Carmella Jarvi: Pastel Painting Water in Landscape

Welcome to Artist Palette Productions at Cheap Joe's Art Stuff!

In this segment, I'm going to show you how I go about painting one of my water in landscape pieces. This time I'm starting with a photograph that I shot on location. Sometimes I work en plein air, but a lot of times I like to go back and work in my studio.

I have my picture, I've printed it, and I want to make sure it's not the only copy I have of the photo. Then the next thing is my color palette - especially with pastels. I'm going to hold the picture up and pick some of my colors in this piece based on this picture. I don't need to pick every color but I do want to have some idea. When you're picking your colors you want to think about your complimentary colors, some lights, some darks, some brighter colors - basically a nice variety. Also the fun thing about pastels is picking the "surprise color" which we'll do later on.

Now that I have my palette picked out, I want to pick my background color. This is a scrap of paper that is the same color as the final. It's really good to have a border around your pastel paper so I can come in and not only test the colors but test the marks. It's good to practice what you're doing before you're working on the final and the final will be better. As you can see here, you have the light colors, some darks and some brighter colors.

Back at the easel now. I mentioned that the "body has memory." It's really important to practice - whether I'm doing this from a photograh or en plein air. I always like to have a piece of junk paper (newsprint works great) and conte' because it's a great bridge from line and form drawing to painting with pastel. What I have here is the image and I have my newsprint. I've already sketched this in. You can see it's basically proportionate to the paper I'm going to work on.

What I'm going to do is flip this paper over. Underneath you can see that I have a glassine sheet - an archival material that I use to protect my pastels - because I don't fix them and if I travel or if I'm taking it to the framer I want to be sure I have protection. Underneath the glassine here we have the image that I have started blocking in.

This is on the Richeson Premium Pastel Surface - the color is called Storm - and I use archival artists tape. Now what I'm going to do is continue working with the image. When I'm working I'll hold the picture and a lot of times I will step back to get an overall impression. You can see I've blocked in, I'm not worried at all about it being perfect. This is my impression of this picture. Don't worry about getting it exact or draw with pencil first. I always start out with my soft pastels on the paper itself.

One trick you can do is pick a color of pastel that's very close to the color of your paper and you can do some sketching in if you're nervous about starting your first painting or doing it on good paper. If you make a mistake it's not so bold and you don't have to worry about fixing it quite as much. Since I'm painting water, I want to address what's above the water and then what is the reflection of the water at the same time.

That way I don't have to go back later and fill it in. It never looks like the reflection is as accurate if you don't work it at the same time. I want to use both the point of my pastel and also use the side. You want a variety of marks because it gives you a better range. I'm going to go ahead and start my marks accordingly here in the water because of its movement.

I'm going to go ahead and start my marks accordingly. And even though there's a lot of yellow in these trees there's also some warm - the fun thing about pastel is that you want to put those colors in underneath. As you're working you want to think about this pastel painting in terms of background, middle ground and foreground.

Even though I've started everything (sky, house, trees and water) I want to make sure I finish the sky first, then the house and trees, and then the water. The very last thing will be what is closest to me. In my picture here the sky completely washed out, so I'm going to take some creative license here. I want gradation in my sky so I'm going to make it brighter in the lower areas. The nice thing about stepping back is that it gives you a better view of the whole thing. Because I did that I'm coming back down to the reflection of the water and suggest the movement of the water with my mark.

We have this waterfall reserver that's happening there and it's a little brighter in the center. You'll notice I'm starting to go a little bit thicker now with the pastels. Because I'm using professional pastels, I want to be very careful with the pastel dust.

Some of these have cadmium pigments and they're not good to breathe. One of the things that I like to do is once it starts to get thick I'll tap it like this. That lets my pastel dust run down. I have something down here with to catch the dust and then you don't have to worry about the pastel dust getting everywhere. I don't like to use a lot of black but it's important to me to show the darks at this point and for the sake of the video and the quick impression.

It's not quite black - it's actually a deep dark brown. The main reason is that I want to really define where my darks are. When I do my paintings, I go back and forth from the lights and the darks and that usually helps. I'm playing light against dark and defining my edges. Again, I'm not outlining anything because you don't want to do that. Try to do edges instead or just barely suggest with a little pastel.

In the event you end up messing something up, you can use a shami cloth and try to pick up carefully the pastel underneath. If I'm using the Richeson Gatorform, I've actually rinsed off all of the pastel before. Baby wipes work great, too. I don't want it to all look the same, but I like having the balance here. Remember to vary your marks, and I'm actually trying to suggest some of these plants.

It's important to learn about your color theory because once you have a strong understanding, your painting will be better. I'm not worried about showing everything in that wall, but I do want a basic understanding so it looks more convincing to the viewer.

This gray color almost obliterated the white wall here, but that's ok, because it also brings your focus toward the center of the painting. I like the pastel paper to show through, but there are two times I prefer there not to be any paper showing.

One of those is when I'm doing sky and the other is when I'm doing skin because you don't want it to look so splotchy. I want to make sure there's a really thick layer of pastel on this. If I were to do any blending, some people use a stump, some people use their finger, you want to make sure before you blend, that your hands are clean and dry and that you keep them clean and dry. Otherwise you'll just muddy your colors up.

The cool thing about pastels - they're dry pigment, and they're beautiful colors - but I love blending pastel with pastel. A lot of talented pastel artists have these skills of blending with their fingers, they'll do a little bit and blend it. The way I work is I blend pastel into pastel and with these soft handmade pastels it works great.

You'll see what I'm talking about here. Now I am going to have to go in and do a little bit of blending with my fingers in a moment, and I'm lightly doing this. Just a little bit of pressure. That gave me that nice gradation. I don't want to go in and outline, but I do want a crisp edge there.

I'll lay the pastel on its side and not have it too delineated. I like this natural painted look. I'm losing my green but I can bring that back in later. This is when it's great to have that practice paper. I can even come into my newsprint that I did with Conte' and just do some practice and warming up with layering colors.

This is a little bit of a brighter sky color, so I'm going to bring in this central highlight here. One of the best tips I can give - whether you are working from a photograph, a landscape in front of you or a figure - is to draw or paint what you see, not what you think you see. I know that there are rocks here and the water is going over these rocks but if I try to do what I think it is it's not going to look right. Instead I'm coming in and I'm drawing or painting in the highlights and the shadows and the motion. In the end, whether it looks like it now or not, it will resemble the picture much better than if I try to make it like I think it should be.

I want to get rid of some of the gray and I"m going to do some blending soon. No clouds in the sky, just going to do a nice little gradation here. This area is working and I'm getting the reflection, but this area and this area are really undefined. I need to figure out what I"m going to do with these greens before I come in for the rest of it.

Really look for the shadows and highlights - so here's this overhang here so I'll suggest that with shadows. I'm just going to go ahead and use this dark green to define this edge by the water. Not outlining but I need to really suggest where this edge is.

I didn't like the way that happened so all I have to do is take the pastel back over it and that's fixed. That's what I absolutely love about pastel - it has a lot of forgiveness to it. If people would loosen up a little bit more they would be a lot happier with their pieces in the end. Even if you want to do really realistic pastels - if you start out looser and keep getting it crisper and more defined as you're going - you can still use these techniques even if you don't like the loose paperly style.

The building here I haven't done much with. So I need to suggest some edges. I don't want to delineate but there is texture here. A friend of mine is a plein air painter and she will often lay a towel down underneath the easel and that's both to find a pastel that got dropped and it also helps to cusion the blow. I have dropped these occasionally and they shatter - so that helps.

I'm going to go ahead and push this back - and by that I mean adding the dark. In my photo I have a lot of plant life here but that wasn't working as well. There's a lot of dark here so I need to come and bring this into the reflection. Now I mentioned a little bit about surprise color. Another thing I really like about pastel is when you pick a color that is a lot brighter or a different color than what you see in the picture or in front of you. Here I've picked this red-orange and this is going to give me a little bit of pop.

The thing about surprise color is that you don't want to use it everywhere. Because then it won't be a surprise anymore. You'll see me stepping back a lot - especially once I get about halfway through - the 2nd half of a painting I always like to step back a lot. Thsi is very strong on the left side, there's a lot of dark and on the right side there's a lot of bright. What I want to do is add just a little bit of the surprise color over here. You're starting to get a feel here for the water now.

This is getting close to the end-stage - not done obviously, but I want to finish my sky next. That way when I define the building and the trees they are in front of the trees. Then I'm going to come in and figure out what's going on here with the waterfall so I can do that more convincingly.

In the sky area I want lots of pastel on the surface. Don't forget your sky goes all the way across so don't forget about this area to the left side of the building. At this point, really thick pastel is needed because I'm getting ready to blend because if I don't have enough it will just get muddied up.

You'll notice I'm moving back and forth, left and right, because you want to start suggesting how the water moves with how you apply your paint. Love the variety of color and the variety of marks because it will make your paintings better. Last step before I blend, I'm going to come back in with this darker color - just dragging it across.

The thing about blending is to be gentle. Don't be heavy handed. Think about what it is that you're blending. See how that already looks muddy there - and my finger was clean. I'm not concerned about the few holes that are there. Here you can see there wasn't as much pastel at the top because it doesn't blend as well. This is when it's so easy to get excited and smear all the colors into each other. Again, I don't want to outline but I do want to suggest that edge.

Now while I have this I want to go ahead and start my blending on the water as well. I'm going to go ahead and start doing my blending in the water as well. It's the same as when you're applying color when you color in above the water and you go back in and color in the reflection of the water. It's very cool to have a little bit of the scratchy texture with some of the thicker blended pastel. You'll notice I keep standing back - very important to see the overall impression of the water.

Once you've blended, come back in with your pastel so that you can bring in that fresh bright color again. I suggested to stay away from white until the very end. Of course with water, the best color you have for your "pop" is using the white. If you can't afford the hand-made pastels yet, at least get yourself some really good lights and darks in an expensive hand-rolled pastel. Your paintings will benefit from it.

Don't worry about every little thing - have fun with it! Loosen up! Do some loose paintings and then when you try to do more realistic stuff they will be better. They'll have more character because they're looser and have that painterly feel.

Another thing that's really important is that I will not finish this whole pastel here. What I like to do is get a lot of it done and then I put it away for a while. If I'm working on this river I'll get a lot of it done, maybe take a reference photo, get away from it for a while. Go back to the studio, put it up with a fresh eye and decide what the strong points are, the weak areas and what I need to fix.

I think that's really important for me as a painter to not sit down and work on something from beginning to end because I'll get on auto-pilot. That's it. I'll show you what it looks like in the studio after I'm done.

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