How elaborate should I make the initial drawing?

9-Fir-Island-drawing.jpgThe amount of drawing placed on the pastel surface before painting is an individual choice. When I refer to a drawing on the pastel surface, I mean the placement of the composition—an arrangement of shapes and values. Some painters need an elaborate drawing to feel comfortable, while others place just a few marks.
9-tree-drawing.jpgConsider which surface you’ll be working on and what product you’ll be using to do the drawing. Depending on the surface, many products may be used—drawing pencils, vine charcoal and pastel pencils are a few of the most common. I use all three but depend on a simple 2b or HB pencil most of the time. Since the majority of my work is done on a sanded surface, such as Wallis paper, I enjoy the fluid way the pencil imparts a mark, flowing like a stick of margarine onto a warm plate. My drawings for Fir Island Afternoon, top left, and Tumalo Pines, left, were done on Wallis white museum-grade paper mounted on Museum board. (To see the underpainting and finished painting for Fir Island Afternoon, refer to my previous blog post.) To correct a misplaced stroke, I wipe it off with a chamois or strong paper towel. Although a ghost image still remains, it’s easy to cover.

Also consider whether you’ll be utilizing an underpainting. If you plan to underpaint, it’s best to experiment first to see how the product used for the drawing affects the outcome. Some are prone to smearing and, if applied heavily, may gray and weaken the color being applied. No matter what I use for the drawing, I blow off any loose dust. I’m not worried about loosing the drawing once the underpainting begins, but I don’t want to alter the appearance by having too much of the drawing materials mixing in.
Another factor to consider: What will it take for you to feel comfortable before applying pastel? I utilize a series of thumbnail sketches before starting a painting. These help to solidify my concept and help me work through any problems I might confront with the make-up of the scene. Even after completing a series of thumbnail sketches, I do a rather involved drawing on my pastel surface. I refer to this stage as the “sensitivity.” I take my time, allowing myself to become tuned in to the subject. Students often ask: Why spend the time only to lose it or cover it up? My reply is that this acts as my warm-up and helps me slip into the painting mindset I need to paint with  nthusiasm and clarity, even though the majority will be lost once I apply pastel. Having physically worked through the drawing, I have internalized the elements of the scene. I realize this may be frustrating for some and a waste of time for others, but for me it is an invaluable step.

Ask your pastel painting questions in a comment here, or email The Pastel Journal at For more about Richard McKinley, visit his website.

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2 thoughts on “How elaborate should I make the initial drawing?

  1. Elsie Wilson

    Dear Richard,
    I just wanted to let you know how much I have enjoyed your blog lessons! I also liked the video demonstration of your workshop. However, I really would have preferred to hear you voice and words than the narrator. Please consider making a DVD!

  2. Teresa Robeson

    I think it says a lot about Richard McKinley’s beautiful art that when my sister and I viewed the initial drawing for Fir Island Afternoon, without having read the posting yet, we thought it was a gorgeous, artful black and white photograph.

    And, by the way, thank you Pastel Journal for starting this blog, and to Richard for writing it. It’s been most helpful for me before I can attend one of his workshops in person.