Pastel Portrait – Maria


It was this cheerful Lady who made me want to try portrait painting again.  She has such a wonderful smile.  Her neck scarf is light and diaphanous, her head scarf is brightly coloured and patterned and the light on her face so attractive that she cried out for me to make the attempt.

I use pastels for portraits quite often.  It’s something to do with the immediacy of pastel painting, no brush, no water, no oil, between you and the tone in your hand and on the paper.  With that immediacy comes an intimacy between  you and your subject unbroken by the need mix colour.  If, as I do, you collect the pastels you use on a separate tray, then your tonal range is to hand.  It makes life so much easier!

I began by lightly drawing the layout with a pastel pencil so that I knew I had the proportions correctly placed, then drifted in the darks.  Her eyes are quite deep-set, as are the smile lines round her mouth.  The shadow under her chin, the result of top lighting, defined the face beautifully.  A quick splash of colour on the scarves set the colour balance.  Even that much painting brought her face alive – to the extent that I was reluctant to proceed.

Fortunately, when I looked at her the next day,  she drew me in, so I worked on the midtones of her face, softening the contours, trying to tease out the smile.  The eyes have it, though, for if they don’t smile, no amount of “grin” will help.  I have a tendency  to overwork eyes in a concentrated effort to get them “right” so I made a conscious decision to do as little as necessary and am happy with the result.  A mouth  with teeth is another trap for the unwary, but this isn’t the first grin I have painted.  The trick is to paint it in patches of colour and tone so that it appears, rather than drawing “a mouth” and “teeth” as if they were separate from the rest of the face.

The highlights on her cheeks, chin and brow were quickly completed.  Then there was only the finishing off to do, the light on her bottom lip,  the tip of her nose, and the bag strap, stronger colouring on the neck scarf, and patterning on the headscarf.

I hope Maria would show the same happy smile if she saw her portrait.



The Liverymen 04 – advancing colour

The Liverymen - putting in the darks
The Liverymen – putting in the darks.

It helps to read the picture by getting the darks in, so I roughed in the dresser, the chair and the wellies.

I had feared that the dresser would dominate the picture, but in the event, the two figures in their rich robes were not going to be overcome by anyone!

It was at this stage I stumbled across my major puzzle – relative size!  I had photographs of many of the objects, but their size in relation to each other was problematic. Brian’s Cup had a couple of wine glasses in shot, and Martin’s antique glasses and wine bottles were displayed together. But, how tall was the dresser in relation to the figures, and how wide?  and what about the fishing paraphernalia?  I had a fishing catalogue with good photos in it but the size of the items in relation to each other, never mind in relation to the figures was not obvious.  Also working on a canvas this size meant that everything was not under the eye at once.

The Liverymen
The Liverymen

I thought it would be good to add colour to check the tonal balance and it certainly shows how the colours are affecting each other.  But it also shows the size mistakes more clearly – no bad thing, but a bit disconcerting.  So you can see Giant’s wellies (right next to Brian’s neat feet!) a soup plate reel, a fishing rod like a tree trunk, a very spindly, somewhat inebriated chair, and a decided dip in the middle shelf as it goes behind the picture.  I don’t think those books would sit easily in the hand, either.