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Paul Lewis Pastel Portrait Demonstration
22 July 2011

Visit Paul at www.starfishstudios.co.uk - Back to History Page

Paul had set out a car-load of examples of his earlier work but nothing as big as the 3' x 4' sheet of blue/grey mountboard attached to a wooden board on one of our easels.

Paul had asked for a volunteer to model for him with a musical instrument instrument. Maureen Broomfield persuaded her husband, David, to give up his evening for us but he must have felt a bit nonplussed when Paul seemed disappointment that the guitar was silent - I think he was expecting musical inspiration as he worked. He came back to this later on, commenting that to leave multiple drawings of a moving subject can give a certain dynamism to a picture.
He had a couple of boxes of Inscribe pastels and a few other bits of pastel and charcoal. Before starting he separated out the 10 or 12 he was going to use.

He said that the first thing was to decide where the extremities of the picture were to be: end of guitar, feet, head etc. and to locate central features relative to these. Sadly he made no marks to show these points and went straight into the head with charcoal.

Paul located other features relative to the head by visualising vertical and horizontal lines through significant points, always using the height of the head as his reference length.
He did, of course, take into account some of the conventional rules of thumb: like the distance between the eyes being equal to the width of the eyes (regardless of race!) and noting the height of the ears relative to eyebrows, nose and mouth.

During the demo he seemed to do very little measuring. Paul explained that when you start portrait painting your first couple of months need very careful measurement but that you will then be able to consolidate what you have learned by doing very many very fast ones. The jazz trumpeter above took only about five minutes and he often does 10-minute or 20-minute portraits at village fêtes.
Quite early on he began careful drawing of the face, using a sharp piece of charcoal, and adding shadow. Paul's not one for blending pastel but at this stage he frequently used his fingers to spread shadows and to rub out poorly-placed charcoal marks: "They are going to be covered with pastel, so it doesn't matter".

Colour came in after about 30 minutes, starting with placement of lights all over the picture. The initial charcoal drawing is never perfect, so you have to keep looking and correcting. Working on such a big ground makes it worse because it's pretty certain that you'll have moved your head and misplaced at least something. The secret is to keep working around the picture, continually re-checking relative positions.
When the flesh and shirt colours came in, Paul started to work almost entirely with the sides of broken sticks of pastel, using what a watercolourist would think of as dry brush technique - very light strokes so that the paper or any earlier colour showed through.

The process from now on was one of continuously working over the whole picture: hinting, correcting, adding bits of complimentary background, touching skin colour into the hair, background colour into the figure, getting more of a likeness into the face, drawing straight lines very quickly, deliberately neglecting areas away from the centre. "Enjoy yourself. Forget about developing a specific style - you'll lose your spontaneity".
The end of the demo was arbitrary. Not long after the coffee break, although much of the original charcoal drawing and the paper were still visible, we had a quite presentable "finished" painting. So most of the second half was spent gradually making it even more presentable. Towards the end Paul decided to put time into the hands, shading and moving fingers by millimetres and reminding us, perhaps, why he would have liked David to have actually been playing.

It is most interesting to have the opportunity to enjoy watching someone work on such a big scale using, and enjoying using, techniques that most of us associate with much smaller paintings.

Thank you, Paul.

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