A. SKETCH.

Materials. Central to my process is pastel medium, and specifically Stabilio Carbothello Pastel Pencils. Excluding softer pastels has distanced my work from that of my master teachers in portraiture, Robert C Schick and Cuong Nguyen. Not by

pastel pencils, pencil sharpeners, kneaded erasers

‘My Pastel Box’

choice so much as needing a way to continue using pastel, which I fell in love with, in spite of my chemical sensitivities. Related to that I chose also not to use fixative. When creating a sketch, I use charcoal paper to which the pencils adhere strongly. [For painting, when I fill in the entire image, the “sanded” support of Ampersand pastel board works even better in giving the artwork permanence.]

I use Stabilio Carbothello white and carmine pastel pencils on Velvet Gray charcoal paper, cut to 9″x12″ size, vertical-format, lightly taped to a smooth board. A similar-sized piece of glassine paper is needed for saving my work, lightly taped over it, between sessions and in storage. A kneaded eraser and a top-grade pencil sharpener complete my gear. The eraser successfully erases both line and wash on paper. So I can even work from dark to light in some areas if called for. Once I and my subject have settled on the right pose, I develop the subject’s image by using my own reference photos and a simple viewfinder to select the right angle.

Each artist finds a method for getting a light line drawing down that anchors the basic features so they are in proportion and right distance from each other–and inside the outer line of the head. Here I follow the general method well explained in William L. Maughan’s book, “The Artist’s Complete Guide to Drawing the Head” (Watson Guptill, New York). But there are other approaches to getting facial proportion also popular with artists. I find if I start with placing the eyes and then setting the nose right in relation to them, I won’t go far wrong. I add a lines early to define the outer edge of face, hair, neck, shoulder line. So my image begins already balanced on the rectangular paper used–something that challenges me for some reason.

The toned paper untouched (or erased back to original tone) serves for the medium value in the portrait; the carmine pastel gives the dark values; the white pastel, the light values. By applying both pastel colors with 1-3 levels of drawing pressure (or by adding another 1-2 added light layers–actually my recommended method), I can get several values in darks and and lights as desired. Even with so limited means as two pastel colors plus paper tone, So I can achieve at least 7 different values–to produce shapes, textures, and edges. My well-sharpened pencils allow me to create a variety of marks on the paper. Beware of mixing the carmine and white pastel on the paper. Together they produce a harsh (neon) peach color, adding nothing to the balance of values desired.

[Because of optical effects, I learned that a patch of plain toned paper, when surrounded by white pastel, looks darker than normal. Also, a patch of plain paper surrounded by carmine pastel looks lighter than normal. This adds more values to what can be created with these modest means but probably should wait for those who have already mastered the first steps in value change.]

Photos. I take several reference photos in the first stage. They help me overcome the limits of my eyesight, giving details I choose to emphasize and sharpen. They also help me see the pattern of lights and darks that give shape to the head in the light chosen. Best choice to start for me was a single focused beam of light from above from the right or the left. The three traditional choices are high lighting, form lighting, and rim lighting, each offering its own mood and emphasis to your drawing.

Vision. The better I already know my portrait subject, the better my result will be! The longer time I spend with the emerging portrait in the presence of the subject, the more complex and interesting the head will become. Photos are a last resort but no substitute for time. My vision is to achieve this: a reflection of an encounter between two people for a period in the studio together. To reach this, a sketch for me takes at least 3 hours of studio time with my subject. Longer is better if possible, in another session, on another day, if necessary.

I build a reasonable likeness of the subject first. Then later various additions or omissions or close details suggest themselves. They will give emphasis that interprets or expresses something. And that thing is what I sense about who that person is, in relation to me the artist in that moment.

Studio breaks, for both artist and subject, walking away from the easel–approaching the subject–and again the ongoing portrait–looking slowly, squinting, blinking, looking away, looking back again. These all give me some refreshed idea how what I have done differs from what I seem to want to do. Or now see I might do.

Example 1. Barb

'Barbara' first stage

‘Barbara’ first stage

'Barbara' finished

‘Barbara’ finished

Example 2. ‘Steve’

'Steve' first stage

‘Steve’ first stage

'Steve' midway

‘Steve’ midway

'Steve' finished

‘Steve’ finished

B. PAINTING.

Materials. See SKETCH, Materials, above first.

Here I use a variety of colors in the many layers for each part of the figure, hair, clothing, background, etc. But I begin with carmine or orange or red-orange, to make outlines and anchor the basic features. Here proportions again are the key to getting a physical likeness of the subject. All areas of the painting are blocked in with the darkest color belonging to this area: for the skin, I begin with yellow ochre & green for light skin; a dark red-orange & dark green for dark skin. For hair, brows, beards, etc., my first layer uses use the darkest color I see in that area.

I keep my pastel pencils relatively sharp since pencil wood striking the surface of the painting will cause unwanted, irreversible marks or grooves. But I apply the side of the exposed pencil as well as the point for varied effects.

Photos. See SKETCH, Photos, above, for this section.

Vision. See SKETCH, Vision, above for this section.

Example 3. ‘Siren in a Sun Hat’

'Siren with Sunhat' first stage on toned pastel board

‘Siren with Sunhat’ first stage on toned pastel board

'Siren with Sun Hat' first skin layers

‘Siren with Sun Hat’ first skin layers

'Siren with Sun Hat' late stage

‘Siren with Sun Hat’ late stage

'Siren with Sun Hat' finished

‘Siren with Sun Hat’ finished

Example 4.’ Confectionery’

'Confectionery' first layers over most, second-third layers on figure

‘Confectionery’ first layers over most, second-third layers on figure

'Confectionery' more layers to background and foreground

‘Confectionery’ more layers to background and foreground

'Confectionery' more layers on figure

‘Confectionery’ more layers on figure

'Confectionery' finished

‘Confectionery’ finished

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