Back to dustless media

I’m struck with the vivid colors and immediacy of drawing and painting with pastels, but their dust creates an issue for me, at least for now.

I’ve taken some steps to avoid breathing the dust, such as wearing a mask and tilting my easel so the top of the paper is slightly toward me, allowing the dust to fall away from the surface into a collection bin. I’m also using the harder types of pastel, NuPastel and pastel pencils, which shed less dust than softer brands.  Between layers, I’ve also spritzed my drawings with an alcohol or water mist to ‘set’ them on the paper.

But last weekend when I was working on a new piece, the light was just right when the furnace kicked on and I began to see faint, smokey-looking wisps of very fine dust rising from the paper into the air and toward the cold air returns. Yikes!

Because most pigment colors come primarily from minerals and metals, it can’t be good for the fine dust to fly through our air ducts and be distributed throughout the house for us to breathe.

I clearly need to learn more about how pastel artists deal with this issue. And I’m researching dust management methods at various websites to see what other steps I can take.

This medium, for me, may best be used outside or in a separate studio; not my home. It will soon be warm enough to work outside and I’ll try them again then. For now, however, I’m returning to other tools – including dyes, ink, watercolor pencils and paints.  I used them all to interpret this reference photo of some red and white tulips against a dark background.

Tulip reference image
photo copyright by Peggy Willett, December, 2017 – please ask for permission to use

After drawing my composition lightly on some 140 pound hot press watercolor paper, I used an Inktense dye pencil to create a dark, soft background texture around the leaves and flowers. Painting clear water over pencil marks ‘melts’ them into a wash, just once, before becoming permanent. This ensured the background won’t leak into the lighter leaves and petals as I dampen the paper and paint them in with watercolor.

Step 1 Tulip watermedia

Next, I added some detail to the blossoms and leaves with watercolor pencil and softened these with water, too.

Step 2 tulips

I then added transparent watercolor paint to the leaves and some areas of the white blossom. I was slightly terrified to add the reds!

Step 3 tulips

Finally, I added darks and more vivid reds with Tombow pens, which are also water soluble.

Step 4 - final tulips

As soon as the weather warms, I look forward to trying a pastel version of this composition. Outside.

If you have any tips on containing pastel dust, I’d be grateful for your comments.

 

 

 

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Pastel practice

Taking a break from watercolor and pencil drawing, last month I dove into an online beginner’s course for pastels at Artist’s Network. The instructor, Chris Ivers, offered the opportunity to follow her step-by-step demonstrations from her own reference photo. Here is my first effort to work along with her:

Pastel practice cropped

Next, I worked from my own photo taken on a walk in my neighborhood last fall.  I like this stand of bamboo and think the strong directional angle of the sidewalk makes an interesting composition.

Bamboo walk pastel

I like the immediacy of the soft pastels and the ability to layer and blend them. Even to brush off any mistakes and work over areas, building up rich color and texture.

Taking this online course also gave me the confidence to sign up for a one day workshop with a very well known pastel artist, who, I recently learned, lives near Seattle. I have long admired Barbara Newton’s pastels, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to study with her next month.

Now, back to more practice.

 

 

Delicious colors

I am always looking for interesting objects to draw for practice. I found some beautiful radishes with frilly leaves and gnarly roots and placed them on a glass table, where they created interesting shadows and reflections as the sunlight changed over the course of a couple of hours.

Radishes copyright Peggy Willett

Translating this composition to watercolor, I added a horizon line so the radishes would not seem to float in space.  As with the pear paintings, I limited my palette to three colors, mixed and applied (patiently) in layers.

This is Quinacridone Rose, Aureolin (Cobalt) Yellow and Pthalo Blue. I used masking fluid to retain my lightest areas. Removing it damaged the thin, 140 pound paper in a couple of places. Grrr. Radishes 1 copyright Peggy Willett

I like to work in a series, so next I splurged and used a sheet of 300 pound paper. These sheets are mounted in a block and glued on three edges so they do not buckle when wet. No stretching and taping required. I love this stuff!

I changed my blue in the next two paintings to Prussian Blue. The masking fluid came off this paper without incident.

Radishes 2 copyright Peggy Willett

I took what I learned from the first two and painted one more version on the back of the heavier paper. I’d removed it from the block and used no masking fluid this time.  I got brighter greens with overwashes of pure yellow but they were SO bright that I pumped up the red in the radishes to balance the values. This version was painted the fastest and with the fewest brushstrokes.

Radishes 3 copyright Peggy Willett

I’m feeling more comfortable with watercolor as I paint more frequently.  And I’m feeling better about my drawing skills.  Onward to more complex shapes as I work my way through the pantry and into a figure drawing class.

 

 

Watching paint dry

Watching paint dry is a phrase we understand to mean the epitome of boredom. But taking the time to literally watch watercolor paints dry can be surprisingly interesting and may just be the key to success with this medium.

I’d read and heard about the need to let colors and paper dry completely before adding a new layer of paint, but doing so seemed too slow and disruptive. Now I know that rushing the process simply produces a lot of muddy colors and abuses a lot of expensive watercolor paper.

I’m finally seeing that having the patience to watch the paint dry – or to walk away and do something else for awhile, is the way to build bright, luminous layers of color. The colors change as they settle into the paper and moisture evaporates. They mingle, separate and granulate, sometimes creating ‘blooms’ and run backs that add texture and interest. Watching this happen can be mesmerizing. Very zen, eh?

To show what I mean, here are several of the steps I took to develop a painting of pears. To keep colors harmonious throughout, used just three colors: Quinacridone Magenta, Pthalo Blue and Hansa Yellow, allowing each layer of paint to completely dry.

First layers
Step 1 – started with an overall yellow wash followed by separate washes of pink and blue.
step-2-pears-process.jpg
Step 2 adding more layers and more definition to pears – note the ‘blooms’ in the green background and how the blue and pink colors have separated in the pink area
step-3-pears-process.jpg
Step 3 – more intense colors added
Two Pears final C Peggy Willett
Added final details – stems and shadow and darkest value under the pears. A final light green wash over the foreground to calm that color slightly.

One year later…

I began my blog almost exactly a year ago with several goals in mind:

  • To document my efforts to be a more creative person after leaving my work life.
  • As a way to share my retirement journey with friends and family.
  • To connect with others who are figuring out their own ‘seniority’ and creativity.
  • To keep and improve my writing and computer skills.

Though I hit a creative block for a few months and I’ve not posted recently, I’ve made some progress toward all these goals and hope to write more frequently in the new year.

So I begin again!

I continue to struggle with watercolor. The medium confounds me most days! So I took a break from the paints for a few months to work on my basic drawing skills, which I think will eventually make me a better painter.

Over the summer and into the fall, I drew various fruits and vegetables which were at hand from my pantry.  Good practice for form, composition and values.

Two pears

Now, I am trying my hand at translating some pencil drawings to water color.

Two pears in watercolor

More to come!

Experiments in Pink

Today’s WP prompt is PINK so it’s a good day to share some recent sketches of a day lily I photographed in my garden last June. A few weeks ago, using a combination of Tombow pens, watercolor paint and Inktense pencils, I created a satisfying range of pinks in these two versions:

 

Though their name prepares us that each lily flower will last only one day, I am amazed the plant expends so much energy for such short lived beauty! When these beauties are in bloom, I try to spend time in the garden each day so I don’t miss a single blossom.

Creative Synchronicity (Part 1)

JOSEPH RAFFAEL’s HELLEBORES

In her book about creativity and retirees, Julia Cameron warns (or perhaps promises) that ‘aha!’ moments – ephiphanies about creative synchronicity – occur when we nurture our innate creativity and pay attention to the world around us.  Recently, I’ve begun to  experience such instances and I am seeing more connections between my long ago artist self, what I am doing now and others’ creativity.

Perhaps these examples of creative syncronicity have swirled around me, invisible as air currents, for years, when I was just too terribly busy to see them. Now I am making time to study my art influencers anew and taking steps to make art again. With the luxury of time to savor these efforts, I begin to feel lightbulbs illuminating above my head.

For example, a few days after I posted about my hellebore sketches, which were prompted by Susan Rushton’s lucious photos of these early spring bloomers, I received a new edition of artist Joseph Raffael’s newsletter, announcing his own new stunning hellebore painting.

I’ve long respected Raffael’s work and it was a joy to see his painting on the same subject I’d been working on. His hellebore painting felt like a gift, showing me how much more I could possibly achieve with watercolor in the future.  He even focused on a side view of one blossom and it’s complex interior that I’d found interesting, too.  (My side view is posted above, but go to Joseph’s site to see his elegant interpretation.)

The first Raffael painting I encountered was one of his “Water Paintings” at the Chicago Art Institute.  Forty years ago, that massive riverscape dazzled me with shimmering surfaces, jewel-like reflections and mysterious watery depths,  He inspired me to try to capture light in my own work in various translucent and transparent media, including glass enamels, watercolors and stained glass.

Raffael’s art currently explores the complex worlds contained within a few flowers or a single blossom. He continues to amaze and inspire. You can sign up for his newsletters at his site and follow his new work as he completes each painting.

Enjoy!

Thank you, Susan Rushton

Several weeks ago, I was itching to try some new art tools. I’d treated myself to a starter set of Inktense pencils and dozens of new Tombow markers. But I was stumped for subject matter.

Fortunately, I follow Susan Rushton’s blog. Her early February post and photos of seemingly ‘demure’ hellebores revealed stunningly complex and fascinating flower interiors normally hidden from view.  Wow!

The hellebore’s downward-facing flowers had seemed, until then, uninteresting in the early spring garden.  But Susan’s images and comments changed my mind and inspired me to visit my local nursery, where I found several varieties, capturing some reference photos for my test sketches.

Just yesterday, Susan posted again about hellebores, so the time seems right to thank her for her for giving me a new appreciation for these garden charmers.

Here’s how I’m seeing them in a few sketches using Inktense dye pencils, overlaid in some cases with watercolor, and with Tombow pens, which blend beautifully.

helibores inktense sketch March 2017

two helibores March 2017

helibore side show B March 2017

lighter side show helibores

helibore upclose March 2017