A few months ago I was asked to do a commission of a home set in the wintertime but not set during the holiday season.
This offered a challenge because I couldn’t rely on holiday lights and decorations to keep a winter scene from looking tired and dull. I wanted this picture to convey the magic of winter while showing off the home. I didn’t know the best way to portray that. I brainstormed and sketched the house during different times of day, with various amounts of snow, etc. I ended up liking several of the ideas but I didn’t love any of them. Then one evening I had to go to the post office. I walked outside right as the colors of the sunset were being reflected in the snow. Oranges, pinks, purples, and blues filled my eyes from heaven to earth and I instantly knew how I wanted to paint the scene. A little over 30 hours later the painting was completed.
My client and I were thrilled with how the colors perfectly showed off the beauty of this hillside home.
I had the fun opportunity to work on a commission that featured a house from my hometown. I grew up only a few miles away and saw this house almost everyday. I went to school with their kids from elementary on up to college. My mom taught them piano lessons and I went to girls camp with their daughters. So when their kids asked me to do a commission of their parent’s home I was ecstatic.
There is something endearing and personal about painting a picture of a home that you know so well for a family that you love and respect.
I know exactly where the home I grew up in is in relation to this house and the mountains featured in the background. As a result I began feeling home sick while painting this picture. I think part of it is that was from knowing I wouldn’t be coming home for Christmas this year for only the second time in my life.
The other reason I started feeling home sick was that painting this made me really reflective of my childhood, the people I grew up with, life long friends I made, and the adventures I went on hiking the mountains in the background. Even though I didn’t always appreciate it as a kid I was blessed to grow up in town I did.
The reference photos that were sent me for this commission were beautiful photos from the previous Christmas. The photos showed off the beautiful pink glow the mountains get as the sunset is reflected on them with the cozy house situated just beneath.
They wanted the house to look and feel like it was Christmas Eve. To me this meant the house needed to glow with feelings of warmth, joy, and love. So much so that it would make you wish you could jump right in and be part of the celebration.
When I first started using soft pastels I started with a small ten dollar store brand set. They felt and responded more like colored chalk than actual soft pastels. All the colors were anemic and the only dark color was black. I found them difficult to work with and couldn’t get the look I was trying to achieve.
Years later when I started painting with watercolor regularly I learned the difference between child grade, student grade, and professional art supplies. This knowledge changed my entire art experience. I was no longer frustrated with how weak my watercolors were in saturation. I remember my first time painting with a set of good quality watercolor paints and feeling so relaxed as I painted. I didn’t feel like I had to fight my paints anymore. Creating the pictures that were in my mind started to happen more easily.
A few months after this experience with watercolors I became inspired with some beautiful soft pastel paintings I had seen demonstrated on the show “Color in your life.” Seeing these artist work inspired me to pull out that ten dollar set again experiment with the pastels.
I learned that soft pastel artists often work on sanded surfaces so I went to the garage and pulled out some sandpaper to experiment with how the pastels responded to a different surface.
Being older and having a better understanding of art I could more objectively analyze what I liked and disliked verses being a kid and just throwing my paper way after getting frustrated. I liked how the pastels layered, it was a fast medium to work in (like watercolor), and how you could achieve easily achieve an impressionistic effect. I liked how the sanded paper held the pigment and allowed for many layers compared to my cold press watercolor I had been experimenting on. I didn’t like how my set was so chalky and didn’t have much pigment to it. As a result of this experimentation I decided to see what decent quality pastels I could find for a reasonable price. I ended up finding this koh-I- Noor pastel set and a Sennelier (yay!) 60 half stick set on amazon for really good deals. So I ordered them along with some Uart sanded pastel paper.
Getting those pastels was one of the best decisions I’ve made in regards to art. I experimented, played, and learned as much about pastels as I could find online. I watched hours of free YouTube tutorials and tried different techniques. I learned that I absolutely love this medium. It filled in the gaps that watercolor couldn’t quite fill. I learned I especially love painting pastel landscapes. Which was perfect because I typically dislike painting landscapes in watercolor. I also liked how easy it was to fix mistakes.
Since getting those two sets of pastels my pastel collection has grown by quite a lot. I have since tried pan pastels, mount vision pastels, Richardson’s, nupastels, Stabilo CarbOthello pastel pencils, Schmincke, and my current favorite terry Ludwig pastels. Each brand and type of pastel has its own characteristics that I am learning how to utilize. I hope to do reviews on these pastels types of the next few months.
Have you ever worked in soft pastels? If so, do you have a favorite brand? Leave a comment down below letting me know.
For months the urge to just take my art supplies and go paint nature for several days was really strong. When we would go hiking or biking I would constantly wish that I had my art supplies with me so I could paint what my eyes were seeing, the colors and textures that a photograph cannot capture. However, most of time that wasn’t a possibility because I was either hiking with a kid strapped to my back while keeping my “free range” kids from wandering off or I was there to get an adrenaline rush (mountain biking or snowboarding) and painting wasn’t in the agenda. I would paint things around my home and city when I had the chance but I wanted more (cue The Little Mermaid music). I wanted to escape the grown up responsibilities of life for a few days and paint nature.
In March the stars aligned and I was able to take my first official Plein Air painting trip while my husband stayed home to pack up our home. Being that Yellowstone, Jackson Hole, and most of northern Utah were still snowed in I traveled south for this trip. I went to favorite place to hike and explore…Moab, Utah.
I think my first trip to Moab as a kid was when I became awestruck by nature. I was raised by mountains, farmlands, and forests, which made it so I didn’t really appreciate their beauty. I took it for granted that every spring I would see the orchards blossoming and waterfalls created from the melting snow. Moab however was nothing like I had ever seen up to that point. The red and orange rocks caught my imagination and love. After that trip, I opened my eyes and started appreciating the beauty of nature everywhere I went and I continued to go back to Moab as often as possible.
To say I was excited to go paint in Moab would be an understatement. Even though it ended up being rainy and overcast for most of the trip I loved hiking to some of my favorite locations and painting them. When the weather would be too wet to paint I would go to the various galleries there and talk to other artists. When it was time for the trip to be over I left feeling inspired and rejuvenated. I had so many painting ideas that I actually sketched/wrote some of them down so I could work on them once I had a working studio again.
Well a little over four months have passed and I am happy to say that I was finally able to work on one of those ideas. Here pastel painting of Delicate Arch with the evening light shinning though the arch with the snow capped La Sal mountains in the distance. This idea came to me as I sat sketching Delicate Arch while fighting some very flat overcast light and sitting on a very hard rock. I wanted to use strong and unusual colors while keeping it fairly loose with the detail. I absolutely love how this painting turned out.
Have you ever done plein air painting? How did it go? Leave a comment letting me know!
Is it better to have a painting planned out completely before starting? Or is it better to charge right in and see what happens? Honestly there is no right or wrong way. I think it really depends on what medium you are working in, the style you paint in, how your brain thinks, etc.
Some materials allow for corrections to happen really easy because mistakes can easily be erased or covered with paint. For example, Acrylics allow artists to change their minds really easily. Areas that aren’t working out can be covered with paint and fixed. If the entire painting isn’t workings an artist can gesso right over it and use the canvas for something else.
Other materials are less forgiving. The most obvious example of this is watercolor. It is really difficult to fix mistakes painted in watercolor. Especially if you typically work with staining type of watercolors like I do. This is why watercolor is often considered one of the more difficult mediums to work in.
Another thing to consider is what type of style you want to work in. Are you doing a hyper realistic painting with a lot of elements to it or are you doing an abstract painting? When I want to do super realistic paintings/drawings I spend more time planning my approach and layout then if I wanted to do a more surreal/abstract piece.
Finally, it really comes down to how your brain works. Are you a type of person that likes structure and a plan or are you a “by the seat of your pants” type? Personally, I am a person who likes to have a general idea of what I want to do but I need the flexibility to be able to adjust and change my mind. I am like this in all aspects of my life. On vacations I like to have a few days planned but not all of them. I like to have the flexibility to change my mind and be spontaneous. If nothing is planned I procrastinate or waste time figuring out what I want. I am also a tactile and visual person, in school I learned better if I wrote my lecture notes by hand and if I had some visuals of what was being taught. Often times I wouldn’t look at the notes again. It was mostly the act of writing down that transferred the information to memory.
Applying this to painting I find that if I do a lot of excessively planned paintings back to back then my work start looking stiff, it stops being fun, and can be stressful to work on. On the other end of the spectrum I sometimes get frustrated in the middle of a spontaneous painting because I forgot to save the whites on my watercolor painting or realize I would have liked to do a different color combination. Both extremes can leave me frustrated. Also the act of painting my idea out allows me more clearly understand what I want. Its kind of like tuning a radio station– it gets rid of the mental static.
My solution was to find a middle ground that worked for me. If I am working on a commission or doing a painting outside my sketchbook I will typically do a “quick” painting on student grade materials to figure out my layout, color pallet, and to practice a new technique that might be needed for it. I don’t spend a lot of time on but I want to get a vison of what I want and how to execute it. I typically spend about 10-40 minutes working on it. I then take a break for a few hours so I can later analyze it with fresh eyes.
When I comeback to start work on the real painting I clean up my work space and look at the picture and decide what I like, don’t like, changes, etc. After analyzing it I turn on my music and start painting the final piece. I usually don’t reference that sketch again. This process allows me to develop an idea in my head without getting to focused on the small details of the composition. It also allows me to get into the “flow” of the painting because I already know what I want to do and what colors I’m using so I don’t have to stop my work to problem solve. If a happy accident occurs, like it always does with watercolor, I can go with the flow of it because my ideas weren’t to concrete.
Since I’ve figured out the workflow that works best for me I have noticed I enjoy the painting process more. It also helped reduce frustration, upped productivity, and has helped prevent burnout – all things that can become issues when working as an artist especially when first starting.
So tell me how do you work best? Do you charge right in with paint or do you make a plan? Let me know in the comments down below.