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…
HERE’S AN EXERCISE YOU CAN TRY TO UNDERSTAND 1 POINT PERSPECTIVE INSIDE A BUILDING.
INTERIOR SCENES ARE MUCH DIFFERENT FROM EXTERIOR. PRETEND THAT YOU’RE IN A SMALL ROOM LOOKING AT THE BACK WALL –THERE IS EITHER A WINDOW OR A PAINTING ON THAT WALL, AND IT IS SEEN HEAD-ON. IN YOUR SKETCHBOOK, DRAW AN 8″ SQUARE IN THE CENTER OF THE PAPER. THEN DRAW A 4″ SQUARE EQUI-DISTANT FROM ALL SIDES WITHIN THE 8″ SQUARE. PRETEND THIS IS THE BACK WALL OF YOUR ROOM. DECIDE WHERE YOUR EYE LEVEL IS AND DRAW A HORIZONTAL LINE INTERSECTING BOTH SQUARES. SELECT A VANISHING POINT ON YOUR HORIZON LINE. NOW DRAW CONVERGING LINES FROM THAT VP TO THE CORNERS OF THE BACK WALL (NOT THE CORNERS OF THE SQUARE – NOTICE). DRAW DOORS, WINDOWS WITH CONVERGING LINES THAT MEET AT THE VANISHING POINT. NOTICE THAT YOU CAN ONLY SEE THE FRAMING OF WINDOWS/DOORS ON THE BACK SIDE.
TO DO THE TILE FLOOR MEASURE OFF 1/2″ DIVISIONS ON THE BACK WALL EXTENDING BEYOND YOUR SQUARES IF YOU CAN. DRAW CONVERGING LINES TO THE VP FROM THESE POINTS. THIS GIVES YOU THE ANGLES OF BOARDS OR TILES PERPENDICULAR TO THE SIDE WALLS. NOW, IF YOU WANT SQUARE TILES, START AT THE BASE OF YOUR PICTURE PLANE (THE 8″ SQUARE) AND MEASURE OFF 1″ UP AND DRAW YOUR FIRST HORIZONTAL LINE (THIS IS CALLED A TRANSVERSAL).
NOW, CONTINUE TO DRAW DIAGONALS ACROSS THE FLOOR FROM THE INTERSECTIONS OF THE CONVERGING LINES. CONTINUE IN THE SAME MANNER TO MAKE CHECKERBOARD TILES. DARKEN ALTERNATE TILES SO THAT YOU CAN SEE THE PATTERN. ERASE THE LINES YOU NO LONGER NEED.
I REALIZE THIS WILL BE DIFFICULT FROM A WRITTEN EXPLANATION. I USUALLY DEMONSTRATE THIS IN MY CLASSES, AND STUDENTS FOLLOW ALONG AS I DRAW. LET ME KNOW IF YOU CATCH ON TO THIS OR NOT. A TWO-POINT INTERIOR SCENE IS NEXT!
The easiest way to learn about 1 point and 2 point perspective is to draw simple open boxes above and below the horizon line (eye level). On the left of the example are open boxes in 1 point perspective – one is above the horizon line and one is below. We will begin with the box on the left (1 point).
First, draw a horizon line and a square above the line and a square below the line. Above the line you will see the bottom of the box; below the line you will see the top of the box (makes sense). Now, select a vanishing point on the line. On the top square, draw lines (orthogonals) from all four corners directly to that vanishing point.
Draw a horizontal line determining the width of the lower panel. Now you see a 3-dimensional box. But what if the box is open? Draw perpendicular lines from the corners of the bottom panel that meet the orthogonals at the top of the box. Now draw a horizontal line from those points that is parallel to the bottom line.
Erase the lines you don’t need and darken in the rear of the 3-dimensional box that you see.
Try doing the same thing on the bottom box in reverse. Sometimes you can’t see the inside of the box depending on where your vanish point is and how deep you make your box.
Next time, we’ll draw a box in 2 point perspective. By the way, it helps to use a t-square and triangle.
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.
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.
Painting a realistic landscape and trying to give the illusion of 3-dimensions depends on your use of atmospheric perspective. As Richard McKinley says, “It’s all a magic show!” First of all, it’s better to have a foreground, a middle ground, and a background in your scene whether from a photograph or in plein air. Then knowledge of atmospheric (or aerial) perspective will help. This is not the same as linear perspective; it is a phenomenon seen in nature because of the atmosphere that gets between the viewer and the view. This type of perspective can even be found in shallow subjects such as still life. We use the principles of atmospheric perspective when we make distant mountains grayish, blue, or purple and soft-edged, sometimes even fading off into the sky area. In a flower painting, for instance, the flowers that are the farthest from the picture plan are duller and out of focus when compared to the ones in front. There is more contrast in value, color, and detail when objects are closer than when they are farther away. The principles of atmospheric perspective are:
1. OVERLAPPING SHAPES- Shapes that are in front are seen in their entirety — those behind are not.
2. SIZE – Shapes that are the same size are seen larger when closer, and smaller when farther away from the viewer.
3. POSITION – Shapes that are closer to the viewer are farther down on the paper/canvas. Objects farther away are higher.
4. DETAIL – Shapes that are closer to the viewer are seen in more detail than those behind.
5. INTENSITY, TEMPERATURE, AND VALUE – Shapes that are farther away from the viewer are less intense (are grayed down), are cooler in temperature (blues, purples), and are lighter in value than those close up.
6. BANDS OF LIGHT AND DARK – Some artists such as Corot have used horizontal bands alternating light and dark to lead the eye back into the distance. Check out some landscape paintings to see if this works or not.
These are the principles but not rules — sometimes you just want to break the principles or rules and try something more imaginative!
Whether painting in plein air (outside in nature) or painting from a photograph, it is always best to make thumbnail sketches in your sketchbook. Planning ahead reduces the number of mistakes you can make! Plan out several compositions so that you may choose the best one (think of movement, balance, center of interest, focal points, contrast, etc.) Try different formats: vertical, high horizon, low horizon, square, oblong, panoramic. Paintings with high horizons are more grounded and introspective, but you’ve got a lot of foreground to contend with. Low horizons are more spiritual, because the sky can give you mood and movement. You will need clouds, probably. Rectangular compositions are calming.
Try to limit your shapes to only a basic 4-6 by pulling together areas that are close in value. Basic shapes are the most important at this stage. When you think you have a good composition, begin a value sketch. Keep your values to only 4-5: usually the sky is the lightest (value 1) because it’s lit by the sun; the ground plane is the next value (value 2), since it gets reflections from the sky; any slanted shapes are the next lowest value (value 3) because they get partial sunlight, and the upright planes are the darkest value (value 4) because they get little light from the sun.
If you’re working from a photograph, remember that, in a photo all the shadows look black, and sometimes the sky is bleached out. You must lighten up the shadows to be more natural. Try putting together two or more photos to make a good composition. Keep to more medium values and don’t put a lot of dark darks. Refer back to the post of December 28 for information on different value schemes. Also, refer to the post of December 18 for a review.
Here is an example of some of my thumbnail sketches. These were all from the same photo.
When starting a landscape, especially if in plein air, it is a good idea to pre-plan with some compositional sketches. Even though these are called “thumbnail sketches,” they’re really quite larger than a thumbnail. These sketches are about 3 x 5″ in size. I made three of them on the same sheet of sketchbook paper before deciding how to proceed. You want to ask yourself these questions: 1. Do I want a horizontal or a vertical format; 2. Do I want to show more foreground (high horizon line), or more sky area (low horizon line); 3. How can I reduce the scene to 5 shapes or less? To simply and concentrate on large shapes only, pull all the areas that are close in value into one shape, omit the details, and shade your sketch with only 4 values — light, medium light, medium, and dark or medium dark. You may have to squint your eyes or take off your glasses to do this! Doing these steps forces you to look at the subject as a simplified pattern of light and dark shapes. After all, the large shapes in a painting are what make a GOOD PAINTING! I chose the second sketch from above to use as my subject for a pastel painting.