Painting With Pastels || Jenny Keal

With pastel books being thin on the ground, any new addition is welcome and this is a rather excellent look at what the medium can do as well as a well thought-out manual on how to do it.

Jenny devotes roughly the first third of the book to materials and techniques and she includes some handy hints on using colour shapers to blend small areas, as well as how pastel pencils can help you fill in detail. She also has valuable advice on composition, perspective and recession. All of this makes this section of the book above the average application-methods tutorial and shows that Jenny is aware of the creative as well as the technical aspects of her subject. To find this where the series is avowedly on the technical side is a positive plus and is an indicator of what’s to come.

The remainder of the book is devoted, as is usual, to five well-detailed step-by-step demonstrations covering landscapes, waterscapes, flowers (in this case irises) and mountains. This is a good range of subjects and makes sure the book’s appeal isn’t limited (unless you were looking for portraits and figures, of course). There are also further example paintings at the end of each section so that the scope goes beyond the specific subject that’s been demonstrated.

All of this makes for a well-balanced book that works within the premise of the series but expands into a much more complete painting manual as well. However, there is a tiny little “but” creeping in here and it has to do, not with the areas that are Jenny’s strengths – choice and use of colour, composition, perspective and all that – but with her handling of shapes. In particular, her handling of hills and mountains, which have rather the appearance of slabs and blocks and rather oddly-shaped peaks. It’s not terminal and I do want to be careful not to damn the book with a niggle, because the rest of it really is very good, but it’s something you can’t help noticing and also something you’re going to have to work round for yourself.

All-in-all, I’d still recommend this to any pastellist, but be forewarned of the potential problem so that it doesn’t spoil the book for you.

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  1. #1 by David on March 30, 2011 - 3:06 pm

    I’ve dragged Jenny Keal across so many mountains (not to mention hills, crags and caves) that I can guarantee she knows her schists from her limestones. Yes, some mountains can be very odd-shaped and slabby (and often hazardous to sketch on!), but I really don’t see anything amiss in the mountain-shapes in Jenny’s book. She prefers her mountains to be more distant, often with detail appearing and disappearing in the atmosphere, which is, of course, an excellent approach when teaching. Anyone who spends time in the mountains will recognise her honesty of expression in this area.

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