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Capturing an Expansive Sky with Pastels

Diana Randolph Demonstrates her Technique for Capturing an Expansive Sky with Pastels

completed artwork

When in the car or walking my dog I often bring my camera with me to capture nature's surprises-a beautiful sunset, my neighbors' horses grazing in the field or the heavens full of wispy clouds. Observe the world with child-like eyes and you'll never run out of ideas to paint. Inviting landscapes are everywhere! La Carte Pastel Card is a great surface to work on and is available in a variety of tones. Treated with finely ground pH-neutral vegetable fibers, this slightly abrasive cardstock will easily hold layers of pastel pigment. The color of La Carte paper you select will set an overall tone for your painting. Step-by-step, I'll demonstrate how to depict a vast sky above a farm pasture using pastel on charcoal (dark gray) toned La Carte Pastel Card. Using hard and soft pastels with pastel pencils, the composition will take form, stroke by stroke, in a painterly manner.

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STEP 1 - The Essence When working from a photo or directly from nature my intention is to capture the essence of the landscape instead of copying exactly what I see.

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STEP 2 - The Set Up Taping a charcoal La Carte Pastel Card to a drawing board, I work upright using a French style easel, legs folded, on a table. While painting I enjoy standing, backing up once in a while to view the work from a distance. To draw the composition using contour lines, select a light-value pastel pencil for dark-toned paper.

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STEP 3 - Blocking It Out At this stage, use side strokes to block in simplified shapes and patterns of light, middle, and dark values. Select pastel sticks intuitively and be bold in order to exaggerate colors, applying more vibrant tints than you see in nature. For example, I chose a royal-blue NuPastel stick for the darks in the clouds near the horizon and a teal shade of NuPastel for the clouds overhead. Save warm colors for the foreground and cool colors for the background since this is a method for creating visual or aerial perspective in your painting. I use a combination of Prismacolor NuPastels (hard pastels), Rembrandt and Sennelier pastels (both soft pastels) for this step.

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STEP 4 - Taking the Edge Off Soften edges of the dark clouds by glazing with a pale-blue NuPastel or pastel pencil using a light, linear stroke [Step 4]. The bottom color will show through in a transparent manner. For glazing the lighter value clouds select a color such as tan or pale peach. For a fluffy appearance in overhead clouds use a side stroke with a white, soft pastel.

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STEP 5 - A Smooth Finish Apply a few more side strokes of color in the land before glazing the background line of trees and barn with a light-blue pastel pencil [Step 5]. This softens the background and adds unity to the overall painting. A touch of bright gold in the foreground adds contrast to the dark, red-violet grasses.

About the Author
Besides being a painter, Diana Randolph is a published writer. In 1999, Savage Press published the chapbook of her poetry/paintings titled, "In the Heart of the Forest." The debut of that publication coincided with a solo exhibit of her pastel paintings titled "In the Heart of the Forest" at the Duluth Art Institute in Duluth, MN. That year she had another solo exhibit at the Washburn Historical Museum in Washburn, WI. It was titled "Washburn Walking Trail and Other Landscapes of the Lake Superior Region." Other accomplishments: Invitational Group Show - Alumni Art Show, Northland College, Ashland, WI, Oct 1998, July 1992 and July 1997.