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Ann Wilkinson, 18 September 2009
Still Life in Pastels

Visit Ann's website
It's worth visiting the Mall Galleries, she says, even when she's not there.

A still-life had been set up but the examples of Ann's work included one that looked as if she had already done the painting.

Expecting pastels, I was then puzzled to see Ann mixing paint.

She set up a large piece of dark brown mountboard marked with a grid of vertical and horizontal lines.

These mysteries were resolved when Anne started talking.
She modestly said that although she loved teaching and running workshops she had little experience of demonstrating. It didn't show - she made an excellent job of entertaining and advising us.

Ann does her pastels on mountboard, primed with a mixture of Daler Rowney texture paste, dark acrylic paint and a few spots of water. Scrubbing it on with an old stiff brush gives a good tooth for the pastel.
Pastel, she says, is very easy to use. Like oils, it is best built up from dark to light and errors can be effectively removed and painted over. . . but no messy oil or thinners and no need to wait for it to dry.

Still life is completely under the artist's control. The arrangement, including shadows, is vital - you can train yourself to see shapes, particularly the shapes of groups of objects that will lead to an interesting composition. Use a viewfinder?

Ann advises arranging the objects on a low table with a good local light source and working standing up, so that you can see over the nearer things and easily step back to see how you are progressing.
In the photo above you may just see traces of the grid lines - Ann likes to be sure of her verticals and horizontals. She uses a frame to define one of her standard picture shapes (normally almost square, but not quite - very subtle difference).

The paint she had been mixing was a very thin acrylic, a bit darker than the board (it's important to have it thin so as not to lose the tooth).

With this, using a long 3/4 inch brush and standing well back, she did the initial drawing, above. Occasionally she may sort out the composition first on paper and then transfer it to the board. "If the pattern is working the rest is easy".

Being able to look at the picture through a big mirror helps to show alignment errors.
She darkened some of the lines more accurately with a smaller brush and defined warmer and cooler areas before going in with real colour.

As she started putting colour in, Ann sharpened up edges of leaves and flower heads with charcoal (many of her works retain these charcoal lines in the finished work). It was often negative space, more than the object, itself that she was defining.

Pastel painting is a process of continuing refinement. Working on the whole painting lets you see if the composition and colour balance is developing well. The final colours are approached gradually and highlights added only at the end.
The mountboard colour may fade, so make sure it is all covered with acrylic
When you introduce new colours, keep them with you in a tray (with some ground rice,or even flour, to keep them clean).
It helps to work on several pictures at a time (each can learn from the others).
Use complementary colours for shadows (purple for the yellow flowers).
You cannot use the same tones in the foreground and the distance.
Alternate charcoal lines and colour.
Objects should be well within, or cut by, the edge of the picture, not touching it.
Draw curves as short straight marks and where possible let the same line re-appear in an adjacent shape - more dramatic.

Continuing in the coffee break
It is not necessary to draw the backgound cloth patterns in perspective. Where you do want circles in perspective draw them in a square and project that, like this

Grind leftover bits of pastel, mix with a few spots of water and mould into new sticks.
Carry pastel paintings horizontal, protected by another board (don't let them slide).
The two hour demo isn't enough to finish a painting like this. The trial version above shows some of the extra detail that will develop but this was the state of play at the end of the demo.

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