Ely in the Mist

5 Comments

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

4 Comments

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

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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

4 Comments

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

9 Comments

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

14 Comments

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.

Thursday’s artist has far to go …

11 Comments

Thursday afternoons are now my painting time: a four-hour stretch once a week where I am allowed not to feel guilty that I’m not doing my freelance work, not cleaning the house, and (the big one) not with my daughter.

This is 8×10″, and is based on an oil pastel I made a couple of years back. This time I used soft pastels over a gouache underpainting on leaf green Colourfix paper. Though setting out above all to have fun, I was painting under the burden of anticipation (how would it feel after all this time to touch those velvety pastels to the surface of my favourite paper?) and was distinctly underwhelmed with the outcome; but for some reason, my digital camera has been kind. Perhaps it’s taken pity on me. In any case, the on-screen version looks less messy than the one sitting on my table easel.

This is Sweden Crag, in England’s Lake District. When Paul and I went walking here one day back in spring 2005, our path back down the mountain was made impassable by squishy marshland, and in trying to figure out an alternative route, we were lost for a while. Now I am climbing another mountain, it seems, finding my way back to a medium I used to love, which now feels so unfamiliar.

Chanson d’automne

15 Comments


Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l’automne
Blessent mon coeur
D’une langueur
Monotone.

~ Paul Verlaine

Since the summer completely passed me by art-wise, I’ve been determined to put something of the autumn into my sketchblog. This has been a good week, and for once I can’t honestly say I share Verlaine’s seasonal wistfulness, because so many paths and possibilities are opening themselves up to me that I feel excited to be alive. My autumn song is a cheerful one.

It’s been 16 months since I last picked up a soft pastel stick, and I am sorely out of practice, but it felt good to limber up again. I did this 50-minute sketch from one of my Cambridge photos: it’s Rembrandts on Wallis paper, about 9×6″, and was done sitting in the few square inches of free floor space remaining in what we laughingly refer to as the “Leisure Room”. I’m not thrilled with this sketch, but I’m thrilled with the doing of it. And for the moment, that’s what really matters.

Show me the Monet!

14 Comments

I travelled down to London on Saturday for The Unknown Monet: Pastels and Drawings at the Royal Academy of Arts. Train and tube travel has been nightmarish lately due to engineering works on the major lines, but my day out was a full and rewarding one, and the exhibition was a joy – from Monet’s early caricatures to his black crayon drawings of cattle and farmhouses, and the vibrant yet subtle pastel studies he made of sunsets and twilight.

I was struck by this comment from one of Monet’s contemporaries, quoted in the Gallery Guide: “Every scrap of paper, no matter how small, was drawn upon with country scenes, tiny seascapes and fishermen. Every sheet of paper that came into his hands was destined for a drawing.” What better inspiration could a would-be compulsive sketcher hope to find? Monet, it is clear, was passionate about sketching, and in addition to the 80 works on display, this exhibition also makes many pages of his sketchbooks available for browsing in digital form.

With me I had a very basic sketching kit of black Profipen, watercolour bijou box and credit-card-sized set of 12 coloured pencils; over the course of the day, I covered two pages of my hand*book journal, sketching anything that took my fancy – from my train ticket, to the pattern on the dress of the passenger next to me, to a couple of Monet’s pastel drawings, to the evening sky outside Stowmarket. After an hour and a half of wandering lost around Aldgate/Whitechapel towards the end of the afternoon, I also managed a browse round Atlantis Art Materials, where I picked up a couple of drawing pads and some handmade papers.

Older Entries