Drawing | The Sensitivity Stage

Artists have to develop an approach to painting that reflects their unique psyche. The methods of one artist may not fit another. I’m fond of telling aspiring artists that you don’t need psychological therapy if you paint every day. You confront your internal fears and strengths every time you stand in front of the painting. The process of painting is a reflection of who you are. The better you understand yourself, the easier it is to create painting methods that support your essence.

“You don’t need psychological therapy if you paint every day. You confront your internal fears and strengths every time you stand in front of the painting.”

This painting exploration into self-awareness has led me to understand the profound importance that the initial drawing has in my own pastel work. It focuses me on the subject matter and allows me to calmly investigate the personality of the shapes and surfaces that inhabit the composition in advance of the excitement of color.

sketch for morning luminous

This is the initial surface drawing for my 12×16 pastel plein air painting “Morning Luminous.”


The Importance of Drawing: The initial thumbnail sketches in a sketchbook start the process. It’s at this stage that thought is made real. You explore the best format for the composition; examine the abstraction of reality into simplified shapes and value masses; and contemplate subtractions and additions. Once the design feels good, a commitment to surface begins. This is where I stray from the normal painting approach. Instead of placing just a simplified outline onto the pastel surface, I prefer to make an elaborate drawing using a simple HB drawing pencil generally. The abrasive texture of the pastel surface allows for a wonderful tactile relationship. Lost and found edges are represented with variation of pressure. Gestural rhythms of surface textures are indicated with the subtlety of hatch marks.

This drawing stage is not a race. I take my time. Once it feels good and I have internalized a sense of the subject matter, I begin painting. Blowing against the drawing will displace any loose particles of graphite in advance of painting. A light application of workable fixative can also be applied to make the drawing more stable. This allows for the possibility of the drawing to show through in the final painting, something I often enjoy doing. Pastel pencils can be used in place of graphite pencils, allowing for the sensation of color in the drawing and the easy marriage of drawing and pastel over-layering.

Even though this elaborate drawing will be eventually covered with an underpainting or application of pastel, it serves a profound purpose for my personality. It allows me to internalize the scene and quiet the eager hand that wants to jump into the magic of color. I don’t see it as a waste of time. In fact, it is of paramount importance to my process. It is “The Sensitivity Stage.” From here Serendipity and Solution evolve.



Want to see Richard McKinley move a pastel painting from the Sensitivity stage through Serendipity and Solution? Watch it on a video download right now!

Subscribe to Pastel Journal magazine

Watch pastel art workshops on demand at ArtistsNetwork.TV

Get unlimited access to over 100 art instruction ebooks.

Online seminars for fine artists



You may also like these articles: