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.)
This concertina artist’s book displays mini garden paintings in graduated windows on each page. You can cut any size window you want but I like the way this book seems to zoom out from the flowers to the full garden as the windows get progressively bigger.
fabric scrap or piece if scrap canvas decorated in any way you like ( I used acrylic inks)
PVA glue ( preferably acid free)
scraps of thick mat board or other card for covers
straight edged metal ruler
craft knife or mat cutter
watercolour paper- you will need a sheet approx 100cm wide
length of ribbon or cord
Step 1 Make the covers
Cut 2 pieces of card the same size . Mine were 5 x 15cm. Cut two pieces of your cover canvas or fabric 2 cm larger all round and then cut the corners as shown so you don’t have too much fabric to fold under at the corners. Spread glue on the face up side of the covers and use a scrap of card to squeegee the glue all across the surface of the card so it’s smooth. Turn the card over and centre on the fabric and smooth out so there are no wrinkles.
Fold the corners in neatly and then tear off strips of the cloth tape and tape leaving 1 cm all round free of tape
On the back cover lay a length of card/ ribbon accross the cover side to side and tape over it. The tape should be 3 times the width of the cover.
The front of your covers should look like this ( only not bluury!)
Step 2 Prepare your paintings
Now make sure you have 6 mini paintings ( or poems , or cut outs – whatever you like) that will fit in the windows you’re about to cut. I did flowers but it could be anything you like.
Step 3 Measure and cut your paper.
Now you need to measure your covers and cut a length of watercolour paper that is
LENGTH =(the width of the cover – .5cm) x 6
WIDTH = ( the height of the cover -.5cm) x 2
Step 4 Mark and fold your pages
Once you have cut the paper fold in halve bringing the long sides together. Crease the fold with the back of a bread and butter knife . Open up your paper and mark six equal sections along the length of the paper strip.
Step 5. Cut the windows
Now you can cut the windows on the top half of the sheet however you like. I cut mine starting 1.5 cm in from the pencil marks leaving 1.5 cm border at top and bottom of the folded half. I increased the length of each window by 1.5cm.
Use a metal ruler and a craft knife for cutting the windows.
Now fold the long edges together again.
Step 6 Position the paintings
Next match up your 6 paintings with the 6 windows and try them inside for positioning. I marked around the corners with pencil so I could position them again easily.
Step 7 Fold the pages.
Then you need to fold the strip of paper at each of the 6 sections you marker earlier. Place the metal ruler on the left of the first section mark and fold the right length of paper over the ruler to the left and press the crease. Now lay the ruler on the right of the second section mark which will line up with the start of your paper strip. Fold back over the ruler to the right. Continue the rest of the folds going in opposite direction for each fold. You will end up with a concertina strip as below.
Step 8 Glue in the paintings
Open up the strip and glue all along the non window side spreading the glue smoothly with a piece of card. Also place a bead of glue around each window. PLace the painitngs in the pencilled marks you made earlier , fold the strip long side to long side and smooth down to make full contact with the glue. Smooth out any wrinkles or creases. It should look like the photo below.
You can make sure your page folds are crisp and smooth by ironing them with a warm iron.
Then I sandwiched them between some card and placed bulldog clips around until they set.
Step 9 Glue pages to covers
When fully dry cover the inside of your cover with glue, smooth out and then carefully position the front page painting side up on the front cover leaving an equal distance from the edge around all sides.
Do the same with the back page and back cover.
Leave for a few minutes then fold up the concertina book , wrap the cord around it twice and tie up.
Step 10 Weight down for 12 hours
Now place under a heavy weight such as a brick or stack of books for 12 hours and you’re all done!
Step 11 Enjoy!
Why not try one yourself and send me a link to your art book? I’d love to see where your imagination takes you.
This is a step by step tutorial on how to frame your pastel painting using a ready made chain store frame.If you choose a well made wooden frame you can save big dollars and still have a tastefully framed painting.
a ready made frame with a mat ( the opening to be slightly smaller than your painting) Check the corner joints are well formed with no gaps.
some mat board or foamcore offcuts
a sharp craft knife
a pair of scissors
acid free framing tape ( can be purchased from an art supply store)
a kitchen table knife
a lint free cloth
2 small screws
2 D rings
hanging wire the width of your frame plus 10 cms.
You can buy picture hanging kits from the dollar store which include the screws, rings and wire.
Step 1 – Remove the backing board using the kitchen knife to prise up the metal tacks flat against the frame.Take out the paper and mat. Make sure you place the mat on a clean surface!I like to use the paper insert from the frame as it’s just the right size.
Step 2– Check the frame for any damage. Especially check that the corner joints are smooth with no gaps. Check the glass to make sure there are no scratches.
Step 3 – Make a spacer frame. Cut four strips from your scrap board long enough and wide enough to make a frame that will sit approx 2cm in from the mat opening and 2cm in from the mat edge. You will make the scrap “frame”on the side of the mat that will be facing the painting.The spacer frame will allow any falling pastel dust to fall behind the mat keeping the front of the mat and the glass clean.
Step 4– Attach the spacer frame with the framing tape making sure the tape doesn’t show in the mat opening. You don’t need to tape over all the strips – just enough to hold them securely in position. You could also use double sided tape for this .
Step 5- Centering your painting on the backing board. Take the pastel painting and sit it on the middle of your backing board. Here I’m using a piece of foamcore cut to the same size as the MDF backing board I removed from the frame. You cam use the MDF board but if you do it’s a good idea to seal it first with a coat of varnish or gesso to prevent any acid in the MDF from causing discoloration of your painting in years to come.
Now place the mat over the painting to make sure only the painting is showing in the mat opening
Take a ruler and measure from the top of the mat to the horizon line on both sides to check you have the horizon level.
Once you’re satisfied with the painting placement remove the mat and tape the top of the painting to the backing board with a small piece of the framing tape. This stops it moving when you place the long strip of tape on.
Now cut a piece of tape long enough to cover the full length of the painting at the top and attach to the backing board.
Step 6– Placing the painting in the frame. This is the fiddly bit. As you’re doing this stage you need to constantly be checking for any stray pastel dust on the mat and the glass before you go onto the next step. This is very important!
Clean the glass with a lint free cloth ( I use glass cleaning cloth)
Lay the mat on the glass making sure the spacer side away from the glass and the metal tacks are all showing. You can use the knife edge to lever the mat in gently to get it to slip below the tacks.
Holding the painting on the backing board carefully place it face down on the mat
You might need to use the knife again to ease it past the tacks.
Use the flat of the knife to push a top and bottom edge tack flat onto the backing board.
Turn over and check carefully for any dust or stray specks on the glass or mat board. If you see any remove the painting , clean the glass and/or mat and replace. You can use a kneadable eraser to clean any pastel dust off the mat. Only when you are completely sure you have no unwanted dust should you move onto the next step.
Step 7- Taping the frame to keep moisture out. Turn the painting glass down . Take the framing tape and stretch it along the top edge of the frame just in from the edge.
Cut each end using the craft knife and gentle pressure.
If your frame back is flush with the backing board then start in the middle and carefully press the tape downand gently press as you move your hands out to each edge. Don’t worry if you get a few wrinkles- no-one will see it when it’s hanging on the wall! If the frame is above the level of the backing board as mine is just cut into the corners as below and then starting in the middle press the tape down into angle formed by the frame wall and the backing board.
Continue until all sides are covered.
I need to cover the small corner gaps now so I just cut a square of tape and place in each corner.
Step 8. Attach the hanging hardware. You will need 2 small screws, 2 D rings and some hanging wire. Notice that the D ring has a flat side and a curved side.
Repeat on the other side using a ruler to make sure they are at the same level.
You shouldn’t need to pre drill holes but if you do make sure to do it before you put the painting in as the vibrations will loosen the pastel dust and cause you grief!
Now stretch the wire across the painting to check the length is right. You should have a bit extra each side.
Run it through one D ring and pull it through a second time. Pull tight and tie off .
The excess is now wrapped tightly around the wire.
Repeat on the other side making sure to keep the wire tight.
Now just wrap the ends of the wire in a small square of the framing tape to keep all sharp ends covered.
I shared a tutorial on a hand made concertina sketch book earlier this year which was inspired by a trip to my local art store. Just last week I popped in again and came away with an idea for this years travel sketch journal. Of course the art shop had a lovely little number but at $65 it was a bit pricey – I was recovering from a pre holiday trip to my favourite shop for the well endowed woman in need of reinforced swimwear- the bill was still weighing heavily on my mind ! So instead I bought an $11 sketch pad and headed home. Once there I searched around for cutoffs and scraps and in no time at all had whipped up my own version which will be just right for our trip to Italy ( only 14 sleeps to go!!)
Materials I used
purchased sketch pad
mat board off cuts
metal straight edge ruler
250gsm kraft card
Step 1. Marking the covers for cutting
Here I’ve taken a piece of mat board which is stiff enough to form the covers. The Front and Back are the same size – the size of the pad. If you want to make your own just adapt the measurements to your sketch pad.
I need to make one of the spines slightly wider – the thickness of the mat board in fact. This will mean the fold over flap will sit comfortably on top of the front cover. I make the fold over flap roughly 1/4 of the front cover width. Now I cut along the solid lines with a craft knife using my metal ruler to keep everything nice and straight.
After I cut this out I decide I want the cover to be slightly larger than the sketch pad because I’m going to add a brush holder next to the pad so I’ll need a little extra space for that . Luckily I’ve got plenty of mat board off cuts so I just cut a new back cover that’s 2cm wider. I do this quite often – redesign as I go – so it’s no surprise to find I have a lot of offcuts!!!
Step 2 Cutting out the front cover windows.
I love having a cover window or two ( in this case three) so I can add some mini paintings later which will hint at the journal contents. I just mark and cut out 3 square windows at equal distance from each other. I leave a larger gap at the bottom as I think it balances out better. You can leave this step out entirely or cut one big window instead if you prefer. This is a great way to personalise your travel journal.
Step 3 Centering the covers and glueing to the cloth.
I take a scrap of bookbinders cloth and lay it face down. Now I assemble my cover pieces leaving a small gap the width of the mat thickness between the cover boards and spines. An easy way to do this is use some matchsticks as spacers . I just eyeballed it. This gives flexibility so the covers will open and close smoothly . ( not the eyeballing – the leaving of spaces!) I mark the cloth 2cm wider than the covers all the way around and cut out. Next I spread pva glue all over the covers and cloth smoothing it out to the edges . Best to put in all on some scrap paper before you do this step but I was in too much of a hurry and so had to clean up the dried glue off my cutting board later! Now I press down firmly smoothing from the centres of each board out to the edges making sure there are no air bubbles.
Step 4 Neatening the edges.
Quickly before the glue dries I turn in the cloth around all the edges and press down firmly making sure it’s snug against the edges. Now I slash from corner to corner in each window frame and glue the triangle flaps to the cover board. pulling tight as I go. Next I glue a piece of thick sketch paper over the windows on the inside of the cover so when I turn it over the windows have little white inserts. At this stage I also use the blunt edge of a knife to run a crease down the gap between the spines and the covers.
Step 5 Adding an elastic closing strap
I wrap a piece of wide elastic all the way around the back cover and cut it 2cm shorter. I butt the ends together and sew with a wide zigzag stitch to secure . I position it 3 cm in from the spine closest to the front flap with the join on the inside of the cover. If you’re wondering what the black oblong is it’s a piece of fridge magnet I used to try out a magnetic closure but it turned out not to be strong enough. Another redesign on the go!
The elastic could be any colour you like as an accent feature. I initially wanted black but only had white and I think it was a lucky thing as the white looks good against the black cover.
Adding the elastic closure
Step 6 Attaching the lining paper.
I cut the kraft lining paper to fit inside the covers leaving a tiny 3 mm edge on the black cloth showing. Smoothing out from the centres again to get rid of any air bubbles. I get out the blunt knife and run it down the creases in the spine gaps. The little white thing is a tiny piece of elastic I glued down to the spine to hold a brush or pen. I just cut a slot in the kraft paper to slip over the elastic.
Step 7 Inserting the sketch pad.
Lastly I remove the front cover of the sketch pad and glue the back board to the back cover. I push my favourite travel watercolour brush into the elastic holder, fold the flap over and flip the elastic band to secure it. Ready for Italy!!
Handmade travel journal.
This travel journal might seem a bit slim for a 5 week holiday but the 50 pages mean I’ve got one a day with a couple to spare. I’ll be using it for my round up each night and be using a small store bought sketch book for my out and about sketching during the day. Let’s see how it goes!
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.
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.
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!