Point of attraction
It’s often the way light falls on a particular scene that attracts the artist to paint it. When painting en plein air you will usually have a maximum of three hours in a particular location, beyond which time the sun and therefore the shadows will have shifted, often to the extent that the scene will have altered completely and you may no longer wish to paint it. It is, therefore, important to establish the direction of light in your picture at an early stage and make no attempt to alter it; in other words don’t chase shadows!
It is helpful to make a thumbnail sketch, with a few reference notes, at the beginning and refer to it as the light changes. In addition perhaps, take a photograph, so that if you run out of time on location, you will have enough material to help put the finishing touches to your picture at a later stage. Another solution might be to paint the same scene, at the same time of day, over consecutive days.
If there is one word that helps sum up the most important elements that go into the making of a strong, light-filled picture it is contrast, both tonally and in the use of colour. Shadows also play a very important role, but let’s examine each component one by one.
Sri Lankan Stilt Fishermen, soft pastel, (23x30cm)
On a recent trip to Galle, Sri Lanka, I couldn’t resist the extraordinary stilt fisherman and the local colour as the subject for a picture
Lack of confidence encourages the artist to stay safely within the light to mid-tone range. However, the resulting picture may appear weak and flat. Try analysing tones by squinting your eyes at the subject and make comparisons by quickly transferring your gaze to your picture as it progresses. By including plenty of tonal contrast you will achieve a lively picture, full of light, which works across the range when scanned in black and white (see below).
When compared alongside a simple grey scale, we are able to see if my finished picture (top) contains enough contrast.
This monochrome copy demonstrates that it’s the darks that make the lights work and vice versa.
Tonal values through colour
Colour and tonal value have a corresponding relationship, which you are able to exploit in your paintings. Of course, with pastel you are also able to use lighter or darker versions of a particular colour. Lighter shades will be obtained with the addition of chalk, and darker shades may contain black. As a result these modified shades will lose some of their colour identity. In general, it’s easier to modify or lighten strong, saturated pastel colours than to try to achieve greater intensity on top of weak, chalky colours. However, it is very tempting to rub the pastel into the paper using a finger, or one of the tools made for the job, such as a torchon or rubber-tipped Colour Shaper. This can often result in a dull fuzzy appearance.
As with any other medium, the more pigment is moved around, the muddier it becomes. Generally speaking, I would recommend blending in only some background areas, such as the sky, distant mountains, or a backdrop for a still life, although not necessarily in all cases. Most of the picture should remain unblended, allowing pastel marks to show.
Experiment with different and bolder colours from time to time, rather than trying to emulate exactly what you see in front of you. Scare yourself with colour and don’t push it around too much!
To lighten a red object bathed in strong light, use a red-orange, rather than white (see strong poppy below) or darken using crimson or blue, rather than black. In this way, the strength is maintained. The strong poppy appears vibrant, as if illuminated by sunlight. It’s worth remembering that white weakens - see weak poppy below.
Strong poppy, lightened with red-orange and yellow-orange, darkened with crimson.
Weak poppy, lightened with white and darkened with black
You are able to achieve further chromatic contrast by using complementary colours. Yet more contrast can be introduced by employing both warm and cool colours. For instance, blues and violets, representing the cool part of the spectrum, tend to recede and are therefore often used to express distance in landscape painting. Conversely, reds, oranges and yellows, regarded as warm colours, tend to advance and are often used as foreground shades. However, these should not be regarded as hard-and-fast rules – think of a glowing sunset, for instance!
I f we surround the red poppy with green foliage (below), its complementary, a shimmery, more vibrant effect may be observed as a result of the pairing. Each of the colours will appear more intense. The same will be true of the other two complementaries (see below) yellow next to purple and blue next to orange.
Christine has been leading painting holidays with Authentic Adventures for 11 years. Trips to Puglia in southern Italy and Sri Lanka are planned for later this year, followed by Madeira in March 2015. For further details contact Authentic Adventures on 01453 823328 or visit www.authenticadventures.co.uk. Christine also runs courses on a variety of topics and media at her studio in Stone, Gloucestershire. For further information telephone 01454 269268 or visit www.art-christinerussell.co.uk