Saturday, April 19, 2014

Spanish Coffee Mill

Spanish Coffee Mill © Niall O'Neill

This is a pastel of an old coffee mill in cast iron, painted a blue-green colour with a rusted wheel and a worn wooden drawer beneath. I composed the picture with a green Chinese porcelain lidded jar filled with brown sugar cubes, to maintain colour harmony throughout.

The first pair of images show (on left)  the basic underpainting based on a Photoshop reduction to sixteen colours; on the right I have established the darkest darks (the cast shadow of the wheel) and the lightest lights (the sugar cubes).

In this next picture (on left) I have started to fill in the background to tone down the stark shadow of the wheel. Basic colours have been established over the underpainting, using in the main Schminke for the greens, and some Blue Earth yellows for the wheel and the wood.
On the right I have further refined the details, the reflections, the background and the wheel. I needed a sharp delineation on the rim of the wheel, so while I still had the underpainting I traced the wheel onto a piece of transparent masking paper, cut out a mask with a scalpel, replaced the tacky paper on the wheel, and stroked some soft pastel to the edge of the mask and rubbed it in to get the sharp edge. 

A final note on the design of this painting - the main area of interest is contained within a classic triangle. A line one third of the way from the bottom is just under the lightest light - the sugar cubes; a secondary focus is on the wheel handle. There is a circular motion throughout the piece via and wheel and its reflection. The whole image and its shadow occupies the left two-thirds of the picture plane; this is fairly subtle in reality. And in reality - more than the photo can show - the sugar is clearly the focal point.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Jackson's Handmade Soft Pastels

One can never have enough pastels! All pastel artists know this. So when a new range is introduced to the market it is a major event. And when the range is of the extent and quality of Jackson's Handmade Soft Pastels, it has to be investigated and tried out.
Jacksons recently introduced a range of hard, square pastels which are ideal for a beginner to trial, although they naturally lack the covering power of softer sticks, But that clearly is not their purpose as Jacksons have now brought to market a range of 200 handmade Soft Pastels of high professional quality.  These hand-rolled pastels are formed with the lightest of touches, so as not to over compress the pastel ingredients. The low binder to pigment ratio of these sticks allows for both subtle and bold mark making. The pastels are 2 inches (50 mm) in length and about 5/8 inch thick. They are ideal for "painting" as the pastels glide smoothly onto paper. 
I have trialled the beige/khaki set (one can choose from a wide array of themed selection sets as well as buying individual sticks).  The colours, from left, are: Yellow Beige TJH177, Beige TJH174, Olive Beige TJH176, Green Beige TJH178, Pale Bister TJH195, Olive Ochre TJH175, Beige Ochre TJH143, Dark Ochre TJH183, Khaki TJH574, Dark Khaki TJH573, Dark Sienna TJH307, Van Dyke Brown TJH243, Burnt Sienna TJH305, Dark Umber TJH649

The results of my initial trial are featured here. The paper used is a blue-grey Tiziano from Fabriano. It is not unlike Canson, with a laid, slightly dimpled surface.
The top row is the set stroked gently on to the paper showing the coverage when used like this. The second row is the same set, blended into the support; you can see that the coverage is complete.

I also blended a dark and a light on to the surface, and glazed over with a light and dark respectively. The results show a distinct glaze, with each colour quite discrete.

I also compared the hardest stick in this range (dark hues tend to be somewhat harder than light hues) with a corresponding hue from Sennelier and Blue Earth.
This demonstrated that the latter two are somewhat softer in this khaki colour; and the Blue Earth is also softer than the Light Bister from Jacksons. 

However, the Jacksons may have the edge for a multi-purpose stick as the very soft pastels, like Blue Earth, and Schminke, are difficult to paint with in a precise manner and lend themselves to an impressionist approach, or as a final reserve for highlights and end strokes. That said, Jacksons are very smooth and buttery - much softer than, say, Rembrandt. This last image is of four adjacent values blended to give a continuous range. 

A range of 200 is a generous selection, and not unattainable at about £1.50 per stick. I tend to buy my pastels in sets of adjacent hues or values; the beige set featured here is an excellent set of neutral colours; I also like the greys, and the blue range is very desirable. These pastels are worth a trial by any serious pastellist, and a worth addition to the canon. I am using them already!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Kashkul Final

Kashkul © Niall O'Neill

Last November I stopped posting on the development of this painting as another took priority. However, I finished it recently, and this is it framed. A kashkul is an Indian begging bowl, possibly endemic to Kashmir. The fruits are Cape gooseberries (Physalis peruviana)

I will take you back to where I left off in the next image.
The effect of adding the background is stark and immediate. It allows me to judge values, and to begin to think about reflections. The background is not black, but a melange of Sennelier dark green and dark blue, spread and integrated with the palm of the hand - a dirty business to be sure.
Final adjustments are made to the depth of the contrast. The physalis berries were all revisited, as were the leaf lights, with pastels from the very soft Blue Earth range, all the berry and leaf colours coming their related lemon and yellow ranges respectively, giving an instant harmony to the piece.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Pitcher and crinodendron

This is another painting in my "pitcher" series; this time posed on a chinese hardwood stand, with a spray of Crinodendron hookerianum. The initial sketch is on sand-coloured Pastelmat.

This is the beginning of the block-in. At the same time the dark background is developed in a mix of Sennelier dark blue and dark green - and I'm running out of these pastels. I must order some more!

The crinodendron flowers are a rich red - in the blue-red bias on the colour wheel, not in the orange-red bias. I used quite a selection of tints and shades to get as realistic a rendering as possible. This included Sennelier and Schminke rose madders, madder lake and Bordeaux red, and Caran d'Ache and Derwent pastel pencils. The Chinese stand has my reliable Carbothello pencils and the very soft Blue Earth yellow series, which has some very rich browns in the darkest shades.

I did add some touches on the pitcher after this was photographed, but it's close enough to the finished painting. Finished size 16x12 ins, 40 x 30 cms.
© Niall O'Neill

Monday, February 17, 2014

Camellia tea

Tea is processed from the leaves of a species of camellia. The tea species is not nearly as decorative as the varieties cultivated for garden display, but that's no reason for not inventing a link in this painting. The tray cloth was embroidered by my good friend and neighbour Odette Bougouin. As usual the support is Clairefontaine's Pastelmat, 15.5 x 12 ins or 40 x 30 cms,
This is the initial sketch blocked in roughly with a view to seeing values and hues.

Initial shading on teapot, and red hues including carmine and madder lake picking out the blossoms.

I usually like to see the background at an early stage to get an idea of the extremes of contrast, but not so much that it will get in the way of the subject and dirty the lighter colours.

With the camellias defined, and the dark green leaves, I started to shade in the traycloth over the underlying colours that are never entirely blotted out. The pastels here were initially the warm Schminke greys.

The cloth is getting some shadows laid in, and shades from Blue Earth yellow range are modifying the greys.

This is just the background shading filled in, in a mix of Rembrandt and Sennelier black, and Girault dark green, blended together.  I went back in to the blue pattern on the teapot and refined it, after further darkening the shaded areas on the porcelain.

The base of the pot is done. Shading of the cloth is finalised, and the details of the embroidery and lace edge added in palest grey and a little white pastel pencil that is less white than the Sennelier white highlights on the porcelain. It just needs to be signed when it has rested for a while.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Pastels from the Met

Dirge of the Three Queens - Edwin Austin Abbey - 29 x 45 ins
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has an extensive online library that may be freely downloaded in pdf format. One book that will interest all pastellists is American Pastels in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There are pastels - and artists - in the collection that are old friends, including Dégas and Mary Cassatt; and some who are entirely new to me. Among these is Edwin Austin Abbey, who painted Dirge of the Three Queens featured above. Go to the website, get the book - it's free!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Japanese quince final

This is the finished pastel of Chaenomeles japonica. I added the reflections, which were absolutely necessary to ground the painting (compare the most recent unfinished stage); some highlights; some detail on the vase; and I darkened the shadow side of the vase where it fades into the dark.
I also scumbled some Roché blue into the top left and right of the background to emphasise the complements.
I wondered about calling this piece Crouching Tiger?
Chaenomeles japonica” © Niall O’Neill