Saturday, September 13, 2014

Easy Pastel Demo - Pears

Materials needed:
Charcoal stick or pencil
Pastels (any brand) red, green, orange, blue, white
Charcoal or drawing paper with vellum or laid surface
Kneaded (putty) eraser
A pear, real or fake, to draw from

I created this project for folks who start out with little or no budget. I used Blick square student grade pastels on Strathmore lightweight recycled charcoal sketch paper. Student pastels are non toxic, safe for children, have a lovely soft texture and mix well. Their only problem is they're not lightfast. So if you do a painting in them that you really love, get some artist grade pastels and redo it on archival paper. As this project shows, it's not only possible to repeat the same drawing but it may get better the more often you do it!

Start with the charcoal pencil and draw the pear from life. Set it out on something flat and plain like a sheet of printer paper or white place mat, so the shadow shape is easy to see. Sketch fast and then smudge the drawing with your finger to get smooth tones and gradients. At a hard edge, just don't go over the edge while smudging, go near it and let it stay sharp.

Charcoal sketches to start

My first charcoal sketch is accurate, but I realized the pear looked ugly at that angle and turned it so that it'd look more like a traditional pear shape. Try different angles and move the light if you have to in order to get a good shape and a good design. Make sure the light is clearly from one side - most things look better and are easier to draw with light from one side and above.

Once I got the second sketch, I repeated it two more times on the page and then started using the pastels. I finished my bluesorange one first, but did the red-green one stopping half way to show that stage.

Red-Green Pear

No blending yet on this stage. I used the lighter color over the entire pear and shaded with the darker color, then used the darker color by itself in the shadow and background just like the charcoal. Then used the lighter color again to shade back over the shadow on this one to show how it looks blending with directional strokes instead of fingers. That can look great - think of a Van Gogh painting. 

So now let's carry this farther even if I'm using different colors. You can use any colors you like as long as one's lighter or darker, but complement pairs: red/green, orange/blue and yellow/violet all have a great combination and good neutrals where they blend. Other light-dark combinations like turquoise-dark blue or pink and purple may have brighter transitions. 

Blue-Orange Pear

First, I finger blended the background completely avoiding the stem. Then washed my hand and finger blended the pear, starting in the light color area and working toward the dark. After that, I went back over the whole pear again with the orange since the shadows looked too dark, and touched a little more blue in to rework from that - about 3 orange layers and 2 blue in the shadows on the pear itself. I darkened the shadow nearest the pear. After I went over the blended area, I only blended by going over it with the sticks. Finally, I used white to press hard and make white highlights on the light side of the fruit and went over the blue background with the white stick to lighten it and distinguish it from the shadow.

Finger blending makes a different texture than blending with an added color or the same stick. Stick blending makes a vibrant, almost sparkling texture with a lot of color intensity. Finger blending makes a softer shaded look but goes very easy and mutes color a little. Using both textures together can make a painting more interesting. 

If you do several of these on the same page it can look great! I put this up on my sketch wall because I liked the progression seeing them all together. It won't stay up long, as I do new sketches I take down the old ones and put them away. Always sign and date everything you draw!

"Warhol effect" pears page

If you spray fixative over the charcoal sketch before using the pastels, charcoal will be less likely to mix with your colors. I didn't this time and didn't mind the charcoal darkening the shadows, but depending on your color choices you might want to do that. Try this in many different combinations. Test different shading methods and techniques as you do, along with color combinations and even types of pastels if you have more than one brand available.

I might go back and do another version of this on archival paper with lightfast, artist grade pastels. But this shows you don't need those expensive supplies to start - you can get strong bold results with the cheapest supplies. The biggest differences are permanence, pigment strength and texture. All artist grade brands have different textures, but the one that most matches the smooth softness of student grade pastels is Blue Earth sticks from Dakota Pastels.

Here are some textures possible using student pastels on cheap brown Bee Bogus Recycled Rough paper - an inexpensive, wonderful brown paper very similar to brown paper grocery bags. With student pastels you might as well cut up grocery bags as they're not permanent and it makes a gorgeous middle value toothy surface! 

Chart of some mixing methods in pastels

Try all of these methods to shade the pears in your project. If you use a big sheet you could fill the page with six or 12 different pears, all in different colors and textures. The repeat of similar images with variations can make it a striking poster! Or you could fill several pages of a sketchbook with these studies.

Have fun and enjoy painting in pastels!

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