Archive for category Medium: Pastel

Edgar Degas – Drawings & Pastels || Christopher Lloyd

Edgar Degas was one of the most outstanding draughtsmen of his day and he also produced some of the best figurative art there has ever been.

Christopher Lloyd recounts Degas’s life through his work, beginning from the development of his career copying Old Masters up to 1912 when he stopped working due to failing eyesight. This is a thorough, but also accessible account of a remarkable artist by an accomplished writer and critic. It includes 212 colour images, which can be used for reference due to the gloss paper it is printed on, that trace the development of the artist’s skill and powers throughout his life. It is probably one of the most compete books on Degas available.

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DVD Pastel Alchemy – a masterclass in ink over pastel || Jason Bowyer

The title and subtitle of this film, taken together, sum it up perfectly. What Jason Bowyer does with watercolour wash, ink applied with brushes and reed pens and with textures and highlights added with pastel does feel like the legendary philosopher’s stone.

Jason provides a more or less continuous and comprehensive narrative that builds up through the various sections into a discussion of the creative process itself. In this, the editing is very like Paintwork’s previous offering on Patrick George, although here there are demonstrations to run alongside the commentary.

It’s a film that’s in many ways best taken in reverse. The main meat of it is the complete demonstration, filmed over two days at Kew Bridge Steam Museum (now the London Museum of Water and Steam). Boiled down into a little under an hour, this nevertheless feels like the complete thing, covering all the processes from the initial sketch through the blocking out of the basic shapes with brush-applied ink and the gradual build-up of detail through to the finished work.

It should be said that, as the location implies, the subject is industrial. Please don’t let this put you off, though, as Jason is much more interested in working with shapes and light than he is in the details of a piece of machinery – “[painting the same thing repeatedly] gives you the freedom to play with the abstract nature of your motif.” Although that has the potential to sound as though it comes straight from Pseud’s Corner, it demonstrates the way Jason regards any subject matter. It is merely the starting point for a creative process and a journey that ends with a piece of art that is about much more than simple representation – although, it should be said, his work is not in itself abstract.

The film actually begins with a series of technical demonstrations, from stretching paper to making a reed pen, mark-making and the use of pastel with ink. Interesting as these are (and the paper-stretching section even has Zen-like qualities), they become more informative if you re-visit them after watching the set-piece, the main demonstration. What can be perhaps slightly dry now has context and relevance. You can see exactly why you need to make what look like random marks with pastel over heavily-laid ink washes and where the initially-applied blocks of watercolour fit in.

Jason has a warm and engaging delivery that encourages you to relax and listen. If you like Radio 4, you’ll feel at home here. Visually, this is not always the easiest film to get to grips with – the colours are dark and some of the marks uncompromising, but the narrative that I referred to earlier carries it all forward and makes the whole thing subtly compulsive.

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Pastels Unleashed || Margaret Evans

I’m always a bit wary of saying that something may be the best ever, because almost immediately something else comes along and I have to find a way of saying it’s even better. I’m probably on safer ground with this, though, as pastels are definitely the Cinderella medium, with relatively few books written about them. The strange thing is, though, that there are almost no truly bad ones. It may be that the medium only really attracts the committed artist who’s spent time developing their craft, or maybe publishers are more selective. Whatever it is, most pastels books are good and this is quite possibly the best ever.

Let’s start by saying what it’s not: it’s not a beginner’s guide. Yes, there are step-by step -demonstrations, yes there are chapters on materials and techniques, but they all assume a degree of prior knowledge. This isn’t a way of warning you off if you want to learn the medium, though there are enough basic guides available that you should maybe start with. Rather, it’s a whoop of delight to find a book that treats you as a grown-up, that says, “Add highlights to the centre of the right hand poppy. Tidy up the edges of the main flowers and freshen the colours” and assumes you don’t need any more detail than that.

This is a book that sells itself. All you need to do is pick it up and flick through the pages and there’s no chance you won’t buy it. There’s just so much variety, from people and animals to landscapes and seascapes, fine-detail and broad-stroke work. Techniques include the relatively new idea of adding water and spirit to free the pure colour the medium contains. I usually manage to come up with a list of things a book is packed with, but this is packed with everything. It’s a celebration of the medium that’s going to delight and enthuse any pastellist.

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John Patchett: Painting From The Heart || Adrian Hill

John Patchett is one of the country’s leading pastellists and his work is characterised by his interpretation of light, whether strong, subtle or contrasting. His treatment of shadows is particularly masterful.

Although much of his painting is now done in East Anglia, where he lives, he has worked around the world and painted both large vistas and quiet corners, where his eye for detail excels.

This celebratory book includes over a hundred paintings that represent the totality of John’s work, with an introductory essay that provides an account of his life from his time at art college to the present.

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Pastel Painting Atelier || Ellen Eagle

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book that deals with pastel in such breadth and depth. Watson Guptill are becoming known for their really quite serious monographs on media, subjects and techniques and they are also finding some intriguing authors to create them. The biography that appears on the back flap lists some impressive credentials, albeit many not perhaps familiar to a UK audience, and ends by describing Ellen as “a sought-after teacher”. Having luxuriated in this splendid book, I can’t say I’m surprised.

The atelier method involved the student working in the studio of the master, initially observing and doing menial tasks, gradually working up underpainting, then perhaps body colour and, finally, the majority of a painting the great man would finish off and sign. It’s this last experts mean when they say “studio of”. In a book, you don’t have to sweep the floor and scrape the old palettes, but we do start with a lot of basic preparation. In lesser books, this is the “materials and techniques” section we’re usually tempted to skip. Here, however, it serves to introduce the medium slowly and progressively, giving you time and space to think. A whole spread (with illustrations) on storing and organizing pastels isn’t dull or over-written, but part of a longer sequence on the properties of the thing you’re going to be working with. I should say here that Ellen writes well: it’s a trait WG seem able to find in their authors, who might be expected to think more visually than verbally.

And now, finally, let’s talk about the illustrations. As I’ve lead you to believe, there are Old Masters here and also contemporary practitioners. However, the bulk of the work is Ellen’s. This isn’t just an academic treatise, but a highly practical book and the fourth chapter, The working process contains extended lessons that deal with a wide variety of topics from the technical to composition, perspective and lighting. At this point, it should be said that Ellen is primarily a figurative painter. If the book has a weakness, it is this. It’s not that she isn’t any good – she’s really, really excellent. It’s just that I’d have liked more variety of subject matter in a book like this. After all, when is anything like it going to come along again? Probably not in my lifetime.

Even with that small reservation, though, this is still the best book on pastel you’re probably ever going to find.

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Painting Brilliant Skies & Water in Pastel || Liz Haywood-Sullivan

When you think about it, these two subjects are a natural to go hand-in-hand and there’s a pleasing progression as they are brought together in the final chapter. Bit like a romantic novel, really.

Flicking through the book, the first impression is of a great deal of material, and this is confirmed when you get stuck in properly. Not only are there plenty of illustrations, there are demonstrations, examples, hints and tips. If it all seems a little overwhelming, remember that this is a highly-structured book that repays being worked through in order. Some books are for dipping into, but this one is definitely one to follow.

The medium is pastel, but most of what Liz says can be applied to any other, so do give it a look.

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DVD: Capturing a Likeness || Rob Wareing

I came up by chance with the realisation of just how much a self-produced DVD relies on the quality of the demonstrator. This may seem like a truism, indeed a basic fact of any film, but an unedited, single-shot take can be unbearably dull. In professional productions, fluffs can be edited out, silent gaps where nothing much is happening on the paper can be bridged and an air of slickness overlaid. The self-producer often lacks these tools and therefore has to be able to stand up for 30 or 60 minutes and talk coherently without hesitation, deviation or repetition as well as without long silences for thought or concentration. It’s not really even a skill you can learn, it’s just something you have or you don’t.

I said this all happened by chance and this is how it was. The first time I watched the film, just to get a preliminary feel for it, I was on my own and needed to keep an ear open for the doorbell. I use headphones on my computer, so my initial run-through was with without sound. The film was not promising and I remarked later that it was going to need a damn good commentary to lift it.

Happily, I can report that it has that. Rob is an engaging demonstrator and does all the things I said above are essential. He also speaks clearly and the quality of the soundtrack is excellent.

In a full demonstration, a lot happens before you really get to the meat of the subject. It’s a bit like building a house. There’s a lot of groundwork to be done first and nothing much is visible for a long time, but then the structure suddenly appears and the basic outline is there quite quickly – and all because of the quality of what went before.

Rob is excellent on all these details, the basic stuff and on the many pitfalls, such as slipping into painting the side of the face (in a profile) that you can’t see, thus twisting the mouth unnaturally. Working on two demonstrations in pastel and one in oils, he also explains the practicalities of the medium he’s using.

I do have one small niggle, and it’s that all the subjects are posed, for no apparent reason, in front of another of Rob’s works. I can see the point of having a studio/gallery setting, but I did find this just a bit distracting at times. It’s not a deal-breaker and, interestingly, it bothered me a lot less the second time round, with the sound on.

If you want to paint portraits, this film is going to be helpful and it certainly does what its title claims. In many ways, I’m reminded of Karen Simmons’ excellent 1-2-3 of Portraits, but with more detail.

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