Painting project part one from the June 2019 issue of Leisure Painter

The reference photograph for this project: an old barn near Buckbarrow in the Lake District

I came across this scene on a stunning Lakeland day walking from the campsite at Nether Wasdale towards Buckbarrow. Rarely as an artist do you find a scene that needs little adjustment to turn it into a beautiful painting, but here it is: a rustic old barn with its Lakeland slate roof covered in patches of lichen, bathed in sunlight and perfectly framed with trees on either side. In the distance, above the barn, is Lingmell fell, leading up to Scafell, with the Wasdale screes on the far right.

Look closely at the subject, note where the light is coming from and look for the highlights and shadows, which will enhance your painting even more. Notice how the shadows give the indication of the pale blue barn doors being slightly open and the angle of the shadows in the other two doorways. There is a white chimney stack showing in the centre of the barn roof; this is actually on the farmhouse situated behind the barn and would possibly look odd in the finished painting so I will leave this out.

However perfect a scene; there is usually something that needs moving, enhancing or leaving out. In my photo the top of the dry stone wall shows in the bottom left-hand corner. This clutters up the foreground and spoils the composition, and in my finished painting I will only include the wall coming in from the left and the foreground field extending out to the left, to give a sense of space. In a scene such as this where there is detail in the distance and around the focal point, I aim to keep the sky as simple as possible. I know this is an unusual Lakeland sky, however to make it more dramatic would take interest away from other parts of the picture. Notice also that sky is showing through the foliage in the trees on the left, which I will emphasise even more. When painting summer trees and foliage it is very easy to end up with the green ‘lollypop’ effect.

This can be overcome by deliberately leaving holes in the foliage and adding branches into the areas showing dark against the sky behind.

There are no signs of people or animals in the photo. People or animals can be used to give a sense of scale in a painting, however in this scene I don’t think it’s needed. A few herdwick sheep could be added in the foreground and, as I am working in pastel, they can easily be added later. If you are using watercolour, you will need to plan ahead and mask out the sheep with masking fluid.

I quite often add something into the foreground of a painting to act as a lead in, to take the viewer’s eye in the direction I want them to follow. This could be a stream, a pathway or furrows in a field. My favourite way of doing this is to include a puddle, with the sky colours reflecting in the water, and lovely dark muddy edges creating a nice contrast of dark against light.

Pastel pencils and soft pastels

My usual way of painting with pastels completely changed in 2013 with the introduction of the super soft pastel pencils from Caran d’Ache. This fantastic range completely revolutionised my whole approach to working in pastel. Their softness allows me to blend colours together to create subtle tones, layer on layer, while achieving sharp detail in a pastel painting, especially at and around a focal point. The softness of the pastel also meant I needed to change from the slightly more textured surface I had been working on to the finer tooth of Canson Mi-Teintes (smooth side). From the full set of 84 I introduced my own set of 18 colours that I use most of the time. I will be using a selection of these to complete the finished painting next month. When blending, if I want to keep sharp edges on a mountainside or building, or if I need to blend in a small area, I use a No. 6 soft flat chisel Colour Shaper like a paintbrush to manoeuvre the colour around.

Finally, the pastel pencils need to be sharpened carefully with a craft knife or scalpel, as twisting them in a pencil sharpener is likely to crack the pastel within the casing.

For larger areas within the painting, such as the sky, I prefer to use the side of a few medium soft pastel sticks, covering the surface of the paper with broad strokes before blending the colour into the tooth of the paper with my fingers. My choice of soft pastels are from Rembrandt. They are soft but not too soft, they don’t crumble up in your fingers, they are easy to blend without filling the tooth too quickly and, even more importantly, they are 100 per cent non-toxic.

I use a piece of MDF backing board covered with Fablon, as the board needs to be smooth with no woodgrain and the Fablon makes it easy to wipe clean. This board is propped at an angle of around 45 degrees to allow any excess pastel dust to fall while working. A folded piece of newspaper under the bottom edge catches excess pastel dust and can easily be discarded once the painting is finished. The pastel paper is then taped to the board along the top and bottom edges.

Pastel sometimes has the reputation of being a messy medium, but by using a paper designed for pastel and by propping your board at an angle, with something to catch excess dust, the only bit to get messy should be your fingers. A handy pack of wet wipes and some kitchen roll solves this issue. I hope you enjoy this project.

EXERCISE - Tree foliage technique

This photograph has a number of trees in full summer foliage, which can look a bit daunting to the novice or even those with more experience. In pastel and pastel pencil, however, with a little practice, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Step 1 - Draw and add the sky

1. Using a small piece of Canson Mi-Teintes pastel paper on the smooth side, lightly sketch the shape of a few small trees using a black Biro or fine point fibre-tip pen. Do not use a pencil, as the pastel will not adhere to it. Keep the trees relatively small; no more than 8cm tall.

2. Using the side of a pale blue medium soft pastel, stroke the colour into the paper, working around the trees, but just coming slightly over the outside edges. Using your fingertips in small circular motions with medium pressure, blend and smudge the colour so that it fills the tooth of the paper and comes further into the trees. This area of colour over the trees will be thin, but that’s just what we want.

Step 2 - Add the black

Summer foliage blocks out the sunlight so the inside of the tree is very dark. Here I used the side of a small piece of black medium hard Conté pastel with light pressure, allowing the texture of the paper to create a dark mass of foliage. Notice how we can still see through this in places, especially around the top and through the holes in the middle. The bottom of this dark area needs to be filled in to give a more solid appearance so I used my fingertip to smudge and blend just the bottom area of black until we can’t see through it.

Step 3 - Add the dark green

Using the side of the point of the 719 dark phthalo green Caran d’Ache pastel pencil, add dark green over the black where the sunlight is catching the separate areas of foliage. Leave the undersides dark and in shadow and leave some areas of black as the separation between areas of foliage.

Step 4 - Add the medium green

Switch to the moss green pastel pencil. Using the side of the point as before, add small areas of colour over the top half of the previous green.

Step 5 - Add the final highlights, trunk and branches

1. Switch to light reseda green, this time using the point, add light touches to the tips of each separate section of foliage. A little chromium oxide green can also be added sparingly.

2. Once this is done, add the trunks and branches. One of the big advantages of working with pastel is that we can put light over dark. Here I added the trunks over the foliage using the 901 white and 408 dark sepia with a fine point for the branches.

Part two from the July 2019 issue

Here I take you step by step through the process of painting the scene using soft pastel and pastel pencils on a tinted sheet of pastel paper.

Demonstration The Old Barn near Buckbarrow

You will need:


  • Canson Mi-Teintes pastel paper, colour ‘moonstone’ 8x111⁄2in. (20x29cm)

Caran d’Ache pastel pencils

  • Raw sienna 036
  • Olive brown 039
  • Bistre 047
  • Fast orange 300
  • Burnt sienna 069
  • Bluish grey 145
  • Night blue 149
  • Payne’s grey 50% 506
  • Dark sepia 408
  • Greyish black 008
  • Black 009

Rembrandt pastels

  • White super soft 101.5
  • Blue violet 548.7
  • Light blue 505.8
  • Ultramarine 506.7
  • Phthalo blue 570.7
  • Chinese white 901
  • Dark flesh 5% 741
  • Chromium oxide green 212
  • Middle moss green 10% 232
  • Light reseda 017
  • Moss green 225
  • Dark phthalo green 719


  • Conté medium hard square black
  • Colour Shaper No. 6 soft chisel

Step 1 - The sky

1. Begin with the pastels for the sky. Using the side of light blue 505.8, stroke the colour over the entire sky area, ensuring the colour comes just over the edges of the trees and distant hills.

2. Overlay this with phthalo blue 570.7 through the middle sky area and ultramarine 506.7 at the top. The aim is to show the sky slightly darker at the top and fading towards the horizon.

3. Now blend all these colours using the fingertips, in small circles. Blend the lower sky first, gradually working upwards and finishing at the top. You will need to press fairly hard to blend this initial layer. Add more colour if needed, but there should be no paper showing once this is done.

Step 2 - Add clouds

1. Using a small piece of soft white 101.5 on its side make small circles to create small fluffy cloud shapes. Add a little violet 548.5 to the bottom of the clouds for the shadow colour.

2. Using a fingertip, make small tight circles to blend the colour lightly into the sky beneath. The trick here is to blend the bottom of the clouds more than the top, until the bottom almost disappears to leave the top as the highlight. The light is coming from the top right so your highlights should be facing this way.

Step 3 - Add the distant hills

1. Switching to the pastel pencils and ensuring your pencil strokes follow the contours of the hills, begin with chromium oxide green 212 followed by touches of Payne’s grey 50% 506 to create the left facing slopes in shadow.

2. The scree slopes on the right comprise a mixture of Payne’s grey 50% 506 and bistre 047, with greyish black 008 for the darker areas.

3. Now blend with the No. 6 soft chisel Colour Shaper, following the contours of the hills. Using the Colour Shaper will enable you to keep sharp edges on the ridges, which can become fuzzy and blurred if blended with a fingertip.

Step 4 - Beginning the trees

1. In last month’s issue I showed the technique for creating the tree foliage, beginning with the black Conté for the base colour then working from dark to light with dark phthalo green 719, moss green 225, light reseda 017 and chromium oxide green 212 pastel pencils in the trees on the far left of the barn. Here the same technique has been used to create the trees on the right and behind the barn.

2. The tree immediately above the righthand end of the barn has only black and dark phthalo green 719. The trees on the far right have had moss green 225 added and the larger tree in the middle has been completed by adding chromium oxide green 212 for the highlights.

3. You will need to add a little of the hill colours into the gaps in the foliage before adding the branches with black 009 pastel pencil.

4. Here the trees have been completed and I added mid moss green 232 to the middle distant field.

5. Add a touch of white to the trunk on the right-hand side of the nearer tree. Notice how the foliage appears as separate areas of green, each one separated by the black. It’s the black that gives the trees depth.

Step 5 - The barn

1. This is where we can use the lovely fine texture of the pastel paper to help us create the stonework effect. Use the white 901 pastel pencil, with a nice long point, almost on its side so that the colour is coming from the side of the point. Lightly stroke the pencil across the paper in horizontal strokes. This will allow the white to sit on the top of the paper’s texture while allowing the colour of the paper to come through, giving texture to the stonework. Don’t blend this.

2. Add the same white pastel pencil to the roof but, as the slate is smoother in texture than the stone walls, blend this with the Colour Shaper. Overlay the white roof with touches of bluish grey 145 for the slate and a little olive brown 039 for the lichen. Complete the ridge tiles with dark carmine 089.

3. Add a little black to create the shadows under the eaves, in the doorways and to give a hint of brickwork. Add small touches of dark flesh 5% 741 here and there.

4. The dry stone walls are rendered in exactly the same way, picking out a few of the top stones with a sharp black.

Step 6 - The foreground and puddle

1. Begin with the puddle as you can then bring the field edges into it. Switch back to the pastels and add a little white and blue into the puddle area to create a reflection of the sky. Lightly blend this, using horizontal strokes of a fingertip and ensuring it looks smooth.

2. The aim with the foreground field is to have the tone lighter further away and darker at the bottom. This will help to create the feeling of recession. Using the sides of the pencil’s point as you did with the stonework, begin with fast orange 300, stroking it horizontally across the furthest part of the foreground beneath the barn. Bring this colour approximately half way down the foreground field and up to and slightly into the puddle. This technique will leave some areas of paper showing through to give texture.

3. Using the same technique, gradually introduce the darker colours, raw sienna 036 and olive brown 039, finishing with strokes of dark carmine 089 and dark sepia 408 across the bottom of the picture. Don’t be tempted to blend any of these areas, as you will lose all the texture you have just created.

The finished painting

The Old Barn near Buckbarrow, pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes pastel paper, 8x111⁄2in. (20x29cm)


I never spray finished paintings with fixative as this can completely dull the painting. Instead I lay a sheet of waxy crystalline leafing paper, called Glassine, over the entire picture. To use it hold it firmly with one hand then press over the sheet with the other hand. This will push loose particles of pastel into the paper, ensuring there is no pastel dust to drop off once the picture is framed. I also use the Glassine to protect and store finished paintings.

Graham Cox

Graham runs pastel demonstrations for art societies in the south west and his Moody Views workshops from his studio in Trowbridge, Wiltshire.

Graham will be demonstrating on his stand in the works on paper marquee at Patchings Festival in July, 2019.

For further details on demonstrations, workshops and all the materials used in this painting, or to watch step-by-step online demonstrations go to (The Caran d’Ache pastel pencils are also available as a set from Moody Views).

If you complete this painting project, please email your images to [email protected] to be included in the PaintersOnline gallery.

Each month Leisure Painter introduces a photograph for you to paint as part one of a painting project, followed the next month by a more detailed approach to completing your work.

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