Did you know that you can draw and mass in an oil painting with pastels and use that to guide your through your painting? I don’t remember where I learned this great tool, but I use it a lot as it keeps me on track.
Pastels have the same pigments as oil paints. The difference is in the binder. So it makes sense that you can use pastels with oil paints and have everything work well. In my YouTube demo I show the start to finish painting but I want to share a bit about how and why using a pastel base to create an underpainting and keep you on track.
How: Take your hard pastel (I use NuPastels) and lightly mass in the areas you want. In the photo below I’m starting to lay in my light and dark pattern using pastel.
You can use any color(s) you want but when I choose colors I’m thinking about (1)how they will work with the overall finished painting, and (2) Do I want a simple lay in of just lights and darks using just 2 colors, or (3) Do I want to give more detail to the lights and darks and use maybe 2-3 values of light pastels – leaves on trees tend to be dark in color, but if they are in the light area I might use a darker light pastel to indicate the masses of this dark light value -and 1 or 2 values for the darks?
Once the pastel has been applied I take a clean brush and dip it in Turpenoid or Gamsol and then lightly blot the brush. Beginning with the lightest colors I use my brush to paint over the pastel. Don’t let it drip, unless you like that effect, and keep your brush clean. Once you’ve done all the light area go to the next lightest area and continue working until you have completed all the lights. Do the same in the darks.
When I’ve done all the painting I then take a soft brush and soften the whole thing. This will need to set up for about 10-15 minutes and I will set out my paints while waiting for the Gamsol to evaporate. It doesn’t need to be dry, but if it’s too wet it just is slippery and it’s easy to loose what you’ve just done. Plus the pastel mixes with the paint and will affect the color.
This the painting after softening with a brush. You can see it’s a really cool abstract version of what’s to come.
When and Why: (1) You can use pastels to quickly tone a canvas. (2) It’s a great way to set your plein air painting as it will keep you from chasing shadows and light. After you do a thumbnail and decide on the design, transfer it to your canvas using pastel and set it with your Gamsol or Turp. You will have saved so much time that even taking the 10-15 minutes for the abstract to set up you will still be ahead of the pack. 3) Use this to start a really large canvas and this will save you HOURS!! I painted a 6 foot painting using this method and it saved me days of work.
Here is the finished painting:
Let me know your thoughts and if you’ve ever tried this.
The title is really for me.
This past weekend, after spending weeks, months actually, on a project (still not done) and studying color theory from the late 19th and early 20th century, I needed to get out and paint from a live model. It did not go well.
Not to make too many excuses but…. I got there late so I was in the very back row and I couldn’t see the model very well. The linen, which had a clear primer on it, had a strange and slippery feel. And because I couldn’t see well, I couldn’t measure well so my drawing was beyond off. I was testing a new limited palette of colors (suggested by Carlos Duran, teacher of John Singer Sargent) and thankfully that was going well. So I painted and scraped. Then I experimented and scraped. This painting/experimenting/scraping continued for the full 3 hours. All the while I could see other painters look behind them as they repeatedly heard the palette knife taking off layers of wet paint. (It has happened to them too. I truly believe I could feel their empathetic, “I feel your pain”.) At the end of the session I gave the linen to a friend of mine so she could try it. Painting is hard work. Some days are very good. Others, not so much. This session was brutal.
Today, as I hiked the mountain with my dogs, I thought about what happened and why. And then I recalled….you know how certain things just come back to haunt you?….that an early teacher had suggested I stick to what I do best and not try to do it all. I completely reject that kind of pigeonholing. But there are things we are better at and more suited to do. Portraits are hit and miss with me. I do better with still life. They are more controllable and I have time to develop and correct. It’s quiet. It’s my space. No one is watching me. And even Rubens would parse out sections of his paintings to those who were more capable. That says something!
So I will continue to paint and draw portraits, but I do know that my stronger suit is the still life and (animals portraits). It’s good to know what one is better at. It allows more room for mistakes, learning, and growth.
Limited Palette of Venetian Red, Raw Sienna, Ultramarine Blue, Cad Red Light, Alizarine
Drawing after Rubens
The question of how long it will take to draw well is often asked in one form or another. I ask myself that all the time!
There is no question that drawing takes time. And learning to draw well takes even more time. But here are some things that will help speed the process.
- If you can get a teacher, do it. Even if you don’t take a regular class, have someone that knows how to teach drawing look at your work to help guide you toward your goals.
- Don’t fall ‘in-love’ with your work. It will cloud your objective judgement. You need to actually seeing what you’ve drawn and what needs to be corrected. And believe me, there is pretty much ALWAYS something that can be corrected.
- To go fast, go slow. It’s much more important to learn one thing really, really well and correctly because from that one correct ‘thing’ you can relate the next ‘thing’.
- Some things you will get quickly, others will take more time. Don’t worry about that. It’s just the process of learning to draw.
- Know that as you keep getting better, you will always have a carrot dangling just ahead of you.
- Really observe. Draw what you actually see and not what you assume to be real. It’s really surprising when you leave your assumptions at the door and take the time to really look. Where does one line start and end? Where do shapes intersect? Use plumb lines to see what else falls in the same line.
- Draw EVERY day. Even if it’s only for 5 minutes. It all adds up.
- Copy from the Masters. They have SO much to teach.
And finally, you will probably always feel like there is more to learn. That is a great blessing because you will always stay fresh! Manet was complaining until the day he died that he still had so much to learn! And have FUN!!!
I really love painting with the Zorn Palette. It’s simple and has the required three primaries, though slightly different. It’s nuanced, meaning I can get a variety of colors and values. And it’s BEAUTIFUL.
The Zorn palette is composed of Yellow Ochre, Vermillion, Black, and White. In a self portrait Zorn famously showed the palette of colors he used, and therefore the name, “Zorn Palette” has been ascribed to him.
It most likely was not the only set of colors he used but he was known, as were other painters (John Singer Sargent was also known to have used this limited palette as well), to use a limited scope of colors. In this palette of colors black replaces blue.
One of my early teachers, Aaron Westerberg, made a great chart showing off the Zorn Palette.
You can see how wonderful and broad the colors are going from highly chromatic to tints and shades.
In this short YouTube video (under 2 minutes) you will see a start to finish painting I did this past weekend of a model named, Kat. (Yup…..her hair really is lavender, grey, and black)
To see more of my work please go to http://www.etuckerart.com
I love it when my friends think of me in their travels. I don’t want the usual gifts…..scarfs, postcards, magnets….. No, bring me something different and really unique to the area. So I am completely grateful for Howard, my world traveler friend, who brought back an Australian Possum skull and then lent it to me to draw.
Before we get to the drawing you might be wondering, “What is the difference between a Possum and an Opossum?” Well, here in the USA we call the marsupial an opossum. But Down Under they are called Possums, or if you want to be really accurate, Phalangeridae. Scientifically the American O/possum is called Didelphimorphia. So the two are not the same. The Phalangeridae (Australian) has more forward pointing teeth like a squirrel, while the Didelphimorphia (American) is more bat-like in its dentition.
When I first started to draw this small skull (it’s only about 3.5″ in length) I was really interested in its teeth and how they articulated and wanted to draw this in profile. I was also interested in the way the hinge of the lower jaw seemed to sit in the region of the eye socket. This is so unlike other skulls that I’m familiar with. To make sure that what I was seeing was infact correct, I called my local Natural History Museum and spoke with the scientist there. He told me that while it looks like the hinge (think TMJ – Temporomandibular Joint) sits in the region of the eyeball, it actually sits outside that area. But that drawing didn’t turn out very well and ended up in the trash. That was actually one of the challenges of working with such a small skull and worrying about its fragility. Tendons break down the lower and upper jaw seperate so it kept falling over and I didn’t want to fuss too much with it. Too much information???? Well I won’t add more, but for me, very interesting.
So instead, I set the skull up as if you were looking at the Aussie Possum from about this angle
I break the drawing down in to 3 distinct stages. Working in charcoal and white pastel on a fawnish color Mi-Tientes paper, Stage 1 is the basic outline of the form itself and noting the light and dark regions. The paper is the middle tone.
Stage 2 is more developed. I’m also going to continue to make corrections –and will continue to throughout the whole process.
And finally, stage 3 is the finished drawing
Hope you like it!