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Facing up to pastels

It took me a while to get pastels, I don’t mean actually to acquire them, I mean get the point of them. They seemed chunkily unweildly compared to the sharp point of a pencil or fine paint brush. But the more I go to art workshops to learn in depth about them, the more I get them as a wonderful media. They are instant colour applied directly from the artists hand so you don’t need to think about adding a mixer like water to make them thicker or thinner, you just react to the colour and put it on. I’ve felt like that about pastels for some years now, and always get good feedback from the artwork I’ve created with them.

But that doesn’t mean that I’ve finished learning, not at all. So, when the chance to go to a workshop run by a master pastellist this weekend came along, I eagerly applied to attend. The class was quite busy too so obviously others had that thought too, even with the subject matter which is one that is normally avoided! And what was this fearful subject that strikes terror into an artists heart? Yep, you’ve got it, faces! Portraits in pastel was the subject! After the last workshop that I attended in June that left me frustrated with the manner of the teaching that ignored the majority of the class to focus on the learners, I hoped that this one would be an improvement. And it was certainly that, by a vast amount. You could tell how good the tutor was by the fact that the audience of pupils watching him sat there in silence. It’s always a good sign, silence, because it means that the pupils are rapt with admiration for what is happening on the paper infront of the artist. We can all draw, but the tutor captured in ten minutes the essence of the model infront of him, with one sanguine pastel pencil. Gorgeously and effortlessly! After an hour he’d filled out the paper with pastel lights and darks, shadow and highlights, eyes and mouth, nose and hair, it was all captured there before us. Easy! It’s your turn now……


I need my fix of tea first, as we broke for a coffee break, chattering in excitement for the day ahead.

The model settled herself again on a high stool as we gathered around her, easels at the ready, and slowly the room settled down to silence again as we concentrated on the job in hand. The model was someone I know well and her eyes were focused on me since I was standing directly infront of her a few feet away. She looked at me with a wry smile her face and said crisply “You were doing ten minute portraits at this exhibition here recently!” I nodded at her with a smile and agreed that I was (and the accompanying photo here is one of the faces I did that day) as I selected a pastel pencil to start drawing, and looked intently at her as I drew the details in her face, transferring what I could see infront of me on to the paper infront of me. After a few minutes she grinned at me again and said “Have you finished yet?!” and I laughed delightedly at her and said “Nooooo, not yet!” . This pose was going to take four hours or more, as she well knew, so there was plenty of time to make sure the details were all there before building up the face and getting the right colours there. On the many tea breaks to give the model a rest, I was able to walk around the room to see what others were doing, and had a couple of positive and complimentary comments telling me that mine really looked like the model. I could see that we’d all done a good job, and it struck me as amusing that the model had a half circle of artists around her, and wondered if a sculptor was given the selection of artwork at the end of the session if they could make a 3D image in clay from it, and get it right….? Mmm….. interesting idea……

At the end, when we’d finished we propped all the paintings against the far wall to see what we’d all done, and I was gratified to see that of them all, mine was the one that was closest to the models face. And so it should be! Having just finished two oil paintings recently of faces, then I’ve probably had most experience of faces.  But then, the tutor really knows what he’s doing, and the teaching worked because we all understood it. Simple, when you know how. An amateurish mess when you don’t.

2 thoughts on “Facing up to pastels”

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