Adventures in Abstraction
In her underwater scenes in pastel, Michele Poirier-Mozzone produces a series of work that’s a joyous presentation of bodies in motion. It’s also a feast of dazzling color and light.
Her underwater series came about because of a failed adventure in abstract painting. “Shortly after I started using pastel, I felt I needed a new direction,” explains Poirier-Mozzone. So she painted completely abstracted works for a few months without any planning.
“It was one of the most difficult, frustrating periods for me,” recalls Poirier-Mozzone. “I came away with many mediocre paintings and the feeling that maybe it was all a waste of time. Unfortunately, I still hadn’t hit upon anything that I felt could lead me into a series of successful paintings. I was in a creative rut.”
It was in this frame of mind that Poirier-Mozzone found herself watching one of her daughters swim in the pool on a summer day. “I was struck by the ribbons of sunlight and interesting distortions affecting my daughter through the moving water,” she says. “I was also keenly aware of catching this lovely, brief moment before it flickered by.”
Poirier-Mozzone continues, “Grabbing my camera, I took numerous photos in hopes of using them in a painting. Then it hit me: What if I tried to include an image of the figure in water into my abstract paintings? That was the beginning of an exploration that still fascinates me today.”
6 Steps to Creating Underwater Scenes in Pastel
If you are wondering how exactly Poirier-Mozzone creates underwater scenes in pastel, then you are in luck. Read on for quick step-by-step demonstration on how to capture the effects of summer light in water through color complements. Enjoy!
1. Thumbnail Sketching
Poirier-Mozzone makes a thumbnail sketch with references from underwater photography. She works from a still video frame displayed on a computer screen.
Her work begins on UART paper with a light sketch of the composition in pastel pencil. The underpainting is a wash of oil paint.
For each area, she underpaints a near complement to the final color. Thus, areas of water that are going to be green/blue are painted red/orange. The artist underpaints areas of skin with a dull olive green.
3. Blocking in Color
The major areas of color are blocked in gently using soft pastel. “I try to keep a light hand at this stage,” says Poirier-Mozzone. Plenty of the underpainting is left showing.
She also writes on the paper as she works, a process that she says helps her to register what she’s feeling about the painting. A few of the words included are “sisters,” “special,” “sisterly” and “bond.”
4. Building the Figures
At this stage, Poirier-Mozzone builds more carefully into the figures, working her strokes across and along the form.
“I begin to refine contrast and detail in and around my focal point [the figure in red] at this stage,” she says. “I add greens and blues to the skin tone for reflected underwater light, letting them mingle with previous layers of warm color.”
5. Pushing Colors
With the painting almost done, Poirier-Mozzone is still pushing the color a little, particularly the gold ochre on the lower swimmer’s leg. She’s also still struggling to get the patch of light on the bottom of the pool to read properly.
6. Adding Final Touches
The pushed color in the leg of the lower swimmer is adjusted and toned down. The patch of light on the bottom of the pool is reading properly, and yellow is added with a cool white highlight playing over the top.
The water and figures are further enriched with thousands of small strokes. The writing is all but obliterated, although a few fragments remain, most noticeably on the floor of the pool.
A version of this demonstration on how to create underwater scenes in pastel first appeared in Pastel Journal. Subscribe here to never miss an issue.
Create Summer Waves in Pastel
Enjoyed learning how to create underwater scenes in pastel? Then watch the preview below from Liz Haywood-Sullivan’s video workshop, Landscape Painting in Pastel: Summer Waves, to learn even more pastel tips for creating water effects.
In this trailer, follow along as Haywood-Sullivan establishes a brilliant underpainting with expressive marks and brushwork.
Like what you see? Start streaming the full-length version of Landscape Painting in Pastel: Summer Waves now!