For the past several years, upon completion of each pastel, I've written at least one thing I learned, relearned, or need to learn, on a piece of paper, and pinned it on the wall above my drawing table. Since becoming active on dA I've expanded on that idea, and have been doing a journal entry after each piece in which I share my thoughts on the painting. I don't have a strict format for these entries; I may discuss the creative process, my materials or techniques, the goals that I met, or failed to meet, etc. I hope to learn and improve as an artist, and as part of that effort I strive to get in touch with whatever I can that will help me do better with my next painting. Part of that effort is the acknowledgment that I can best learn if I encourage dialogue with the dA community. With that in mind, I write these entries in the hopes that they will be read by artists of all types and skill levels. Please feel free to reply.
But first . . .
A few weeks ago (March 3rd, 2012), an awareness day was organized, in which an effort was made to persuade the dA community (and hopefully those beyond this site, as well) to treat nude and semi-nude models with respect. Since the event was organized by *PiXasso79, I will direct readers of this journal to his site for an explanation of his goals, but I would also like to offer my own thoughts on the subject. Without my models, it would be impossible for me to paint as I do. The European masters from centuries past used models. The figure artists I most respect from my own era use models. Art students in colleges and universities around the world use models. Anyone who enjoys looking at artwork created with the use of models, be it photographs or paintings, should recognize the necessity of models to the work that they themselves enjoy, and as such, should be respectful, supportive, and appreciative in their comments and attitudes toward the models. As one who does paintings based on photos of amateur models who are often friends in the real world, I must at all times be aware of the issues faced by the girls who model for my art. They are human beings with lives that go beyond my art, beyond the internet, into the real world, where their own family and friends will often view their work, and read the comments made about them. They often deal with people more conservative than themselves, people who would rather judge than understand. In my search to find new models, I often wonder how much easier it would be if stereotypes about nude models were not propagated on the sites that display the artwork featuring nude models. If they are serious about their craft, or are sincere in their wish to help me with mine, they will want to see the completed works featuring their image, and will see the comments left by viewers such as yourself. Please don't make them regret their decision to make my art possible by leaving demeaning comments on my site, or on the site of others who use nude models.
1) Warm colors advance, cool colors recede.
After fleshing out the figure a bit, I started working on the background wall. My first painting of the design on the wall consisted of warm reds and oranges. It sucked. I looked at it up close, from a distance, upside down, in the mirror, . . . and it sucked every time. After repainting the design with cooler colors, I walked away and looked at the painting in a mirror. As if by magic, the figure had lept to the foreground, with the wall receding well behind. I had never before seen such a clear demonstration of the warm colors advance, cool colors recede truism so commonly stated by visual artists.
2) Sharpened hard pastels are not just for detail.
In the early stages of the painting process, most of my work is done with a rounded or flattened end of a pastel stick, or with the side of an approximately 1 inch piece of pastel when working on the background (I break my collection of pastels into 2 main sections on my taboret: a general painting section, with all my pastels broken into chunks about an inch long, and a section for pastel pencils and hard square pastels (Nupastel, Cretacolor, Polychromos, . . . ) that are sharpened and used for detail). Because of its mat qualities, the direction of the strokes rarely matters in the early stages, but later on, when I start nit-picking a bit, the way in which the pastel is applied matters a great deal, and varies depending on the texture I'm trying to achieve (for a summary of my basic painting process, read my journal entry for "So You Want Some of Me, Do Ya?", section 3). Since I cast a wary eye at blending the face/figure, having sharpened pastels as well as rounded end sticks helps me find whatever type of pastel I need to achieve the stroke quality I'm looking for - much like an oil painter having a variety of brushes. (I usually sharpen my pastels to a very small chisel point, instead of a needle point . Not only is the chisel tip easier to achieve, but it seems to be more durable; breaking less frequently and lasting longer before the need to resharpen. Varying the width of the chisel point as needed allows greater control over the types of strokes I make when painting). Sharpened hard pastels and pencils are useful not only for detail work but also for softening transitions between different values or hues, softening edges, softening overly harsh scumbles, etc. In addition, because hard pastels don't apply easily over soft pastels, in the late stages of a painting I can very lightly apply sharpened hard pastels over the softer ones that have been painted to build the figure. The extremely light application will impart a very small amount of the hard pastel to the surface, causing very subtle changes in value and color, much like a glaze in oil painting. Sometimes I'll do this in the middle stages of the painting, when my "go dark and bright, early" attitude can cause the colors to get out of hand. A harmonizing "glaze" often helps unify the colors.
3) Remember the value of fixative as a tool in building texture.
Initially, the background wall was painted lightly with no brick pattern, and then an alcohol wash was brushed on, providing a base layer to paint on top of. It was then sprayed with several coats of Spectrafix (a relatively new casein based fixative). This was repainted more heavily, and manipulated with artgum erasers, palette knives, more alcohol washes, etc, to vary the texture, always with a liberal dose of fixative to set layers before repainting. In the early stages, the lower left part of the wall had the graffiti images of myself and the model back to back (mine was looking over its shoulder, checking her out, leering. Hers had its fists doubled up, for some strange reason). I decided midway through that they were distracting. Alcohol and rags, fixing, and repainting took care of the correction. Had I thought ahead a little more, I'd of used a cheaper fixative on the wall, to take advantage of the darkening qualities that most cheap fixatives have. (In a couple of paintings from years gone by, I've used spray-on polyurethane varnish to completely set a background layer that was then repainted. One of my very favorite backgrounds had polyurethane as a key component in its development. (I've found that fixing first with Krylon or Myston or Blair or some other cheap fixative before using polyurethane helps reduce the extreme darkening that the varnish otherwise causes)).
4) Squint - a lot.
In the real world, I'm a professional math, physics, and statistics tutor. I always stress the value of basic form to my students. Teachers at the middle school level preach details, and train students to focus on details to the degree that they eventually can't see the forest for the trees. While details matter, basic form matters even more, in art, as well as in math. Squinting is a great way to simplify the masses, eliminating detail, allowing the focus to be on the basic form. If I painted as some artists do, finishing one region before moving on to the next, squinting in the early stages wouldn't be quite as important as it is, but working on the entire painting simultaneously allows me more opportunity to compare values in the different regions so that I can (hopefully) paint a more consistent and convincing light source. Not only is squinting valuable in the early stages, eliminating details and allowing me to see the basic shapes and values better, but it is also valuable in the late stages of the painting, when it comes time to evaluate the strength of the hi-lights. I often mistakenly exaggerate the strength of the hi-lights. When I squint at the photo reference, the hi-lights disappear completely, but when I squint at my painting, the hi-lights jump out. While art In general is personal and subjective, realistic art starts with observation - very careful observation - and this is greatly aided by finding the best ways to view both the reference material (live model, photos, . . ) and the painting, in all stages of the painting process.
5) A comparison of sanded pastel paper and Pastelbord.
Though this is only the second time I've used this surface (the other being the Donald Sutherland that is in my gallery), some similarities as well as some differences are obvious. Like sandpaper, this surface has minerals (marbledust and silica) applied to a substrate (acid free masonite in this case) to provide the tooth necessary for the adhesion of the pastel particles to the painted surface. Usually when I paint with sandpaper, I tape it to a piece of foamcore to provide a little give to the surface. Many artists put several sheets of paper beneath the one they're painting on for a little extra cushioning. The preferred hardness of the surface is a somewhat personal thing, but if you like a soft surface, Pastelbord may take some getting used to. As for the surface itself, it's the smoothest sanded surface you'll find. If you like to paint in heavy layers and still leave the unpainted surface showing through, this is not the surface for you, but if you blend regularly, then you might love it. The relative lack of tooth (the roughness that abrades and holds the pastel particles to the surface) doesn't allow as many layers of pastel to be applied as does sandpaper, but does make achieving detail a little easier (though I don't think that it allows for more detail. On rougher sandpapers, detail can only be achieved after building the layers very thickly, but on this surface it can be achieved much earlier). Hard, dark pastels are VERY difficult to apply to this surface in the late stages (Dark over light in the late stages can be difficult on any surface, but on this one . . . good luck). The relative indestructibility of this surface may add confidence to those who do many experimental techniques. It won't replace my beloved sandpaper, but I will add it to my list of surfaces to consider for pastel painting (A lot of colored pencil artists have been going to this surface as well. The indestructibility is a comfort to those who do a lot of burnishing).