
As I post new videos I’ll add a link to this page. I aim to add a new lesson every fortnight so come and join me for a year of lessons.
Having featured the reference photo for this painting in a previous post on Creating a series and again for the photography 101 Cropping assignment I thought I should post my first painting in a series I intend to do based on a single photo.
As part of a personal challenge I want to limit the painting time to 30 minutes and video them for my You Tube channel
Here’s the photo alongside the first painting and the video is in process.
Shadows on the beach
You’ll notice there are some major differences between the finished painting and the reference photo. I’ve ramped up the colours in the shadows which I’m pretty happy with although I think I might revisit and refine the shadow shapes a bit. The cliff is also a bit more colourful with some added orange accents that repeat in the reflections. The cliff slopes down a bit much on the left and needs a bit of a fix here as it tends to pull the eye out of the painting at this point.
What have I learned for next time?
Every painting teaches me something and when I go back for the next in this series I’ll be comfortable with the palette of colours I’ll be using. I’ll have noticed the tendency to let the cliff run out of the frame and will put a stop to that early! And I’ve made the trees a bit too orange so will nip that in the bud as well. Overall I’m satisfied – it was fun to paint, I kept to the 30 minutes, the shadows are nicely complex and I’m ready for the next one! I’ll keep you posted.
All paintings are available for sale in my Etsy shop unless marked as sold.
It’s a fact that the more familiar I become with a painting subject the easier the actual execution of the elements becomes , the freer the paint or pastel application flows and the more instinctual the response to the material is. All this adds up to a fluid, responsive, and totally “in the moment” painting experience.
When I stop thinking about how to get the shape of a particular rock , or what colour to use in those shadows or how to create a sense of movement in the water things happen almost by themselves.
How do I get to this stage?
Getting to this stage is relatively straight forward – I paint a series! Of course this can become all consuming if I let it so I need to know when I’ve exhausted the material and said all there is to be said about it. To help recognise the moment to stop I organise myself before I start.
Preparing the references for a series.
In an earlier post Cropping is my Friend I explained how I took the original photo above and cropped it many times to create new painting references. From the many crops I did I whittled it down to three possible series – and here they are.
The Shadows series
Here I focus on the shadows on the sand using different formats gradually cropping in to a intimate view which emphasises the subject. Here’s my my first painting in this series.
The Reflections series
Now I turn to the reflections bringing more attention to the water. Although the shadows are still in there it’s clear that the real subject focus has shifted to the golden reflections of the cliffs.
Shadows and reflections
The Cliff series
It seems a natural progression to zoom in on the cliffs now. The ochres and yellows glow and there are opportunities to make a feature of the gumtrees on the headland.
Cliffs and boat
The Abstract series
After all those crops it became apparent to me that the reflections were the real pull for me in this photograph so now I get rid of much of the other subject matter and just focus on a sliver of the shore and the wonderful golden reflections.
Abstract reflections 2
I’m a bit excited by these possibilities now so all I need to do is get started painting!
When I take photos as references for later paintings I often use my artist’s eye to create a composition close to what I will eventually paint. This is just something that happens naturally as I spend my time screening everything I see as a potential painting subject! I scan scenes looking for pleasing squares, portrait , landscape or panorama shaped snippets from the landscape. In effect I “crop” the landscape before I click the shutter.
I find it helps starting with a good composition and then later I’ll crop again looking for compositions within the composition. In this way a single photo might provide references for a whole series of paintings.
The original photo above has many of the elements I look for in a painting reference:
complimentary colours ( blue and yellow)
areas of strong contrast ( the shadows on the sand) ,
good leading lines ( the diagonal of the beach, the vertical tree trunks and the horizontal water plane)
Here I take that original and crop a new series that focuses on the shadows on the beach and the cliff reflections. My favourite is the square format and I plan to use this as a pastel demonstration for reflections very soon (stay tuned).
Shadows and reflections
Next I try a different series where I leave out the beach entirely and look in more detail at sections of the cliff. Here the tall thin composition is a portrait of the large gumtree but I would move the boat off to the left a little. I prefer the square reflection crop and this helps confirm that what really interests me about this subject are the reflections.
Cliffs and boat
So now I zero right in on the reflections and take a look at some more abstract crops. These crops retain the basic elements of complimentary colours, leading lines and areas of strong contrast so will work equally well as a painting.
Luckily I took my phone with me on this mornings walk along Blackmans Bay foreshore. The sky was full of luminous breaks in the steely grey clouds and now and then the water was lit by a sliver of silver on the horizon. White sails flapped in the breeze and a few fishermen were out on the rocks to add scale to the huge sky and dark waters.
I love the way cats respond to movement. Here’s Mink, the cat who walked out of the bush where she had been abandoned as a kitten , and straight into our hearts. She taught our neurotic family cat to be young at heart again and gave her an added lease of life . She took over our son’s bed, standing patiently outside his door until he finally get’s up each day. We bless the day she came by our back door and asked politely but insistently for a change of diet. No more chasing mice and birds ( except as recreational sport) she wanted the real deal from a packet or a can.
I digress, this post is supposed to be about movement – well she did move out of the bush and into our hearts, our house and Youngest Son’s room!
Here are a few shots of her favourite game- chasing down the tape measure as I walk by from the sewing room.