Introduction to creating a full color wildlife pastel painting
The House Finch, Pine Siskin and the Dark Eyed Junco were to be the main characters on this illustration for a bird seed label. The medium of choice is pastel just like the others I had done for this pet food company. They were a lot of fun. I used soft pastels for the most part, but in fact, harder ones were used as well here and there. Usually for some tight detail work. Pastel pencils also came in handy for that as well.
The paper used was the Kitty Wallis sanded paper. It’s great stuff, yet also very difficult to get. It was at the time of completing this work anyway, which was about about 7 years ago. For other pieces in the series I used the sanded paper by UArt. It’s a great paper too. I like the sanded papers and there are a ton of pastel paper types out there. The sanded stuff seems to perfectly fit my temperament.
I did a preliminary pencil of the layout which I then transferred onto the pastel paper with a sheet of carbon transfer paper. I laid the penciled piece on top of the pastel paper and the carbon paper is under it and face down on the pastel paper. Then with a hard pencil, a 3H Staedtler to be precise, I go over the pencil and it gets copied onto the pastel paper. The transferred lines are not very dark so I go over them again with a softer lead. To complicate matters the pastel paper is toned with a brownish color which makes it harder to find the pencil lines. The dark paper will look nice when the pastels have a break in their application. Chunks of brown patches will show here and there which can have a pleasing effect on the eye.
Beginning the Painting
When the birds and background items are basically set in I go back into the them and start putting in the dark patches on their bodies. I don’t go in too dark, I actually apply just enough to guide me when the color is applied. They are register marks in a sense. As the color is put down more opaquely they will help me to know where I need to go. The pastel pencils are good for this part.
In this illustration I will do my foreground subjects first. I need to make sure the birdies are the focal point and that everything around them will be subdued and not dominate. So the painting, or application of the pastels if you will, starts with the birds. Each patch of color that makes them up is applied. I don’t put it on thick. I want to be able to apply other colors as well to really build it up as a whole. The tooth of the paper will only accept so much medium. Once it’s gone it’s really difficult to keep piling on more. When I’m satisfied that the birds are pretty well established I can move on to other areas of the canvas.
From this point on I’m really just bouncing around all over the place on the canvas. I’m carefully building up my color and trying to keep my tonal keys in mind. It’s critical to be aware of what will be a darker shape and what will be a lighter shape. I don’t want my star models to get lost. The process does move rather quickly. Pastels are great in the sense that you don’t have to wait around for any color to dry before proceeding on.
I do have to also keep an eye on how much dust I may be making in an area and that it doesn’t get onto something I’ve already painted in. Pastels keep you on your toes. And in my case that would be a quite literal statement as that I painted these standing up. The paper was mounted on a board that was set on my easel. This way the dust I make has a better chance of falling and not getting entirely on the paper. Because it is sitting vertically most of it falls to the base of the easel bar.
Once the whole canvas is painted in I go around just looking for areas that need some more work. Maybe I missed something on the bird feeder. Or perhaps a patch of grass or flowers doesn’t look quite right. I may do a lot of passes over the thing before calling it finished. I usually put it aside and work on something else and then when I come back to it I can catch areas that need a tweak or two. Some away time does make it much easier.
I never spray the pastel paintings when the are done. I don’t want to dull the color in any way. If I happen to put on too much medium in an area and I have to get a new color on I can either “erase” it a bit by brushing off the pastel very gently or spray the area with a spritz of Crystal Clear to allow some new medium possible. But when it’s done I leave it alone. I just don’t want to kill the color. And that’s that for this installment. Thank you for your time.
To see more work like this you can go to jeffslemons.com