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Demonstration by Sue Ford

Back to History - Visit her at www.sueford.co.uk

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Portrait in pastels, 28 November 2014
Sue must have boundless energy: driving all the way from somewhere near Middlesbrough; arranging holidays in the UK and abroad; running courses; giving demonstrations; exhibiting her work, accepting commissions and presumably doing the odd bit of other painting, too! Do visit her website.

Tonight Sue had chosen to work from a photo of a flamboyant Carnival dancer, so she used black "Colourfix" pastel paper by Art Spectrum, her favourite brand.
Colourfix is better than wet-and-dry sandpaper and comes in nice big sheets: 50cm x 70cm (nearly 20" x 28"), enough for one or two paintings. Art Spectrum also does a primer, which gives any paper or card a pastel-friendly surface, like the Colourfix papers, and in a similar range of colours.

Although pastels can be completely opaque, the colour of the paper will nearly always show through the pastel enough to affect the mood of the painting - hence tonight's black.

Pastel is very versatile: you can mix it with acrylic or (on smooth paper) with watercolour and it is particularly good for big paintings. For smaller ones, the much harder pastel pencils are recommended.
Sue was using soft pastels tonight.

She rattled through the usual guidelines for heads and how they are affected if they are not looking straight at you. But she immediately went straight into drawing, starting with the nose.

There were very few overt construction lines but Sue did, of course, repeatedly check that the features were all in the right relative positions: angles of nose and mouth, from mouth to ear-lobe and mouth to to eye; distances between chin, lips, nose, eye and ear (correcting as needed - which it was).
Once she was happy with the basic outlines she started to block in patches of colour with the sides of the sticks: purple behind the shadowed dark skin and rough areas of strong bright colour.

The flat areas are done with the sides of broken pastel sticks (paper removed) which give nice texture (as well as being quick).

Once she'd got the composition about right she started putting in more detail (still with the Unison sticks) and extending farther from the face itself.
Where the rough blocking-in had covered areas that needed to be black, touches of indigo did the job. She could extend areas of other colours, too, to cover existing flat areas. But, whenever Sue picked up a colour she made marks with it in several different places (to give cohesion).

She spent the final half-hour jumping around the picture (not literally!) making countless little marks. Where an edge was too sharp she tapped it with a finger or even blended it by rubbing gently across (she is not one who likes the effect of blending any but the smallest areas - too much brightness is lost).
At the very end she quickly took colour out towards the sides of the paper and called it a day.

All evening Sue had been making helpful comments. Here are a few of them:

The more expensive soft pastels (like Unison or Sennelier) are softer and richer than the cheaper ones, like Inscribe, although both are sold as "soft". But you need some of the less soft ones too: for linear marks and finer detail.
Paint pastels with your paper vertical, so dust falls down into a little paper trough. This way dust does not rest on the surface (where it would have dulled all the colours), you don't have to blow it off (unhealthy) and it does not fall onto your carpet
Once you've used a colour keep it with you in a separate container until you've finished
Keep your pastels clean by tossing them around in some ground rice before putting them away in the box
Use spray fixative only during a painting, where you want to make sure you don't pick up the original colour when you work over it. It dulls the finish if you use it at the end
Glassine is good for protecting pastel paintings
Clothes reflect their colour into skin tone.
Don't do individual teeth - they'll look like tombstones

So ended a most interesting and informative evening. Comparison of the photo with the painting showed both impressive accuracy (colour and shape) and the way a painting (even a quick one produced in demo conditions) can look better than the original photo. Thanks very much, Sue.
Original photo. Compare with final painting below
End of the demo

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