Loosening Up | Pastel Painting With Confidence

173-loosening-up.jpgWe all start out as infants. Before we’re capable of running, we have to learn to crawl, stand and walk. As we mature, these become motor skills. We respond appropriately to physical situations without conscious thought. Our painting abilities can be thought of in much the same way. As newborn painters, we have weak intuitive impulses. As we mature, through dedicated learning and repetitive practice, we become stronger and more capable of expressing individual personalities. With diligent effort and time, we evolve into artists that respond with more emotion and expression, ultimately displaying confidence.

One of the ways this confidence can be manifested in a painting is with bold loose strokes. The term “painterly” is often used to describe this appearance. Simply stated, “painterly” means “in the manner of paint”. A painterly painting retains the recognizable attributes of the products used. It looks like a painting. While pastel is not wet paint, it is still capable of appearing painterly. It is important to acknowledge that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and there is no inherent superiority to working in a looser fashion. Every artist needs to find their personal style of expression and produce works that communicate their intent, but if your goal is to loosen up as a painter, there is one thing that is key: confidence. A boldly painted painting is not about sloppily applied pigment but about economical applications that appear masterful. While appearing spontaneous and effortless, these applications can often be very laborious and methodical. It is well documented that the beautiful bravura work demonstrated in John Singer Sargent’s paintings was meticulously planned and often repeatedly applied.

As pastelists, one of the best ways to gain this confidence is to spend time working out compositional elements in advance of applying pigment. Once the design is formulated and accurately represented on a surface, the focus can shift to pastel. Nothing bolsters a confident application more than a solid drawing, a well thought out design, a familiarity with products, and a good understanding of technique (click here to revisit last week’s blog post about artistic exercises that can keep you strong). A loose, yet intentional, underpainting is another helpful tool. It can allow for a fracturing of color and softer edges, producing a harmonious foundation upon which economical final pastel strokes can be applied.

Painting in a painterly fashion is not about how fast one paints, but how prepared one is as a painter. Whether you evolve over time into a loose painter or remain tight, being prepared and well practiced will produce a confidence that will be evident.



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One thought on “Loosening Up | Pastel Painting With Confidence

  1. KEH

    Wonderful article. I really enjoyed your insights into the effort "behind the scenes" for artists to reach the point where they can paint in a more relaxed, and confident manner. Such work that can easily be mistaken for easy due to the simplicity which is required to break down a design into its most basic parts. I believe it was Carlson who described seeing with the simplicity of a child was far from a simple task!