Australian Fine Artist

Still Life in Pastel

Venue: Pastel Society of Victoria Australia
Demonstrating Artist: Janet Hayes

Janet Hayes mainly works in pastels mostly because of the variety of artwork achievable from a quick sketch to a more detailed, finished painting. Her subjects include portraits, figures, still life and occasionally landscapes inspired by areas such as Kakadu in Northern Australia.

Janet studied at the Melbourne College of Decoration in the mid seventies, then with Melbourne artist/teacher Con Pappas before twice travelling to New York to study pastel portraiture with artist Daniel Greene. She has exhibited widely in Australia and overseas.

For this demonstration night the society had changed the usual format which proved to be more informative and allowed for getting to know the demonstrating/teaching artist a lot better. We had two groups with a teaching artist running a workshop on their chosen subject. Agata ran a workshop on portraiture and Janet ran both a demonstration and workshop concurrently on still life.

I sat in on the still life session as I have seen Agata’s work several times but didn’t know Janet at all. This was a good opportunity to see her at work both as a demonstrating artist and as a teacher. I was particularly interested in both of these as I now have my Certificate IV in Training and Assessment which included writing a short course for beginners in drawing and I have had a couple of enquiries asking if I would be interested in doing demonstrations in the future. Seeing how others handle these tasks is a good way to learn.

Janet set up her still life scene with her own lighting as well so she had a good strong light source creating some great highlights, shadows and a little “drama” for the design. She told me she loves exotic fruit, and had cut open one piece to show the juicy interior. She draws from the techniques of old masters to achieve her works and her approach to completing a painting is to start with simple shapes and slowly build up in many layers to finish off with the more complex patterns.

Janet likes to see a flow in her paintings, objects should overlap each other and you should be able to move your eye around the scene. Her colours are carefully selected to show complimentaries working with each other for texture and interest. She uses Canson MiTiente paper, preferring the smooth side rather than the rough which is mostly commonly use and I noticed that her pastel kit was mostly made up of Rembrandt pastels. The paper was set up on the easel with several sheets behind it to add padding as she worked. I use this same method and it does make drawing and painting with the pastels work so much better when you have a little “give” as you apply them.

To decide on what she was going to paint Janet used a viewfinder. These are really useful as they cut out a lot of the things you don’t need to see and you can move in or out and adjust the opening to see just the amount of area you want to include in your painting. Seeing the edges and negative spaces around the viewfinder also helps to draw up or block in your initial marks so that you get things in the right place and in proportion.

From this the initial gesture drawing in is done. All the initial blocking in is done very loosely as Janet doesn’t like to make the layout too “tight”. Keeping it loose allows for adjustments or just changing your mind. As a still life is not a portrait, it isn’t necessary to try to make an exact likeness or worry about someone not liking your interpretation of their face, there is room to be creative. This is the bit about doing still life that Janet likes, being able to add her own interpretation of what she sees.

This said, she still took time to measure and check what she had decided to paint. The use of negative space was discussed and the placement of pieces to make a pleasing composition. As you start to define the shapes, darks and lights the depth of your painting will start to appear.

At this stage of her work Janet started her teaching session which was for around twenty minutes. She took time with each student to talk over their choice of position, composition and techniques of beginning their own paintings and give them suggestions to think about.

During the next demonstration session Janet used blue violets to establish shadow areas spreading the colour in an even manner over the whole work. She said it is important to keep the whole painting at the same level of completion so you don’t get ahead of yourself in just one spot. The applying of colour in even areas around the work also helps it to have a nice “unified” look. She also suggested squinting as you look at the subject and your work which takes out all the details. This lets you see if you are applying larger areas of colour accurately without getting bogged down or overwhelmed.

Working from darks to lights and gradually building the work up and gradually going lighter until you add the little highlights and details last is a good way of building up an image. It allows you to create tone, depth, warmth and coolness in your lights and shadows.

A good tip that Janet passed on was keeping every colour she uses on a separate “palette” so she doesn’t have to go back searching for them. They can always be put away when you are finished.

The next teaching session went for another twenty minutes or so and I noticed a big change in the artworks at this stage. This is when the depth really started showing and items began to pop out of the surfaces of the pieces from the students. I particularly likes the depth that Peter got with his shadows around the bowl in his painting.

In her next demonstrating session Janet tested various colours before she applied them. Don’t be afraid to test before you commit, it’s easier to remove a little test spot than a huge area you had mistakenly applied. Don’t be afraid to take your time, painting using this method required patience and what you are doing won’t look like much for quite a while. You have to work your way through the “ugly” stage in the knowledge that things will come together later. (and even if they don’t it’s just paper and pastel so give it another go)

When you get to your highlights don’t be afraid to use more intense colour than the subject, creating drama can really make a painting and pull a subject right off the surface. Try using a lighter tone of a colour instead of white, such as the lightest mauve or yellow to create something more interesting, plus pure white can be a little cold so keeping it to a minimum might be a good thing to try.

If the edges of your work are getting a little “soft” Janet suggested going back in with a good black charcoal such as vine charcoal. It works very well with pastel and can help bring back edges and intensify shadows.

Janet’s method of building up through darks to lights and keeping the whole thing loose means that she can stop at any stage of a work. It is finished when she thinks it is, which may be earlier or later on any given painting. It can be very impressionistic or nearly photo realistic – it’s all up to you.

The students on the night certainly had different approaches and finishes to their paintings and it was good to sit back for a while and watch several people working on the one subject as well as talking to the teacher about her methods. Janet was very approachable and informative. We had a good time talking and her enthusiasm for her art and teaching was evident.

I’d like to thank her for taking the time to spend with me whilst she was working, I had a very enjoyable evening.

Janet can be contacted for lessons or inquiries regarding purchasing any of her artworks at:

Janet’s website address is:

Below are samples of work at various stages of completion. Note that the final pic is a different completed piece as Janet didn’t have enough time to complete her demonstration artwork on the evening.

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Please note that all images in this story are copyright Janice Mills and Janet Hayes. Reproduction without permission is not allowed.

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