Ely in the Mist

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Ely in the Mist, 1st of October 2004 (2009)
15″ x 12″ soft pastel on Winsor & Newton Tints paper

This picture languished unfinished for five years. I had struggled to capture the dog on the end of the woman’s lead, and was caught in a frustrating cycle of drawing and brushing off, drawing and brushing off … I had always hoped and intended to finish it, more than anything as a tribute to the wonderful Sooz (known over on the Soft Pastel forum at wetcanvas.com as Khadres), whose gentle virtual kicks up my backside encouraged me to do so much creating that I would never otherwise have done, including this pastel. Sooz died in 2006.

Five days ago, I pulled the painting out and prepared to put the finishing touches to it. After several days of struggling just as I had done before, and a mood darker than any I have felt in a long time, inspiration struck. Turning my problem dog into a small boy has enabled me to release myself from the pain of an unfinished thing, and to finish Sooz’s picture.

___________________________

I received a comment on this painting from Deborah Secor which means a lot to me, because she has totally understood why this finish made sense to me. She wrote: “I love the addition of a child running toward us instead of the dog, E-J. Excellent, and sort of a fitting statement, all in all. There’s always another generation running out of the mist, in some way, after all!”

A work in progress …? 4

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Ben, day 4.
Tough to get the digital image to look as clear and bright as the original piece, but here is Ben, (maybe) finished. I’m happy with him, but will the client share my enthusiasm? I suspect that the eyes may need more work, given that the colouring around them is hard to make out in the photo refs, where shadows have reduced the eyes to two patches of black; I’m expecting and hoping, however, that Ben’s owner will otherwise be content.

A work in progress, 3

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Ben, day 3.

I’ve finished applying the palest layer of pastel. The body’s looking ugh at this stage, because I’ve had to brush off some overworked colour there, but I’ll go back in and simplify that area. I’m hoping to finish up in tomorrow’s session.

It has been a pleasantly right-brained few days; a welcome break from the wordiness of my usual freelance work. I’ll be happy to see Ben finished, but sad to see him go.

A work in progress, 2

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Day 2 of Ben!


I’ve roughly put in the background blues, laid in the darkest shadow areas of his coat and made a complete pass with a mid-tone, hard pastel.


Every painting has an ugly stage; some, like this one, are destined to go through several. Every time I put down a paler-value layer (especially with the softer brands of pastel) it appears to sit roughly on the surface of the paper, and I’m faced with having to integrate it into the picture by blending with fingers and with harder pastel sticks – without overworking.


We’re getting there, but I have so much more to do before Ben is complete. Much of the fur texture seen here will be sacrificed for the sake of making him pale-coated enough to convince and please the client who’s commissioned him.

Thoughts on soft pastel

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A scorchingly hot day of cloudless blue found me digging my soft pastels out of storage for an outdoor sketching session. Two sessions, in fact, each one cut short as I started wilting and had to seek shade.

Since I have a soft pastel commission lined up and have, shockingly (to me), used my softies just twice in the past 3 years, I figured I could do with the practice.

“Floppy Poppy” took about 40 minutes, and doing it reminded me of several things about this medium, the first of these being that it’s no wonder beginners to dry pastel become quickly discouraged by a lack of contrast in their work; you need DARK darks, which the most readily-found assorted pastel sets do not provide. I rummaged around for a few Unison pastels (including a deep red) to supplement my half-stick Rembrandts, but really should have made use of them earlier. This brings me to the second point: if you want the colours you lay down to look clean and vibrant, avoiding an icky smeary appearance, it really, really helps to work gradually from dark values towards light.

This next sketch took about 35 minutes, and by now I was starting to look forward to working on an abrasive paper again (such as Colourfix), which would hold more layers of colour, as well as limiting pastel dust.

Once you’re familiar with soft pastels, you know there’s going to be dust and you just suck it up (not literally, though – please!) and get on with things. But, though I had a cloth over my knees and regularly took my sketch aside to tap off the dust, I couldn’t help but marvel, as though a beginner again, at how messy these things are. In comparison with the oil pastels I’ve been using, this is obviously true; but the softies are like an old friend, and though I was pretty underwhelmed by the sketches I made today, I was hugely enthused by the act of sketching with my dusty sticks again.

Up to eleven

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Eleven years, the internet reliably informs me, marks our “steel” anniversary. Steel? Does the average couple experience a sudden, inexplicable need for a new stainless-steel cutlery set after eleven years of marriage? Or is it meant as a joke? “Steel married after all this time? Haw haw.”

Eleven years of marriage (or eleventy, as you put it – for which you’ll pay) means a lot; of course it does. But somehow, each year, I find myself smiling mildly indulgently at this anniversary of being your wife, knowing that it competes in vain with other dates inscribed on the calendar of my memory – 18 years of being your lover, 20 years of being your friend – and with the comparatively short, but completely overwhelming, two years that we have been parents to our astonishing little girl.

Graphite pencil on paper, 1993

Conté pencil on black paper, 2002

Conté sticks on La Carte sandpaper, 2004

I will miss you tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after that … and then the day after that I will stop missing you, because you’ll have come back home, and we will get on with another eleventy years of marriage.

As Dolores Hfuhruhurr so aptly put it: “You – man of steel! I can’t wait … ’til next Thursday.”

I love you. xx

Benjer

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I have just discovered Slide!!

Benjer was painted in soft pastel back in October 2004. He was my first commissioned piece, a surprise gift from a friend for her mother (his owner) in Chicago, and you can follow his progress via the image sequence below. It may be of interest to anyone who wishes to try their hand at an animal portrait in pastels, and wonders how somebody else (who didn’t have a clue when she set out to paint a dog for the first time – and this was that dog!) approached it.

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