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Pastel Painting Technique: From Start to Finish

Following a visit to Point Pelee National Park near Leamington, Ontario on Labor Day weekend, an inspiring scene off the Marsh Boardwalk encouraged me to start my latest painting.

Here is the reference photo:

My first step was to sketch the major masses of water foliage and pond areas (sketch not shown here). I next identified the values of the scene (the shades of light and dark) by numbering them on the sketch according to a gray scale finder. I tend to choose my pastels sticks based on this value analysis (selecting the core colors too).

As the major colors in this scene are blue and green, I decided to add a little spark to the painting process by coating my sanded pastel paper with acrylic paints of the complementary colors of blue and green, namely orange and red. Here is the acrylic underpainting. Looks ghastly, doesn't it! A visit to a hellish marsh following a snack on magic mushrooms!

I jumped the gun a bit as I began adding the complementary colors (blue and green) in pastel before shooting a picture of the underpainting only. The complementary color underpainting helps make the true colors of the scene "pop."

My next step was to work the pastel values and focus on the extreme lights and darks. The darkest parts of this scene are the tree line at the horizon, and portions of the marsh "islands" nearest the water's edge. I also applied more of the blues. Notice how vibrant the blue becomes amidst sprinkles of its complementary orange. I prefer to pick a dark blue for the shaded areas (tree line and based of marsh plants). I applied a brush with rubbing alcohol to spread the darks a bit on the surface of the paper.

In areas of a broad swath of color, I will put on my disposable rubber gloves to spread the pastel evenly across the surface. Sanded paper can be a bit rough on the fingers. Also, sometimes you can notice a dampening of the brilliant colors of pastel from the oil in your skin.

At this point I have my basic colors and values placed in the landscape painting. Next I will work the details but not over-do the detail to the point of painting an army of water plant leaves! Here is the final version:

Notice that the deeper portions of the pond, as well as the shaded areas, are a darker value of blue. The lighter portions near the center of the painting represent more shallow portions of the water as well as reflections of the scattered clouds on this lovely late summer day on Lake Erie in Canada.

I also "hazed out" the distance a bit (less detail and less "local" color), and adding bright (and dark) highlights in the foliage.

See this painting and much more for sale on my Etsy site.

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