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A study in hard pastel and pastel pencils

Showing the step by step process and the decisions taken whilst working the picture.

The picture was commissioned by Caran d’Ache, Geneva.

They asked for the picture to use in their publicity for a new line of 84 colours

of Pastel Pencils and a matching 84 colours of what they call Pastel Cubes.

These cubes are actually hard pastel Carre sticks

which are manufactured using the same pastel material as the pencils but in woodless form.

The new range was launched in January 2012.

The picture below was worked with pre-production pencils supplied by the company off the production line.  I had not seen the  finished product when I completed the picture

and I did not have the colour names so I cannot quote the colours I selected.

 BUT  —  The specific choice of colours is not vital,

each artist working from the same reference will produce a different result

as there are many other factors influencing the end product

They are very good pencils with an excellent colour range

We do not need to have every brick and every window detailed. If we wanted that, we wouldn't choose to work with pastel.  The main advantage of pastel is the ability to create the feeling of a place. For this reason I will restrict fine detail to the centre of interest – the area around the cafés on the waterside and the people walking along the promenade.  We don't want to do all the work for the viewer. Long term pleasure in a picture lies in seeing more and more into fairly loosely defined shapes.

Looking at my reference photograph, I will apply some changes to the immediate foreground to frame the view better. The waterside pedestrian way does not curve as much as I will show, but if I bring the railings and flower boxes more to the left, the view of the bridge and the reflections in the water will be framed nicely.

I have identified my main centre of interest – the area immediately under the left hand arch of the bridge.  I will increase the contrast of light and dark here to focus the eye of the viewer.

This point is not far from the 'Golden section' or intersection of thirds which makes it an ideal for the composition.

Working a pastel picture of a landscape ( and most other subjects) involves at least four stages.

1. The line drawing to place the elements of the picture

2. The 'Blocking in' of tones and main colours to establish the shape and composition.

      This can best be done using pastel blocks or sticks

3. The establishing of some detail, using pastel pencils, following which the picture can be 'fixed' using a spray to hold       the main pastel media in position.  

      Colourfix board has a very fine grit surface to hold the dry pigment and needs only light fixing.

4. Finally, extra detail can be added where required and highlights and contrasting darks confirmed.

If the original line drawing is correct, the picture can be completed in a relatively loose way and still be recognisable by those who know the place.

CDA Pastel Picture

Annecy Reflections.  1

The picture needs a warm sunny atmosphere to it to bring the feeling of a Summer afternoon so I have used a sheet of Colourfix pastel board in sand (a pale yellow)

Size is 30 x 40cm and it is mounted on to a firm drawing board.

With any picture involving architecture – and particularly water – we need to be sure that all verticals in buildings are actually vertical.  Anything out of true will create problems for reflections later.  

If the scene is of a well known place, it is as well to be sure that the principal elements are correctly shown.  

For this reason I will carefully measure out the positions of most of the main parts of the buildings and put in lines for correct perspective of windows.  This will give me the framework on which the eventual picture can be hung.

I have chosen a brick red pastel pencil to draw out the framework of the picture. The red colour is much stronger than I need, but I have used it to show the outlining for the photograph ( right) .

I have since removed all the surplus powder using a piece of sticky white Tac and this has taken the marks back to being just visible. See below:

                      Before                                           After

My reference photo is approximately 20 x 27 cm.

The laid out image is approximately 26 x 35cm with the added foreground

The fact that there are three visible arches to the bridge is not immediately obvious in the reference.  I have lightened up a small sample of the area so that you can see what the actual scene includes.  I will not necessarily show the second and third arches, but it is essential to understand the details of the reference before we start – and resolve any areas that may be in doubt.

If we know what we are painting  there is a chance that the viewer of the eventual picture will also understand what they are looking at.

The first step in adding colour is to look for the areas of light and dark.  We need an even layer of white pastel down on all light areas and areas that may need to have white detail. This includes the sky and the sky reflection in the water.  Similarly we need a warm dark tone down on areas of shadow leaving lighter areas with the natural sand shade of the paper.

My first thought was to swing the nearby railing round as a curve right across the immediate foreground as shown in the initial drawing above.

This did not work as well as I expected , so I will reduce the curve and bring the railing in at the centre line when I complete the blocking in process

You can see from the top image that I have started with a layer of white pastel in the sky and the water areas and also white where there are major areas of white or light in the buildings.

White as a base coat of pastel, always allows us to get back to a light tone at a later point. The first layer of dry colour on the working surface locks itself down  to the paper and performs the task of a foundation.

Similarly, we can apply a dark shade of brown to the shadowed buildings to the left and to other areas of shadow, like the bridge, and although lighter tones of colour can be applied on the top, we can easily get back to the dark tone we applied first if we need to.  

If you look at the blue of the water in the lower image, you will see the nearer water is a darker blue.

I have applied blue first to the paper here and then white on the top. Further up the white was applied first and the blue after – this has produced two different results from the same colours.

Note the new line for the railings.  I have to decide on the pavement colour for the foreground and will use a reference from another photo  taken the same day.

This also gives me more information on the design of the railings and the way the pavement is filled with tables and chairs from the restaurants

In this image you will see I have been working on the sky, the water and the skyline of the buildings.

With the previous base coat of pastel down on the sky and water, I can now work in a selection of the pastel cubes in white and pale blue to increase the colour in the top section of sky and the lower section of the water.  I am able to blend the dry pastel into the prior coating and easily achieve an even coat right over the edge of the building line.

I can still see my drawn line, though and work back the buildings to give a crisp edge.   I am enhancing the darks where possible as I want to keep the sunlit feel which needs dark shadows.  If you refer back to the photograph, you will note that I have not included any detail in the far buildings behind the bridge as I want to keep these from fighting for attention.  Where I have needed to work with my hand over existing pastel, I have used a section of clear perspex to protect the picture surface and this also protects light coloured areas from dry pastel dust falling on them from above.   Note the shading in the sky goes to darker blue overhead. I have not tried to match the exact blue for the moment – that can await a later check towards the end.

I now want to look at how the pastel cube colour is laid down on the base surface and blended in.

I have shown a series of images below and we will look at the working process.

The first image (1) shows a base coat of pastel applied to the footpath on the right foreground. This is loosely applied as you can see. This first layer establishes the colour as a brick red.   

A second layer (2) of white pastel on the top will lighten the base colour, but no blending takes place yet.  

Thirdly,(3) horizontal lines of a light violet are applied, after which ,finally, (4) the pastel is blended with the finger in horizontal strokes.  This gives the flat feeling of the footpath with some grading of colour.  The blocked-in colour here now balances the colours elsewhere and we can start to get a feel for the overall image.

Apart from adding the footpath, I have now darkened the shadow wall of the left hand building and blended colour into the shadowed water on the left – much in the same way as I applied cube colour on the footpath.

Before I go on to add more detail to the centre block of buildings, I have established the line the railings will take in the front of the picture.

I will be adding a lot of detail here later and quite a lot of flowers in the hanging boxes along the footpath edge.  As you can see I now have  an area to consider for my tables and chairs in the restaurants along the water edge for which I will use my second reference photograph.

This will be one of the last areas to be completd and in the meantime I need to concentrate on the area around the bridge and the buildings behind it.

Two technique points worth mentioning here are the need for fine points on the pastel pencils for which a sharp craft knife is essential,

and also the use of a plastic guard to protect the surface near to where detail is to be worked. This guard, is ( as you can see) clear plastic to enable the overall picture to be seen at all times and also to enable the side of the hand to rest on the working surface without causing damage to already worked pastel. The plastic is held in position by two blobs of tac to the area off the picture

1 2 3 4

I am now able to complete the central building behind the bridge and also some of the associated areas. I have also blocked in some colour to the two nearer buildings on the right and identified the lightest areas ( around windows and a couple of sunshades etc ) where I will need to keep the white for the end.  I have also darkened the water and added shadow to the bridge so that the picture is starting to get it's final shape.

It is natural to work from top to bottom in the picture and as I am right handed, it is natural to work from the top left down and across the picture. This leaves the last steps to be to complete the bottom and right hand corner

Update 11th November 2011

The notes below were written as the steps were completed. They were not written as a work of planned literature !


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