Australian Fine Artist

Cathy Van Ee – Pastels

Subject: Demo of Portraiture from a Photo in Pastels

Venue: McClelland Guild of Artists

I posted a story about the demo Cathy did at the same venue last year at about the same month. The subject was the same but the materials were different. For this demonstration the materials were pastels and not oil paints.

There are similarities in the way you build up both mediums. Usually it is from dark to light leaving your lightest tones until last.

Cathy works just as well in both so we were in for a great demo. Just like her oil painting, the colours were mostly chosen in advance so in effect she had a palette selected. Cathy is a great believer in learning to draw well, as I am. The basis of every art form is the initial sketches, ideas and composing with drawings. Drawing helps you learn to observe and how to gain the very important hand eye coordination required for painting.

There were a few questions about pastels and framing them as we began, so Cathy addressed these first. She has never had pastel drop in a frame and I have very little trouble with it as well. To keep your pastel from falling on to the matts you can wither get them framed with a small gap between the two or you can check the paper you are using, the way you are applying the pastel (it may be applied too thickly) or you may need to consider putting some glycene paper over the work and rolling it to press the pastel onto the surface so that it holds better. Some people give the whole thing a light spray with fixative, and I have done this as well. You just need to make sure you don’t use too much  and keep it very light as you spray as it can alter the colours or ruin the pastel texture.

As I have spoken about how Cathy builds up her paintings in the past, I want to focus on a few of her main and important points about drawing from this session.

Methods of learning to draw with reference to portraits:

  1. Measure, Observe, Draw.
    Especially important when painting portraits as the proportions of the face need to be observed to get the likeness. As little as a millimetre can make a likeness or completely miss it.
    Note the spacing between the centre of the eyes to the bottom of the nose to the middle of the mouth.
    Take note of where the ears are in relation to the eyes and nose. Measure across the face to see if the ears line up with the eyes and nose.
  2. Tone is Everything, Colour is Secondary.
    No matter what you are drawing make tone the most important thing. You can change your colours to anything as long as that colour is tonally correct.
    Tone will help model forms to give them depth and shape. Tone will help indicate light and shade.
  3. Be like a Carpenter. Measure Twice Draw Once.
    As you can not put wood back after it has been cut, those who work with it tend to measure a lot before cutting. To help in not having to erase, change, change again or redraw, try taking your time and measuring, then checking your measurements again before committing to a final line.
  4. Even though you are aiming for a likeness, remember that it is still an artwork.
    Background can be changed, colour and style of clothing can be altered, hairstyles cut and primped. The colours can be “shifted” to a warmer or cooler palette. You are the artist and depending on the arrangement with the subject, you may have the freedom to interpret as you see fit, or if not a commissioned piece, you may want to be very creative.
  5. Stand back and regularly check the progress of the drawing against the reference.
    Looking at your drawing form a few metres back gives you a better perspective.
  6. Take a break as you near the end of the drawing.
    Cathy puts aside her works and has a cup of tea or meal then comes back to them with a fresh eye. When you have given yourself time to clear your head and look at something else you will be amazed at how you can see things in your drawing that weren’t apparent before.

The model for the photos that Cathy was working from was in the group for this demonstration and the likeness was very clear. Whether painting or drawing in pastel, Cathy creates painterly and identifiable portraits of her subjects. She is constantly working to improve her skills and pass on her knowledge to others. As always a very enjoyable demonstration.

Cathy Van Ee is a teacher at the Peninsula Artists Society and does paintings by commission. Below are her contact details.

Mobile number: 0413 337 024

Web site:

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