Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pastel Nocturne

I've never done a night painting in pastel, so I thought I'd give it a try. Unlike oil painting at night, you don't have the color mixing issue. (In the glow of my headlamp, Ultramarine Blue oil paint looks a lot like Alizarin Crimson oil paint, and it's mostly because I always arrange my palette in the same way that I can tell them apart.) But you do have the color selection issue -- which is, in my mind, almost as difficult.

We had a beautiful full moon this morning, and when I woke around 4, I decided to take advantage of it. I loaded up my pastel gear and hiked down to our beach through the apple trees. The ripe apples seem even more fragrant in the night. As I moved out into a clearing, I saw Friar's Head, lying in the distance like a black slab in a silvery sea.

I set up my pastel box. I keep it well-organized. It has six sections, one for each color family. I divide each section with cool colors at one end and warm colors at the other. In addition, I sort the pastels in each section by value. (See the photo below.) With this level of organization, you'd think it'd be a piece of cake in the dark to find the correct cool, dark purple I need. Not so - there are subtle but important variations among those cool, dark purples. They were almost impossible to see under my headlamp.

My Pastel Box

I found myself looking at the scene, deciding (or guessing) what color a certain shape before me was, and then reaching into the box where I remembered that particular color should be. But was it the correct cool, dark purple? The best I could do was get right the color family, the temperature and the value. Whether it was a slightly redder purple or a slightly bluer one was hard to tell. But this isn't a problem unique to pastel; it's the same with mixing oil paint in the dark.

Unlike oil paint, however, which stays on the palette where you put it, pastel sticks don't. I have a little tray (my "working palette") that I put my pastel sticks in as I work so I can find them again easily. Well, they rolled around and got jumbled up a bit. Oops! Is this the purple or the green? I had to work very hard at keeping the pastel sticks that were in use separate.

I ended up focussing more on value than anything and tried to approximate the temperatures. Even so, I was pretty satisfied with the result. Here's the painting after a few minor tweaks in the studio:

"Friar's Head, Moonlight"
5x7, pastel, en plein air - SOLD


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