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The Harmony of Light - Capturing the Magical Hour with Pastels

Diana Randolph uses Pastels to Capture the Magic of that Fleeting Hour

Harmony of Light

Some call it the magical hour, when the sun sinks in the sky, casting long rays through our planet's thick atmosphere. Soft, golden light transforms the landscape. I enjoy taking photos of this fleeting light to use as inspiration for paintings. Artists are magicians, creating illusions of three-dimensional space on flat, two-dimensional surfaces. You may accomplish this feat by depicting haziness in the background with strong contrasts of light and dark in the foreground. In the following step-by-step demonstration I will capture rays of light filtering through a forest using pastel on Ersta Sanded Paper. By creating an underpainting and applying various types of pastel strokes, your landscape will reflect a marvelous feeling of depth. Ersta and Wallis Sanded Pastel Paper are both ideal for underpainting and applying pastel layers to their grainy textures. The professional grade Wallis paper uses a base of neutral pH cardstock while the museum grade is a heavier 100% cotton rag surface, buffered and acid-free. Ersta's brand of sanded paper is very popular among pastelists though it is not acid-free.

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Step 1 - The Photo When photographing backlighting, line up the sun behind a tree to omit direct glare. I cut the photo, changing the format into a narrow shape to exaggerate the tall trees.

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Step 2 - The set up Tape a sheet of Ersta paper onto a drawing board using masking tape along all the edges. Working upright I tilt my brand-new Daniel Smith Milano Studio Easel by M.A.B.E.F. forward slightly. Folding a sheet of newspaper to a length slightly bigger than my drawing board I form a pocket and tape it to the bottom of the drawing board. Pastel dust will fall into this pocket instead of on the floor. Referring to the photo, I draw contour lines using a dark green pastel pencil. A strong composition creates a sturdy foundation to build upon.

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Step 3 - Blocking it in Don't be timid to break long, hard Prismacolor NuPastel sticks into small pieces for this stage. Use a side stroke to block in large shapes and patterns of the light, middle and dark values.

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Step 4 - Brushing the underpainting Working outdoors or in a well-ventilated room, dip a #4 flat brush in Daniel Smith Odorless Mineral Spirits, wiping the excess liquid on the container's edge. Pastel pigment will melt into flat color as you brush each color separately. The colors of this underpainting lighten after drying.

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Step 5 - Background and foreground After the underpainting dries, begin applying pale, hazy colors to the background and brighter, bolder colors to the foreground using linear and side strokes. Soft pastels work best over hard. To avoid creating "mud" and to keep color vivid, group pastels of similar values together.

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Step 6 - Shaping and glazing Add additional shaping to the sky with a soft pastel. Use a golden pastel pencil or hard pastel to glaze lightly over the background to create transparent rays of light. Glaze edges of distant treetops using a light green hard pastel. Exaggerate the highlights in the foreground with side strokes of orange soft pastels, creating texture that adds to the illusion of depth.

About the Artist
Diana Randolph paints and writes at Once in a Blue Moon Studio, surrounded by Chequamegon National Forest in rural Drummond, Wisconsin. She is a frequent contributor to the Daniel Smith "Inkspot" and author of In The Heart of the Forest, a chapbook of her pastel paintings and poetry published by Savage Press. You may contact Diana at oiabms@cheqnet.net.

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