Australian Fine Artist

Portrait Composition

Venue: Pastel Society of Victoria, Australia

Artist: Penelope Glibert-Ng

The April meeting for the PSVA had Penelope demonstrating portraiture from a photograph of her grandson. As with many kids, she found it easier to do his portrait from a photo as it was hard enough to get him to sit still for the photo let alone over an hour or so for pastels!

Penelope started her art career at a very early age showing her parents that she had serious skills. She went on to later study at Sydney Tech and acquired a Diploma in Painting and has painted in places such as New Guinea for thirteen years. She has been a finalist in the Archibald and loves using a few different mediums including oils, acrylics and pastels. Pastels being her favourites.

Penelope started her work  for this demonstration with pencil work. She measures the face carefully, as this foundation will determine how accurate and lifelike the finished portrait will be. It was very nice to see Penelope not only working from a hard copy of her photo, but also from her new iPad and a sketch she had done to work out the “kinks”. I think Penelope loves her “new toy” as much as I love mine!

Getting back to the subject, an understanding of the muscles and bone under the skin is important when doing people. Penelope says that she likes to show the ethnic traits of her subjects in her work. A well defined cheek bone, beautiful lips or large hazel eyes deserve to be rendered well.

After the drawing was to her satisfaction, the next stage was done with water colours. This is another technique used by a lot of pastelists to block in a work, give some great colour under the pastels and if you have white paper, it covers it very quickly. We had a chance to see these in just their tonal values because of a technical hitch with the video, but it worked out really well as the application of warm and cool colours on the work were actually all of the same tonal value. We got to see it all in colour on the screen later but I found this little bit most interesting.

Along with applying the first layers of pastel Penelope talked about using pastels safely. We all should know that blowing on your work to get rid of dust is a bad idea and she confirmed this point again talking about how it gets into the lungs. Tap or shake is the message, please try not to blow on your work.

As the first layers went in Penelope used a variety of makes of pastel which she had very nicely organised in a box on her easel. The Schmincke 048B (red/purple) was a lovely rich colour to start with and each colour was tested in a small spot before they were applied to any part of the composition. Applying Schmincke pastel in very light layers meant that other brands were easily used over the top. It is a very “buttery” pastel and can be difficult to go over if used too heavily too early.

The side of the pastels were used a lot and there were very few lines. Penelope likes to build up “planes” to create the modelling of the face. She said we need to think about how much blue, red or yellow is in the colours we are selecting when drawing in a face for all the warm and cool areas. Remembering that things like the ears and nose have very little fleshy bits to them so the light shines through them more making them “warmer” than other parts of the head.

I very much liked seeing the vivid oranges, yellows and even purples used in the hair and side of the face. The cool background was also done with wide sweeps of the side of the pastel which modelled the face and brought it right off the page. The use of various directional blocks of colour overlaying each other gave the skin texture and pushed the eyes back under the brow and the nose and lips forward, with the lovely rounded cheeks that children have.

Without the use of a lot of blending Penelope was able to achieve graduations of colour and tone with mark making that defined things like the details in the eyes and division of top and bottom lips. When a colour was a bit strong she knocked it back with the use of a green/grey which she said we all need to have in our kits as it binds colours together and “calms” areas where the colour is too intense.

The “jewellery” as Penelope called it were the little finishing touches. With thought and process of stepping back to continually assess Penelope created a lovely portrait of her young grandson. She was a very enjoyable and knowledgeable demonstrator with a great sense of fun.


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