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October 2019: Lambing Pen Scene in Pastels by Colin Allbrook
Colin Allbrook is one of the most respected and renowned painters in the South-West of England. Working in both oils and watercolours and through the use of light and colour, Colin depicts the life and activity of the area. He is an elected member of the Royal institute of Painters in Watercolour (RI), the Royal Society of Marine Artists (RSMA), The Society of Equestrian Artists (SEA) and the South West Academy.
For his OVAS demo, Colin turned to another favourite medium, Pastels, enjoying the immediacy and directness of the mark-making.
Two tints of the same blue-grey
Working With Pastels
For the demo, Colin worked on grey pulp board, a hard board that he prefers, though Ingres papers [coming in many colours and tints] also has a good tooth. Cartridge paper, on the other hand, is far too 'skiddy'. He coats his board with white gesso subtly subdued with an acrylic tint.
Conté chalk pastels are quite hard and work best, he feels, with Unison pastels [medium hard] and the softer Daler-Rowney pastels worked over the top. A Conté black pencil is also less skiddy than charcoal for initial drawing.
For subtle harmonies, Colin likes to use tints of the same pastel colours (for instance he likes straw colour, blue-grey, purple-greys and grey-greens). Tints are available labelled '0' [very light] through to the darkest tint ['8']. The pastels can best be mixed by laying one colour over the top of another.
Colin lives and works in North Devon, and has many farming friends. So one of his favourite subjects is scenes on a farm, particularly in working barns with the bustle of activity and the beautiful light filtering from windows, from skylights and thrown up, warm and golden, from straw-strewn flooring.
Colin begins with a 2-minute drawing, with the black conté crayon. For accurate verticals he anchored his little finger to the edge of the board as he slid his crayon down - a useful tip.
The sketch that Colin worked from, economically annotated with numbers indicating tonal depth and brief memory jogs as to colour
He likes to get accuracy of drawing from the start but initial colouring is loose and pale
He roughly scribbles areas using the end of the pastel
More pictures continued below the yellow box
Colin sometimes works from photos but prefers sketching both as an enjoyable activity in its own right and for recording the details that a camera might well miss. He brought a couple of sketchbooks with him.
Colin works across the whole picture, constantly adjusting as he goes, adding emphases and more details with the black conté as he goes. Equally he uses the coloured pastels not merely for 'colouring in' but constantly drawing with them.
A useful tip for getting sharp edges with these blunt instruments (pastel sticks) is to draw the background up to the edge rather than try to draw the edge itself sharply.
And finally, don't spray fixative too close or you can get a sludgy mess!
The finished image.
Normally such a picture would take a few hours, or maybe a couple of days. It is good to take a break; it makes it easier to come back and see what else you need to do.
When you reach the point when you are no longer adding anything useful, Stop! It's done.
An early textural detail
As with watercolours, Colin works progressing from lighter to darker pastels - although he noted that it is easier to lighten again with pastels by simply adding extra layers that are paler.
He advises against using your fingers to smudge surfaces as the result can look dead - though if smudging a big area you can go over it again with the pastels to regain the texture.
Colin tends to work with the picture held upright, occasionally using a marlstick or, if horizontal, a NON-MOVING piece of paper. Pastels can smudge easily but stay in position with a bit of care,
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