I am not really a pastel lover, I have never really given the medium a thought, although I have admired work that others have done. I think I have always thought of it as messy, although it cant be that really as I love working in charcoal and look like a coalman when I have finished, so no it cant be that. A bit scratchy then…mmm…maybe.
For some reason it was difficult to get people to come on this workshop, whether it was the time of year, the subject or the medium I don’t know, but what I do know is that everyone who did come produced a very satisfying and lovely finished portrait, under the gentle guidance of a very experienced painter.
Rob started the workshop with a practical demonstration, explaining his technique for using pastels as he worked. His palette was limited to four tonal pastels from light to dark in flesh colours, 2 pastel pencils, a dark brown and a reddy orange, and a fine pointed dark pastel, he worked on a grey pastel paper.
Firstly he measured the face by using his hand, from finger tip to wrist and making a mark with the orange pencil on the paper at each point. He then divided it up for the nose and mouth lines. From there he measured a point for the left eye, the gap between the eyes and then the right eye, drawing in the vague positions of each. Concentrating on the eyes, forehead and nose areas which Rob described as ‘fixed’ positions, the next crucial point was the highlight on the end of the nose, and the gap between the eyes, if established correctly then the painting would ‘look’ right.
The lower half of the face was left till later as this area was the one that would change as the model got bored and potentially fell asleep, so if you had established it early on when the sitter was happy then the facial expression on the cheeks, mouth and jaw line would change and you would have to keep correcting.
After sketching in the rough dimensions, then Rob changed to the darker pencil and started adding in the shadowy areas on the cheek and around the eyes and nose areas, scuffing in a bit of hair as well. Then onto the pastels and concentrating on the tonal range he began to build up the layers fleshing out the skin and slowly bringing the model to life.
One of the major ‘no, no’s’ was ‘do not blend in with your hands’ as the image will become flat and lifeless. Just build the layers up using the different pastel tones.
Then it was our turn. We had two models, so there was plenty of room to get close to them, so after a lot of shuffling about and a coffee we tentatively put pastel to paper. Rob guided us through the process, encouraging us to look harder, it was the eyes that I found the most enlightening. I was just putting in the blue iris at the bottom half of the eye, when Rob said to shade over the top half of the eye socket as this is in shadow of the top eyelid, demonstrating this for me he then put a pin prick of light on the pupil, then said to add the white of the eye on the left hand side and on the right just a small line to indicate the inside of the lid. Your own eyes filled everything else in, it was very effective.
Little tips like this were invaluable. The emphasis on drawing and establishing the framework, measuring all the time, then filling out the flesh tonally with the pastel, it made you look hard at the subtle changes of tone, a very good exercise from life.
The final pictures were all very different, and we were all very happy with the results. Many thanks to Rob and his wife and to Amanda the model, it was a superb day enjoyed by all.
Oh, and it wasn’t at all messy, with clouds of dust everywhere, far from it… but it was tiring and a cuppa and a bar of chocolate when I got home was a very satisfying end to the day.
It’s a new year and we’re back in Ashby but groundhog day this is not. This time we go – wait for it – anti clockwise. So, out of the carpark and up towards the church.
1st sketch of lane corner and arch. Flags flap. Wind chills. Hard to get buildings upright, rooftop angles and chimneys. Into churchyard for 2nd sketch of decorated doorway. Fancy strapwork, heraldic shields, carved frogs (why?), stone heads. Glimpse castle ruins over wall beyond headstones. Drift by mossy wall, note upside down remains of large painted sundial on tower wall. How old? Find wall gap on road with view of castle bits, fishponds and earth mounds for sketch 3. Sharp wind. Work fast. Ask for directions and find lane down to open field with castle view.
Sketch 4. Dog walker crosses field towards winter trees. Ruins still masked by branches. Try to make some sense of it all. Shading difficult with a pen. Better results for those with water pens. Unused Conte pencil remains in pocket – mistake. Round by park and back onto noisy main road.
Search for alleyway to draw. End up back on hilltop where we started for 5th sketch of lane back the other way. Disappear into an inn and warmth. A good new year start. January 14th 2014
To Birmingham’s Barber Institute by train. Sunny crisp morning. Wander round campus, mighty clock tower, dodging students, waiting for refractory to open and lunch. Fortified we get to the gallery. Up the sweeping Arte Deco stairs and WHOOSH, full wall of a breathtaking huge John Monks oil painting of large empty ballroom – 7 ft drop, three joined panels sideways fill the wall.
Colour, texture, clever, clever paint, mighty wallops plastered on with verve and excitement. Pause for short talk in side-room on 4 Hogarth prints, then back out into the colour shock. Three others companion works hang in the room. Stay – just looking. Finally wander through old masters collection which somehow seemed a bit dull. Back into Monk’s room. Take provided stool and just stare. People sit in the middle of the room, spellbound. Go home well happy, talking of vats of paint and palette knives. January 21st 2014
Frosty meet at Sockman and head for Queen’s Park, Loughborough for 1st sketch. Cold without gloves. (Can’t work in them.) Set off towards Burton Walk. 2nd sketch of corner white house with exotic foliage in garden. Recess at Grammar School – dodge tide of young uniforms all munching. Rich smell of sugar and food in the air.
3rd sketch of hall and quad. On down narrow alley, past stacked sleeping kayaks, old tennis courts to 4th sketch of corner house with very tall chimneys. Cricket ground beyond thaws in weak sun. Quiet stop at Albert St corner for 5th sketch. Brickwork, bow windows, parked cars. We try. Back to Town Hall for review, cuppa and trip round Sock Gallery’s current show which includes framed flattened frogs – road kill? February 4th 2014
Trapped in town road-works maze. Finally break free and head for Wymeswold – late. Bright, clear, cold. A good Feb. day. Quick crit of earlier work then up thin path by churchyard. 1st sketch of wooden door in brick wall. Good to start small. Out into the sun – warm against wall – for 2nd sketch of church gate and corner cottages.
Discuss pens v pencils, and shading on white walls. Postman busy as we head down to Brook St. Flood debris visible. 3rd sketch of willows, brook, cottages. Snowdrops are out. Verges squelch. Excite small dog at end of street and turn back past hurrying postman to the green. Discuss new build village design. 4th sketch on corner. Church clock chimes the half hour. Up to heavy traffic and main road.
Find old barn door and buildings for 5th sketch. Back into the warmth with a drink and talk of Bourbon Street and parsnips. February 11th 2014
Silly weather stopped play. February 18th 2014
Boot up -most of us – (no, not me this time) in Badger’s Sett carpark. Take hard surface route along noisy road to Hall Gates. 1st Sketch across Cropston water in thin rain. Grebes dive. Walk across bridge talking of giant carp. Reach park gates – half term busy. 2nd sketch of Rangers house – unusual chimneys. Silent bikes and colourful scooters whiz by. Deer shelter far off along walls. Go off-piste for unusual café coffee break on pretext of ‘still life’ opportunities.
Actually do 3rd sketches inside and through windows over warming drink. Very civilised. Out again to pile of rocks and sketch 4. Good sloped hard strata lines against bare trees. Squish back in sunshine over styles and follow hedges back to road. Stop to admire Bradgate colour from high point. Back at the pub review work and talk of holidays and left-handedness.
March 11th 2014
Melbourne in blossom. Carpark meet and 1st sketch of houses by church wall opposite. Good start. 2nd sketch along lake edge. Geese honk, swans, cloud hedges, dog walkers. Keen breeze. Admire Bakewell’s wrought iron.
Retrace steps, cut up alley, up hill towards old school house for 3rd sketch. Tricky rooflines – as usual. Discuss starting point – establish main feature first versus simple top left down to bottom right. Jury out. Some go for chimneys. Carry on up to Cook memorial and bench for 4th sketch. Warmer in the sun. Back downhill by thatched cottage, old enamelled Rinso signs [‘saves coal every washday’], old stable and forge entrances, now residential, snoop in doorway of sympathetic shop conversion [original ceilings] to Butter Cross .
Avoid getting skittled on corner for 5th sketch of nightmare angles. Some go smaller and dodge the architecture. Along to Potter’s Lane and through, for 6th sketch. Old walls, sundial in yard. Warm by bricks in the sun. Back to the inn, swap books and set task of 2-colour work from morning’s collection. March 18th
Park outside Swithland church. Quick crit of last week and then off up the path. Colder out on field track – exposed. 1st sketch of large tree overhanging path. Red ploughed fields either side. Breeze ruffles pages. Stop by water board notice of footpath disruption and into the woods for 2nd sketch. Trees looking not quite spring. Up slope and down to very small rill.
3rd sketch. Talk of horses, cyclists, & horse track v bridle way. Difference? Don’t know. Both signs clearly shown. Down old workers path to outbuildings for 4th sketch. Hard to get joggled stonework looking reasonable. Back onto road with cherry blossom and start of light shower. Duck into pub, open fire, a swift half and admire holiday sketch book recently filled in a warmer clime. Can almost feel the sunshine. Home happily for lunch.
April 1st 2014
Set off up Woodhouse Eaves main street, left at waymarker, wave to Club members in Annexe and disappear down alongside blackthorn blossom to covered stream and 1st sketch. Out across field by circles of wood anemone circles to thatched cottage for 2nd sketch. Daffodils on roadside. Up hill beyond church and worry a resident outside almshouses who mistakes our sketching for ‘another awful survey’. She tells us the houses were set up by the Herrick estate for Crimean veterans. Oddly apt today.
Try to capture full bloomed magnolias against curious chimneys and architecture. Turn down lane, turn right and along to flock of sheep for 4th sketch. Sheep not too sure. Can’t blame them. Climb fence to avoid bog at style and cross two fields. Suddenly measure my length on path by new crops. No harm done. Wipe down, look reasonably respectable again and over refreshments discuss coming summer programme. April 8th
Park at Zouch and review some latest work. Interesting! Head off over bridge to towpath for 1st sketch. Keen wind, water reflections, roof lines. Tricky. Carry on under changing skies to bridge for 2nd sketch. Find unexpected vivid pink narrowboat moored on other side. Conventional boat glides by heading for lock. Beyond, stop for 3rd sketch of small fishing platform on far bank – trying to capture reflections. Pause at field gate for 4th sketch, river bend, old tree, tiny church on horizon. A buzzard hangs overhead. Meet a puppy. Discuss composition problems, and swiftly changing light (not with the dog).
Discover new Notts.Uni. plantation complete with path, noticeboard and benches. Take new path and reach original track to Sutton Bonington. Stop for 5th sketch and meet up with returning puppy. Head off back towards river – skylarks. Pause on bridge in the sun, then back to Zouch for 6th sketch from reverse angle. Back in the warm, finalise summer venues. Dorothy Whetnall