Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Have you got a shaper tool yet?

One of my most useful tools is my colour shaper tool. Without this I can't create sharp edge or subtle details. No matter how tiny your fingers are, or how adept you are keeping one little finger clean, you will always slightly blur what you are working on when you blend. I started using a shaper quite by accident and experimentation many years ago. I remember struggling with edges when doing a pastel piece and finding one of theses things in my art box, unused for many years. I gave it a go- and have never looked back. It's now one of my essentials.

There are a number of 'beginners mistakes' that are often made with shapers- in relation initially to their purchase. Firstly, don't buy the cheap multipack ones from your local discount store- they'll be too hard or sharp edged. Secondly, a colour shaper isn't one of those strange paper wrapped torchons. Every artist tool box always has at least one of these - usually lurking in the bottom- unused and looking rather grubby. If you ever work out a good use for those things, let me know.

I use a brand called Royal Sovereign - their colour shapers come in soft, medium and hard. I use the soft ones. My recommendation is a size 10, Flat Chisel (as pictured). They come in many shapes and sizes but this is by far the most versatile. Its got flat faces which allow you to blur and soften in - great for clouds- and also sharp edges when you tip and tilt- ideal for hilltops, textured grass etc.

If you love pastels, get one- try it out. But remember- its best used towards the end of the work- not when you are blending large areas. Use it sparingly to add subtle or sharp details to your focal areas. Don't press hard, let the weight of the shaper itself drift over the surface. Don't point it like a pen- hold it beneath your palm so its parallel to the surface when doing clouds.

Good luck!

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Paper, Pressure, Pastels- how to use layers.

In my last blog I wrote about the importance of the right paper for the right subject matter- and how important paper is to a pastellist. In this blog I'm going to begin a conversation about layers. For further information about me, visit my website www.sandraorme.co.uk or www.facebook.com/SandraOrmePastelOriginals

One of my greatest pleasures of working with pastels is layers- most of my work contains layer upon layers. I love the challenge of mixing harmonious, complementary or contrasting colours to create wonderful tints and shades. (Yes, you will need a working knowledge of colour theory). I think its vital to do this to create a truly natural feel to things like clouds, moors or seas: layers let you capture that multiplicity of tones and movement that then underpins the detail that can drawn on top.

When I start a piece, I begin with very thin layers of vibrant colour- stronger than the colours I eventually want to dominate the piece. I do this because I want this vibrant colour to tint and affect the more realistic tones I put on top. This will help create a wonderful range of tones and also give a backlit, more dramatic feel to the more realistic colours.

Initial thin layers of pastel for what will be predominantly grey cloud.
For example, I choose a colour scheme- say, turquoise for a seascape- and then even any grey clouds in the work have vibrant blues and turquoises applied before the shades of grey are put on top. As a general rule I use at least 6 to 8 pastels colours for something as simple as grey cloud: 3 or 4 vibrant tones in my chosen colour scheme then 3 or 4 realistic shades of grey - these are then blended to interact together.

blended layers of pastel showing creation of multiplicity of tints and shades.

So, we now have thin layers of vibrant colour followed by thin layers of your realistic colours ideally in good quality pastels- and when I say THIN layers, this is important and I need you to pay attention. It's so easy to be heavy handed with pastels- and a light pressure using the side of the pastel needs to be used when working with my layering technique. Those of you who can't bear to take the wrapper off your gorgeous new pastel and then snap it in half (you know who you are) ... this technique is not for you. Working this way, you won't fill the tooth of the paper too quickly, you can build layers of colour on your good pastel paper with your beautiful soft pastels. Just remember your three P's : Paper, Pressure, Pastels.

Of course I should really throw in Layers in with that but it's not quite as catchy... PPLP? No.

If you are working on Sennelier Pastel Card then you continue to build layers gently using different directions and mark making until happy with what should be expressive, textured and semi-abstract results. Do not blend on this paper. In my opinion the minute you do so you have wasted your money on some expensive but beautifully textured paper, on which you have now created a permanently blurred image (this may of course be your 'thing' so it that case..) I think the whole point of this paper is that texture- do your best to keep it, don't overfill it and DO NOT blend on it.
Layers on Sennelier Pastel Card- unblended.
On Clairefontaine Pastel Mat however, now is the time to blend and it is a sheer pleasure. I love watching the colours mix, mingle and interact to create new and exciting tints and shades- from 8 colours can come 24 different shades and effects. Some pastellists spray between layers of colours- that is not my thing at all- I want the colours to work together and affect each other. If you find the pastels don't blend readily then you don't have enough on. Repeat your colours until the surface begins to drag rather than looked textured - you may then be ready to blend. Be patient.

Ooh, is that 4 P's now? Paper, Pressure, Pastels, Patience- I may be on to something here...

Layers on Clairefontaine Pastel Mat.
At the blending stage, it's important to again think about pressure- but this time it's the pressure of your fingers. You have total control over how the pastels blend with each other purely by applying less or more pressure. More pressure and the colours underneath will rise more to the surface and affect the colours you've put on top- and the less dominant those surface colours with be. Less pressure and the surface colours dominate. You can also start to control the direction and movement of the marks you create - but I will address how I work with that in future blogs.

Creating movement on pastel mat to create weather effects

The last but not least word on layers needs to be about the pastels themselves. With the right 'toothy' paper, you can potentially create and use layers. However, without the right pastels, it doesn't matter how good the paper is. I use Inscribe pastels; cheap, cheerfully vibrant but without graininess, for my initial vibrant layers. After that though and for the rest of the work, I use glorious Unison Pastels- in my opinion probably the best pastels out there (Is there anything better than opening up a brand new set of Unsion Pastels and seeing them cradled in their foam alcoves, looking like the most delicious exotically coloured sweets? - I have to remind myself not to eat them every time). They are almost buttery and creamy. Beautifully smooth and soft with an amazing range of subtle or strong shades. You need this quality of pastel to create layers. The tooth of the paper will be filled fairly quickly so these creamy pastels then bind and work with both the paper and each other - this means you can happily carry on building many many layers.

Beautiful Unison Pastels
Next time, more about layers and pastels- looking in more detail at texture, detail and mark-making- with a side swipe at a must have colour shaper...

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

The Importance of Paper

One of the most important parts of my work with pastels is layers. I build many layers of pastels to create a huge variety of tints, shades and textures. For me, layers are central to the 'painterly' way I work with pastels. However, layers cannot to be created on just any old paper.

I often get lovely comments about my work from people at art shows. One that crops up sometimes is  'I love your work but I've tried pastels and just can't get on with them'. The first thing I always ask is what kind of paper they are working on.  Nearly every time, apart from a minority who can't bear getting their hands dirty (if this is you, pastels are not your medium, look away now) they will either look confused or say they use something like sugar paper / general branded pastel paper in pads. These are all papers that lack any 'tooth'. Attempting to work with even a few layers -which is one of the joys of pastels- will end in failure. After 2 or 3 layers, the colours will just fall off the paper and it all becomes hugely frustrating.

Paper is on of main technical considerations with pastels. To create anything with a few layers, the surface is all important. I use three particular papers- Clairefontaine Pastelmat, Fisher 400 and Sennelier pastel card. Which one I use depends on the kind of work I'm interested in creating and the subject matter. It is vital to choose the right paper for the right subject.

When working on an image which is detailed, colour-filled and involves careful control of layers- for example a sunset, I will work on pastelmat. This is a paper with a very fine tooth. It feels deceptively soft and smooth to touch. However, when you apply a little pastel to it, the pastel won't blend or move on the surface- in fact it takes many layers of pastel to get movement on this paper. But its well worth persevering as the results can be stunning. It allows you to control and retain colour, as well as create movement and light.
pastel mat
Fisher 400:
This an interesting paper to work with- it feels extremely rough to the touch but conversely- as opposed to the smooth feel of pastelmat- it blends more readily. This means is often 'quicker' to work with. However, this gives you less control over blending and mark making- so I use it for work where I want a looser and more textured appearance - storms or wilder weather. It also allows you to experiment as liquids can be used as well- either to create a base-using inks or watercolours- or when working with the pastels- Pastel Liquefier. I enjoy creating brush mark effect with liquefier then working over with detail in pastels and pastel pencils.
close up of textures on Fisher paper

Sennelier Pastel Card:
There are times when I just want to explore textures and layers and capture quick impressions- often semi abstract. This is a paper where its all about the very sandpapery surface. Blending is not an option and will simply leave you with a rather 'blurred' image. On this paper, I build thin layers and then leave it. Its probably the hardest to work with- difficult to correct if it goes wrong, and easy to over fill the tooth accidentally and lose that textural quality. It is also very rewarding and can help you create evocative pieces. By the way, never ever get it wet or drip anything on it... the surface will peel away leaving you with a bright white patch that can't be filled.
Sennelier pastel card- close up
Hopefully this has given you an insight into the importance of different papers. I will be going through other equipment and materials that I use next - followed by how to actually work with all that lovely material.