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 Gates of Chester 04

This is the Newgate, not the latest of the modern gates, but definitely Twentieth Century.  I always call it the Pepper Gate, for it stands at the end of Pepper Street, and a very fine and imposing gate it is, too, worthy of the ancient Walls.  It stand adjacent to the Wolfgate shown in the first three blogs of this series, though this image in taken from the other side of the Walls.

Newgate in pastel
Newgate in pastel

It is painted in pastel on sandy coloured velour paper.   I love the feel of pastel on velour, very luxurious, and good edges so easy to achieve.  (“Good edges” are those that are right for the job!) Most of my pastels are from “Unison”, but all the labels are gone so I can’t tell you the numbers of the colours and tones.   But you can see I have used a very restricted palette, brightening the red-brown of the sandstone, blueing the greens and greening the blues to get the complimentaries working.

It is a chunky building with clean lines and neat roofs.  The little garden is a useful foil for the mass of sandstone.  I wanted to keep it simple, so I didn’t break up the surface with mortar lines or detailed decorative elements.  Working mainly with the side of the pastel, I mixed the browns, tans, and reds on the paper.  Equally, the garden is only sketched in – it never ceased to amaze and delight me that so much can be indicated with so few marks.  If, like me, you’ve fallen in love with the illusion of paint, you will know what I mean.