Australian Fine Artist

Barbara McManus

Venue: Berwick Artists Society

Topic: Landscape in Oils

We had the pleasure of seeing Barbara at work for the April demonstration at BAS. She was a little late for the session but was professional enough to call and advise us how long she would be so we could get on with other things whilst we waited if we wished. I have experienced a lot of other demonstrating artists who are either late or don’t turn up at all – without any notice or apologies, which to my thinking is not only rude but not something a professional should do.

One thing with Barbara is that even when a little late, it doesn’t matter as she is so efficient in her application of pastel that you know you are going to get a good result in any case. Which is what we got on the night. A lovely completed scene with figures in it, which when placed behind a matt board, looked sensational.

I am borrowing from Barbara’s bio to introduce her here:

Born in 1936, Barbara McManus became a member of the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors in 1981. A painter in pastels and oils and an art teacher, Barbara was awarded the AME Bale Travelling Scholarship in 1986. She is also a member if the Vic Arts Society and the Pastel Society of Victoria (both of which I am also a member).

For this demonstration Barbara drew from one of her photos from her travels in Morocco. The scene looked at two female figures in traditional clothing in a small lane way or courtyard. Their clothing and head coverings were of beautiful blues and one lady had a small child in a swag on her back.

Working on black paper, which is something not a lot of artists tend to do, Barbara likes to start of her work with broad blocking in rather than line work. By loosely blocking in with mid tones the general shapes can be established early but not so firmly that they can’t be altered. By very light application of the pastel a lot of layering can be done before the pastels refuse to take to the surface. By blocking in around the figures with a warm mid tone the general look of the background can start and the colour can be worked up to and into the edges of the main figures.

Before making a finished mark on the artwork Barbara tested each colour which is very important when working on coloured paper as what you see in your hand is not always what you will see on the paper. The paper was allowed to show through the mark making as layers were built up and in some cases this can be left in the finished piece as a part of the composition. If you have a good coloured paper you don’t have to completely cover every square millimetre.

Barbara likes to move around the whole work keeping everything at about the same level. She mentioned that she has students that paint or draw in the main subject and then ask, “ok I have done that so what to I put in the background?” The artworks is a complete scene, and the materials need to integrate with each other and work together as a whole. By doing it all together you can find and lose edges, work one colour into another and get an overall “look” to the work.

When doing longer forms such as the long dresses and scarves, Barbara draws across these in the beginning rather than following the shape, other directions can always be added later. A good mix of directional mark making in pastels makes a more interesting and textural artwork.

Blue violets and grey greens were used to “neutralise” the warms in the background as the layers built up. This was to help “push” the background further back and help to make the foreground figures look further in the foreground. this use of colour perspective is used by a lot of oil  painters and watercolorists as well.

By stepping back to check her progress Barbara looked at the overall look as well and analysing any parts that needed adjusting. This is a good habit to get into as we all at some stage tend to get so absorbed in our work that we forget to take a break to step back to think, reassess and get another view. It may surprise you how something you hadn’t noticed pops out when you are a few metres away or across the room.

After checking her work, Barbara went on to do the finishing touches to her artwork. She reserves the lightest lights and her use of pure white to her last stages in a work. This is where the small details go into a piece. They may only be a dot or a small line to highlight an edge, but these last marks are what can make a painting “sing”.

A tip here from Barbara is that Colorfix now have pastel colours that match their papers, so if at any stage you want to wipe back and go to the colour of the paper, there is a pastel available to help you achieve this.

Decisions were now made about how the edges would look and the final modelling of the clothing. Barbara also used a clean tissue applied to the base of the work to blur and soften it. rather than working in detail edge to edge, the background is scumbled and kept with little detail and the top and bottom of the work is done to match. This technique of keeping little thick pastel on the edges also helps when putting on a matt board and framing as there is little pastel to drop off.

Barbara recommends checking your work behind a mount before framing as a rule to see how it looks. You may find that you are overcooking your work and stopping a little earlier gives a better result. So just before you think about adding more finishing touches, check it behind a mount and you may find it needs nothing else done.

This is what she demonstrated, and wow, the artwork was stunning. My thanks to Barbara for her professionalism and an interesting demonstration of pastels. I also would like to thank her for awarding my artwork first place in Section A for the night.

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