Tips from Richard McKinley’s new book: Pastel Pointers | 7 Tips for Switching from Scene to Studio

“After working for a period of time with both the field-sketch and finish-on-location mind set, many painters discover that what works best is to begin on location and finish back in the studio. By starting directly from the source of your motivation, you gain sensitivity for the real light and a real connection to the scene. Your inspiration is from something alive and your choices are based in reality. By physically removing yourself from the influences of the scene, it becomes easier to listen to the painting and hear what it is saying.”   —Richard McKinley

In Richard’s first North Light book, Pastel Pointers: Top Secrets for Beautiful Pastel Paintings (on shelves November 2010), all of the very best of Richard’s popular Pastel Journal columns and blogs are compiled into a single, essential guide. It covers everything from the fundamentals (laying out your palette, underpaintings, light and color) to techniques (edges, layering, fixes to common pastel problems) to finding inspiration in your artist’s journey.

Scroll down for Richard’s free list of handy tips for making a successful transition from scene to studio.

Pastel Pointers by Richard McKinley
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7 Tips for Transitioning From Scene to Studio by Richard McKinley

1. What’s the concept? Ask yourself: “Why was I painting the scene?” If you know why, you’ll know what. This question helps to reestablish what was important and what might be frivolous about the content. Since it’s easy to get off track, periodically remind yourself what was important in the first place.

2. Reevaluate the composition. Where’s the center of interest? Does it have importance? Do the shapes in the painting lead there? Are the strongest contrast in terms of edge, value and color within that area?

3. Do the values (the light and dark relationships) work? Within the major masses of the painting, do the values relate properly? Have I unintentionally over-exaggerated the relative darks and lights within any given area, creating a value range that’s too extreme?

4. Is there color harmony? Do the colors relate or fight for importance? Does the painting accurately reflect the temperature of the light?

5. Are there dominants, in terms of value, color, shape and texture, and accents that provide interest in the painting? If everything is of equal importance, then nothing stands out.

6. Does the painting have passive areas a place where the viewer’s eyes can rest? Too much stimulation produces an overly busy painting that agitates the viewer, so allow for a couple of quiet (less busy) areas.

7. Is there any mystery for the viewer to solve? A mysterious (not overly explained) area engages the imagination, allowing viewers to become involved in the painting. Let a viewer finish a few things and you’ll keep his or her attention longer.

Shadow Lane, pastel by Richard McKinley
Shadow Lane
, 12″ x 18″ (30cm x 46cm)
For Shadow Lane, I worked back in the studio from a quick plein air sketch and photographs, which removed the pressure of capturing the light before it changed. Having the experience on location provided the sensitivity; being in the studio provided unrestricted possibility.

Edge of the Bank, pastel by Richard McKinley
Edge of the Bank, 12″ x 16″ (30cm x 41cm)
I started Edge of the Bank on location. After working for two hours, I put the painting away. The light had changed and the motivation was gone. Back in the studio, rested and removed from the intensity of the scene, I found it easier to evaluate the painting, leading to minor adjustments that strengthened the overall unity of the piece.

About Richard McKinley
Richard McKinley has been a professional artist for 38 years and has more than 35 years of teaching experience. He writes a weekly blog for The Pastel Journal titled Pastel Pointers that has appeared on since 2007, and he’s written for the periodical since 2003. He’s taught and participated in national and international workshops for more than 30 years. His work is shown in several national galleries, and he is an Artist Member of the Salmagundi Club of NYC, a Signature Member and 2010 Hall of Fame inductee of the Pastel Society of America, a Signature Distinguished Pastelist with the Pastel Society of the West Coast, a signature member of the Northwest Pastel Society, and a member of the Oil Painters of America. His work has been included in several North Light Books including A Painters Guide to Design and Composition, Painting with Pastels by Maggie Price and Pure Color: The Best of Pastel. Richard has also produced two instructional DVDs on pastel painting for

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