In the sunshine – closing stages

Now I have uninterrupted time, I’m hoping to finish this.  I’ve said that before, but this time I can see no excuse.  And I don’t need one either because I’m so much happier about the painting since I resumed action.

The trees behind the lady have grown; the faces are nearer completion;  I’ve made his head smaller; the railings are emerging shyly from the flowering bush; there is more texture on the walls; and more work on his shirt.  All these things are progressing as if on wheels.  But ….  I could scream with frustration.

I have also worked on his shoes.  I had them right – I HAD THEM RIGHT! Then I fiddled to make them more right.  How many times have I told my students “Don’t fiddle!”  Why don’t I listen to me?  The paint is still wet.  I think I’ll wash the work off with turps.  It will mess up the paving but that’s not difficult to put right.





Oil Pastel Exploration

Well!  They’re here.  The SAA never take long to deliver.  I only ordered these yesterday.

It’s official.  The more waxy pastels are the real thing, not the ones I used in the Lorikeet.  What those were, I don’t know except that they were sold to me as oil pastels. They weren’t dusty but they did throw a sediment which slid floorwards.

To pastures new ….

The book, ” A Beginner’s guide to Painting with Oil Pastels”  is highly informative and very easy to follow.  I don’t know how far I’m going with  this medium. The list of possible additional materials and tools numbers 23!   Nor do I know if  they will dent my love affair with soft pastels – somewhat unlikely, I should think.

A quick glance through the book told me what I know from other art materials.  There are varying degrees of quality in the pastels themselves.  Tim Fisher, the author, uses Sennelier (hurrah, that’s what I bought) which are more malleable.  The good news is that the pastels work on most surfaces –  including plywood, canvas and aluminium panels  – but Tim prefers Framers mount board.

However, before I launch into this new medium, I must answer the call from “In the sunshine”  and re-visit the south of France.



This was an adventure!   I have used oil pastels very rarely and with no real success and I’m not sure that I used oil pastels this time either.  I have two boxes which purport to be such but they are totally different in feel and application.  One set (donated) is  waxy, like wax crayons, and one (bought in the distant past about 45 years ago when I thought, from no knowledge, that oil pastels were the natural progression from oil paints ) is like an extraordinarily  firm ordinary pastel.  The two kinds didn’t mix.  So I was left with one starter kit or the other of about a dozen bright colours.  The picture is bright so  I used what I had, but am resolving the issue by buying some new ones (Sennelier).

Here is the result.  It looks a bit like a stuffed toy but I may get a more satisfactory result from the new pastels when I get them.   I discovered that I couldn’t put lighter colours, particularly white, over other colours.  So I had to reserve lighter areas or do them first. However, the sky  came up beautifully when I scrubbed white on top of the mid-tone blue I had.  The brighter colours of the bird speak for themselves, the grey a mix of white over black.

I enjoyed the performance enough to explore the medium further and am impatient to receive my new ones.

Stormy weather

That was fun!  I’ve spent some time edging this painting to fruition.

It’s a happy stage as the picture is entirely present and only needs adjustments to burst into song, a blurring here, a sharp edge there.  I don’t consult the photo very much.  I’m not after a close copy, and the painting itself is telling me where to work.

I have brought the tones in the rocks closer together so that it looks all of a piece, and attended to the shape of the edges, both internally and where the sea attacks them.  I’ve muted the red brown sand at the very front so that it doesn’t fight with the rest of the painting, and extended the dark rocks on the right hand side to support the lower edge on that side.

I will admit to taking a ruler to the horizon – it had a distinct hill in it!  I have also introduced more colour into the dark wave to suggest some translucence.  The turmoil between the wave and the rocks was exciting.  The waves needed to advance but I also had to keep a horizontal mode going as well.

I signed it so I must be content!

Now, while I’m in a pastel mood,  I’m going to tackle this photo in oil pastels – clear shapes, clear bright colours – should be good.

Rocks abounding

Time to attack the rocks in the foreground …

The thing to remember here is that it’s not a heap  of rocks, but just one, sea-worn  rock, so never, in the search for detail, lose sight of  that homogeneity.   With this in mind, I began by ghosting in the dark shape, using deep blues and purples. Looking at it now, I think I should have included dark greens in there as well.  This would have aided the overall colour balance of the painting.

Then I began to introduce the details, working across the image.  first the strong darks to give shape and strength, then the little lights that contrast and point up the folds and ridges. The rocks are backed on the landward side by reddish sand – I missed out the grassy stretch right at the front as being irrelevant  – but when I put that in, and stood back, I found that it upset the whole picture.  Dark green rode to the rescue.  By overlaying but not entirely obscuring the sandy colour,  I achieved another texture and melded the sand into the whole painting.  Defining the rocks also included more detailing on the rough water just above them. The more you look, the more you see.

As you can see, in concentrating on the rocky detail,  I have also achieved the semblance of a rocky sea travelling at right angles to the waves!  All is not lost. I need to draw together the tones over most of the surface so that there is less contrast, while not losing the little interesting details.  I reckon that there is another four to six hours bliss working over the whole painting before reluctantly agreeing with it that it is finished.  I find the end  arrives quite suddenly, but it always the painting that tells me it is so.

Chilly seas

We move on.   I don’t think that the sky is finished but one needs to see the whole picture to assess and adjust colours and tones.

The sea is very dark at the horizon, and all frothing waves near the beach.  This hugely enhances the white cloud, and the white, breaking wave  centre stage.  A single pass of very dark green across the whole paper, covered by a pass of turquoise creates the distant sea – how easy!  I love pastels.

The wave deserves some attention.  Of course white foam is going to be unmissable, but I am asking you to look at the whole wave in the photo I am using as my source,  and analyse its different parts.

That wave runs across the picture, a single wave but at different stages of breaking.  on the left there is a welter of water being drawn into the body of the wave, then some tentative breaking followed by the real thing.  Then we have the unbroken water rearing itself up, and  smaller, more grey than white foam.  Even at this size you can see how the rearing part is darker at the top, and that darkness follows the foam down at an angle and runs along the front of the advancing white water.  What else can you see?

This wave, and the white cloud are the stars of the show,  much more important than the rocks in the foreground, though we can have fun with them next week.

Big skies, chilly seas

We are standing on the shores of Australia looking south to the Antarctic in bright sunshine, in the teeth of a horizontal wind of great force.  It’s a good thing that wind is blowing off the sea, or we would be over the cliff in no time!

This pastel painting is about the sky, especially that white cloud, so I’m taking it slowly, and working on the sky only at first.  I work at an easel with the  paper vertical before me. It’s big, 30 inches wide and 22 inches deep, so the easel helps.  Also, by working so, one is less likely to smudge passages already done, and any pastel dust falls to the floor (cover it!). It’s a natural angle for me as I started as an oil painter.

I began by identifying the areas of light and dark,  blue and grey, just grazing the paper with the pastel (always Unison) so as not to fill the “tooth” too soon.  I worked into the greys with blue-greys, mauves, even greens, light over dark and dark over light to achieve the subtle variations of cloud tone that give them volume, gradually increasing the pressure of the pastel.  By the time I came to the blue sky and white cloud, I was digging deep.  (That’s OK, for the board is padded with newspaper). It really sings out, partly because of the strong contrast it makes, but also because it is the only area with a sharp clear edge.

Added warmth

I’ve added more woofles to the grasses, this time using pale Burnt Sienna, and pale mauves, and also knocked back some of the brighter foliage.  I also used the pale mauve to reduce the white saplings in the background.  The painting is warmer now, and somehow less menacing.  The Australian rain forest is not a place to get lost in, but this bit was very nearly civilised!  Signed – therefore finished.

Maybe not the end?

A day late, maybe, but I have just spend a blissful morning with my oil – despite the poor light.

I’ve been attending to the foreground and the highlights.  It’s definitely more grassy underfoot with more shape to the undergrowth.  I got carried away with small vertical strokes of liquid paint so that it looked very stylised,  not at all in keeping with the rest of the picture, so I woofled about with the brush strokes a bit.  That improved matters.  I think I overdid the highlights, probably over compensating for the poor light .  I don’t get the impression of heat either and think I need more purples and mauves in the shadows, and less white in the grasses .

Undergrowth advances

It was time to bring the foreground to the same level of finish as the rest of the painting.  In my reference, the dry grass is well flattened but I was aiming for a wilder look.  Doing long wispy grass required some thought.  overdoing the individual fronds would look mannered, and great splodges would look, well, splodgy!

Overlays using different effects, tones and colours is the plan, and this is the first pass.

I began with a broad brush, using mid tones of grey green to add depth to the grasses, pulling the brush upwards, and lightening the weight of the stroke as it reached the tree line. Repeating this technique using mid tones of ochre, then paler tones of grey green and of ochre, has begun to suggest the standing grasses.  what you can’t see from this photo is the end of each stroke as the paint just catches the canvas threads as they cross over each other, and the lighter (in weight) use of the same technique among the trees.

I used the same colours and tones on the foreground foliage, and for the odd sparkle among the more dense forest.