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Friday, April 14, 2017

Painting Elephants: Behind the Scenes

'True Love'         11x14       pastel       ©Karen Margulis
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 Here is something different for me! I had fun with this commission painting of a pair of elephants. For today's post I will share some of the 'behind the scenes' decisions I made while painting the elephants. I didn't take photos of each stage but I will explain what I was thinking.

The first decision was the paper and underpainting technique. I was given the photo of the elephants which was taken by the collector's friend. She wanted a portrait format 11x14 painting. She didn't have any other requirements (which is how I like to do commissions!) I decided to use Uart paper 500 grit. I toned the paper by layering some grayed colors: violet, green and peach. I blended these layers with pipe insulation foam to create a nice colorful gray. I would use these same pastels in the elephants.

The same pastels were used in both this landscape and the elephants!
  • The next step was to select my pastels for the painting. I was about to start a new tray of pastels when I realized that the colors I used in my last two paintings would actually be perfect for the elephants! So I kept the same tray out and started the painting.
  • I drew the elephants with a piece of Nupastel. I needed to measure to get the eyes in the correct place.
  • Next I blocked in the darkest areas on both elephants. I began with a dark green Nupastel. I squinted at my photo to see where these dark areas were. I wanted to be sure to have green in the elephants since it will be the background color.
  • I decided to do the background before finishing the elephants. Inspired by the reference I chose greens but I simplified the clutter by layering a variety of greens. I tied them all together with some linear marks. These marks provide some interest and energy and also suggest grass.



Finished the background now onto the elephants!

  • Once the background was finished I returned to the elephants and started to build the dark areas with a few layers of some other dark pastels. I used a dark blue and a dark violet and a softer dark green. 


  • I then finished the eyes of the elephants. It is important to get the eyes right. They brought the elephants to life!
  • The rest of the painting was just a matter of layering. I began layering the middle value areas. I selected a variety of grayed colors such a a peach, great and several blues and violets. All of the colors I used were neutrals. I only used a pure gray (black and white) in a few places. I preferred using colorful grays. This is the way I paint cloud shadows so that is why this palette worked for the sky painting and the elephants!


Layering the grays

  • Next it was time to tackle the details. To paint the wrinkles I used a lighter pastel over the dark areas rather than drawing lines. 
  • I did use a dark blue Nupastel and a bit of Terry Ludwig eggplant to reinforce the dark details.
  • The final touch was to add the lightest gray with a very light touch of the pastel. I added a few brighter green grasses and called it done!

1 comment:

Catherine Bergier said...

I love the way you use so many different colors to suggest the gray of these elephants!
Such a liberty I often dont dare to take... But I will try now, thank you Karen !