Venue: Pastel Society of Victoria, Australia
Speaker: Cathy Hamilton
The first demonstration for 2013 at the February meeting for the PSVA, was a very friendly and informative evening. Old friends were meeting up after the holidays and it was good to get back into the routine again.
As the first demonstration for the year, this one about PanPastels was a fantastic way to start. Many members have never tried these and I have only used them once without really knowing what I was supposed to do with them. As exciting is it is to get new materials it can be frustrating when you are not sure if you are using them to the best advantage. This is why this meeting was such a good idea.
Catherine Hamilton has done a wonderful job coordinating with sponsors of the society and again Art Spectrum have been very generous in supplying samples for us to use to help us become the best pastellists we can be.
We were introduced to Art Spectrum’s Suede Paper. Cathy said that it is hand screen printed on very heavy and robust watercolour paper, making it very good for not only pastels but nearly any other medium such as acrylics, watercolours or even oils. You can soak it in a tub of water to remove pastel and it will come up in good condition and be able to be used again. This ability to handle such use doesn’t take away from its other ability to give very delicate effects, as the tooth is finer than such papers as Tex for example.
The surface on suede, however, for PanPastels makes it an ideal surface. I found this out when experimenting with it during the break. After not handling it before and taking on new applicators (which Cathy lovingly called “socks” in handles) I was very surprised with the beautiful blends and shading I got within a minute or so. If you could do this after hardly touching these materials, I wondered how far I could go with some dedicated practice!
Along with the viewing of these new materials Cathy included (as she is a great teacher), chats about the nuts and bolts of creating artworks. As she showed us how the PanPastels could be applied to a sheet of suede to block in an outline she had prepared, she talked about the importance of not totally relying on photographs for our paintings. “Photos are a static memory” she said. “They are not life, they are not moving in front of you, we need to keep going back to life and sketching from what is living in front of us, so that we breathe life into our work”.
As the first darkest darks were going in, Cathy talked about knowing where you are going with a piece. Don’t be afraid to work out where you want your lights and darks to go, or have a plan before you put a mark down. Go in lightly think about what you are doing and why, and this will help you avoid making “mud” from laying down too much colour too early.
Cathy took us through the process she had for her latest series of artworks. They include site visits, photography, then working up a sketch to resolve the kinks and then going on to produce the final work. If your initial sketch works out well you can always do what Degas did and trace it onto your sheet for the final painting or drawing. (This Cathy did by covering the back of her pencil sketch with a light colour pastel and then going over it on to the suede paper, so that she could see her placement of the shapes of the buildings’ roofs of a street in London), without having to draw it all again.
On the subject of cost of the PanPastels, Cathy told us they are more expensive, but they last for a long time and hold more than two to three pastels in the material in the pan. She said that a box of 20 is good value and should give enough colours to get started. The handles and little “socks” are a great idea and keeping some for specific colours and shades will make your job a lot easier. They can also be washed for reuse – a bit like how you organise your brushes when painting.
Cathy went on to apply her lights to her work. All of this was blocking in to get the composition and light and dark areas sorted out. She later added cool and warm colours to push items back and bring others forward for visual perspective. All of this was done with the little handles onto the suede paper. It gave a lovely underpainting look without having to use paints or normal pastels to get it done.
Another great feature of the PanPastels was that the application was so very light. This means there isn’t a build up of pastel on the paper surface filling in the tooth, leaving ample room to add layers of pastels. I can’t emphasise too much how light and easy this was for someone who had hardly touched these materials! Cathy had so little pastel on the paper, even when she decided she had lost concentration and was a bit “lost” in her work, it was easy to go back to a central point and work out from there.
At this later stage of the demonstration, Cathy showed us how well our usual pastels go over the PanPastels to create some very nice mark-making and textures. If you wish, give the work a little spray with a very good quality fixative (not the cheap stuff and NEVER hairspray as the perfume will eat your paper and it is not archival). Cathy recommends Schmincke. It is $25 a can, but it is made to last and will not damage your paper or pastels. By the way, the new gesso for pastels making drawing and painting onto canvas possible, is also very good and is manufactured by Schmincke as well.
To finish off, Cathy showed us how a simple black and white (or dark and light) sketch can quickly be put together: using the edges and the flat areas of the handles and “socks” can create some effective little drawings that can be done on site nearly anywhere. You can take smaller sheets of paper and sit at a cafe or in a park and draw loads of observations and have fun doing them.
Don’t be afraid to get out there and try it for yourself. All those little five-minute sketches will help you to observe better, get your eye in and build your skill at observing your subject and help you to be able to efficiently use your materials.
This was an information-packed evening. Cathy gave us a lot to go away with and apply in our practice. She also gave us some great samples of paper with which to experiment ( courtesy of Art Spectrum) and raffled off some PanPastel sets. I would like to thank the sponsors again for their generosity in allowing us to have these great products. I am going to use some of my paper to go out and experiment with “plein air” and the rest to try to do a very well-planned artwork. Many thanks to Cathy as I know these presentations take much planning and hard work. It was great fun and I can’t wait for the next meeting!
This story will also be published in the next issue of the Pastel Society of Victoria, Australia newsletter.