I’m a daydreamer. A sun-gazing, water-drawn, card-carrying member of the Cloud Appreciation Society. Well, I don’t really have a card. But I can’t go outside or look out the window without seeing what the clouds are up to. In my mid-thirties, I still look for shapes within them; sometimes just when I’m on a walk and it’s natural to look up; sometimes, on warm days, I have no problem throwing a blanket down in the grass, laying on my back and just watching them roll by for a while, mindless of laundry and other household tasks that will always be there waiting for me.
Maybe that’s why I can get lost in a well-executed landscape painting. Liz Haywood-Sullivan is one artist who can put me in a different time and place when I view her works. In this excerpt from Pastel Journal (“Lighting Up the Sky,” October 2007), Loraine DeBonis writes about Liz’s paintings, and shares how she captures light.
Turning on the Lights
Liz’s main goal is to translate her memories of the light of a place onto a piece of paper. To do this, she always starts with a thumbnail sketch, first determining the composition and size of her piece. Then she selects a surface, either black Canson paper or white Kitty Wallis sanded paper.
The surface she chooses depends largely on the mood of the landscape as well as her own mood at the time. “If I really want the piece to sparkle and have really bright light, I’ll use the Wallis paper. No matter how much white I put down on the black paper, there’s still an underlying grayness that comes through,” she explains. “But I like working on black when I’m painting snow. I love to lay the white down as if it’s snowing on the paper. Growing up in upstate New York, I’m very familiar with gray days.” She also likes to use Canson black paper for scenes with a lot of darks.
When working on Wallis paper, she applies an underpainting to the entire surface–except areas that have a white light coming through–sometimes choosing colors complementary to what she wants the final color to be. Laying in the color, using the side of her pastel sticks, Liz puts in the dark and light areas and draws the basic forms. Then she stands back and examines her piece using a mirror, a favorite trick for spotting flaws. The forgiving nature of pastel, she says, allows her to change things around if the mirror points out a problem. “I’m always using mirrors to evaluate the balance of a composition. Even though I’ve gotten into the underpainting at this point, I can go in and change things if necessary.”
Once she’s satisfied with the composition, Liz uses a ¾-inch flat brush and rubbing alcohol to create washes that, when dry, restore the tooth of the paper and create a base on which to build the rest of her painting. Then she continues to add layers of color, working dark to light with her many pastels. She likes a variety of brands, from harder varieties–Rembrandt and Girault–to softer pastels such as Diane Townsend, Terry Ludwig and Unison. Although she admits that you can never have too many pastels, she typically uses only 30 to 50 colors on a given painting, relying instead on color-layering to produce the “right” color–rather than hoping to find it in her pastel box. ~Loraine DeBonis
Fortunately, Liz has written a book–perhaps the book–on this topic. Painting Brilliant Skies & Water in Pastel is now available, so you can be one of the first to get your powdery hands on a copy. Fortunately, Liz has come out with with three new DVDs in which she teaches you how to paint the landscape with pastel, including one en plein air. After you take a look at these new resources (scroll down for more info), go outside and peacefully observe the sky.
Always looking up,
**Learn about the DVDs Landscape Painting in Pastel (Snow), and Landscape Painting in Pastel (Surface Color and Texture) with Liz Haywood-Sullivan
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