Big skies, chilly seas

We are standing on the shores of Australia looking south to the Antarctic in bright sunshine, in the teeth of a horizontal wind of great force.  It’s a good thing that wind is blowing off the sea, or we would be over the cliff in no time!

This pastel painting is about the sky, especially that white cloud, so I’m taking it slowly, and working on the sky only at first.  I work at an easel with the  paper vertical before me. It’s big, 30 inches wide and 22 inches deep, so the easel helps.  Also, by working so, one is less likely to smudge passages already done, and any pastel dust falls to the floor (cover it!). It’s a natural angle for me as I started as an oil painter.

I began by identifying the areas of light and dark,  blue and grey, just grazing the paper with the pastel (always Unison) so as not to fill the “tooth” too soon.  I worked into the greys with blue-greys, mauves, even greens, light over dark and dark over light to achieve the subtle variations of cloud tone that give them volume, gradually increasing the pressure of the pastel.  By the time I came to the blue sky and white cloud, I was digging deep.  (That’s OK, for the board is padded with newspaper). It really sings out, partly because of the strong contrast it makes, but also because it is the only area with a sharp clear edge.

Added warmth

I’ve added more woofles to the grasses, this time using pale Burnt Sienna, and pale mauves, and also knocked back some of the brighter foliage.  I also used the pale mauve to reduce the white saplings in the background.  The painting is warmer now, and somehow less menacing.  The Australian rain forest is not a place to get lost in, but this bit was very nearly civilised!  Signed – therefore finished.

Maybe not the end?

A day late, maybe, but I have just spend a blissful morning with my oil – despite the poor light.

I’ve been attending to the foreground and the highlights.  It’s definitely more grassy underfoot with more shape to the undergrowth.  I got carried away with small vertical strokes of liquid paint so that it looked very stylised,  not at all in keeping with the rest of the picture, so I woofled about with the brush strokes a bit.  That improved matters.  I think I overdid the highlights, probably over compensating for the poor light .  I don’t get the impression of heat either and think I need more purples and mauves in the shadows, and less white in the grasses .

Undergrowth advances

It was time to bring the foreground to the same level of finish as the rest of the painting.  In my reference, the dry grass is well flattened but I was aiming for a wilder look.  Doing long wispy grass required some thought.  overdoing the individual fronds would look mannered, and great splodges would look, well, splodgy!

Overlays using different effects, tones and colours is the plan, and this is the first pass.

I began with a broad brush, using mid tones of grey green to add depth to the grasses, pulling the brush upwards, and lightening the weight of the stroke as it reached the tree line. Repeating this technique using mid tones of ochre, then paler tones of grey green and of ochre, has begun to suggest the standing grasses.  what you can’t see from this photo is the end of each stroke as the paint just catches the canvas threads as they cross over each other, and the lighter (in weight) use of the same technique among the trees.

I used the same colours and tones on the foreground foliage, and for the odd sparkle among the more dense forest.