Sunday, February 8, 2015

Wildflower Scene with Stages

 Wildflower Scene 
5" x 7" on Uart 400 Sanded Pastel Paper

Today I did something a lot like a painting lesson. It was an experiment in several ways. Would the palette of Terry Ludwig's 14 Best Loved Basics be a good landscape palette to do a scene with hills, trees, a wildflower meadow and a beautiful blue sky? I'm happy to say yes, the results are above!

And I took some progress photos to show how I did it.

 Stage 1 Alcohol Wash In Progress

I tried something I've seen in several videos and blogs by serious pastelists. An alcohol wash like the ones Karen Margulis uses. I've long admired her results and she's a mad expert for painting wildflower meadows. Mine's just a crude attempt in her direction, she is much more concise and has the practice to say in two strokes what takes me six.

From what I saw in her examples, it doesn't take much pastel on the paper to do an alcohol wash. The alcohol should be 70% Rubbing Alcohol, the kind you get at a drugstore. Not the drinking kind even if some artists use vodka. Put the vodka in the artist and the rubbing alcohol swished on the painting with as big a brush as you've got. If you can't tell the difference, stop drinking. Do not store these in unlabeled containers for that reason.

Just swish the liquid around over the pastels within the area to be washed that color. Really don't worry about edges. I was too careful here and treated it more like a coloring book but I wanted to keep the rough abstract shapes of my bands. Karen would've slopped it on and let it drip mingling some colors for cool effects down in the meadow. That's practice for you. This is my first go. It actually will still work done this way.

 Alcohol Wash Complete

Here's how it looks with the wash in all over the painting. Now I'm not using plain beige paper anywhere. The color has gone deep into the crevices of the paper and maybe soaked in between the sand grains. It's not going anywhere. Any flecks of paper that show between my strokes or in a broken color passage will be the color of the underpainting.

The trees band is brown and the meadow band pink because these warm colors will make the green sticks in my Ludwig set pop and look greener. Since those three greens are nearly brown, I thought that was seriously important to try to give an impression the forest wasn't dead yet.

Background areas done.

Work back to front, which in a landscape like this is top to bottom. I painted the sky first and forgot to take a photo of just the sky in. There are three shades of blue in the set plus a very pale yellow nearly white. I used all four of those colors to gradate the sky. I could have blended it more to give a smooth gradation but I liked that look as if wispy clouds were blowing up in the distance.

The hills were mostly the light and medium dusty violet in the set with a bit of sky blue in the shadows to lighten and harmonize the darker violet. 

The trees I used all three greens, the gold stick and the deep dark violet. Yay for the deep dark violet in the darkest shadows at bases of trees. It helps define them. They are too small and too far away for me to put in trunks and branches but in a larger painting I might have brought some trees and bushes forward into the meadow band too to help give scale and those might get shadows and trunks.

Here's the finish again so you can see the meadow up close:
Finished painting

I did not pick out any grass blades or weeds with leaves. Most of that area I just used blocky vertical strokes with the ends of the pastels, the shorter side. I put a little green in over the gold and a touch of brown then started adding flower passages with the corners of the flower colors. At the end I added some white and blue flowers. I deliberately scumbled over the distant ones with the pale violet to push the middle ground back into the distance and cut down into the meadow area with the forest colors again. Then signed it.

A cool little experiment that worked. I might try this again with a good photo reference and see what I get, since I still have the other piece of Uart 400 to play with. Small paintings like this are fun to use to try different things, you can always try again if there's something about it you don't like!


  1. Thank you so much. Bc it is not your normal media, I was interested in your approach. I got a lot out of it. Since I have no real talent in art, I know techniques, etc., I really need to think thru the stages effectively. Thanks so much.

    1. oh, this is one of my normal mediums! I just do more pastel when I'm feeling up to it and more water media when I'm marginal in body energy. A lot depends on logistics. After finishing this painting, I moved all my Terry Ludwig pastels from 8 or 9 little separate set boxes and mailers into a single 90 color box where I can now use them all at the same time! I love it. Currently working on another pastel painting today, a more elaborate one.

      Purr thanks for the compliment! But don't say you have no real talent. All anyone has is the techniques they know and the desire to create art. That's all talent is - the desire to create art and to learn the language of art in the culture you grew up in. Some people are precocious and learn a lot early, some have knacks for this or that technique or medium, but beyond that the core of talent is a desire to do it and to keep learning and improving. Enjoying the process is the heart of that!

      This one had simplified techniques, but I'm doing an article in Rob's Art Lessons based on today's painting that's almost done. Check that out later on for a four stage demo of the colourist method, which is something I love and sometimes adhere to. Even when I don't, the principles advise my use of color in other mediums.