Carrog Bridge – pastel

You will remember I found this unfinished painting when tidying the studio.  It seemed like a good start, more dreamy that the oil I did for the book, more softly coloured.   However it is practically impossible, even in pastel where exactly the same colours and tones are to hand, to recall the prevailing mood of myself and my audience – this was a demonstration – and, in addition, I have acquired new pastels and been through uncertain times painting-wise.

This is how I continued.    I breezed along forming the right hand trees, inserting the nearside bank, titivating the bridge, having fun.  When I sat back to look, I was thoroughly displeased with myself.  It’s not clear from this photo but the new trees  almost sock you in  the eye, the greens are so different and far too bright; the river looks like a canal; and I am decidedly unhappy about the grasses on the near bank.  They look like sausage fingers, despairingly climbing high to gain authenticity.    I seem to have used the same technique for ages and it’s time I found a new one.

I took a serious brush to the recalcitrant parts and removed the lot.  It’s not an improvement but it did wonders for my frustration.

Now  I tried matching the colours and tones I had originally used for the trees, and am thinking about grass.


I have a fire screen in my sitting room that I had decorated with a kingfisher(as you do) painted in acrylic.  This is the third or fourth incarnation of the screen as it changes every time we paint the walls a different colour.  It’s been pale yellow, peach, bluey-green, deep crimson and now lime green.  The  designs have varied with the decor,  gold chrysanthemums stencilled on the crimson being memorable.

This design was free hand, originally done when I was struggling to find the sweet spot in painting, and I was never happy with it.  The kingfisher herself was fine but the branch she sat on was just wrong.   I’d  shown a stem rising from the water, meeting her perching branch at right angle(?!) that then tailed off in an unconvincing way.

Lock down (I prefer “Solitude” as it sounds like I chose it!) led me to the garage for gardening purposes but also provided a tin secreting the remains of lime green paint.   Paint out the old and paint in the new.



This is my first try.  The awkward branch rising from the waters is gone  and the weak end of it now more vigorous.  But it looks cramped at the bottom – I hadn’t painted out the water and the final leaf is pointing the wrong way.  It is an improvement,  at least the leaves have the strength to balance the bird.  But the composition is still faulty.




This is better.  Compositionally the new leaf takes the eye back into the painting.  I think the water is less convincing, but I’m going to stop while I’m winning!

Incidentally, the bird is huge, about 10 inches high, and would frighten the socks off any fish below.  But the macaws on the curtains are not trivial and she needed to stand up to them!


Look what I found!

I was tidying the studio after finishing the big picture and found two efforts that need finishing.  One was fairly recent since it is one of my Australian paintings.  Do you remember the Sandstone cliffs I painted with a palette knife last October?  I mentioned the twisted tree perched on the cliff edge that I was dithering about.  I reckoned that I would leave it till the canvas was dry.  That way I could wash it out if I didn’t like it.

  I tried to introduce it using a palette knife, but it was in the wrong place and looked clumsy.  So,I washed it out with turps, just like I said I would.    If I’d done it with a knife when the paint was wet, like the grasses,  it would probably have worked.  A brush worked over the bumps of dry paint, and by introducing purples and blues and maroons throughout the battered, little tree, I was able to integrate the addition into the whole.  Then I darkened the sea at the horizon .  The tree seems to have improved the composition by linking the grasses on this cliff top we are standing on with the more distant ones.

The other finding was a pastel I started as a demonstration for an Art Group in Carrog.  Naturally, I chose to paint Carrog Bridge.  It’s such a landmark in the area.  In fact it was the first bridge I painted in my “Painting the bridges of Dee” saga.  This is a view from above the bridge looking downstream from a stony beach.

The pastel view is from the other side below the bridge looking upstream.  Different weather, different view, different medium so we have a different painting.

Lots to do.

In the sunshine – at last!

So this is what it looks like now.  And I declare it finished.

It’s a far cry from its beginnings way back in May 2017.  I remember enjoying returning to a big canvas – 4 ft tall and 3 ft wide.  It’s drifted out of focus as life took over.  There is a big gap in working on this between September 2017 and September 2019.  That I don’t remember, though I do remember the doldrums when no paintings worked.   Then  it received a huge boost when I was able to photograph the pair on the spot myself, relaxing in the June sunshine.

Here is how I started it just after my successful exhibition of “The Bridges of Dee” – the book is still available if anyone would like one, see the website – so there is a certain feeling of freedom about it all. Trawling through the blog posts about it was instructive for me as well as entertaining.   “Keep right on till the end”  has done me proud here.

The wave in oil pastels

There is a small hiatus with “In the sunshine” called ‘waiting for the paint to dry’, so I’m experimenting with my new oil pastels.   Tim had done a red pepper as his introduction to the medium so I thought my very red elephant would be a good venture.

These Sennelier pastels are very soft in comparison with the others, of both kinds,  which I tried last time.  I reckon I was over excited and used far too much pastel initially and blended (with my finger) too enthusiastically.  This produced a messy paper with little dots and smudges from my mucky fingers and any detail  I achieved – not much – was lost.  It’s all too clumsy.

So I tried again, using “Stormy weather” as my source.  this is altogether a better attempt.  I found if I broke my (new!) pastels and used the side, I achieved a lighter mark (in terms of pastel mass) but more even coverage.  I was then able to blend, using the white pastel with quite subtle effects since my underlying colours blended with each other and with the white.  The rocks responded well to this method.  I also found that an old store card  helped to scrap off oil pastel when the surface was getting over loaded.  It also enabled me to straighten lines like the top of the wave by pushing the pastel towards the wave itself.

I now have vague memories of a session or two using oil pastels with my tutor many moons ago.  He was very keen on showing marks, not blending them, so maybe there is a way forward there.


In the sunshine – closing stages

Now I have uninterrupted time, I’m hoping to finish this.  I’ve said that before, but this time I can see no excuse.  And I don’t need one either because I’m so much happier about the painting since I resumed action.

The trees behind the lady have grown; the faces are nearer completion;  I’ve made his head smaller; the railings are emerging shyly from the flowering bush; there is more texture on the walls; and more work on his shirt.  All these things are progressing as if on wheels.  But ….  I could scream with frustration.

I have also worked on his shoes.  I had them right – I HAD THEM RIGHT! Then I fiddled to make them more right.  How many times have I told my students “Don’t fiddle!”  Why don’t I listen to me?  The paint is still wet.  I think I’ll wash the work off with turps.  It will mess up the paving but that’s not difficult to put right.





Oil Pastel Exploration

Well!  They’re here.  The SAA never take long to deliver.  I only ordered these yesterday.

It’s official.  The more waxy pastels are the real thing, not the ones I used in the Lorikeet.  What those were, I don’t know except that they were sold to me as oil pastels. They weren’t dusty but they did throw a sediment which slid floorwards.

To pastures new ….

The book, ” A Beginner’s guide to Painting with Oil Pastels”  is highly informative and very easy to follow.  I don’t know how far I’m going with  this medium. The list of possible additional materials and tools numbers 23!   Nor do I know if  they will dent my love affair with soft pastels – somewhat unlikely, I should think.

A quick glance through the book told me what I know from other art materials.  There are varying degrees of quality in the pastels themselves.  Tim Fisher, the author, uses Sennelier (hurrah, that’s what I bought) which are more malleable.  The good news is that the pastels work on most surfaces –  including plywood, canvas and aluminium panels  – but Tim prefers Framers mount board.

However, before I launch into this new medium, I must answer the call from “In the sunshine”  and re-visit the south of France.



This was an adventure!   I have used oil pastels very rarely and with no real success and I’m not sure that I used oil pastels this time either.  I have two boxes which purport to be such but they are totally different in feel and application.  One set (donated) is  waxy, like wax crayons, and one (bought in the distant past about 45 years ago when I thought, from no knowledge, that oil pastels were the natural progression from oil paints ) is like an extraordinarily  firm ordinary pastel.  The two kinds didn’t mix.  So I was left with one starter kit or the other of about a dozen bright colours.  The picture is bright so  I used what I had, but am resolving the issue by buying some new ones (Sennelier).

Here is the result.  It looks a bit like a stuffed toy but I may get a more satisfactory result from the new pastels when I get them.   I discovered that I couldn’t put lighter colours, particularly white, over other colours.  So I had to reserve lighter areas or do them first. However, the sky  came up beautifully when I scrubbed white on top of the mid-tone blue I had.  The brighter colours of the bird speak for themselves, the grey a mix of white over black.

I enjoyed the performance enough to explore the medium further and am impatient to receive my new ones.

Stormy weather

That was fun!  I’ve spent some time edging this painting to fruition.

It’s a happy stage as the picture is entirely present and only needs adjustments to burst into song, a blurring here, a sharp edge there.  I don’t consult the photo very much.  I’m not after a close copy, and the painting itself is telling me where to work.

I have brought the tones in the rocks closer together so that it looks all of a piece, and attended to the shape of the edges, both internally and where the sea attacks them.  I’ve muted the red brown sand at the very front so that it doesn’t fight with the rest of the painting, and extended the dark rocks on the right hand side to support the lower edge on that side.

I will admit to taking a ruler to the horizon – it had a distinct hill in it!  I have also introduced more colour into the dark wave to suggest some translucence.  The turmoil between the wave and the rocks was exciting.  The waves needed to advance but I also had to keep a horizontal mode going as well.

I signed it so I must be content!

Now, while I’m in a pastel mood,  I’m going to tackle this photo in oil pastels – clear shapes, clear bright colours – should be good.

Rocks abounding

Time to attack the rocks in the foreground …

The thing to remember here is that it’s not a heap  of rocks, but just one, sea-worn  rock, so never, in the search for detail, lose sight of  that homogeneity.   With this in mind, I began by ghosting in the dark shape, using deep blues and purples. Looking at it now, I think I should have included dark greens in there as well.  This would have aided the overall colour balance of the painting.

Then I began to introduce the details, working across the image.  first the strong darks to give shape and strength, then the little lights that contrast and point up the folds and ridges. The rocks are backed on the landward side by reddish sand – I missed out the grassy stretch right at the front as being irrelevant  – but when I put that in, and stood back, I found that it upset the whole picture.  Dark green rode to the rescue.  By overlaying but not entirely obscuring the sandy colour,  I achieved another texture and melded the sand into the whole painting.  Defining the rocks also included more detailing on the rough water just above them. The more you look, the more you see.

As you can see, in concentrating on the rocky detail,  I have also achieved the semblance of a rocky sea travelling at right angles to the waves!  All is not lost. I need to draw together the tones over most of the surface so that there is less contrast, while not losing the little interesting details.  I reckon that there is another four to six hours bliss working over the whole painting before reluctantly agreeing with it that it is finished.  I find the end  arrives quite suddenly, but it always the painting that tells me it is so.