I have a running joke with one of my arty friends – we both attended an art workshop a few years ago where the tutor did insist on calling the coloured sticks we used a very pronouncedÂ *Past-elles*, instead of the word everyone else I’ve ever met calls them which is “pastels”. Where I come from, a pastelle is something fruity you suck, not something chalky you draw with. So every time my friend and IÂ use that word inÂ each others presence, we snigger and say a pronounced “Past-ELLE” – even in emails to each other. So, this week I amused myself running the word around my head when I returned to a couple of recent past-elles to see what I could do with them. I used to think a few years ago that I couldn’t do pastels very well, and that the chalky sticks were awkward to use and didn’t get the results that other artists can achieve with great ease. But, I have persevered, and now I really love them, and in fact when I look back at some of the artwork I’ve achieved with them, I’ve done some lovely pieces – particularly the Labrador inÂ “Puppy love” and the cockerel and his hen in “Birds of a feather“, and more recently the trees and water in “Salt Creek in dappled shadow”.
ButÂ then,Â I haveÂ worked out that there was more to it than I first thought.
When I first started using pastels ten or soÂ years agoÂ I bought a cheap set of Inscribe pastels, with which I had someÂ limited success, and put it down to the fact that I couldn’t get on with them, and that pastels were not for me. But, since I have had more experience with this lovely instant media, I haveÂ since invested in a set ofÂ Unison pastels, and the difference couldn’t be more profound.Â Like driving a Ferrarri instead on an old Cortina. Like eating caviar instead of fish cakes.Â Â Where the Inscribe pastels are hard and awkward, the Unison ones are soft and creamy, and a joy to use.Â Don’t think I’m criticising the Inscribe ones though, because I’m not – they are meant to be used as starter sets for people who don’t know much about pastels, since you can buy a whole set for a few pounds so they are ideal for that purpose, whereas the UnisonÂ pastels are about Â£1.60 per stick so you need to take out a small mortgage to be able to buy one of the large wooden cases with all the pretty colours in them, which I always covet when I see other artists use them at workshops! OOohh…….want one!!!
Anyway, on to the point of this tale…..
I have enjoyed this week catching up with finishing off a couple of half completed pastels, and more to the point, have ENJOYED doing it! The first one (which was actually the second one, but stick with it) is of orange poppies (and in a rashÂ of prosaic lack of inspiration, that is what the picture is called) and is one of those rare subjects that I paint periodically to prove to myself that I can – that being “Flowers”. And I surprised myself by enjoying doing it too. I love orange poppies, and the photo I was working from was of poppies I had grown in my last garden, and loved their glorious bright and vibrant colour against the darks of the foliage, and the way the sunlight was back-lighting the unopened heads. So, that is what the picture is – flowers in a riot of colour, purples and turquoises and lime greens, as contrast to the oranges and reds of the flower heads themselves. A simple picture, but an effective one too.Â And that’s really all I can say about it!
The second picture called “Woodland rest”Â (which is actually the first one) is something that has amazed me. It is of a woodland with a small stream bubbling away in the foreground. The source photo was one I took 30 years ago, I remember taking it at the dams of Derwent Resevoir in Derbyshire, and have done nothing with it since. The photo is unremarkable. Which is probably why I’ve just sat it in a drawÂ all these years. It was taken on a dull day in March, and the reason I took it was for the stream in the foreground, since I lvoe streams and most bodies of natural water both moving and still. I used this boring photo for my reference photo and as I started working on it, I realised that the focus had shifted. The stream was incidental to the picture. The picture was about something different all together. It was about the clearing at the back of the painting, the one with the light in it. And the reason for that is because the four pine tree trunks are strong purple darks against the lime greens of the grass in the glade. And the thing that I love most about this picture, is the fact I can’t take my eyes off it as its propped up against the wall in my studio. My eyes keep returning to it, and I want to walk along by that stream, and towards that glade, I want to feel the heat of the sun on my face, as I rest awhile, and then I want to walk towards the delicate pink in the sky that I can see through the trees in the distance. That is what that painting is making me want to do. But, when I look at the photo it is based on – and is a fair copy of the way the trees stand, and the stream flows towards the viewer, I feel nothing. It doesn’t inspire me to do anything at all.
So, tell me, does it have the same effect on you?Â Â