A couple of weekends ago I was a student at a Maxwell Wilks pastel workshop. I had a great time and broke out the hard pastels which was a bit of a novelty for me. Have never owned any Rembrandts before but bought a small box of half sticks and reallly enjoyed working with them. The tin of 24 Derwent hard sticks was a sensational buy – only $35Aus and I like them better than my conte sticks and MUCH better than those hard Faber Castels which just do not want to lay down any colour – well not for me anyway! Wish I’d bought the larger tin.
Also used the smooth side of Canson Mi Tientes ( not the gritty, textured paper) . I’ve used it occasionally in the past but was still surprised by how many layer of pastel it will take! I’ll be more prepared to use this paper in the future instead of always using my favouritre Colourfix textured paper. We used a lot of colour and everyone had a blast.
On Saturday I realised that I was supposed to hand in a painting to the Art Society of Tasmania’s March member exhibition the VERY NEXT DAY. The theme is “From my Studio” and I’d been putting off deciding on my entry because I don’t really have much of a view from my little studio room. Both windows look out onto the side path which has a large concrete retaining wall a few feet away. I painted it with a mural years ago but it’s a bit faded now so the view is not so inspiring.I’d been wrestling with the idea of not taking the theme literally but instead thinking of it as a prompt.
“From my studio” I :
imagine dreamworlds of abstract patterns and shapes
reach into my memory and paint from images past
travel to far countries via my photo records
dip into my sketchbooks and reinvent a scene
but somehow this time I did want to represent something literally seen from my studio. It’s been niggling away at me and I just couldn’t make up my mind so on Saturday when I was tidying up my photos on my laptop I came across some great sky photos – they were taken outside my studio and I can see that sky through my window!
It wasn’t enough on it’s own even though I liked the pattern of the trees against the sky so I gave it some more thought as I sanded back an old frame I’d just bought home from the recycling centre. I decided to use the frame dimensions as the painting dimensions and to do it in pastel. So there I had the bones of an idea, the format, the medium and size worked out and now I needed to flesh it out a bit more.
The format was a bit unusual ( 2:1 ) and it presented a few challenges. First I needed to crop my sky photo to fit whilst keeping the feel that had attracted me in the first place.
I felt the foreground would need
something of real interest in it to make the painting work and that a few
diagonals would help to lead the viewer up into that wonderful sky. It must be
interesting , be able to connect the strip of grass in the foreground with the
trees in the middle and distance , fit in a narrow space and importantly , it
must thematically connect as an idea with the sky- not a lot to ask
right! One of my students had used a reference photo of mine with an old
fence post during Friday’s pastel class and I’ve used that post before so I
pulled out the photo and used it to block in a post on the bottom left which
would stop the down hill run out of the corner as the eye followed the diagonal
line of the sloping paddock ( we live on a fairly steep 5 acres).
I did a little value study to see if the shapes
would work and decided to add in a little extra grass in the foreground.
Having kept the viewer in the painting I really
wanted to reward them for staying with me! There are a lot of birds around our
place and they’re a constant joy so a bird seemed a good idea. I have a
collection of reference photos I’ve taken but none of them seemed right.
The Black Cockatoos were big enough, I had photos of them in flight but they
seemed too dark . The parrots were too small and too bright. Then I hit on the
idea of a wedge tailed eagle , wings outstretched , landing on the post. I did
a trial sketch of the eagle, thought it looked right and started on the
My first go at the eagle wasn’t a success! It
looked the right size in my sketch but when I blocked it in with charcoal I
could see it was too small. There was no real connection between the grass and
the trees..so out it came!
In my final version I removed some of the
trees behind the eagle so I could highlight it against the golds of the sky,
the tail connects to the grass, the head to the sky and the wings lead up into
the trees and onto the sky. I feel I’ve set up a good dynamic ,flow and
counterpoint using the diagonals of the post, paddock, legs, wings and
treelines. The old post stops the viewer from leaving via the bottom left
corner. Although the eagle is fairly dark against the trees there is enough
light and contrast from the white feathers and the golden glow of the back
feathers so that he is easily seen. Looking at it now I can see that perhaps
I’ve split it too neatly in half with the light and dark values but that’s a
lesson learned for next time!
And that’s how
I was able to come up with a concept to fit the brief, paint it, frame it and
deliver on time. From the initial idea to the finished framed painting took me
6 hours and I’d been procrastinating for weeks! Sometimes it happens when it
Friday I got to art class early and started this one before my students arrived. I got the basics in and then finished it the next day at home. It took me right back to Arches National Park and I was there again amongst the blue green sage brush which is such a perfect foil for the riot of red, orange and ochres of the rocks and soil.
I fell in love with this plant and one of the most beautiful views from the many places we stayed was the sage brush plain outside our lovely cottage in Kanab. I would just stand and gaze across the blue green brush as the evening descended feeling joyful and serene. A nice state to end the day in. ( and Utah was pretty nice as well!)
Of course this is exactly what Arches National Park is so rightly famous for and I was mesmerised by the thin slivers of rock forming these arches . So graceful yet they were formed by years of abrasion and erosion. I wish I had been shaped so gracefully by my own years .
Every mile of desert landscape we travelled through was colourful, varied and wonderful. I was never bored by the passing landscape and so grateful for the experience and the opportunity to take some hikes that got me up close and personal with some of the landscape. I think you need to get out into nature and experience it in order to get real emotion into your paintings.
I hope that this painting somehow conveys to you those feelings I had as I wandered along the desert trails. The real joy I felt at the exuberance of colour, a sense of wonder that the solidity of those rocks could be changed and sculpted by wind and rain into such delicate structures, a feeling of connectedness to the landscape and a profound thankfulness that places like these have been protected and preserved for generations to enjoy.
If you want to see a real time video of me painting this it will be coming to my Patreon page as a full length video demo in September and will make it’s way to my You Tube channel in October.
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.
I’ve been working on a few different projects over the last couple of weeks and been very slack about blogging! Not sure why , perhaps I’ve just been enjoying doing and not wanting to be distracted by writing. Anyway I’m making amends by posting a few photos of some of those little projects….
I collected up all the twigs dropped by the possums from our silver birch and spent a happy hour turning them into Christmas wreaths. The cat had a ball pouncing on the twigs as I twisted them around and then the string I used to tie them together.
Next I sewed up some cotton cushion covers and drew botanic designs on them all. They’re all nicely packaged up for the Etsy Made Local Christmas market now. I love the minimalist approach with these.. balck and white line drawings.
Then I picked up a Christmas snowflake punch at the local recycling centre for $5 and made a few little Christmas tags. I love that the hole makes a design and then I can use the punch out for another!
I also started teaching a pastel class and did a few video demonstrations for them as well as the classes.
I also picked up some white china mugs at the recycling centre and tried out some homemade alcohol inks on them- it’s very satisfying seeing random patterns appear and not being in control of the final outcome.
….and there’s more!
So please forgive me for my lack of writing – I’ve just been too busy doing!
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.)
Back from holidays and just recovering from the old jet lag which has really hit me this year. Still … I managed to find a few good hours to finish the painting I started 6 weeks ago. It’s always difficult painting an iconic location – the silhouette is so well known that it’s immediately obvious if you get it wrong! So here’s my attempt at the wonderful Cradle Mountain and sunset reflections in Dove Lake, which nestles at it’s foot.
I’ve been coveting a set of Terry Ludwig pastels for a very long time. The trouble is they are quite expensive and you just can’t buy them in Tasmania. So by the time I’ve added postage from the US the “quite expensive” has soared to stratospheric heights of extravagance.
When I retired The Writer kept urging me to spend a little something on myself as a reward for sticking it out so long. I drooled over the full set of Terry Ludwig hand made pastels for some time even going so far as to ADD TO CART to see what the postage was. The message re postage implied I would need to take out a second mortgage to have the 550 set of delicious, buttery, hand rolled pastels delivered to my door. I sighed and deleted from my cart.
Roll forward 3 months and once again I sat up late into the night poring over the various sets on offer. I agonised about the price but I’d just done a couple of commissions and the bank account was looking OK so I decided to choose a small set and treat myself – I don’t think I posted the Easter baskets painting here previously.
I really felt I was due a reward after all those people and baskets . The client sent a black and white photo and asked me to paint it in an Easter pastels colour scheme. I did a lot of googling to work out just what might have gone into Russian Easter baskets and can now give you a full run down from lamb shaped butter sculptures to the plaited Easter breads with baked eggs embedded in the plaits.
Anyway , suffice it to say a feeling of entitlement prevailed. I debated the relative merits of the general landscape set versus the basic values set and then settled on the violet collection before succumbing to the gentle call of the Richard McKinley landscape set.
I love bright colours and have a lot of them so this set wasn’t my first or natural choice but I kept coming back to it because this set is full of all those muted and soft colours of nature that can be hard to find. It’s going to fill a few gaps in my collection from the grey greens right through to the light hues of soft pinks and creamy yellows. I just love Richard McKinleys art and think I can learn a lot by using his chosen colours to add a little restraint to my vibrant palette. Here’s my first painting using just this box.
Already I love these pastels. It’s incredibly hard to find just the right colour for sage brush and here it was – right out of the box!
I’ll keep you posted on my new love affair with 60 square, yet soft and subtle, pastels.
On Monday I headed down to Cygnet to drop off some paintings at an exhibition. It was a glorious sunny morning and The Writer was headed in the opposite direction to Port Arthur to take the Tasman Island cruise. I would have joined him but for the need to drop off the paintings and the fact that I’m such a bad sailor there was no way I was ever going to get on that boat! The waters down there can be pretty rough and the boat is a very bouncy ride – all adding up to a green and nausious experience for me which I preferred to avoid.
So, back to the Cygnet trip which was by road and much less bilious all round!
I packed the car with my painting kit, trusty Red Velvet (my camera) the paintings to be delivered and some lunch. This took a bit of time. Painting kit makes it sound like a small box you might fit your first aid items in-try imagining a 1940’s film star heading off on the Orient Express for a 6 week grand tour of Europe and you might get a glimpse of the magnitude of the packing job. I had acrylic paints, brushes, canvases, my field box of pastels, rags, charcoal, pencils, alcohol ( not the drinking kind- I’m driving!) paper, sketchbook, easel and a kitchen sink just in case I might need to wash up after the painting! Then I decided it wasn’t quite enough so I threw in the tripod in case I wanted to YouTube the painting.
Red Velvet got quite a work out on the way down. As soon as I hit the Huon River I was stopping every few minutes- the reflections were fantastic and the blackberries lining the road were ripe and luscious- so between the snapping there was a fair bit of berry browsing!
I often have trouble committing to a painting spot when I head off plein aire. I want the perfect subject , the perfect place for the easel, not too much traffic to disturb me and a bit of shade nearby. So I kept on driving and was very tempted by the reflections here…
but all the time I was thinking of Drip Beach so I kept heading south past more perfect reflections…
…and then I arrived. I love this small beach because it has such interesting shadows from the gum trees behind the beach. I’ve painted these shadows before and I thought I might try a different format this time…
I parked the car in the shade, hauled out the easel and set up. It was a lovely spot and I enjoyed being out in nature painting for a change. There were a few locals out walking their dogs and we exchanged greetings as they trooped on by. They stopped to check my progress on the way back and wanted to know if I was famous- not really- but they wanted my name anyway!
A couple of happy hours passed and here’s the result…
I’ve promised myself I’ll get out and about more this year and this was a good start!
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.