I Always Come Back to Landscapes in Pastel
I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to do non-objective paintings, and they always turn out to be landscapes! I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to paint with acrylic or watercolor, and I always go back to using soft pastels! I guess I should just be myself, and stop trying to do what everyone else is doing.
My favorite subject is the landscape — could be Arkansas’s rivers, mountains, lakes, farm lands and fields, houses, bridges, roads, rocks, forests, majestic trees or their roots; it makes no difference. It’s what I love. At one time, I did a lot of plein air painting, but I haven’t done that in a while. Instead, I take my camera with me as I walk the paths of my home town or travel from town to town; take vacation trips to places like Charleston, Martha’s Vinyard, or Portland, Maine. I must have a zillion photos of landscapes that I want to experience in pastel.
Yes, soft pastel! It’s always been the easiest medium for me. I like to hold the stick broadside in my hands and be able to swipe across the sanded paper, or use the point of the stick to make drawing lines on top. The colors are there for me to use – I don’t have to mix them to get the right color. They are intense, dull, gray, brilliant, sizzling, and/or calming. I can layer on top of a watercolor or ink underpainting, or I can start with a hard pastel underpainting and dissolve it with water or turpenoid. I can use local color, complementary colors, or really intense colors for the underpainting and then layer other pastels on top. Sometimes, the painting just paints itself! What fun!
Here are a few photos of my latest pastel landscapes. I tried to show the mood of late afternoon/twilight landscapes — the time of day when everything is shutting down and the hectic, busy times are over. Time to go home and rest. I call this style “Romantic Realism” because of the emotional content. These paintings are part of an exhibit named “Where the Sky Kisses the Earth” that will be at the Searcy Art Gallery August 5-September 21. The opening reception is August 6, Saturday from 1-3 pm. I will be there; I hope to see you there as well!
Knowing about how to use linear perspective doesn’t mean that you have to be a slave to it. Using the principles of perspective in drawings and paintings that include buildings, posts, roads, etc. can become an internal knowledge that makes your artwork more realistic. However, some artists like to distort reality and in doing so, distort perspective as well. De Chirico is a prime example of this. Some contemporary artists do this as well: (from Artist Magazine, June 2010).
But here’s another way to use perspective creatively — an imaginary residence high up in the sky! This drawing uses 4 vanishing points — all related. The vanishing points are on vertical and horizontal lines. Try this in your sketchbook to work out your “dream house”!
If you have drawn the country home that I showed last post, you may be ready to add an addition or a porch to your drawing. Hopefully you have put in some windows, and maybe a chimney using the same converging lines to the vanishing points. All you need to do to add a porch or extension is to bring a corner post forward and use the same vanishing points and vanishing traces to add the roof. To add a center door, remember to make the x from each corner of the rectangle to find the center, and then position the door in the center. Steps could be added in the same way. A walkway that is parallel to the horizon line can also be added as per example. To make the fence posts and fence, follow this sequence: Decide where you want the corner post and draw it in as a vertical shape. Draw converging lines to the vanishing points from the bottom and the top of the corner post. Establish the second post arbitrarily when you’d like it to be using the converging lines for the top and bottom. Now, make an X from point to point of the first and second posts. This determines the center point between each post. From the center of the X, draw another line to the vanishing point. Then draw a diagonal line from the top of the first post through the middle of the second post. Where that line crosses the bottom converging line is where to position the third post. Continue drawing the rest of the posts in the same way, and do the other side the same way. Elaborate the posts any way you wish, but you have fenced off your country property! Remember to add trees and shrubs to make it homey…
Let’s try to draw an imaginary country home using the concepts of two-point perspective. Here are the steps I used:
- On a large *18 x 24″) sheet of drawing paper, draw a horizon line and select two vanishing points as far away on the page as you can. Then draw the front corner of the house approximately 2″ tall. Draw vanishing lines from the top and bottom of this line to the vanishing points on the left and the right.
- Your imaginary house in this case will face to the right. Draw vertical lines to establish the length and width of the building. You have made a box similar to what we did before.
- On the wide part of the box, draw diagonal lines from corner to corner to find its center. Extend a vertical line through this center point and extend it about 1 1/2″ above the top of your box. This will define the height of the gable end of the roof.
- Connect the top of the gable with the vertical sides of the box at both ends, extending just a little beyond the side to make your eaves.
- Now draw a converging line from the gable peak to the left vanishing point. This is the top of the roof.
- What about the back side of the roof? To get this point, extend a vertical line from the right vanishing point all the way up as far as you can on your paper.
- From the left corner of the facing side, extend a converging line all the way up the left side of the gable until it meets extended line you drew from the right vanishing point. Make a dot where these lines meet — this is called a vanishing trace. Where it intersects the top of the roof is where your roof ends.
- Extend a roof line a little beyond your left house end to make the roof. From this point, draw a converging line to the vanishing trace. Where it intersects the roof line is the end of your roof.
- So far, you have made a box-type house with a gabled roof. You can make some windows on one side if you wish like you made windows in the indoor examples. Next post, I’ll discuss how to make a front porch, a walkway, and a fence enclosing the property!
Well, I just realized that I had not posted anything about working with perspective — both aerial and linear. This is an omission my teaching career couldn’t withstand! So I’m going to write a few posts about this subject before giving up!
If you are a realistic painter, or just want to show some depth in your paintings, you need to know something about perspective.
THERE ARE TWO KINDS OF PERSPECTIVE: AERIAL AND LINEAR
AERIAL PERSPECTIVE OR ATMOSPHERIC PERSPECTIVE: If you have drawn or painted a still life subject, you probably wanted to show these objects in space. It was shallow space, of course, but was still important. In a landscape, aerial perspective is most important, since you usually have a foreground, a middle ground, and a background. How do you effectively represent these different planes?
AERIAL PERSPECTIVE INCLUDES THESE ELEMENTS:
If you look at two objects in space that are similar, but one is farther away than the other, what happens? The one farther away looks smaller, lighter in value, lower in intensity, not as clearly defined, and may be overlapped by the one in front. Take a look at this example:
How do you know which tree is the closest even though the other trees may be the same size? It is larger, close to the bottom of the picture plane, in more detail, darker, and overlaps the trees and mountains in the distance. What happens to the trees and mountains in the distance? They are lighter in value, less intense, show no detail, are much smaller. The mountains in particular are low in intensity, appearing more lavender and gray.
Here’s is another example: In this painting, we know that the hay bale on the bottom left is much closer to the viewer than the others because of its position. Is there a definite foreground, middle ground, and background here? The foreground hill is more golden (more intense) than the three other hills as they move backward in space. It’s important to look closely at the natural landscape to see how this works.
My next posts will be about linear perspective — this is what happens when people start putting buildings, houses, barns, etc. in the landscape!
THIS IS MY HOME – an exhibit of my Arkansas landscapes in pastel and acrylic is currently showing at 1st Presbyterian Church at 4th and Maple in North Little Rock during December. A reception is planned for Dec. 19 from 5-8 pm. I hope you can come – would love to see you and talk about my artwork! I have over 20 paintings in the show, some early ones, and my latest works as well.
This is how I started that last pastel painting, “Cloudy Sky.” I did an underpainting with grayed-down watercolor trying to keep it simple and only about 4-5 values. When that dried, I began to apply hard pastels over the underpainting.
At first, I thought about adding a road in the foreground, but soon discarded that idea since my goal was to simplify and soften the landscape. My sky was shaping up fairly well because of the watercolor underpainting. The clouds seemed to have some motion.
I worked mostly from top to bottom, trying to keep the mountains in the distance by relating their values close to that of the sky. I divided the middle ground into a separate plane and made the foreground a little warmer so that it seemed closer. I wanted especially to get a feeling of distance while still keeping it soft and moody. The tree in the foreground (my center of interest) was completed with little strokes of several greens and purples, with a little yellow ochre.
And this is the final version as shown in my last post. All in all, I had about 5 layers of pastel atop the original underpainting. Purples and greens are muted, but there’s a suggestion of a road with a fence in the farthest plane. Yellow ochre is used as an accent.
Does it help to see how the painting progressed from beginning to end? The biggest problem is knowing when to stop!
Here is the second in my series of moody, misty landscapes. It may be my last in pastel, since the cost of framing pastel paintings is cutting into my retirement money! The next ones will be acrylic on gallery-wrapped canvas. They will need no framing!
I’m calling this one “Cloudy Sky” for obvious reasons. I would welcome better names from any of you — naming a painting is sometimes problematic! This one is very greyed down to invoke a rather ominous mood. Aerial perspective plays a large part in showing distance; there are several planes between the foreground, middle ground, and background. Mountains in the distance are a mid violet grey. The sky is full of grey clouds just waiting to drop the rain on the green field below. Colors are muted purples, greens, with a little orange for an accent. There are some blue and ochre tones as well. The size is 15 x 23″ unframed. Let me know what you think about this one.
This is my first pastel in a new series of moody, atmospheric landscapes. I have been out taking photos in rainy, foggy mornings and evenings so that I have plenty of references for this series. If I get up early enough, I drive out to the lakes and rivers where I live to take pictures of early morning sunrises, even though it’s sometimes difficult to find spots without cars, buildings, streets and houses. Sunsets are also intriguing and will find their way into some of the paintings in this series. Formats will be verticals as well as horizontals; colors will be monocromatic and analogous in subdued tones, and values will be closely related. I am excited about the possibilities in this series, and will do some acrylic paintings on canvas as well as pastels on paper. Tell me what you think — would you like to see more?
For those pastel painters who like a step-by-step method to painting an artwork, this is for you. I think I got this from Larry Blovits, my first workshop teacher, but I probably added to it over the years. Some useful information is included.
PASTEL PAINTING PROCEDURES
1. SELECT A BALANCED COMPOSITION: Is there a center of interest? A variety of shapes? Forms? Colors? Values? Sizes? Movements? Does your eye lead you from one area of interest to another? Are there clues of depth? Is there a statement to be made?
2. DECIDE ON YOUR GOAL FOR THE PAINTING: What do you want to emphasize? The illusion of depth? The contrast of light against dark? A shape or pattern that is repeated throughout? An emotional feeling? Set a goal and stick to it.
3. DECIDE WHETHER THE FORMAT IS VERTICAL OR HORIZONTAL: Decide on the major divisions of the picture plane – where will the main objects be situated? You may want to lightly sketch in this composition, using a NuPastel stick. Or you may plan by doing a thumbnail sketch or two. If using paper, pad underneath with several other sheets.
4. DRAW THE MAJOR SHAPES OF THE COMPOSITION AS ACCURATELY AS POSSIBLE: Keeping shapes simple at first, work on creating proper proportion of the first shape you put into your picture plane and then measure every other shape’s height and width in proportion to this first shape.
5. MASS IN LOCAL COLOR VALUES: Mass in the foundation colors with hard pastel as close to the value as possible. The colors should be darker and more intense to begin with as they really are. Work from dark to light. Don’t put in any highlights at this point. Working with a darker, more intense color creates a stronger foundation of color as well as providing contrast for modeling with lighter colors without bleaching or “chalking out” the color.
Some artists put a hint of their lightest and their darkest values in at this point so that the range of values can be adjusted. Begin to solve basic color problems. Work on the whole picture. You can always dull an intense color, but not vice-versa. You can also lighten the dark, but not vice-versa.
6. ADD SHADE AND SHADOW: Establish the dark values – look for purples and blues in the shadow areas. Use black if your colors are not dark enough, but always layer a red, green, blue or purple dark over it so that it doesn’t look so dead. Squint your eyes or take off your glasses so that you can see the values. Think in terms of pattern, shape, and value at first.
7. REWORK AS NEEDED TO INCLUDE LIGHT, VOLUME, TEXTURES, AND DEPTH: You may want to use fixative spray between layers of pastel. Use hard and semi-hard pastels at this point. DO NOT WORK ON THE DETAILS AS YET; THIS IS THE LAST STEP IN DEVELOPING THE ARTISTIC STATEMENT. Take your time. Avoid blending – you can use a hard pastel to glaze or blend over colors. Glazing with a complement makes the colors vibrate.
8. REDUCE CONTRAST IN THE BACKGROUND, INCREASE CONTRAST IN THE FOREGROUND. Contrast should be strong in the foreground and weak in the background for the illusion of space (Aerial Perspective). If the light is warm, the shadows should be cool, and vice versa. Have little contrast where you want the objects to recede. You only want one focus, so some things need to be unclear of hard to see (Refraction). Play with lost and found edges, soft and hard edges.
9. RESTATE ELEMENTS FOR FURTHER CLARITY: Add color accents where needed, and add foreground detail. Leave some calligraphic strokes, and arbitrary colors for pizzazz!
10. ELIMINATE MISTAKES AT ANY TIME: Cover over a color with its complement, and then change the color. You can also remove layers of pastel with a stiff brush.
11. ABOVE ALL – take your time. Don’t try to put in the excitement too early. Speed is not important; focus and perseverance is.