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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Why Pastel Painting is Like Fine Wine

'Lap Warmer'             8x10              pastel           ©Karen Margulis
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I wanted it very dark. I knew that a dark background would set off the warm sunlit fur of my cat. The photo I was working from showed the background as black. Photos often do that to shadows and dark areas.  But I didn't want to use black.  I rarely do. It tends to be dull and lifeless. I needed liveliness and complexity!  That's when it occurred to me.

Layering pastels is like a fine wine.  

Layering makes a painting lively and complex. Consider these two words we use to describe wine (from Sunset magazine)

COMPLEXITY. A complex wine has multiple layers of flavors and aromas. Each sip reveals something you didn't notice before. Complex wines are more fascinating than their opposites ― simple wines.

FRESHNESS. A wine that tastes clean and lively is often described as fresh, a sense that often stems from its natural acidity. A wine with too little acidity frequently tastes bland and dull, or flabby.

We can have a simple, bland and dull painting or we can have a fresh, lively and complex painting. It has a lot to do with the way we layer our colors.

single color wine vs. complex wine

How does layering pastels compare to wine?  Consider the illustration above.  In the glass of wine on the left I used one layer of pastel. It was a dark wine so I used black. I could have used dark red or dark blue. The important thing is that I have only used one layer of dark pastel.  Dull, flat and boring!

In the glass on the right I used four layers of dark pastels, dark blue, green, dark purple and dark red. I layer them lightly and they mix and mingle and blend together. Click on the photo to enlarge and see the subtleties of the colors.

The glass on the right has more liveliness, complexity and interest.  This is what I try to do when I layer my pastels. If I am building up an area....whether it is dark , middle, or light value.....I don't use just ONE pastel. I layer several pastels that are all the same value. This creates a much more interesting painting.

So next time you are painting....remember that glass of wine. Which would you rather drink?


Anonymous said...

Great post and I love the light on the kitty.


Donna Weathers said...

Great post and so true! Gorgeous kitty portrait!

Susan Vaughn said...

Excellent analogy! Now, every time I paint in pastels, I'm going to be thinking of your "fine wine." Just as you said ... one, flat, dark in the background, or even in the foreground for that matter - is "boring!" When I paint in pastels, I layer color and add different colors at times, as long as they are the same value, so as to add interest to the painting. Love your post, and love your painting of your kitty!

Carol Flatt said...

What a clever way to explain and show this concept of layering. Well done!

robertsloan2art said...

Beautiful cat painting. I'm awed. I love the way that rich multi-layered background sets her off and also the way the interesting darks play in her fur too. Great metaphor with fine wine as well.

It makes a huge difference mixing colors in the same value range. I remember constantly searching for exactly the right stick or pencil to get the hue of a dark right, now I'll wind up creating it in a jazzier way and play with things like complements to the light areas to intensify it.

Way back in the 80s when I was doing realism with colored pencils, I noticed a portrait done by a friend, Karen River, was spectacular. I asked her how she got such a rich black, it actually seemed darker than the black pencil. She explained she layered Indigo Blue, a deep dark blue and Sepia, a deep dark brown to get it. I tried it and put it next to a swatch of black and it still had that jazzy intensity.

In pastels with broken color and partial overlapping the effect is even richer. Subtle variations within the dark create interest without taking away from the center of interest. This rocks.

And your lap warmer's adorable, but you know that of course. Give her a good scritch for me next time she's in reach!