Australian Fine Artist

Boat Scene in Pastels

Artist: Jo-Anne Seberry

Venue: McClelland Guild of Artists

Jo-Anne is a Melbourne-based artist who studied with John Balmain who helped her to develop her understanding of the principles of tonal value, form and colour.

She later attended a Monet exhibition and was fascinated by the exquisite use of light and colour, which gave her the impetus to explore new and exciting ways of expressing her work. This led to an intensive period of painting and studying, which took her overseas to the galleries of Europe and the USA, where she studied with master pastellist Daniel Green in New York. A trip to Italy gave her the opportunity to experience the subtle European light, so different to Australia, which led to a successful solo exhibition.

Italy was again the basis of her pastel for this demonstration. It was of one of the little canals between buildings with a couple of row boats typical to the area as the focus, with the light sneaking in from one side.

Jo-Anne used several photos as reference for this painting and already had the drawing done so that she could get straight into applying colour. As she worked to block in areas starting from lighter colours rather the typical darks, she spoke about how important it is to be careful with selecting your subject and being clear about what you want to achieve. This is very important when photographing a place for reference photos, as you may not get back there again for a long time if at all. Think about what kind of light you want, what your focal point is and how you want to represent it. If you can zoom in on a subject with a good camera on site it is much better than trying to zoom and crop later with software even with a high resolution photo. Jo-Anne did go on to say that she is slowly becoming more familiar with her Mac computer for helping with organising and manipulating her digital photos, even though she still prefers slides.

For her materials Jo-Anne uses Canson paper and prefers the smooth side. She selects a colour to suit the major colour in her artwork as she has experienced how the colour of the paper can influence the overall look of the finished work. She uses mostly Unison pastels as they have consistent colour and has a few Schminkes and Art Spectrums for their whites and darks.

For the drawing in, Jo-Anne uses charcoal, as the pastels go over charcoal better than pencil or anything else she has used. Rather than starting with darks and going in later with lights and risking dealing with pastel dust all over the bottom of the work covering pastel already laid in, Jo-Anne started with the sky and drew in her lights then put in her darks. This way she had her tonal extremes in and could concentrate on her mid tones.

All parts of the work were worked on to keep the piece at the same level of completion all over, and Jo-Anne walked back to check progress from a distance as she worked. In her studio she has a mirror in place to check all her works as she progresses and recommended that we do something similar.

Jo-Anne described the application of colours as being similar to music – you need a variety, with highlights and darks creating movement and texture. Remember, if you are not happy, the advantage of pastel is that you can brush it off and start again, just remember to start with light application so that you can create lots of layers before the paper stops taking the pastels. Also, as with painting, start broad and work your way to detail later.

As you start thinking about your lightest lights, the use of other colours rather than absolute white was talked about. Many other light shades can go on to a painting to represent the lights and they will appear like a white without being as “cold”. Some to consider are pale lilac, pale blue or even a pale yellow. It pays to test some of these colours against others to see what effects you get.

Another good point Jo-Anne mentioned was moving objects or deleting them from a scene. If something is confusing you as you are putting together an artwork, it will do that to viewers later as well. Don’t be afraid to take out something or move it if it will make the scene flow better or make it less messy.

In some areas to soften the edges, Jo-Anne used the back of her hand to blend the pastels a little. She doesn’t use this method a lot as it can “dirty” a colour and take away from the lovely intensity that pastels provide, but you can when working lightly, go over again with a new layer to bring some of that back if you feel you have lost it.

The painting for this session was unfortunately not finished as one the size Jo-Anne was doing usually take several hours to get all the final details in. She was however able to get a few done to give us an idea of how the final little touches really make things like the boats and the light touching the walls of the buildings give depth and “weight”. The information about setting up  your photos and careful planning was also very interesting.

My thanks to Jo-Anne for passing on her experiences and de-mystifying some of the processes of creating with pastels.

This article will soon be available on my website at: and an edited version will be published in the McClelland Guild of Artists Newsletter in coming weeks.

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