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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

How to Paint Whiskers with Pastels

'Bathtime'               8x10             pastel            ©Karen Margulis
We are painting animals in my pastel classes this week.  Painting animals can be a stretch for artists like myself, who mainly paint landscapes but there are many valuable lessons to be learned. Often concepts become clear when presented in another way. Changing up the subject matter can often spark an 'Aha Moment'.

I use a different approach for my animal paintings that rely in creating a value map. My goal is to lightly layer color by value without worrying about getting the exact local color.  In other words white fur is not white and brown fur is not brown.  These lessons can be transferred to the landscape. Clouds are not white and tree trunks are not brown!

Another valuable lesson which can also apply to the landscape is how to paint whiskers. Whiskers are the last thing I add to an animal painting. The whiskers can make or break the painting. (the same is true for grasses in the landscape)  If they are painted too heavy, dark and regular they will look cartoonish. Here are a few tips to effective and painterly whiskers:

a selection of Nupastels used for whiskers

 COLOR:  Whiskers are white. Well we say they are white and maybe they seem white but pure white pastel can often look flat.  I rarely use pure white in a painting. I prefer to use light values of color....almost white but with a touch of color.  When I paint whiskers I like to use a warm light for whiskers getting the light and cool colors such as pale blue for whiskers in the shadows.

PASTELS:  I like to use well worn Nupastels for my whiskers. I like them best when they develop a thin point from use. These hard pastels will cut through the soft pastel layers and make the best whiskers. I don't use pastel pencils. I tend to want to draw with them and my whiskers come out too thick and heavy.

Heavy flat whiskers vs colorful painterly whiskers

TECHNIQUE: The goal for whiskers is to make Lyrical Lines.....line that are broken and not regular in length and width. This is best done with a light hand that is allowed to dance across the paper.
See the illustration above. The top whiskers are too white, too heavy and too regular....cartoon whiskers. The bottom 4 whiskers have subtle color and a light touch. Practice!

TIP: BE CONFIDENT!!  It can be scary to paint whiskers. Since they have to come at the end of a painting it is easy to fear that the whiskers will ruin the painting. I find that the more nervous I am, the worse the whiskers will be. I will press down to hard and make them too thick because I am concentrating so hard. When I relax and just DO IT.....the whiskers come out free and painterly. 

If you are a landscape painter try these tips for painting grasses! and if you would like to try my lesson on painting animals check out my PDF demo on Etsy.


Sue Marrazzo said...

So adorable.

robertsloan2art said...

Thank you for a valuable lesson! Now I'm starting to regret that I got rid of my set of Nupastels. The light colors wouldn't fade anyway as much as the brights and some darks. Those whiskers are so beautiful and whiskers are so important especially on cats.

Whiskers, like ear gestures, give the cat's expression and emotional state. They're constantly moving and changing. Ari does some silly things with his whiskers sometimes. He'll be asleep and laying on half of them, or they'll stick forward and bend oddly, but I always notice them. Very hard getting those bright white whiskers into a painting of him since I sometimes get them too heavy.

Flicking them in seems to work best and I love how you use broken color following the curve. Some of my cat's whiskers aren't white all along their length, they're speckled. That's very common. When you break the line like that it looks just like his speckled whiskers and reads true.

Beautiful cat painting in a difficult pose, it's hard for me to snap a reference photo when he's either washing or yawning. He'll do it the moment after I get the photo or the Kindle won't respond till he's done with the gesture. Pure luck getting that reference if you didn't put it together watching a live cat washing. I may have to do that to get his washing pose right!

PURR and thanks for today's great article! I might try it with my Cretacolors, they come close to the texture of Nupastels.