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Pastel on Steroids

Sometimes we artists just have to hang loose and spice up a new painting! I thought I would try a bold new twist with UART 320 grade paper, acrylic paint, and soft pastels. My plan was to create an impressionistic interpretation of the reference photo below. This photo was taken on a hike in the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park in March 2019.

In this painting, I wanted to convey the pure color and intensity of pastel, enhanced by a complementary color underpainting of acrylic applied in a rough, impasto fashion. The 9x12-sized UART 320 grade paper I felt would welcome my unforgiving treatment of its surface to help me convey the texture and depth of this scene that I desired.

I grabbed my brush and applied acrylic paint to my sketch on the UART paper, leaving thick impasto strokes to dry on the surface. You can see the edge of the paint glistening in the detailed photo below:

My color choice was simple: the local color of the pines is a purple-grey hue, so I chose yellow-orange paint for the complementary underpainted pines. The ferns are a strong green, therefore the red complement was chosen. When the realistic colors are laid upon the complementary colors, I will expect certain areas to “pop” and an overall warm tone to this forest scene. But at this stage, it is tough to tell if the painting was done by an artist or a preschooler!

I felt that the vibrancy of the local color in this landscape required an opposite, soft, muted plane to help build contrast and intensity into the painting. This scene has several atmospheric planes: the strong local color on the path contrasted with the distant, hazy background and the trees in the middle.

I applied pastel starting from the top, working my way through the ethereal, atmospheric distance by using high values and a mixture of hues to convey the soft, muted impression of the background.

Then I began firming up the trees to introduce the local color of the pine forest to the intense acrylic under-painting:

I continued to work down the canvas through the ferns and the snowy path and its environs, first applying the basic hues of the landscape, then working the layering of higher values and highlights.

The UART paper, combined with the impasto acrylic underpainting, forced me to stick with bold strokes and to concentrate on masses and values rather than detail. I was able to maintain an abstract feel to the painting. Notice how the dried impasto acrylic adds almost psychedelic texture to the pine tree.

A few finer details including sharp edges were applied with some very soft pastels, as seen in the lone young pine on the right. I tried to keep the details to a minimum, letting the shapes and value form the “detail,” and allow the viewer to interpret elements of the work in his or her own way.

Working the edges, softening and building contrast comprised the final steps. Darker edges of trees and the masses of bright snow were enhanced by lightening and darkening their respective backgrounds.

I smoothed out the path with soft touches of pastel scumbled in the opposite (vertical) direction (the path was laid with horizontal strokes). I found that the paper readily picked up the light touch of pastel scattered across the surface’s rough texture without the need to blend.

I warmed up the path a bit, bringing in a little more sunlight, with a yellow pastel pencil:

Here is the final version of "Hoh Rainforest."

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