Please find below a demonstration showing the stages a pastel painting goes through to reach completion, with commentary by Peter.
Swan on Sparkling Water, Pastel on Pastel Card, 15 x 23 ins
This was a December morning while out walking by a favourite stretch of the River Welland near my home in Rutland. The swan came gliding by, keeping a wary eye on the strange human (I am an artist after all !) on it's territory. I was within a few feet of it and the gorgeous bright sunlight's twinkling reflections on the swirling water yelled out to be painted !
I'm using a sheet of Royal Sovereign/Sennelier Pastel Card which has an abrasive tooth, similar to sandpaper. Before starting, I rub all over the surface with a piece of fine sandpaper, just to knock off the harsh grittiness of the ground. I find that this produces just the amount of tooth I like - not too rough, but still allowing successive layers of pastel to be added.
I sketch in the composition with charcoal and start to add broad strokes of dark pastel and plot in the lightest spots of sparkling light on the water.
I have a huge range of Pastels by different manufacturers, mostly Sennelier, which I find have a lovely, buttery texture, especially the lighter shades; the only downside being, they do tend to crumble somewhat and a lot of the stick (and money!) is lost.
I set out my pastels in rough colour order, Whites and Yellows on the left, then Reds, Greens, Blues and Purples, with Greys and Browns on the right.
Now I continue to cover the whole painting with broad slabs of colour and rough-in the swan with strokes of purplish grey and plot in the lit top sides of the head, wings and tail.
Here I resolve the backdrop of frosted, decaying reeds with varying strokes of grey, green and orangey-brown. I also give some attention to the reflections of the backdrop in the less disturbed water just below the reeds.
I continue to give more attention to the water, adding the sparkling spots of reflected light.
Now through to the finish, I concentrate on the water and vary the strokes of pastel, with purplish greys and blues and further resolve the sparkling highlights, smudging in places to produce the feeling of intense sunlight twinkling on the water. I use my fingers throughout to adjust the pastel strokes to my liking, so that the disturbed water in the swan's wake is convincing.
To finish, I resolve the main subject of the painting - the magnificent swan itself. Now the real fun starts....I've left the most enjoyable bit until last, like the best bit of a pudding ! I broaden the head a little, adjusting the drawing and add those tiny touches of highlights along each side of the swan's neck and beak - that wonderful halo effect which is produced when the sun is directly behind the subject. I finish with the subtle shifts of tone in the plumage of the neck, wings and body, using lots of strokes of slightly different shades of blues, purples, greys and yellows until the swan really 'lives'. Always a joy to paint are swans !
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