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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Using Fixative to Simplify a Pastel Landscape ..marshes

'Mellow'        4x4"    pastel     ©Karen Margulis    sold
 A sea of marsh grass is tricky to paint.  We often get carried away and paint too many blades of grass. Before we know it we have a fence of grasses right across our painting.  The trick is learning how to simplify all of the details we find in the landscape. How can we suggest the grasses and other details rather than spell them all out?  How can we leave a bit of mystery in our landscapes.  These are the questions I addressed in my presentation/demo for the Southeastern Pastel Society on Monday.

I demonstrated two techniques I use to help me simplify the grasses in a marsh landscape.  One was using an oil stain underpainting to suggest details. (see my post yesterday to learn more)  The second involves the use of fixative.

Enlarge to see the effects of the fixative
Fixative and pastels....the debate goes on.  Should we spray or not?  I choose not to spray a finished painting. I find that fixative changes the painting. I am aware that there are fixatives that are supposed to fix and not change but I have not had success. I guess I am afraid that I will over spray or get drips. I prefer not to experiment!  But I do Love to use fixative during a painting especially during early layers.

I find that by fixing the early layers, the layers that go on top tend to skip and let the bottom layers show through.  This gives a look of texture and the feeling of grass and ground.  It creates a very simple arrangement of color and value so that it isn't necessary to spell out every blade of grass.  Here is the process:

  • I use Blair Very Low Odor workable fixative (still smells)
  • I work on a toned sanded surface. I like to use Wallis Belgian Mist. 
  • I use only my softest pastels such as Terry Ludwig pastels. I don't do an underpainting or build layers with harder pastels first. I go right in with the soft!  This is why I prefer a toned surface so that if I don't cover all the paper it will still work with the painting.
  • I block in the ground first with a few layers of rich dark colors. This is my 'dirt'
  • Now I block off the sky area with a piece of paper and spray only the dark ground with the fixative.  I try to keep it light. I don't want it to be too wet or drippy.
  • Once the fixative dries I finish the sky before moving onto the ground.
  • Next I paint the grasses by using narrow horizontal strokes that get wider as I move closer to the foreground.  I make sure I choose colors that help support the illusion of aerial perspective.
  • If I choose to add more detail I can put in a few blades of grass.  I try to remember restraint and not put in too many blades of grass.....remember SUGGEST details and leave a bit of mystery in your painting.


Donna T said...

Thanks Karen! Using horizontal strokes might just help me not to fuss as much.

Karen said...

Thanks Donna for your comment. I make sure to keep the horizontal stroke 'bands' narrow at the back and gradually widen them as I come closer to the foreground.

Anonymous said...

I love this about the look of pastels, the shapes don't appear contrived, the colors flow one into another.