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Rebecca de Mendonça 27th July 2023
Dartmoor scenes in Pastels - light & atmosphere

Rebecca has demonstrated for us before and we were delighted to welcome her back. She brings a wealth of experience including West End and BBC projects. Now based in Exeter, her work has become widely known over recent years for its energy, life and movement.

Working predominently in pastels, she capture likenesses of horses, people, landscapes and architecture, always seeking out the atmosphere and emotion in her subjects.

Her fluent and subtle approach working in pastels is the product of her unassuming mastery of her chosen medium.

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Reference photos

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For this demo, Rebecca chose a cloudy sunset vista from a rocky tor and worked from a number of reference photos. She often likes to take three photos of a landscape subject, a general view, a sky study, and a foreground picture. This gives a better range of references avoiding bleached out skies on the one hand and impenetrable shadows on the other.

She may also take a snatch of video which can also help capture the 'feel' of a place.

She has the useful habit of recording patches of the pastel colours she uses as this may be useful if further work is needed later.

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Unlike media such as oils or w/c, of course, with pastels if you haven't got the colour you need you haven't got it.  So you have to pick your colours carefully. 

Rebecca uses Unison pastels, which now have a large range of colours (currently 380, a snip at £1400!). Even so there will always be missing intermediate shades. However, for a particular landscape a collection of maybe a dozen sticks of colour may be enough.

[By the way, there's an interesting video about the Unison 'home' to be seen here ]

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Rebecca in fact gave us not one but three pictures. Firstly a quick sketch with charcoal [black through greys to white]. This established tonal values, the darks and lights of the composition - which was broadly diagonal in this case.

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In her second quick picture, Rebecca showed how to blend indistinct distant parts [sky, far hills ...] with the finger. She made the interesting point that distant images are being seen through the sky [i.e. the intervening atmosphere] - hence their blueness. This 'atmospheirc perspective' can be as important an element as the pure 'distance perspective ["small - far away"!]

The slide show [left] indicates how the effect of rocks is created with some rougher more vigorous marks.

Flaking pastel can be a problem when it comes to framing - especially if one chooses not to use fixative because of its tendency to darken colours - so using a double mount, with a discreet trough to catch fragments, is very helpful.  She also tends to knock the picture a bit to knock off any looser fragments before framing. But to avoid the other problem, of adding light tones over a build-up of dark layers of pastel, Rebecca uses a piece of plastic card [e.g. some membership card] to scrape excess pigment away.

She also finds it helpful  to use Art Spectrum ColourFix Pastel Primer which gives a useful 'tooth' to a surface to better hold the pigment in place.

While on the subject of materials, Rebecca tends not to make so much use of Conté crayons - harder thinner sticks of pastel colour combined with rather more binder - in her landscapes but uses them a lot more to add details in her pictures of animals etc.

Anyway, back to that third picture! This was from an image of a sunset over Saddle Tor as seen from Hay Tor.

Here we get the gist of the pictures development, I hope. Rather blurry photos, I agree.  Sorry. 

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Halfway through ...

... and finished - though Rebecca would often work quite a bit longer on it in the studio.

(Incidentally, she favours working for not longer than an hour at a time in normal conditions. )

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And finally, here's one Rebecca made earlier!

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Otter Vale Art Society

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