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I then look carefully at the picture I am working from and determine what the middle ground colorwould be for each area. I lay in various greens for grass, different leaf areas; darks and dark greys for trees, light greys for cows and foreground areas. I lay this color down quickly, without much concern for detail and I use my finger to fill in the areas so the paper is completely covered with color. Some artists do this step using water color, acrylic, or some other wet medium. That works well too but what I like about pastels is that the colors can be laid down without paints, tubes, liquids, cups, etc. I love the immediacy of pure color and, I guess I am a little lazy.
I use Rembrandt and Richieson medium soft pastels for laying in base colors as they are on the harder side for soft pastels and so they do not immediately fill up the tooth like the softer pastels do. They are also less expensive for covering larger areas. I work from harder pastels to softer pastels and then fine tune my work and detail with pastel pencils or NuPastels in the last stages.
Cows Going Home in South Central Italy
In May of 2012 I had the good fortune of traveling along the Salantine Coast of Italy. On an excursion inland, in one of Italy's National Parks, we met these cows heading home towards the end of the day. The light and shadow on the path and thedarkness in the forest were enchanting and the following pastel just had to emerge.
I have chosen an 18x24, dark green, Canson Pastel Board for this painting because the majority of the background is dark and this color also lends great contrast to the lights of the main subject. It is a sanded board that allows multiple layers of pastel.
I took many pictures of this scene when I was in Italy last year and began the studio work playing with different compositions in Photoshop. When I found what I liked, I printed out a 9x12 print so that I could do a simple grid enlargement (2x) onto my 18x24 ground. Using the grid, I lay in a very basic drawing with a light green pastel pencil. I love and prefer to work on location, using a simple and effective plexiglas viewfinder I have developed to help me lay in my drawing. I am not a great draughtsman. I can draw pretty well and it takes me some time to get things right. The viewfinder and grid techniques are very helpful and work well for most of us who are not great at drawing. Some people say this will not improve drawing skills but as an artist and tecaher for many years I find that it has helped to improve my skills. If it was good for Leonardo and Michelangelo, it works for me.
I now work extensively on the bakground by laying in the darker shadesof green for the leaves first and moving progressively to the lighter tones. The same is done for the forest floor and the spaces between the tree trunks. Blacks and dark blues and scarlets are used for the tree trunks and greys are added for the lighter areas. I have also added different greens to the middle ground behind the cows.
In the following pictures you can see where I have added various greys to the cows and increased the contrast between the whites, light greys and the shadow areas. It is the lightness and the movement of the cows contrasting with the dark stillness of the forest that makes this composition striking, a place so delightfully experienced during my Italian travels.
Final detail is laid in in the foreground by adding various green strokes for the grasses, some yellows to suggest ground flowers. Most important is the emphasis on the shadows cast by the cows in the foreground road and underneath their bodies. Final highlights are also added along the front cow's chest, highlights on the grasses and light areas of the road and the whites on the second cow are impastoed in. I also added some gold to the bells and on the ground to add some richness and age to the flavor of the painting.
Pastels are deliciously rich and contrast and texture are key elements that make the picture jump into our hearts. Our souls long for the colors and richness of living and pastels are a bridge between the world and our Being in it.