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Demonstrations by Ron Ripley
For commissions etc. Ron can be contacted by phone: 01753 862624
or by post: 3 Green Lane, Windsor, Berkshire, SL4 3RZ

Pastel landscape, 2004 Top of page Mixed media portrait, 2010

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Mixed Media Portrait Demonstration
19 March 2010
It was good to welcome Ron back again after more than 5 years - this time for something completely different: a portrait in watercolour and pastel. He'd persuaded Jenny Trowbridge to pose for him.

He recommended Quarter Imperial (about 12" x 16") as a convenient size for portraits - in 200lb Saunders Waterford this evening. Aside, he commented that if you want extra brightness for your watercolours you might try their new "High White" paper.

For demonstrations the initial 2B pencil drawing has to be stronger that is really desirable - otherwise people at the back can't see it.

About 3/4 of full-size is convenient for the head : about one hand-stretch in height, thumb to little-finger. Offer the hand up to the paper and mark where you want the top and bottom of the head to be. Ron admitted at the end that he had perhaps placed it a little too low this time. No worry: the mount can be adjusted to take care of that.
He starts with very rough marks, knowing that they will have to be corrected. Then construction lines are added:
the curved centre-line;
the angle of the eye-line;
the line between the lips (between 1/4 and 1/2 of the distance from nose to chin);
the eyes themselves (width of eyes about equal to width between eyes, and pupils typically lined up with ends of the lips;
the shoulders and necklines
and these marks were double-checked by measuring the relationships between horizontal and vertical distances. Quite late in the drawing the left side of the head (Penny's right) had to be moved out by several millimeters and more detail was put into the eyes.

Then some initial pale colour washes were applied. Ron used only the one brush for the whole demo - a round, it looked like a No. 14 or so. You cannot lighten watercolour so it's important to start with as much light showing through from the paper as possible, and then to give more body to it in subsequent careful glazes.
 


Here we are during the coffee break, seen from Ron's viewpoint. Note that he has added the shadow cast by the hair onto the face and given texture to the hair by putting in dark lines and scratching out light ones with a finger nail.
Like many artists, Ron uses a basic palette of 3 warm and cool pairs of colours:
raw sienna and cadmium yellow
cadmium red and alizarin crimson
cobalt and cerulean blue.

He used the warm red and yellow, with a touch of the cool blue, for the initial skin wash. With later washes he strengthened it gradually and introduced the only other colour he mentioned: some burnt umber for the shadowed parts of the hair and Penny's brown top.

Darker cooler colours go in where there are shadows. One important, counter-intuitive, point is to compare the tone of the hair with that of the skin. Jenny's blond hair was still darker than her skin but you have to be careful not to overdo the contrast if the hair is black or very dark.
Ron was surprised to find, after coffee, that he had only about 30 minutes left for the second part of the demo, rather than the hour he had expected. This put him under such pressure that he did not have time to step back very frequently to let us see what he was doing.

For the pastel work he was using Conté square pastels (the harder form of soft pastel). During this remaining time he roamed around the whole picture, strengthening lines, softening edges, detailing features, darkening Penny's top, adding the necklace, extending the background and reflecting it into the hair.

The final few minutes led to the "mounted" version below (remember Ron's comment above that it would be better with a modified mount).
When I took these two snaps of some of his earlier demo portraits and of one of his "real" portraits, I wondered if Ron had really done himself justice during this demo. He had some lovely work there, including those in a book of photos of earlier paintings.

My photo of the sultry woman below certainly does not do that pastel painting justice. My version suffers from nasty reflections from glass and plastic protection but you can still see the drama that he managed to get into the work.

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Pastel landscape, 2004 Top of page Mixed media portrait, 2010

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Pastel Landscape Demonstration
12 November 2004
Ron Ripley's pastel landscape demonstration was a last minute substitute for a mixed media one by Nick Kennedy, who was indisposed.

For work with soft (as opposed to oil) pastels he prefers to work on the smooth side of pastel paper (today using a brown-tinted Canson) or on tinted hot-pressed watercolour paper.

His soft pastels ranged from the comparatively hard square (student) or small round (artists) Conte sticks to the thicker, much more crumbly, Unison ones.

Working from a sketch done on site, looking towards Bisham church, near Marlow, he defined the general composition with a light umber Conté.
The umber pastel drawing
For this drawing Ron took some liberties, amending the sketch for compositional reasons. Drawing with pastel allows easy erasing and adjustment.

The sky was then roughed in with several lightish blues, darker on lighter, the same colours being used as a base for the river. This was followed by the distant hills - all with soft edges and very little tonal contrast against the sky (to emphasize the distance).

There is no need to blend with fingers: you lose the texture and vibrancy of the pastel (although I noticed him doing it, later, when he wasn't thinking!).
The first application of colour
The brick walls, red tile roofs and stone tower were followed by the various greens - trees and grass - all also touched into the water as reflections. Shadows (left of church tower etc.) were added later, as were the distant people and the formulaic swans.

If you do not have exactly the colour you need, always start with a brighter one than you want - it is easier to dull something down than brighten it up!

Stronger colours and harder edges were used in the nearer trees etc., combined with aerial perspective (warmer colours closer to the viewer) particularly to flatten the path.
Ron with the part-finished painting
With more time, Ron said, he would have put more leaves on the tree etc. but admitted that the result of this particular demo was not destined to be completed as a saleable picture. Finally, he said, when you think you have nearly finished a painting put it to one side, in full view, for a couple of days and then, if necessary, spend not more than about ten minutes finishing it.
Bisham Church

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