Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Pastel-to-Oil: Moving to Your Second Medium

Outcrop 8x10 Oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Finished Studio Painting Based on Pastel Reference (Below)

First of all, happy First Day of Spring!  For all of us in the northern hemisphere, today marks the shift to days being longer than nights.  Despite the one inch of snow we had this weekend, our crocuses and tulips are pushing up with gusto.  On my hikes, I enjoy listening to the recently-returned songbirds among the groves of juniper and ponderosa.  Life is good.

Like many artists, I work in more than one medium.  Oil and pastel are my anchors in this business.  Also like many artists, I go through periods of using one or the other.  This past week, as I mentioned in my earlier post on my Private Plein Air Painting Intensive program, I worked solely in pastel.  However, my student was curious to see an oil demonstration.  I decided to base my oil demonstration on a pastel study I'd made of a rocky outcrop earlier that week.

Study for "Outcrop" 9x12 Pastel by Michael Chesley Johnson

Photo of the Scene

Wrestling with the Dark Grey Stain

Often when I use field sketches as a reference for a studio painting, I'll switch mediums.  This forces me to make different color choices and keeps things fresh.  Anyway, it's impossible to exactly carry the color of a pastel done in the field into an oil painting.  And why would I want to do so?  I never “copy” my field sketches in the studio, as that would get boring very quickly.  (I discuss this at length, with lots of demonstrations, in my book Outdoor Study to Studio, which is available at Amazon.)

The field sketch had two problems.  One, there was a dark grey stain on the rock that, although it was in full sun, just didn't look sunny.  Two, the shape of the left-hand part of the rock was just plain awkward.  (My student compared it to the front end of a smashed Buick.)  I tried to correct these two problems in the oil painting.  First, I made the dark grey stain a warmer green to indicate sunshine falling on it.  Second, I reshaped the rock and made the values of it closer to the values of the area just behind it to make it “dissolve” so it didn't catch the eye as much.  I stopped short of exercising that rule of thumb:  “If you can't get it right, put a bush in front of it.”  The job would have been easier had I recognized the problem in the field and changed my viewpoint.

Side-by-Side:  Field Sketch on Left, Studio Painting on Right

If you work in just pastel, I encourage you to work in another medium such as oil or acrylic.  Likewise, if you work in just oil, I encourage you to give pastel a try!

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