With limited time to paint, pastelist Dave Stout has learned to pare down his supplies and develop an efficient and effective working method.
by Linda S. Price
Given the choice, most artists would probably jump at the chance to paint full time. Unfortunately, not every one gets the opportunity. But Colorado pastelist Dave Stout believes that having a full-time job—he’s a delivery driver for UPS—actually benefits his painting. “Because the job is so rigid and defined,” he explains, “it perfectly counterbalances the creative aspect of my life. It has also made me more disciplined in my approach to painting. I don’t have much time to paint, so when I do get the opportunity, I have to be as productive as possible.” Stout usually wakes up at 5 a.m. during the week to paint for an hour before work and also paints on the weekends, both on location and in his studio.
To help him maximize the limited amount of time he has for his art, Stout decided to switch from oil to pastel. Besides enjoying the purity of the colors, the artist appreciates that there’s little set up and no drying time with this medium, so he can have something down relatively quickly. Because he’d rather spend his time painting than searching for new products, Stout works with a limited number of pastels and only three brands: Rembrandt, Sennelier, and Schmincke. Although he admits to having “a hodgepodge of pastels” in his studio, separated into warm and cool colors, the artist has developed a feel for picking up a half or quarter stick of the right color. “I work fast and don’t think about it too much,” the artist explains. “I feel the color—I know what I want, and I find it.”
Stout’s pastel kit for painting outdoors is limited to about 35 pastels. (Occasionally he uses pastel pencils for fine line work.) He never buys the whole range of values of one color, relying on different colors for different values. One of his favorite colors is Sennelier dark green (No. 158) “It’s incredible,” he enthuses. “I use it instead of black; it breathes, it has life in it.” Schmincke, he notes, makes a wonderful white (No. 17001-069D), which he appreciates for its saturation and covering ability. In snow scenes he likes to use Sennelier violet blue (No. 393), which is effective for cool shadows, and Sennelier ochre orange (No. 104) is perfect for creating the look of adobe.
2006, pastel, 91/2 x 14.
Here Stout emphasized
After experimenting with different grounds, Stout has settled on Sennelier Pastel Card. He likes the uniformity of its surface as well as the fact that it’s very forgiving and allows him to build up layers to create a sense of luminosity. It’s also conducive to fine work and drawing thin lines. His preference is for toned cards, cooler blues and grays for winter pieces and warmer tones for fall or New Mexico scenes. He attaches the card to an acid-free Fome-Cor board with acid-free double-sided tape and sets it up on his French easel.
Stout begins a pastel work by making light indications, explaining that he does more thinking than painting at this stage. “You have to sneak up on a pastel painting,” Stout says. “Start light. If you build up too quickly there’s no going back. You lose the freshness and that painterly quality you want.” With a half stick of Rembrandt burnt umber he then blocks in the scene, using the toned paper as the middle value. (Because he uses light strokes he can work other softer pastels over the burnt umber.) At one time he worked his way from the darkest dark to the lightest light, but now he blocks in the light, middle, and dark values in one step.
Next Stout paints the crucial center of interest and then makes decisions about what to include around it. He likes to keep everything loose except the focal point, allowing other areas to complement the main attraction. The artist generally uses three to four layers of pastel, spraying the second layer lightly with fixative to push the pastel into the ground. Because fixative tends to deaden colors, he sprays a painting only once. He doesn’t hesitate to blend with his fingers—he enjoys the immediacy and control—and does a lot of smudging and softening of edges. “Too many competing sharp edges make a painting look overworked,” he explains.
Finding inspiration for paintings is easy for Stout. He and his wife Cindy take many long road trips with plenty of stops for photographing and painting. “Choosing a scene to paint is intuitive,” he says. “I get a feeling when I see it. It grabs me, and I want to convey that moment in a painting. I’m open to any subject that catches my eye, but I’m particularly drawn to the light and colors of Northern New Mexico—the blue skies, pristine white clouds, red earth, wild flowers in bloom—as well as the architecture. It’s so organic, a part of the landscape.” He also loves the Rocky Mountains in winter, especially the long, cool cast shadows.
In the past Stout used a viewfinder to isolate the scene he wanted to paint, but now his eye has become sufficiently selective. He does thumbnail sketches only if it’s an architectural subject that involves perspective and more refined work. Generally he prefers to jump right into a painting. “As I have become more proficient and my eye has matured, I’m also more aware of the variations in value in an area,” he says. “I used to see shadows as one color and one value; now I see a myriad of colors and values.” In Winter Solitude, for instance, the long shadows are a combination of four or five different blues and violets. The trees are dark green but with a lot of orange and ochre speckled through them.
For the simple but light-filled sky in this work, the artist began with oranges and yellows, then stroked over them with warm gray. They are designed to complement the shadows and lights on the snow. “I see a lot of pink in skies,” he says, “even in the blue.” In Road Home Stout underpainted the sky in a warm pink, letting some of it show through the blue to create vibrancy. The dramatic sky in Back to the Clouds is a combination of warm and cool grays underpainted with Payne’s gray while the underside of the clouds is violet overpainted with a variety of cool grays. In this stormy sky there are no whites. In addition to painting landscapes of the countryside he loves, Stout turns out equally accomplished still lifes, doing most of them during the winter months—although in spring he finds the peonies and lilacs irresistible. “I love the creative process of picking and arranging the elements in still lifes, of being in charge,” the artist reveals. “I also love the simplicity of it.” When choosing items for his setups, Stout looks for variety in size, shape, form, and texture. He often uses glass or ceramic vases that have a design to create visual interest, taking care not to detract from the flowers, which are “the stars of the show,” he says. Although he paints all these elements from life, he derives the background from his imagination.
When it comes to painting flowers, Stout claims the secret is to keep it simple and establish the basic light and dark patterns running through them. Most important, don’t overwork them. “The flowers are the first thing I nail down,” he explains. “If they go, the painting goes.” He lays in his flowers, paints the background around them, then finishes the flowers. With soft Sennelier and Schmincke pastels he notes that he can make strong final strokes on the flowers that overlap the background.
Commenting on how he’s found a way to fit his pastel work into a busy schedule, Stout says, “I’m a perfect example of someone who’s just persevered. I had to raise a family and pay the bills, but it didn’t keep me from pursuing my passion. Making a living at painting was never my first priority. Mine is to continue to grow as an artist, mature, and get increasingly better. Even if I didn’t make a dime doing it, I would still paint.”
About the Artist
Dave Stout was born in Nebraska and now lives in Colorado. He attended the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design, in Lakewood, Colorado, for a year and a half and has been taking classes on and off at The Art Institute of Colorado, in Denver, and the Art Students League of Denver. Having painted seriously for 25 years, he says that he is mostly self-taught. At present he’s contemplating retiring from his day job to have the opportunity to paint larger works, as well as spend more time in the field. His work has been included in numerous exhibitions hosted by such organizations as Artists of the West, the Pastel Society of the West Coast, and the Pastel Society of America. Stout is represented by the Wadle Galleries, in Santa Fe; Meyers Art Gallery, in Scottsdale, Arizona; and Gore Creek Gallery, in Vail, Colorado. For more information on Stout, e-mail him at [email protected].
Linda S. Price is an artist, writer, and editor living on Long Island, New York.