Tag: pastel painting
“Atsina,” 16×32 pastel on suede (click image for larger view or visit my Gallery for more.)
About the Atsina
The Atsina people are often known by the name given to them by French traders, “Gros Ventre” (pronounced “Grow Vaunt”). They call themselves the A’aninin, or the White Clay People.
As one of the Algonquian-speaking peoples, they lived for thousands of years lived in large farming communities around the Great Lakes. When the first horses roamed into the northern Plains, the Atsina – like their close relations, the Arapaho – became nomadic and migrated west to hunt buffalo for their livelihood. Like many Plains Indians in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Atsina depended on the bison for food, tools, building materials, and clothing, such as the robe the young woman in this painting wears.
The first European explorers heading across the North American continent, such as Lewis and Clark, recorded their meetings with the Atsina; the pioneer artist Karl Bodmer painted many of their portraits and watercolors of their villages. Following early contact, however, they suffered greatly from epidemics such as smallpox. As conflicts with white settlers and the army reached a high, the Atsina allied at times with the Blackfoot, and at other times with the Crow. They successfully avoided forced relocations that sent many of their neighbors to Oklahoma, and today most Atsina still live in their Montana homeland.
Moving along, but still a ways to go. You can see how I’ve added the “shadow effect” to keep the figure from disappearing into the backdrop (compare to the first stage photo where you can see the original suede color).
I’m using a blend of brown chalks in both the robe and the background, with sepia as the dominant tone (Nupastel 293) – it suggests a warm, almost dreamy atmosphere. Wide, lengthwise strokes with the chalk are especially good for texturing and shading.
More to come soon…
Stage #2 of my portrait of an Atsina girl – roughing in the first portions of the buffalo robe and buckskin dress. Click the photo to enlarge:
Blending, layering, & texture
When it comes to pastel on suede, there’s one thing I’d emphasize more than any other – BASE COAT. It’s the one technique that exploits all the potential and flexibility that pastels have to offer.
Base coating, as I mentioned before, accomplishes three things:
a) it primes the surface of the suede, making the chalk easier to blend
b) it keeps the suede from showing through
c) it adds rich undertones that enhance the coloring
Think of your picture as a landscape laid out in three parts – shadow, highlight, and undertones (dividing it mentally this way makes it easier to map out your project). We work from darkest to lightest using the base coat technique:
- Find the darkest areas – the areas with deepest shadows and strongest contrasts. The base coat in these places will be black. (Don’t worry if black is not meant to be the final color – it can be covered later.)
- Find the main colored areas (e.g., the flesh in a portrait, or the fur of an animal) and choose a couple of base colors – no more than two or three at the most – to serve as a foundation. It’s good to choose a soft pastel with heavy pigment, because it will lose some of intensity when worked into the suede, and once again you’ll want to use the richness of tone to your advantage.
For portraits, I base coat most of the face with brilliant red ochre. The subject starts out looking a little like a jack-o’-lantern, but it works!
- Find the brightest areas – the most intense highlights and the places with lightest pigment. Leave these blank at first. Bright whites and similar colors are most radiant the less you fuss with them – and the lighter the chalk, the harder it is to blend. Besides, saving the light areas for last ensures that they won’t collect other pigments while you work. (For more tips on working with light chalks, see my other posts in the Artist’s Tip Bag category.)
Left: Comanche Boy in the awkward half-way stage.
Depending on the subject, you may need to add a second coat when you first blend the base layer into the pile. I use my fingers for this except where the small space requires a smaller tool, like a favorite paper tortillion. These are great for smoothing in a nice clean edge or corner.
When it comes time to blend your layers, you can opt for a smooth finish or a “blended look.” For a fine texture, use a paintbrush with the bristles clipped short to loosen the chalk gently, then smooth it out again for an airbrushed look. (This is a great method to combine pastels for that hard-to-match color.) Otherwise, keep your layers distinct to let the nuances of your layers show through and the strokes give an impression of texture.
Below: Combination smooth & textured finish in Mexican Wolf
For the face I started out with an initial layer of black (for shadows) and my favorite Sennelier red ochre. A little bit of Nupastel 353 (“Cordovan red”) and it’s beginning to look a bit more human. I’ll add the highlighting on the cheeks and nose last. I also added the some of the same red tones to the hair, to indicate reflected light.
In the original Curtis photo, the girl is wearing a gorgeous floor-length buffalo robe. The color of the buckskin will stand out against the suede backdrop once I’ve blended a darker color around the edges for contrast. A little background shadow will add depth and pull the picture together.
More coming soon!
So, last post was all about introductions…now I’m ready to start a painting. I get out my matboard and my pastels, but I’m not ready yet – I need a LINE DRAWING. Matboard is not paper; you don’t want to erase any more than you have to, so unless you plan to outline your painting all in one shot, it’s a good idea to have a line drawing to start it off right.
Being the methodical type, I’d rather do the planning and measuring up front so I can proceed with a better sense of direction. (Of course, if you’re more spontaneous and would rather plunge right in with chalk on canvas, be my guest!)
I’ve described it previously in this illustrated FAQ post, but in summary it involves cutting a piece of tracing paper or vellum to fit your matboard; making a line drawing of your subject; fixing the drawing to your matboard at the edges using painter’s tape; and tracing over the drawing so that the impression created on the suede serves as a guide for your painting.
This can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be, the main principle being that all the erasing and adjusting is done on the paper, before you mess with the suede. Once you have the drawing lightly “embossed” into the suede, you can pull out the pastels.
Where you go from here of course depends largely on your subject; for me, whether I’m doing a portrait or a wildlife painting, I always start off with good base coat to prime the surface for blending and to keep the suede from showing through.
I’ve used my painting Mexican Wolf as a signature demonstration piece, with lots of close-ups and step-by-step photos to give a visual of the process I use. You can follow the links below to see it in stages:
Scuff marks on suede matboard?
Got a piece of suede you want to use as a canvas, but worried about some unsightly scratches or impressions? No problem. Damp a piece of fabric – preferably something with a little texture, like a dishcloth – and gently work the marks out with a random circular motion. The moisture will discolor the suede slightly at first, but as soon as it dries back to its normal color, the marks will be gone.
A few words of caution:
- If you use paper towels or tissue, bits and pieces will rub off into the pile.
- If you use so much water so that the paper backing gets wet, it will warp and compromise the integrity of the canvas. Just moisten it.
- If you rub too hard, you will abrade the surface. Removing the pile means that it will no longer hold chalk.
- If you rub in a straight line or any obvious pattern, it will stand out. Blend your repair into the surrounding suede.
- Make sure you let the matboard dry out completely before you try to work on it. If you’re in a hurry, you can always speed up the process using a blowdryer.
I learned this method from an art teacher, and have found it to be successful in removing all but the deepest scratches. In this way, I can salvage pieces that would have otherwise been condemned to the scrap pile.
Painting a Wolf in Pastels – Part 4
Ok, NOW it’s done. I’ll be posting a photo of the finished framed painting shortly. For now you can see it up on my Gallery.
I saved the finest details for last, for instance you’ll notice a few whiskers and claws (plus the sparkle in the eye), but no major changes.
As far as the background and rock setting, I randomly blended some dark greens, blues, and browns into the black suede to give indication of a natural setting; nothing distracting. The rocky ground was also straightforward; I used some of the browns from my wolf’s palette (Nupastels 313 and 283) and the side of a black chalk to block in some craggy textures – no underpainting here, I wanted to keep the texture rough.
Last of all I’ve added my signature using my trusty Pilot marker (for more on this check out my Artist’s Tip Bag post How to Sign a Pastel on Suede Painting).