StudioSense: Planning the Landscape in Pastel


Planning a landscape painting, from initial concept to sketch, value definition, underpainting and application of pastels, is critical to success (and to avoid working over the painting many times).

Here is our new subject. You might wonder, what is the compelling concept I want to convey in this scene?


What caught my attention was the lighting in the band of tall grasses in the middle of the scene. Other items of interest is the lighting under the tree canopy and, curiously, a small evergreen sapling to the left.

First I sketch the scene on paper, noting the major compositional elements and defining the values from light to dark. I sketched the major components of the composition, drawing a line where I want the viewer's eyes to follow - from the left of the tree off to the right.

I noted that I wanted the tree slightly off center to the left to enhance the composition and provide ample room for the trees in the distance.

On the right side of the sketch below, I note the value ranges, from lightest (the subject grasses) to darkest (the tree trunk).


The next step was to draw the same sketch on sanded pastel paper, drawing the basic blocks of the composition and some dark values, using a stick of vine charcoal. I made sure to delineate the planes in the painting, from background to foreground: the distant trees, the focus tree and bright grasses in the middle, and the dark grasses and shade in the foreground.


I decided to tone the sanded paper with watercolor. This underpainting's purpose is to cover the entire sheet with colors that will enhance the hues of the pastel painting, as well as to save some pastel. For example, the bright yellow/orange grasses (my compelling item in the scene) will sit atop a toned surface of blue/violet (the complement of yellow/orange). I will add blues and greens to depict the background trees and hazy atmosphere. The foreground will be darker, and I will use deep green which will contrast with the reddish foliage.

Here is the underpainting in watercolor. Check out the cool effect of dripping watercolor. Perhaps that will have a role in the final painting.


I dried the watercolor with a table top fan, and when it was dry I pressed in under a plastic-covered heavy book for a few hours. I then took the flattened painting and attached it to my foam core backing on my easel and applied the initial pastels, as can be seen below:


Below is the final version of "Late Day at the Arb." As the focus is on the tree on the left, I tried to minimize the foreground foliage