Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Experimental and exploratory - pastels

Last week, after looking through a collection of random abstract photos I've taken looking for the next subject for a painting, I decided to use it as an opportunity to experiment with color. Understanding colors is crucial to creating a successful painting, regardless of the style, medium or subject matter chosen. I find it often to be a weak link in my own work. I spend a lot of time reading books, magazines, and reading/surfing artist blogs, as I love to see how other artists handle color in their work.

I also decided that this practice would be a good way to use up some of the Canson Mi-Teintes paper I have had in my art supplies for the past 10 years. Many, if not most, pastelists find the surface to be less-than-desireable to work on, as it has a patterned texture and doesn't have much tooth to hold pastel. It can be an exercise in frustration to work on, and I'd have to agree with others who say it's not a good surface for beginners to use. However, I've seen absolutely fantastic works created on it, so clearly it *is* possible to make it work.

I wanted to experiment with compliments and also high-chroma/high saturated colors, as well as greys.

Using a scrap piece of my wet-dry sandpaper, I chose colors that I liked that I thought would harmonize well together. They looked vibrant and intense on the black surface of the paper.

However, light-colored Canson is nothing like dark sandpaper, and the same colors that looked vibrant and glowing looked weak and anemic on the Canson.  Ugh.  Figuring "what the heck?", I began vigorously blending the pastel into the paper with my index finger [gloved]. 

Instead of immediately tossing the paper in the trash, I decided to experiment with scumbling, lines and colors, layering without blending.  Light over dark, dark over light, hard edges, feathering, scumbling - it was totally random and I loved the process.  As I continued, I realized that I was learning a lot and that the paper was actually more responsive than I'd hoped. While the end result isn't anything I'd describe as a purposeful painting, or of any artistic merit, I found it to be tremendously valuable, and I'm keeping it as a reference rather than binning it: 
abstract color study
9x9" Canson

From that, I went on to do this small study, also an abstract.  It is based on a photo I took of a granite boulder along the Agua Fria river trip.  I have taken several photos of rock surfaces over the years, as I'm drawn to the shadows, cracks and textures of the rocks.  I modified the composition a bit from the photo, and did a small value/notan study.  A graphite drawing was first done, and then using some of the techniques/colors from the above piece, I did this little study:

Granite abstract study
pastel on Canson, 6x9"

Abstracts offer such an excellent way to explore color, design and composition by allowing oneself to be freed of "convention".  So, I will definitely be doing more in the future.  In the meantime, I've been using Canson for more studies and quick landscapes, and will be posting those in the future. 


  1. I quite like both of these! Can't wait to see more.

  2. Thanks, Jala!
    They were quite fun to do, and I'm constantly finding sources of inspiration for new pieces. It's a great way to stretch one's creative mind, abstracts.


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