James W. Brown: Recipe for Brilliant Color

My approach to pastel allows you to take advantage of the full range of possibilities of the medium. I start with a textured ground, which gives my work an added sense of dimension that combines with multiple layers of color to give your paintings a rich, lifelike glow.


Pickin’ Cotton (pastel, 20×28)

I create this textured ground by mixing one part acrylic gesso, one part flour pumice and one part water and acrylic color?I usually use black, prism violet, ultramarine blue and crimson red. This combination gives me a dark gray with a hint of warmth or coolness, depending on the amount of blue or red that I add.

I apply the basic ground to my entire working surface. Then if I want an area to really pop out of the painting, I may add more pumice to the mixture and apply it to the area in question. When I need to create interesting textures, I add both more pumice and resin gel to the mixture and apply it to the appropriate area. Finally, if I really want to create a three-dimensional look, I add textured gel-resin sand and pastel dust to the mixture. But I use this sparingly?too much texture really chews up even the hardest pastels.


Spear Fishers (pastel, 20×28)

I begin adding color by using hard Nupastels to block in my major shapes. If I need to cover large areas, I use a stiff brush and either rubbing alcohol or Turpenoid to dilute and spread the pastel over my working surface. This saturates the paper with color while leaving plenty of tooth for additional layers of pastel. In some cases, I may even use acrylic colors for this underpainting. In any case, this first layer of color is either analogous or complementary to the final color I plan to use. These underpainted colors will glow through the succeeding layers of softer pastels, adding touches of energy and interest.

Zora Pinney is an artist, conservator and consultant in Los Angeles.

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