Tag Archives: pastels

Pan Pastels – Love Them, Love Them Not

pan pastelsRecently an artist friend recommended that I try pan pastels. She extolled their dustless virtues until I was itching to get myself a set. So when I came across a basic set on sale I jumped on it anxious to put them to the test.

I like the packaging and the way they screw together making a nice, neat stack. My set came with a few sponge applicators, but not handles for the sponge sleeves.

The consistency is creamy and they blend together beautifully. But dustless? They do have less dust than traditional sticks and of course it does make a difference what kind of surface you are using.

My first experiment was on  a lovely sanded paper. I did an under painting with the pans. Having just the basic set I felt very limited with the colors available. So I put in the basic shapes of boats, houses, mountains and trees. Then I resorted to my Sennelier sticks.

Leah Wiedemer, soft pastel, 6.5"x9"

Leah Wiedemer, soft pastel, 6.5″x9″

Yes, the sticks are much messier, but I don’t mind getting a little dirty when I work. I’m happy with the result but a little disappointed that I abandoned the pans in order to achieve the look I wanted.

For my next experiment I worked on Canson Mi Tientes paper on the smooth side.  I wanted to see if I could force myself to complete a painting using only pan pastels. First I laid in an under painting. The sponge applicators are great for blending and kept my fingers clean.

Under painting for Venice Rain by Leah Wiedemer

Under painting for Venice Rain by Leah Wiedemer

The colors looked like they were going to work. The pastels blended easily and created a minimal amount of dust. I continued working with the pan pastels indicating where I wanted the umbrellas, people and shop windows. Then when it came to final tweaking I again went back to my sticks. The temptation was just too great. I’m weak. I do love my Sennelier sticks and will probably continue to depend on them. There is something about the directness of stick to paper that makes me feel more connected to the work. Also I like an unblended swath of color here and there. I’ll use the pan pastels too, but only for backgrounds and under paintings.

Venice Rain, soft pastel by Leah Wiedemer 6.5"x9.5"

Venice Rain, soft pastel by Leah Wiedemer 6.5″x9.5″                                                  

What is your experience using pan pastels? Love ’em or hate ’em? I’d love to hear how you use them. Leave a comment to tell me what you think.

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5 Ways to Blow the Block

up against the wall

up against the wall

Every creative person experiences  dry seasons from time to time. The sooner you can get out of the desert, the sooner you can start your next masterpiece.  But what can you do to shake things up and start the juices flowing again? The following are some of the ways that I blow the artist block blues.

1. Learn something new. Take a class.  The wonders of the internet have made education very affordable. Nobody is cheaper than yours truly, but I will happily pay for a reasonably priced online art class. I’ve taken a number of classes online from Ken and Johannes Vloothuis through Wetcanvas.com . They are beyond reasonable and  informative. I always come away with wonderful nuggets of artistic wisdom to put into practice. If you can take an ‘in person’ class so much the better.

piles of tiles

piles of tiles

2. Try a new medium.  If you are a painter you could get some clay and try your hand at molding or sculpting. If you work predominantly with oil paints then give watercolor , encaustics, acrylic, scratch board or pastels a try. The unfamiliararity of a new medium can release your pent up creativity.

art show

art show

3. Visit a museum or go to an art show. Find out what other artists are doing. Look at the work of some old masters as well as some new cutting edge artists. Are there techniques you see that you can incorporate in your work?

4. Spend time with other creative folks. Art groups and writers groups are invaluable sources of creative inspiration and support. Find a group and get involved.

5. Try teaching a class. Every time I teach a class I learn a lot myself. It forces me to examine why I do the things I do and to pay closer attention to my processes.

These five practices for finding your creative sea legs again work for me. What works for you? I’d love to hear how you blow the artist block blues.

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What’s Your Favorite Color?

so many colors Do you remember when that was a go to “getting to know you” question in grade school? Well, children may know more than we give them credit for. Color preferences can still tell us a lot about ourselves and each other. Colors can influence our moods, create harmony or discord, peace or agitation, excitement or melancholy. Do you have a favorite color?
When I was growing up my favorite color changed almost daily. I still don’t have one favorite color. I do however have favorite color combinations. Certain colors put together give me a little thrill. I bought a sweater more than thirty years ago that I still have because it has the delicious (to me anyway) color combo of an ultramarine base with bright kelly green circles. That might not be your cup of tea, but whenever I see those colors together I have to smile.
Who didn’t experience a thrill of excitement upon opening that deluxe box of Crayola crayons for the first time and seeing all of those beautiful shades with their perfect points? The possibilities seemed endless. I get that same thrill now when I get a new box of soft pastels – the price tag for delight has definitely increased as anyone knows who has invested in a set of pastels. Still, it’s nice to know that my childhood pleasures continue.  
Do colors affect your moods? I read that people who spend a lot of time in a yellow room tend to be agitated and more argumentative. But I find a soft devonshire cream yellow to be soothing. A room done in caution sign yellow would probably make me into a raving lunatic. Red supposedly makes you feel hungry. That could explain my weight gain since I painted our kitchen red. Oh well, I like it so it stays. Orange seems to be a color that people either love or hate. On a recent shopping expedition it was a sea of orange in various intensities with a sprinkling of contrasting and complimentary colors. Orange on its own doesn’t do much for me, but mixed with all of those complimentary and contrasting shades it was rich and eye popping. Blue is very often chosen as a favorite color. It evokes feelings of tranquility, and we really can’t have too much of that.  However it’s cousin purple is less popular. At one time my red kitchen was purple and my children liked to refer to me as ‘the artist formerly known as mom’. For now I prefer the hunger inducing red.

So, here we are back to where we started.  Tell me – What is your favorite color? 

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Mad Scientist?

You’ve seen the old black and white movies featuring the mad scientist with a maniacal gleam in his eyes, hunched over a laboratory table, mixing smoking chemicals. That’s a little how I feel when I’m trying out new art materials. Just swap out the lab coat, beakers and smoking chemicals for new paints, pastels and supports, keep the maniacal gleam, and there I am. Lately I have been experimenting with different pastel papers. Experimenting can be a costly practice, so I tend to take it slow and buy new materials a little at a time. I will say though that the knowledge gained is a worthy pay off.
The surface I have the most experience with is a gray velour paper. I bought a giant box of it years ago so I don’t even know who makes it. Since then I tried ordering velour paper on line and just wasn’t very happy with it. So, I recommend that you buy your first sheet in person if you can. That way you can feel the density of the velour and weight of the paper. I became very comfortable with a nice, heavy, toothy version of this paper. It’s forgiving and will take multiple layers, blending with ease. So if you like to blend with your fingers this won’t tear the hide off of your finger tips. It gives a soft almost dreamy quality to the finished product. I usually tap it good to shake off the excess and give it a light spray with a fixative when I’m done. The biggest negative of this paper is that it is prone to scarring.
When I noticed that my giant box of gray velour was dwindling, I decided I’d better start experimenting with something readily available and affordable. That’s when I bought a pad of assorted Canson Mi-Teintes. The assortment refers to an assortment of colors, which I like. It allows me to use complimentary background colors for my paintings. Each sheet has a smooth side and a toothy side. I’ve tried both, and for a small painting I think I prefer the smooth side. It grips the pastels adequately and blends nicely. I find that I have to plan more carefully because it can’t handle too many layers. It’s good for quick sketching. I enjoyed using it for figure studies, but I don’t like it well enough to use it for a painting I intend to sell.
The last paper I tried is a sanded paper made by Art Spectrum. The sanded paper, as you might imagine has plenty of tooth and really grabs and holds onto the pastels. It is a little pricey, as is the velour paper but you can find different prices on line. When I tapped the paper to let fall the excess pastel I was pleasantly surprised to see very little fall out. I felt that I was able to achieve a more painterly effect with this paper than either of the other types. I like it as well or better than the velour and each sheet seems very consistent with no flaws or scarring. Next I plan to try different brands of sanded papers and maybe an ampersand board to see how they compare.
So it’s back to the drawing board for me, to continue experimenting and creating. Do you have a favorite pastel paper or board? Or maybe you prefer to prepare your own surface. Tell me about it. I’d like to include it in my next “lab” day. If you would like to learn more about pastel painting or beginning drawing you can join me in Tuscany in September. Diana Scimone and I are taking 2 weekends to teach writing a book and drawing in beautiful Barga, Italy at Casa Cordati. You can read more in the last post.

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I Paint Dead People

Margaret Waiting
Kind of creepy huh? The truth is that I also paint the living. The important thing (to me at least) is that they were captured on film revealing a bit of their personality as well as the personality of another era. I love to imagine what life was like for them in the early or even middle part of the twentieth century. Those old photos give me a glimpse at a life I never knew. Pictures of my grandparents first as children and then young adults seem to be strangers looking back at me. What are the emotions I see? What can I tell about their personalities? Were they happy? Scared? Weary? In love? In one picture there is a group of children standing in front of a house in the middle of nowhere. It appears to be around the end of the 1800’s and they all are wearing large hats and holding dolls. Hmmmm… I can’t begin to guess what that was about. In another picture I see my great Aunt as a young girl clowning around with a man’s hat. I didn’t know she had a sense of humor! Now I’m looking at two young men with their arms companionably draped over each others shoulders as they grin into the camera. One is smoking a cigar, the other a pipe. I like to think that they are best friends celebrating something. Maybe one of them is getting married in the morning. I have collected hundreds of these pictures from my parents and other relatives. I insist on snagging every photo destined for the trash bin as my parents prepare to relocate. “NO! I want that! I might want to paint it later!” Even if I never get around to painting half of them, it’s important to me that someone preserves our pictorial family history. It’s my pleasure to be that person. And besides, I will get around to using most of them as references in paintings eventually. If I live long enough. And if I don’t, maybe someone will paint my portrait from an old snapshot they find stuck in the bottom of a dresser drawer that they are getting ready to sell or throw out. Then the tradition will continue. They will “paint dead people”.

Have some old photographs you would like to have painted in either oil or soft pastel? Contact me at Leah@lwiedemer.com

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Painting in Progress 2

This is my second installment. Now that I have the main subjects in I am working systematically from top right to left. I will still go back and make adjustments, but as I am left handed and this helps to keep my hand from smearing the work I have completed. I’m sticking with a limited palette, and have included the pastels I’m using in the photo. To tighten up some lines that are a little too mushy I use pastel pencils. It definitely helps to take photos as I work. For some reason I can more easily spot errors in a photo than in the original. You can see an example of this where the porch floor meets the wall in the upper right. There needs to be some adjusting. The wall needs to come down farther. I’ll fix it before I move on. Black is a difficult color to work with. Since it is so messy, I will wait till everything else is finished before I go back and make the blacks as solid as I would like them to be. Next I will do the top left, where I just noticed in my photo reference there is the same child’s chair that now resides in my living room. Awww… that makes me smile.sam-and-gyppy-0021
sam-and-gyppy-0091

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Please Vote for Your Favorite 2 ‘D’ Art Medium


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