Australian Fine Artist

Seascape in Pastel

Venue: Berwick Artists Society 
Demonstrating Artist: Cathy Hamilton

Cathy originates from the UK and is a highly trained and experienced artist and teacher. She has been the president of the Victorian Pastel Society an exhibiting artist and art teacher for twenty one years. I have had the privilege of attending demonstrations by Cathy where she showed her considerable skill in still life and portraiture and it was a delight to see her show her skills in seascapes.

For the demonstration Cathy worked from a photo that she had taken in Tasmania. She stressed that this is not her favourite way of painting, like most of us she likes to get out and paint on site but that is not always possible, especially for a demo, so having a library of subject matter is a great help. You just have to try to recall the little details of a place that the camera may not pick up and it doesn’t hurt to put away the photo nearing the end of the work and completing it as an artwork with your own artistic additions. Cathy did stress though that not every great looking photo will make a great painting. You need to carefully look at the composition and colours, as they most probably will need adjusting.

The enhanced photo for this demo was of the foreshore and looked very much like Pt Leo where we have been painting only this year. Cathy was working on Colorfix pastel paper and had chosen to used a mid blue to pick up on the blues in the sea and sky. It is also a nice complimentary to any warm colours you may lay into the work later. She moved the horizon line up nearer to the one third mark from the top and also cropped the photo down top and bottom to get rid of the huge amount of empty space. The sides of the path through to the beach were cropped and made uneven to create more texture and help the composition. The light was also changed to help create shadows and highlighted areas.

Early blocking in helped to make sure that things were all relating to each other. This gives a nice flow to a painting so that nothing stops your eye in its tracks as you look around a scene. The pastels were used on their sides for good coverage and only applied lightly so that as many future layers could be used to build up the picture. Every pastel Cathy used was set aside in her “palette” so that she had only to look in there to go back to a colour she had used previously.

It is interesting to note that as Cathy has a huge arsenal of pastels she only carries what she needs for any work. This required planning and really knowing your colours. Once done however, it leaves you free to smoothly get on with creating.

So, working “big” with broad strokes in the beginning allows for changes in the composition if you like and builds up an image that you haven’t invested too much in, just in case you change your mind. Light application means that lots of colours can be laid over the top of each other to create very rich texture and atmosphere. The sea was done this way so that as the eye moves towards the horizon the colours can cool off and change as the light and distance has an effect on them. Pinks and mauves were put in where the wet sand met the water. Cathy said that if you really look at any beach you will see similar colours in the very wettest areas where the waterline is.

As she worked on, Cathy said that she often gives trees etc haircuts or chops them out entirely if they are not working. She likes to keep the flow going and also uses shadows and streaks of light to help with this. The high key colours used initially in the blocking in stage also help with this flow, as they subtly show through in various areas.

Cathy keeps all of her painting at the same level of completion. She says that this is important, and makes sure her students understand that you must work all around your work and not get bogged down in one corner for example. This will also help in moving your colours around and making sure that they are used in balanced areas. Move the colours around a bit. The whole painting needs to be looked at as a whole not lots of little bits that you hope will all start linking together when your done.

As you work, don’t forget to go for a walk away from your painting. It not only give your eyes a break, but you can see the whole thing better from a distance and often can walk back into the studio and immediately see something that needs your attention.

The very last things that should go into your painting are the little fiddly bits such as branches, twigs etc. You are telling a story, so less is more. You may not need to put in as much detail as you thought by taking care of the larger areas first and creating interesting marks with your  pastels.

An important little tip with pastels whilst working was keeping them clean. I noticed Cathy wiping hers a lot on her apron. It is not unlike keeping your brush clean or not muddying up your paints on the palette. The final sweeps to create highlights showed up so much better by Cathy keeping her pastels very clean.

One final tip and a fun phrase: “The Power of Red”. Even though it was a seascape, a few dashes of red here and there really did pull the painting together. You only need a tiny bit, so it is really worth giving a go!

On that note, the demo was over. Cathy, as always was fun, entertaining and very informative. She is a lovely person and an extremely talented artist and I had a good time.

Cathy’s work can be seen on the Pastel Society web site at:


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