Reworking a Pastel Painting: A Demonstration by Gaela Erwin

In order to capture the majestic animals in the equine portraits, Gaela Erwin works from photos but also studies the real thing with a visit to her companion of 28 years, a horse named Willy. Erwin stands in front of the mirror for hours, focusing on herself, then visits the horse to gather details about the animal. “I collect side saddle prints as well,” says Erwin, “and in 90 percent of them, there’s a hound.” So Erwin’s pooch, a Chinese crested named Lacey, also appears in paintings. The accommodating canine will sit for up to 45 minutes before getting restless.

Erwin’s work is featured in The Artist’s Magazine (April 2010). Order your copy today and read the full story (on sale for only 50 cents now through 3/28/13!).

Equestrienne Self-Portrait by Gaela Erwin
Equestrienne Self-Portrait (pastel, 60×48) by Gaela Erwin

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Equestrienne Self-Portrait demonstration by Gaela Erwin

In the beginning: All my pastel paintings start with a vine charcoal sketch, which may take as little as 10 minutes to draw. For this piece, creating a well-shaped oval took the most time. I then block everything in with hard pastels. (For later layers I use soft pastels.) Here you see the sky blocked in with various cloud formations and color tonalities to suggest dusk. I did the woman’s head from life. Everything else remains in the early stages of blocking-in or charcoal sketching. I tell my students to be tolerant of this stage—it’s always going to look terrible.

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Equestrienne Self-Portrait demonstration by Gaela Erwin

Four months later: The painting has been jettisoned many times while I’ve switched to less demanding pieces. The sky has been replaced six times. The figure has been wiped out and replaced, the head redrawn from life and the body re-blocked. New photography helped me locate details of the folds in the riding habit and the play of lights and darks on the fabric. At this point, I can’t see that the horse is too big, though everyone is telling me it’s overscaled.

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Equestrienne Self-Portrait demonstration by Gaela Erwin

Another five months: The horse has been completely erased and redrawn. Meanwhile, the oval has grown and shrunk in response to the scale of the horse. I’ve resorted to a primitive grid on the photo and the pastel to keep the horse in proper proportions. Charcoal grid marks around the rider are faintly in evidence (not perceptible in this image). I’ve deepened the shadows on the horse to bring it into harmony with the light indicated by the sky. The gloved hands have been redrawn in order to make them more accurate.

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Equestrienne Self-Portrait demonstration by Gaela Erwin

Final month:
I had added my dog, Lacey, because, in reviewing my collection of images of ladies in sidesaddle, I became aware that more than two-thirds of the images include a hound. Usually these are hunting dogs, but my Chinese crested adds a note of modernity and irony. Since the time Equestrienne Self-Portrait (pastel, 60×48) was professionally photographed (as seen above), I’ve continued to make small changes by thinning the horse’s legs. No future changes are planned, but until a piece is framed or purchased, nothing is presumed static.

Visit Erwin’s website at www.gaelaerwinart.com.

Buy The Artist's Magazine, April 2010To read more about Gaela Erwin and check out the April 2010 issue of The Artist’s Magazine, click here.


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