Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Lovin' the Pan Pastels

For the past few months I've been alternating between watercolor and pastel. My last few posts have dealt mainly with watercolor; now I need to give pastel equal time.

I have always loved the immediacy of pastels. Colors are added and changed quickly as they go from the pastel stick in your hand, right to your surface. No pre-mixing or blending required. I have never been a fan of pastel dust though, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to experiment with Pan Pastels. After just one day of experimentation I was SOLD! I even broke my "no messy pastels in my new studio" rule. Pan Pastels create very little dust, the colors are amazing and yeah I became an addict.   So….. I might need to enroll in a 12-step program to help me break my new habit. Just kidding.

Anyway back to the art. I've been working with some images from Ireland, trying to capture the dewy atmosphere and dramatic cloud formations. And yes some of the "typical Irish scenery " too like tumbling down castles. I've been pleased with results. The pan pastels are great for creating misty atmospheric landscapes (that sounds like Ireland!!!). And their soft foam applicators keep me from getting too detailed. I prefer working on Ampersand Pastel Board because I like the firm, slightly textured surface and the boards are easy to stored because I don't have to worry about wrinkling or dimpling a paper surface.

I'm preparing to teach another Pastel class at the Y Arts Studio and you can bet that Pan Pastels will be part of the lesson plan!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Season's Greetings!

The title for this post should be "knowing when to put away the photograph", but given the subject matter and the time of year Season's Greetings seemed more appropriate.

The painting pictured here, titled"It's Snowing Again!" is based on a photo taken in my brother-in-law Steve's front yard. I had just returned from a walk along Nantasket Beach (lots of good photos there!) and was struck by how pretty the holly looked as it climbed upward against the lattice. The sun was shining on the plants but a few chunks of snow still lingered in and around the branches. I was intrigued by the green holly, red berries and the lattice in the background. The lattice made a nice grid pattern which appealed to me. I had used grids as a design element in other paintings and decided that I would do the same in this one.

My first step was to lightly sketch a few of the leaves, berries and part of the grid pattern. I was selective in what I chose to put in the painting because  I was trying to capture a mood, not to make a copy of a photo. I had planned to start with a wet-on-wet wash of greens and blues to establish some of the base color and to set a mood. I covered the berries with masking fluid to keep them free of green and blue paint. I let my blues and greens flow freely and used a paper towel to mop up some excess color in a few places where I wanted the lattice to be closer to white than blue/green. After the wash dried I painted a few holly leaves and then started playing with the background. I deepened the colors behind the lattice and started painting shapes of leaves (no details) in the background. As I was doing this other shapes emerged from the negative space, so I tried to make them as "leaf-like" as possible.

So…if you are wondering "where is the part where I put the photo away???" It was shortly after I had painted the leaves. The background in the photo had a lot more information than I needed for a painting. So once I had painted the leaves, I had taken what I needed from the photo. The background and lattice were made by painting negative shapes, or to put it in simpler terms, by painting around shapes, rather than painting the shapes. And by leaving much up to the imagination of the viewer. My in progress photo (yeah..I know...it's crooked) will give you an idea of how the image emerged.

Once I had gotten the leaves and background painted I painted the red berries using three shades of reds. I added the snow by basically painting around the shape and then creating a light violet shadow on the bottom with a dry brush. The lattice was left as a white-ish grid which served to unify the composition. Before the painting was finished I added a layer of yellow to a few of the holly leaves to warm up the painting. The last detail was the tiny snowflakes made with opaque white paint. just beginning to fall.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

For the Birds!!! Adding "life" to a subtle background.

Like many of my paintings "Cardinals" started off as a demo piece for my Wednesday morning Watercolor Class at the Y. I was looking for something "winter-y". I had seen a photo on Facebook of a group of cardinals, thirteen to be exact, sitting on some sort of non-descript perch. I loved their brilliant red color and decided right away that I wanted to paint that picture…well not exactly that picture. Although I was initially intrigued by the red cardinals against the grayish white background, I knew that I needed to make a few changes in the composition. There were far too many cardinals in the photo, some would need to be eliminated for a cleaner, less cluttered look. After a few sketches I came up with a plan using just five cardinals, and turning the nondescript perch into tree branches. I added a few vertical lines to imply tree shapes in the background. 

I wanted my background to be subtle but still have some life to it, so I mixed a combination of Payne's Gray with various blues and greens. Since I wanted the snow on the branches to remain white I had covered that area with masking fluid. I had also used masking fluid around the outline of the birds to keep the gray paint away from the areas that would be painted bright red. The Payne's Gray and blue/green combinations were applied to a wet surface letting colors run together. I then added a bit of yellow for some warmth and contrast. Then I covered the wet areas with crumpled Saran Wrap and hoped for the best! This was after all a classroom demo, so I wanted good results!

After letting the paint dry a bit and the colors pool around the crumpled Saran Wrap, I removed the wrap and exposed the background. It turned out exactly as I wanted! It was full of many little random nooks and crannies in various shades of gray, blue, green and yellow which created a surface pattern and more importantly, a sense of depth. 

The birds were painted in a loose painterly fashion, rather than a tight illustrative look. After working with the soft grays, I enjoyed painting the bright reds, oranges and yellows. The tree were kept subtle; you can see the background pattern behind the trees, which helps to unite the composition. The spindly branches coming from the trees draws our eyes from the strong vertical tree shapes, to the birds. The subtle background texture complements the focal point without becoming a distraction. 

At the very end, I used opaque white to add tiny falling snowflakes. I was pleased with the final result and decided to use the painting for our family Christmas card this year. After photographing the painting, downloading it into the computer, importing it into a graphic program, and adding text, the only thing left to do is print the cards!

Happy Holidays!