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!