As a tutor (and president ) at a local commhunity art group life can get pretty busy, especially when I add in my commission work! Something has to give and posting has been one of the things I’ve let slip, BUT term is over and I have a few weeks off so I want to share how I feel about tutoring at my local art group.
One of the things I find so interesting in tutoring is watching the way different people approach working with pastels and how they begin to develop their own style over the weeks. It’s also the most satisfying part of tutoring. To see someone come in with no real idea of how, or what, they want to paint and watch as they slowly start to rely more on their own inner voice instead of waiting for their tutor to tell them what and how to paint. ( all the paintings are 15 minute minis from students.)
In my class of 14 students there’s a wide mix of abilities, styles and techniques and every week there are 14 paintings that all have something unique to say about the artist and their journey.
On the last lesson each term we all paint a 15 minute mini painting and then do a draw so we each go home with another artist’s painting. It’s a fun way to end the term and a reminder of how different we all are. I have a nice little collection in my studio that reminds me of how far some of the students have come.
My own art improves as I teach and learn from my students. Here’s a couple of the demo paintings I did for this term’s classes
Demos don’t always go great in class- I’m trying to show a technique in a very quick way and that means other bits of the painting don’t get so much attention. I think it helps students when they see there is no magical formula for getting it all right…that we all can improve, we all have less successful paintings but that there’s always something to be learned from each experience. What do you think?
I had the first lesson of this terms pastel class today. I know I need to demonstrate techniques for my class and I’m happy to do it but it does put the pressure on to make a “good” painting! When it all goes wrong I can hear them thinking ” I’m paying her to teach me!!!!”
So it was a bit of a mistake to try a new approach today that I knew would take too long to finish. I planned to only do a small area well and leave the rest of the subject area pretty empty.
Plans never go to plan! I started out with the idea of concentrating on the barn and rendering that to a finished stage but then my students had the audacity to follow through on my suggestion that they interrupt at any time and ask questions… I found myself moving into the trees and the sky in response and the end result looked like the unfinished scribblings of a two-year old let loose with the crayon packet! I meant to take a photo but somehow forgot so you’ll just have to imagine it but you can use the following to gauge it’s true horror. To be fait it was a lot more resolved than this but still very, very uninspiring which could be why my sub conscious forgot to take that photo.
Not content with one mess I grabbed another sheet of paper and scribbled a bit more .
I could have done better with more time but I’m always conscious that the main reason they’re in the room is so they can paint and I like to keep a strict 30 minutes for my into waffle and demo so I packed up the waffle iron and got them painting …and they did some great work which I like to think was partly in response to the earlier 30 minutes of demo and discussion. ( and which I hope they think was in some way a result of my teaching points or it coud be a very empty class room next week!)
When I got home I needed to finish that barn! An hour later I put the finishing touches and then tackled the scribbled sheet with an imaginary reflection scene. It felt good to relax with no video running, no need to talk about what I was doing ( I may have babbled on a bit to myself , but myself is very laid back when listening to myself, so no pressure there) and no one to see the end result as it unfolded. It could all go in the bin if I hated it.
Demonstrating to a live audience is full of pressure, a video is a bit better but if it all goes wrong there’s a lot of wasted time ( and to be honest I get a bit tired of talking while I paint – although the IT Geek would tell you I never get tired of talking!) and doing commissions is fraught with possible problems to be resolved. Painting just for me happens a lot less than it used to and I really, REALLY, enjoyed it.
We’re off to the US and Canada next Thursday for six glorious weeks of national parks , painting and walking and I’m knee deep in pre holiday planning. It’s not my usual pre holiday planning though. Having just started up my Patreon page last month I’m really keen to make sure that my wonderful patrons get their monies worth while I’m away so my evenings are spent on the couch with my laptop editing videos, writing up Skill Builder worksheets and scheduling a whole raft of posts for the next 6 weeks.
Usually I’ve packed my bag by now but I haven’t even sorted out what art supplies I’m taking! There are a few piles starting to develop around the house and in the studio so maybe it’s time to fish the suitcase out from under the bed and start piling the piles in!
Just a little overview of what I have scheduled to post this month.
May is Colour Mixing Month!
May will focus on colour mixing and I’ll be talking about colour, demonstrating techniques and giving you lots of ideas to try out!
1st Monday – reference images for the demos later in the month + the Skill Builder and Art Inspiration copyright free reference photos.
2nd Monday- Pastel lesson– this will be a mountain scene with a focus on planning, colour mixing and creating texture.
3rd Monday- Skill Builder worksheet – I’ll be simplifying the idea of using a colour scheme and talking through the pros and cons. There’s a couple of easy but effective exercises with this Skill Builder.
4th Monday – The Acrylic demo and lesson which is an evening scene of an old jetty and some rocks. This will be in 2 parts over 2 days and will build on April’s acrylic lesson. We’ll be exploring graded washes, painting clouds and adding sunset colours to our clouds .
Last Friday – Art Inspiration rewards– I’ll be sending out the hi res images of this months demo paintings for my patrons personal use.
Hints and Tips– there’s a series of hints and tips related to colour mixing sprinkled throughout the month. Mixing neutrals,making greens, avoiding mud and how to get interesting darks will all feature. Also a feature on 5 way thumbnails can really help your art.
A few surprise posts– I hope to post some snippets from my US Canada holiday as my internet connection allows.
Art Challenge– yes there will be another art challenge or two during the month!
There’s nothing like putting yourself out there to make life feel a little risky. I’ve just set myself up on Patreon and made a little intro video to launch my new venture to my public – and I feel a bit wobbly.
What if noone is interested? How will that make me feel? Probably a bit deflated and despondent , maybe it will curtail my enthusiasm for putting so much time and effort into my You Tube channel. The truth is I needed to do it because I would like to improve my video recording and editing but to do that I need better equipment and some up skilling and to do that I need some income which I don’t get from You Tube. So If I don’t put myself out there my videos won’t improve – and if none of my 4360 You Tube subscribers are interested then I guess it means they’re happy with my current production values!
What have I got to lose? Only a little self confidence and a bit of an ego bruising.
As with most things there are pros and cons to taking on painting commissions. Mostly I enjoy the challenge of painting to achieve an agreed result and it’s certainly helped me improve my realism as I’ve taken on new subjects such as aviation art. The downside is not having enough time to explore and loosen up with a bit of experimentation. So now the end of year rush is over I’ve decided to take a break from reality and try a few different approaches and see where they take me.
On my first play date with loosening up I splashed around with acrylic inks on watercolour paper and then added in soft pastels for texture.
This was a lot of fun and you can see me going for it here:
And now I’m adding the pastels:
Of course I haven’t left realism too far behind… there’s clearly sea, sky, headland and rocks. What I have done is forget about the actual colours of the rocks and let loose with the inks adding lots of juicy, vibrant colours. Then I used my soft pastels to reshape some areas , add in a bit of texture and try and bring the whole together into a cohesive painting.
It was energising to paint for the love of painting, to not worry about getting an exact rendition of a scene, to only please myself. At first the jury was out on whether it was a success as a painting but the verdict came in a few days later and I added it to my new larger painting outlet on BlueThumb Art.
I love the Huon River in all it’s moods. Here it is on an overcast day , full of atmosphere and quiet beauty. The grasses and bushes on the river bank add another layer of interest and texture against the backdrop of misty mountains and gentle reflections.Here’s the reference photo to go along with my YouTube video .( If you want to paint along feel free to use this photo.)
Here’s the video.
…and here’s the pastel set I used ( along with a few Conte sticks for sharper details on the boat.)
I like to use my Samsung Galaxy tablet to view the reference photo on as I paint because it has great colour and I can zoom in and out for detail if I need to. I just hang it up next to my paper. Then I choose the boxes of pastels I’ll be using and set them out. I’m using my Unison Lights for the snow, a box of greens I’ve made up myself for the trees and some Sennelier Darks for any area that needs a punch of deep, dark colour. The Unison Landscape set is for extras I might need. I chose a purple/violet MiTientes TEX sanded paper and taped it to a foamcore board.
Next I sketch in the main composition lines with a white charcoal pencil and block in the main shapes with my harder pastels then wash them down with a watercolour brush dipped in alcohol.
Block in major shapes
Use alcohol to wash down
Add in other basic shapes.
Now I start working from background to middle to fore ground.
Finishing off with a snowfall.
I choose a few very light blues and a white. Holding the pastel above the painting which I’ve now laid flat I scrape lightly with the knife and a little shower of pastel dust falls onto the painting. I start with lighter blues and end with some bigger flakes of white for the closest snowflakes.
Choose a range of light blues
Scrape pastel with knife to release a snowfall!
Now I take a piece of greaseproof paper and place on top of the painting. Pressing down gently I move my hand in a circular motion to press the pastel flakes into the paper.
Finished painting and reference.
I was concentrating on the snow and didn’t realise that I sloped the paddock the opposite direction until I looked at it later. Doesn’t really matter as this was just a demo for my YouTube channel.
Why not use the reference photo and have a go at a snowy winter scene. It’s lot’s of fun. Send me a link to your painting.
I fell in love with pastels for their bright and glorious boldness but as our relationship developed I began to appreciate more and more the quiet beauty of the muted greys. So in this video I explore the more restrained colours that can help develop a more subtle mood.
Painting with pastels is very intuitive. I think this is because it takes us back to our childhood when we used crayons and chalks in a very fluid way. We hadn’t started judging our art yet so we were happy with every picture we drew. For me, picking up a pastel stick takes me right back to that happy place where each stick of luscious colour was there to be slathered on the paper with joyous abandon. I don’t worry about the end result I just enjoy the experience.
Using pastels is a combination of drawing and painting and there are many different mark making techniques to experiment with. The more you paint the more ways of manipulating the pastel you’ll discover.
When I started out I used a small range of simple marks and they still form the basis of most of my paintings. Of course I’ve learned a lot over the years and developed some of my own ways of adding texture and interest but the basics underpin all my work. You can check out a demonstration on my mark making video.
Different pastels for different marks
The type of mark you make with a pastel depends on a number of factors:
the hardness or softness of the pastel stick
the amount of pressure you exert
the part of the pastel that comes in contact with the paper
Soft pastels v. hard pastels
Soft pastels give up their colour more generously with less pressure than hard pastels. It’s surprising how easy it is to “eat” up a soft pastel when using it on sanded paper. Less pressure is the rule here! The marks are generally softer and more rounded than a hard pastel as it’s more difficult to keep a sharp edge on a soft, round pastel. Soft pastels lend themselves to natural forms such as clouds, trees, flowers, landscapes, skies, animals etc
Hard sticks are often square and are wonderful for sharp, linear marks that you would find in grasses, wire fences, boat masts, rigging and architectural details. Compared to soft pastels you will need to use more pressure to get the same amount of pastel deposited on the painting surface. They are also a more economical way to block in large amounts of colour in the early stages of a painting with the added advantage of leaving gaps in the colour to allow optical mixing of later layers.
Here you can see the larger swathes of colour left by the soft pastels creating shadows in the grass clump and the crisper linear marks made with the edge of hard pastels help to define the individual grasses.
Where the pressure has been lighter the pastel has less contact with the paper so the grasses are thinner and finer. By increasing the pressure you can vary the thickness of your mark.
Side of the pastel v edge of the pastel
Using the side of a round or square pastel you can lay down broad strokes of colour quickly to establish areas of sky, water and land. Then the edge of the pastel can be used to add crisper details.
Here you can see that I’ve used the broad side of different blue pastels to make sweeping bands for the sky and water. Layering these blues will give your sky and sea more interest. Then I came back in with the edge of a white pastel to suggest some sails.
Rounded end v sharp tip of the pastel
The rounded end of a pastel is useful for painting trees and bushes in the landscape. Just moving the pastel the paper in a scrumbling motion will give a soft rounded form. When you come to adding in branches, trunks and stems a sharp tip is just the thing.
Try slanting the pastel so differing amounts come in contact with the paper to give a natural variety in your tree and shrub shapes.
Bringing it all together
So let’s see how we can bring these basic techniques together to create a painting full of life and interest. This a little 30 minute sketch using the basic techniques. You can join me and paint along as I demonstrate how to paint this in a step by step video.
You can copy and print this reference photo if you would like to practice these techniques or paint along with me.
I would love to see your paintings so feel free to post a link in the comments section.