Sunset on the River: A Pastel Demo

Are you ready for this? Liz Haywood-Sullivan has four new video workshops on painting the landscape in pastel, and to give you a little taste, I’m sharing with you one of her step-by-step demos. This one comes from the eBook Landscape Painting in Pastel: 23 Artists Share Their Secrets, and I can tell you it’s an excellent resource to have on hand. (Get this eBook plus Liz’s newest videos and more in the Pastel Landscape Painting collection while they last!) Now, prepare yourself for inspiration. ~Cherie

Pastel painting techniques | Liz Haywood-Sullivan, ArtistsNetwork.com

“The sky has beckoned to me since I was a child,” Liz says, “watching the change of seasons through the character of the clouds passing above. When I started landscape painting, the sky was my first love, a subject that continuously showed up in my artwork. I thought it was my favorite subject until I noticed that, more subtly, water was more often than not included in my compositions as well.

“One of my favorite spots to find inspiration for these subjects is the North River in coastal Massachusetts. With its east/west orientation offering wonderful views for sunrises and sunsets, it not only affords a great chance to practice painting cloud forms and sky, but also to paint the reflections of those clouds and sky in the river. Follow along as I paint one such glorious sunset over this New England river.”

 

(PIN this demo for future reference!)

Sunset on the River by Liz Haywood-Sullivan

Pastel painting demo, Step 1 | Liz Haywood Sullivan
1. Draw the Image on Paper.To begin, I crop the paper to match the proportions of my photo, placing reference marks at fourths on the sides of my image and paper to help me scale proportionately. I draw the outline of basic shapes using a hard pastel in a neutral color and a mid-value that appears in the painting.

Pastel painting demo, Step 2 | Liz Haywood Sullivan

2. Choose Colors for Underpainting The most important principle to keep in mind when planning an underpainting is that the value should match the final value of a particular area or shape; the hue can vary. I use shades of dark and mid-tone purples and pinks to enliven clouds, for instance, which are more blue and gray. For sunlit areas, I employ lighter oranges and yellows. For the land, I use dark values in warm purple, green and brown.

Using the side of the pastel, I lightly make broad strokes, being careful not to apply too much and fill up the tooth of the paper. I keep colors to the basic shapes; details will come later.

Pastel painting demo, Step 3 | Liz Haywood Sullivan

3. Wash Down Light Areas With Alcohol I use a flat synthetic watercolor brush, either a 1⁄2-, 3⁄4- or 1-inch size, depending on the size of my painting. The sanded pastel paper can ruin brushes quickly, so I use inexpensive ones. I wash down the light areas first, which keeps the alcohol from getting too dirty.

Pastel painting demo, Step 4 | Liz Haywood Sullivan
4. Wash Down the Darks With a larger brush, I can make freer strokes in many directions to mimic the free- form clouds. At the treeline, I use a brush with battered bristles and, with directional brushstrokes, stroke the alcohol upward.

When the painting has been washed and then dried to the touch, I wash the remaining alcohol over the entire painting to eliminate any small areas that might have been missed. This brings a unifying aspect to the painting and creates an effect not unlike stained glass. I then let the painting dry completely, which takes about 15 to 20 minutes.

Pastel painting demo, Step 5 | Liz Haywood Sullivan

5. Locate the Darkest Dark and Lightest Light I locate the outer range of values: the darkest dark and the lightest light. Once I determine these two critical values, all other colors placed on the painting need to fall somewhere between them. (This prevents finishing an area only to learn, when I put in the sky, that the whole painting is too dark.) I place light warm yellow in areas closest to the sun and the darkest purple in the treeline.

Pastel painting demo, Step 6 | Liz Haywood Sullivan

6. Establish Local Color Moving to my palette, I select the pastel colors I’ll use. By touching a color lightly to my painting, I can determine not only if the value is correct, but the color as well. Next, I set the chosen sticks aside to prevent the need to search for them again. During this step, I also evaluate the final color palette and make any corrections.

Pastel painting demo, Step 7 | Liz Haywood Sullivan

7. Paint the Sky Behind the Clouds It’s important to get the correct value and colors behind the clouds. For light values, I use peach, warm yellow, warm yellow ochre and warm blue. For medium values, I use peach, yellow ochre, brick red, warm blues, turquoise and cool blues.

I begin to put down some finishing marks and fill up the tooth of the paper. At this stage, selections are more final, so I’m careful to get the correct gradation–from the lighter values near the sun to darker ones higher up in the painting. If the transition isn’t smooth and doesn’t make sense, the painting won’t look right. I work with a light hand so the colors appear transparent and the underpainting still shows through in places. I avoid finishing the sky edges that touch the clouds because I want to work on the clouds first. Then I change the river by adding the left bank; this alters the composition by better leading the eye into the painting.

Pastel painting demo, Step 8 | Liz Haywood Sullivan

8. Complete the First Layer I place the correct gray values in the clouds, river, land and treeline using a light touch. I choose brick red, peach, warm and cool gray, blue-grays, and gray-purple for the medium values; and blue-gray, gray-purple and warm greens for the dark values. For the darkest value, I select very dark purple. Before committing to final mark-making, I evaluate the values. I also check the cloud forms to ensure I haven’t created any inadvertent cloud shapes, such as teddy bears or monsters.

Pastel painting demo, Step 9 | Liz Haywood Sullivan

9. Paint Positive and Negative Shapes I put down color on a more forefront cloud area, then pull out the negative shape of a cloud hole with a spot of proper sky value. It’s a push- and-pull process–a bit of cloud, a bit of sky–but I do this only in specific areas to support the focal point. I don’t want this level of detail at the top part of the painting or along the sides where a viewer’s eye might wander off. As I’m painting, I continue to check the cloud shapes.

Pastel painting demo, Step 10 | Liz Haywood Sullivan
10. Finish the Painting I make a few final changes. The light area underneath the cloud that’s hiding the sun is too circular and looks like a smile, so I break up that shape by extending and changing its form. Next, I indicate the river’s current lines using thinner, close lines farther back, spreading and making them multidirectional closer to the bottom of the painting. I give the impression of sparkles with a few carefully placed dots of mid-value peach.

To finish the dark treeline, I use a piece of vine charcoal and carefully drag some of the dark purple color toward the sky. I leave some areas of underpainting showing and place tiny skyholes with the sky colors.

Next, I darken the river on the right side where it enters the picture. The river needs to reflect the color of the sky above it, which in this case is the mid-gray cloud.

To finish, I do one final review of shapes and then clean up any areas that look overworked or light areas that have picked up dark streaks. I then pat it down to dislodge any loose pastel.

I’ve learned to trust the power of observation, especially when it comes to the everchanging subjects of sky and water. It’s important to paint what you see, not what you think you see. ~Liz

**Subscribe to the Artists Network newsletter for inspiration, instruction, and ideas, and score a free download on Pastel Painting: 4 Articles on Pastel Basics for Artists.

You may also like these articles:

COMMENT