Sunday, February 19, 2017

Henri Roché pastels

Henri Roché Pastels 
For any practising pastellist, the basic rule is that you can never have enough pastels. If you had the the complete Roché set, now over 1200 and counting, you might just have reached that limit!

Roché Pastels have just updated their website to facilitate online purchase, or just to make available to view the complete range in order to see what you don't realise you need, or what is actually available! 

Henri Roché are the oldest pastel brand in the world, dating from around 1720 and used by artists such as Rosalba Carriera, and Edward Dégas. At its height in the 1970s, the entire range of Roché pastels exceeded 1800 colours. Today, Isabelle Roché and Margaret Zayer are busy expanding the collection that currently comprises 1201 colours, divided into ranges of nine gradations. Each range is composed of pure colours that are either gradated with white, black, or crossed with another colour.

Manufactured in small quantities, Roché pastels are individually hand-rolled into a form suitable for both bold and detailed work. With exceptionally lightfast pigments and a minimum of binder, the pastels possess a particular texture that allows them to adhere well to a number of supports, as well as display a remarkable intensity and clarity of colour. These are top of the range products, expensive, and not for the beginner. But the quality is superb and the personal service second to none. 

The full set of colours is visible here on the online shop. Look, lust, select, buy!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Lilac Time

Many years ago I went to a musical production in the Cork Opera House based on the life and times of Franz Schubert. The whole production was so twee and artificial that I had to leave before I was ejected for guffawing throughout. It was called Lilac Time, so in humble apology to the players and producers, here is my take on same. 

The first sketch is on my easel. pencilling in the outlines and approximate colours.

Next you can see the base colours of the lilac flowers, (Derwent pencils in violet shades, and Unison pastels) and some definition being added to outline some blooms. I am also giving some consideration even at this early stage to the background (I'm muttering "purple and gold" to myself here).

The background is being taken over by raw sienna and umber (Rembrandt) and the highlighted outline on the petals is a very light grey from Carb-Othello. There is detail now on the vase, and the tray-cloth has the light direction made clear.

The cabinet top and the red drawers are added and the background completed -  as I thought.

I didn't like it . Neither did some of my Facebook artist friends - those who have the courage to contribute useful criticism. So I changed the background to a flat Golden Ochre from Schminke. Signed, and framed.
Lilac Time © Niall O'Neill

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Simply Red

The American artist David Leffel makes the point that all paintings have an underlying theme, other than the ostensible subject matter. So this pastel is about "redness", and I quote William Carlos Williams in my support:

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

The colander and lantern were selected for their blatant redness, while the Ch
âteau Pougeau is a Grand Cry Classé Margaux - i.e. a fine red wine.

First picture is the initial scribble in CarbOthello pencils and Rembrandt pastels.

I selected about 28 different red pastels in various tints and shades, mainly Sennelier, but some Roché and Schminke too. The colander is beginning to take form.

The holes in the colander were tedious to get right in terms of perspective. Here I am moving on to shading the left shadow side of the wine bottle, and beginning the lantern.

Nearing completion:

Final refinements on detail of objects. Deciding where to stop with the apples; adding the reflections; and using Sennelier 177 Dark Green on the background, which is black Canson Mi-Teintes, a paper I rarely use. 

A word about the composition: the overall shape of the arrangement is a triangle, echoed in the triangular layout of the apples in the colander. As well as that, there are numerous circles and arcs in the piece - the colander and the drainage holes therein; the apples of course; and various circular elements and arcs in the oil lamp. All of these elements help to tie the composition together.
Simply Red © Niall O'Neill

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Tureen #2

Tureen #2 is another attempt at faithfully rendering a fancy ceramic soup tureen which was unlikely ever to have seen service other than as an ornament. I used a full size 70 x 90 sheet of Pastelmat for this one.

The first pair of images shows the line drawing of the outline and internal elements of the design; and the scribbled-in underpainting to start the process of lights, darks and undercolours. Once again, the colour of the support varies in these photos depending on the light source at the time.

The next images show the process developing, the underpainting is faithful to the values, but not at all to the final colour. I'm using pastel pencils, and Rembrandt pastels at this stage. Some blending has begun, and the ceramic flowers on the lid is quite densely painted, even though the colours will change.

The flowers have now been rendered in the final colours, using quinacridone pink from Blue Earth pastels. The body of the bowl has begun, mostly with Rembrandt blue grey range,

The underpainting of the lace area is apparent in the image on the left. There are tans, violets and dark greys blended in that will give life to the upper layers. As the lace is painted, I will draw some areas of detail to give the illusion of overall detail; but the main work is done by lightly dragging very pale neutral pastels by Roché over the coloured base. These pastels, used lightly on their side, give a very effective impression of cloth or material.
The second image, of the finished piece, shows the very strong diagonal impact of the painting, also echoed by the lines of shadow in the background. (You can see what a difference  a painted background makes, especially as a contrast to a white ceramic object, even if there are no whites anywhere except in the highlights!)

And this is the final image:- pastel brands used were Rembrandt, Blue Earth, Artisan Pastellier, Roché, Sennelier, and Jackson.
Tureen #2 © Niall O’Neill

Sunday, April 17, 2016


This was a statue of the Buddha that I saw in a gift shop in Aubeterre-sur-Drone, Charente.

It had a sense of tranquillity that was quite effective, Initial sketches were done with CarbOthello pastel pencils and Rembrandt ochres and greens.

Once the underpainting was done, which mapped out the areas to develop, I started on the final, metallic effects - full metal jacket, so to speak.

The finished piece was placed against a simplified background, and the wooden shelf was painted more red than in life, to emphasise the complementary greens of the figure.
Tranquillity © Niall O’Neill

Urn and Macaroons

One of my collection of decorative (and cheap) porcelain urns, jars, soup tureens, jugs and tea-pots was looking for an idea to add to its appeal, and I happened to buy a packet of macaroon biscuits that were coloured white, yellow, pink, green, and brown. So I thought that they would provide the colour notes to a fairly monochrome jar.

This is the outline and first infilling of underpainting in hard pastels. The background colour varies only because of the changing light when photographed.

It is really unfortunate that the medium gray Pastelmat shows such variation - that's Irish light (and Irish weather) for you, especially in winter.

In this pair I have added some of the final background shadow so I can calculate the contrast I wish to achieve.

Here I have taped off the effective area on the support to the finished size of 40 x 55 cms. This is a requested minimum size for submission to the 2016 Pastel Biennial at Suzhou, China.

Background filled in - Sennelier darkest blue at back, shelf more grey and darkest green. I used mostly Rembrandt and Schminke in this, with the pink from Blue Earth. The most unusual brand was the green macaroon, for which I used the green from Artisan Pastellier based in Albi, France.

Urn and Macaroons © Niall O'Neill
UPDATE 5.5.2016
Gail Sibley chose this pastel in her April 2016 selection on her How to Pastel blog, and read the painting beautifully. Here is her commentary:
Deep beautiful darks set off the beauty of this ceramic container. Its carved flowers and intricate design are meticulously recreated with light and shadow. There’s a subtlety of colour not evident on a cursory viewing and it’s a treat to discover these – like the pink in the rose handle, the yellow in the carved piece in the side facing us, the pale blue reflected near the bottom of the tureen, the pale green gleam on the smooth surface of the cover. These colours are repeated in the more obvious macaroons. There’s a lovely contrast between the cold hardness of the porcelain and the soft delectable cookies. A delicious similarity also exists between the smooth and textured parts of both subjects. The off-centre placement of the main event plus the rather daring dominance of the dark background engenders curiosity about the set-up – where is this arrangement to be found and who will be lucky enough to eat those yummy looking macaroons?!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Forte Dux

Some years ago I took some photographs of wooden ducks on a shelf in a giftshop in Aubeterre-sur-Drone, in the Charente, France. I liked the layout, I liked the ducks, and I thought I might make a painting of the subject. I finally got around to it last autumn, so here it is - Forte Dux (or Shelf Life - take your pick!)

This was the initial sketch, and the pencils and hard pastels used to get the underpainting done.
You can see that the underpainting is quite flat and poster-like.

You can see that I progress from  left to right, being right-handed, and the clutch of ducks on the right side are unpainted wood.

Now I have begun to use soft pastels. The brands here consist of a variety, chiefly Schminke, Sennelier, and Blue Earth.

You can make out some of the colours used along the bottom of the paper. I counted them up at the end, and it came to about 70 different pastel sticks.

The finished painting, with the wooden shelf and the concrete background put in. The French flags were already on the ducks, and I left them as a bright note of colour.