Venice in ‘soft pastel medium’

Author: gwendoline  |  Category: Pastel Painting

"Venice" (soft pastel)

  (Left: Detail)

Just finished this painting today.  I limited my palette by putting the pastels that I was using, in a separate box for the duration of the work.  I have played flecks of cool colours in the warm areas and visa versa.  I used quite an abrasive sandpaper of a mid tone grey for the foundation, this let me apply quite a bit of pastel. 

It will be exhibited at the Melbourne Women Painters & Sculptors exhibition to be held from June 27th at the Victorian Artists Society, 430 Albert Street, East Melbourne, Vic. Australia.

Colour combinations in your work…

Author: gwendoline  |  Category: Concepts, Oil Painting, Pastel Painting, Watercolour

Some artists have a natural flair to get the colour combinations looking right in their work, others need knowledge and theory to aid them in their decisions.  The insight of colour theory alone, may not be enough to make your paintings exciting.  Intuition of which colours to put together can often override all the knowledge available to an artist….”it just felt right to put that colour there”. 

Colour has been used in paintings throughout the ages in various ways, for many purposes.  The Renaissance painters built up layers of colours with glazes, giving them luminousity and depth.  The Romantic movement around the 18th century applied colour to create mood.  The Neo-Impressionists placed pure colours in dots, which then became mingled in the eyes of the viewer.  The Impressionists used colour to study light and its effects in landscape, and the Expressionists used colour for its expressional values…etc.

Once you have your composition in mind, the next thought should be, what mood you hope to create in your work.  Colour therefore, must become the next process in your thought pattern.  If you start a work without this concept, it will most likely fail.  Colours have dimension and suggestion of directionality.  Colour can be light/dark and at the same time be warm/cool.

When talking about colour harmony, we are relating to the effect of two or more colours.  Everyone will judge harmony differently.  These judgements are personal preferences, without the theory.  Every day we select colour, to dress ourselves, decorate our homes, plant flowers in our gardens.  What pleases one person, will not necessarily please another, hence we differ in our attitudes. 

 Individual subjective opinion of what appears harmonious can be referred to as ‘subjective colour’.  Subjective colour may reveal character, mode of thought or feelings.  The amount of space allocated to each colour patch would also be a preference.  Colour preferences can be imitated from looking at like-minded subjects of past painters, and  alot of students will compose in the manner of their teachers.  Other artists have seen the colours from the experience of the subject they are about to paint and another group of painters may compose colours according to the subject to be developed, referring to their colour theories.

Light tones on a black ground will advance according to their degree of brilliance.  On a white ground, the effect is reversed, light tones are held to the plane of the background and shades from grey to black are pulled forward to varying planes in the foreground.  We also must remember that warm colours will advance and cold colours will receed.  The saturation of the colour or its pureness can also have an effect  on its depth in the picture plane.  The more brilliant the colour, the more it too will advance.

Based on the 12 hue colour wheel, complementary colours are opposite each other, these are called dyads…, blue/orange, yellow/violet etc.  

  If you select three colours from the colour circle which form an equilateral triangle, those hues form a harmonious triad, ie.yellow/red/blue, orange/violet/green etc.   If you replace one of the complementary colours in a dyad eg. blue/orange by its two neighbours the result would be a triad (sometimes referred to as a split complementary)  blue/yellow orange/red orange. 

  Two pairs of complementary colours which form a square eg. blue green/red orange  and  yellow/violet, would be called a tetrad.  Tetrads can also be obtained by making a rectangle on the colour wheel eg. yellow green/ red violet and yellow orange / blue violet.

All of the above combinations lead to harmony as they contain opposites which have a warm/cold relationship.  One of these should be dominating in the painting, rather than equal semblance.

Each colour has its own trait and these traits should be considered when trying to consider a mood.  Often these traits do not need to be learned but are instinctive to each of us.    Yellow = sunshine/light,    Red = warmth,   Blue = Cold,  Green = vegetation/tranquility,   Orange = energy/radiance,   Violet  = delicate/calm

The science of colour and its effect when one colour is placed against an opposing colour or black or white  in various sizes is quite interesting and is another whole chapter. 

Dont forget to use your intuition in your work with a knowledge of the above to guide you.

Think about 'depth' in your painting

Author: gwendoline  |  Category: Concepts, Oil Painting, Pastel Painting, Watercolour

Everything you paint will have a certain amount of depth, whether it be a short distance (eg. between two flowers) or an infinite distance (eg.  in landscape).  To achieve depth you need to think about the air or atmosphere between objects. 

One way of observing this is to focus with your eyes on your focal point whilst seeing everything else from your peripheral vision.  By not changing your focus to see another close-by object, it will appear a little fuzzy, which is how you might paint it, creating a distance from your sharper focal point. 

Other points to remember whilst painting and trying to create air or depth, is not to paint your background too colourful, instead, neutralize the colour the further the distance.  Weaken the colour and /or lighten the tonal value as you paint objects in the background, this will make more colourful objects in the foreground come forward.  Your darkest dark and lightest light should be around your focal area.  In the shadow areas and the background, try to keep your tonal values fairly close, not too much contrast.

Light on objects makes them come forward, as does brighter colours, but, lightening a background can make it go back.   Dont focus on your background in a still life, if it’s too colourful the foreground will seem lost.  If there is a pattern in the background, only paint an idea of it, an impression, dont explain it all.  The background should be less significant than anything in the foreground.

Cheers Gwendoline

Tip: How to check your tonal values….

Author: gwendoline  |  Category: Concepts, Oil Painting, Pastel Painting, Sketching, Watercolour


To check your tonal values, take a photograph of your artwork and scan it into the computer as a black & white image.  If your tonal values are rendered correctly, the artwork should look good.   If you have not succeeded with your tonal values, it will look flat and have too many similar greys. 

I have posted two small watercolours (Thailand, Koh Samui) which have been scanned into black and white.  The tonal values are reading correctly with form.   Try yours and let me know how it goes.

Cheers Gwendoline

Take a look at your 'edges' and consistency of marks.

Author: gwendoline  |  Category: Concepts, Oil Painting, Pastel Painting

The last task you should do to your painting is check your edges on every part.  At the beginning of a work, keep the edges soft.  It is easy to sharpen an edge, but very difficult to soften one later in its progress.  A continuous edge should be portrayed softly;  a hard edge should be reserved for around the focal point and also when an edge is a finishing edge – ie. edge of a building. 

When painting flesh, try this:   outline the figure in a deep warm red (this could be alizarin and light red with a touch of ultramarine blue), keep this line reasonably dry and thin.  Then paint the flesh colour up to the edge of the line, leaving only a slight hint of it.  This will give the look of a turning edge and add depth to your figure.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     OR:   On the horizon of a river, paint your lightest light, this will give the effect of the river disappearing into the distance.

Edges suggest distances, even if they are short distances.    Examples:     A vase of flowers…….the cameo flowers in the foreground would have sharper edges than those flowers painted behind them.    Grass in the distance will not have any sharp definition, but a clump in the foreground may. 

Edges can also suggest mood:  Example:   A misty seascape……where the line between the sky and the sea meet on the horizon may be totally lost in fog or mist.  The distant ships may be fuzzy, whereas a boat in the foreground may be sharper.

Lost  or broken edges allow your audience to participate in your work.  By saying less, it allows your viewers to connect  and create in their mind, what you have only suggested.  On finishing your painting, look to see where you could say less and simplify.

Whatever type of marks and softening you use, they should be echoed throughout the painting.   If you soften an area, say in the clouds with a finger,  do this elsewhere in other parts of the painting.   If you use one type of mark in one area, and marks with a quite different character in another area, you will destroy the harmony of the surface texture and your technique will look inconsistent.  The same goes for brushwork or direction of pastel marks.  The key is always to be consistent.

Soft Pastels….looking lively

Author: gwendoline  |  Category: Pastel Painting, Uncategorized

I thought I’d talk about soft pastels and how to work with them, other than just colouring in.    A pastel painting should be ‘alive’ with colour, whether brilliantly or subtlely so.

When I look at a subject and am trying to access the colours and tones, I put down a colour which I see within the ‘actual’ colour.   Let me try to explain myself. …… if I was to paint a white porcelin jug on a white cloth, I would be using more than the colour white which is the ‘actual’ colour.   I would have shadow colours which may have colours in it that reflect it’s surrounds.   A beginner may just see grey and white until they look a little closer and try to see what type of grey they are looking at.  

Is it…a pinkish grey, a blue grey, a yellowish grey, a greenish grey ,a purple grey  or even an orange grey?  These colours do not have to be applied as pale as you might understand them to appear, as they will be the under painting colours we use as a base for the actual colour we paint on the top layer.  Actual colour is the colour that you know the object to be ie.  a red shirt, the ‘actual’ colour being red.  However when light and shade falls onto the red shirt, the actual colour of red changes, it appears to have a range of tonal values on it from light to dark, all of various colours.

Let’s say we are painting a portrait.  The shadows on the flesh may appear to have colours of violet, green or blue.  These should be applied in the tone and shape they appear to your eye.  Dont worry if your colour selection is too brilliant, it can be toned down using a complimentary colour :  example….if the colour selection you had was a bright blue, an orange of the same tonal value would grey it down to how you wish it to appear.  If the flesh colour is too brilliant, tone it down WITH THE SAME VALUE OF TONE in its complimentary.  Sometimes a brilliant ( loud )colour can be toned down with a complimentary, less loud, or duller colour.

Little flecks of the more brilliant colours amongst alot of  lovely greyed colours can be simply stunning.   They will work nicely if the tonal values are similar.   If you put too light a colour of flecks amongst a mass of a dark area, it will not work.  The contrast between the light flecks and dark mass will only confuse the eye as to where the correct depth is in your painting.  The contrast of tone should be very little.

Outlining in the underpainting with a strong colour then loosing it here and there as the painting progresses can also bring an object to life, as does the colour of the paper showing through your strokes.

This method of painting works well with very soft pastels.  The underpainting can be done with your harder soft pastels or contes, and let the soft buttery pastels sit on top.  It is always handy to have a pastel that is close to the colour of your paper.  This helps blend an edge and also breaks up an area where you should have left the paper showing.

The paper colour choice in pastel is an interesting one and should be explored.  I find that if you are going to paint a cool coloured painting, using a warmer coloured paper is a good base and if painting a warm painting, a cool base aids the work.  Personally I dont like using light coloured papers unless I intend to leave alot of paper showing.  A part of the paper should always be showing through your work, whether it is in a large area or just flecking through here and there.  Use the tone of the paper somewhere in your work.  For portraiture I choose the paper colour according to the shadow colour in and around the sitter. 

The stroke you choose to use should be consistent throughout the whole of the painting.  Crisscrosses, angled diagonals, following the planes, dashes etc.  I find that some subjects need to follow the planes.  Water for example needs to have horizontal strokes for its surface and often vertical for deep reflections.  Hair too needs to follow the form of its drapery.  A slope in the land may also be accentuated by directional lines.

Have a look at the pastel paintings below, the man in the hat has some blue shadows on his face, this is the paper which has been left exposed.

The nude has been painted using diagonal lines throughout, and the portrait of the dark haired woman has many colours on her face.   I hope you have gained some information from this post.

Cheers, Gwendoline