Assignment 4

Summary of the brief for this assignment:

Assess all your landscape paintings and preparatory sketches and assess which have been the most engaging exercises.  Which landscapes have the most appeal for you?  Consider why certain paintings are more successful than others and which approaches and styles have worked best for you.   Think about how you can consolidate your experiments by working on a large landscape painting – around 90cm x 60cm or larger – using a location and viewpoint of your choice.   Consider the influence of landscape painters that you admire and explain how their work may have influenced your own. 

Notes :

I had several ideas for a theme for this assignment, ranging from a woodland scene done in a wide panoramic layout, similar to a panorama format when taking a photo with a camera.  I don’t want to discount this idea and may use it for further work in part 5.    Other ideas were:

  • A large treatment of a scene from my recent trip to Wales – Criccieth castle and beach, for example – would work too. 
  • I liked doing the tonal study of the sea in monotone soft pastels (also taken from a reference photo from my recent trip to the Welsh coastline).  
  • A coastline scene – maybe somewhere local in Norfolk.
  • A mountain scene from somewhere in South Africa – I have a large collection of photos taken from our regular trips to the spectacular Drakensberg mountains and I have visited those areas many times.
  • Rivers and bridges in and around the area in Wales where my aunt lives.

We are asked in this assignment to work no smaller than 90x60cm and initially I battled to find a surface (paper or canvas board) that met this brief.  I have plenty of paper in A2 size and canvas boards that fall just short of 90x60cm.  I bought some hardboard from B&Q, slightly larger than 90x60cm and had thought about using that, although I would have had to trim it as it was a bit too long, not too much of a problem, I have a saw!   But this brought me back to what subject I was going to paint. 

Whilst I was trawling through my laptop images looking for inspiration, I came across my photo album from a tour I did of Norway a couple of years ago.  This area of the world has always fascinated me and I had managed to take interesting photos of various fjords and other landmasses whilst I was there.  I settled upon an image I’d taken from the boat we were on.  It was an idyllic day and the colours of the snow-peaked mountains and landscape were truly spectacular. It was only when I started doing small mock-up studies in my sketchbook that I realised how much it was a study in complementary colours and aerial perspective.

Preparatory work I did a few small sketches and one soft pastel study on Pastelmat paper with my new Sennelier pastels, I really love the colours and mood of this little drawing, which is loose and not overworked. 

I decided that I wanted to use pastels as the medium of choice for this landscape, as I felt confident with the medium.  However, I did not have Pastelmat in a large size.  I managed to find some from a UK supplier in a slightly larger dimension – 70x100cm – I was able to order it in the sienna tint, which I had used for the small preparatory sketch.  

I was unsure whether the paper would rip if it was taped down, as I’ve never done that with Pastelmat before, so I first tried an experiment using my smaller Pastelmat paper (slate grey) and taped this to a hardboard support.  I did a small landscape from imagination and I also decided to try and use some water in order to manipulate the pastels as I’d heard that you can’t do this with Pastelmat.  Well you can!  

The above test is a very rough and unfinished sketch just to try out a) using water on the Pastelmat paper and b) whether it would tear once the tape was removed.   In both cases I was successful, so I am fairly confident now of taping around the edges of the larger piece of Pastelmat, as this makes it much easier to work on (if it is taped down to a support).   Clairefontaine send the transparent protective sheets along with the larger paper, sandwiched between each sheet, which I thought was really great.  So I can place the protective paper over my work in between sessions, to stop anything getting onto the surface.     I have decided, though, to hold back with the water as I am unsure whether it would buckle the paper and I don’t want that to happen half way through the process of making this assignment piece. 

Starting the actual piece

It did, however, take a while for the Pastelmat paper to get to me and I was starting to worry about the passing time. The paper arrived during the first week of October and I was able to make a start. I have bought three sheets of this paper, so will be doing more large pastel work in the future, I’m sure.It is much larger than I expected! Immediately I wondered whether I would find a support large enough to attach it to, so that I could work on it. I cannot attach things to the walls in my house (to work vertically) and an easel is not rigid enough of a support for pastel work. I eventually decided to tape the paper with the blue low-tack builder’s tape to the sturdy cardboard box that it came in.

Pastelmat secured to support box with blue tape – source image included in this photo

I have to say that whilst I adore Pastelmat paper (it feels divine), I had a massive bout of the nerves once I’d done the preparatory work and stood there looking at the paper.  I kept remembering something Luc Tuymans said in a video, that the first three hours are hell.   I think it might be longer than three hours in my case.

I had decided to square off my source image and roughly sketch out where I wanted the main shapes to be.  I didn’t want to look at other images online of fjords as this could possibly alter my perception and make me try and reproduce a photo exactly.  The idea is not to reproduce a photo, I am aiming here to create a landscape with atmosphere and scale, to try and capture how I felt when I was standing on the boat deck looking out across the fjord at that lovely scene and how calming (for me) it was.  

Starting to work the sky – I did this with the picture basically upside down

I use Sennelier, Rembrandt, Unison, Faber-Castell, Art Discount and Art Spectrum soft pastels. Some are in their original boxes but I have a lot that are in a plastic screws/nuts and bolts flat case divided up into compartments and it is filled with pastels in specific colour groups – reds, greens, oranges, etc. It is therefore quite difficult for me to itemise exact shades of colours I’ve used in this assignment piece, as in nearly all cases I have also removed any paper cases around the pastels. I also ordered some Caran D’Ache pastel pencils to complete details, these arrived today and whilst they are beautiful pencils, using them was a bit of overkill on a painting of this size, especially because I have a lot of pastel pigment on the paper. But I will use the pencils for other work, I’m sure of that!

This is the final result:

‘Norway fjord’ Soft Pastels on Pastelmat 100cm x 70cm

Reasons for choosing the subject for this assignment

  • Depth of field/aerial perspective – this subject lends itself to a large treatment
  • So far in this course, we haven’t focused on capturing water and I saw that as an interesting challenge.
  • Complementary / pleasing colour palette – blues and gold/orange
  • Painting snow is also interesting, as it is composed of many different colours/tones and textures
  • The source image is my own, taken when I was in Norway, the scene has personal resonance and a subconscious emotional connection, which I hoped to convey in the final work.
  • It is an atmospheric and expressive source image.
  • It incorporates several aspects of the exercises in this section, namely: soft landscape, aerial perspective, expressive/atmospheric landscape, use of working drawings/photographs, squaring up.

Artists who influence my approach – using soft pastels on a large surface.

Classical masters such as Delacroix, Rembrandt and Degas used pastels for a great many of their famous paintings. 

I am particularly interested in the hyper-realistic work of Zaria Forman, at least insofar as the process she employs when making her fabulously massive portraits of icebergs and glaciers, which document the effects of climate change.  

 She uses specific custom-made paper or paper-board for most of her work.  I have watched several videos where she explains her process and gives some demonstration.  Generally, she seems to work with the surface vertical on the wall, I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to do that when I started out on my painting.   Whilst I admire her work immensely, I am not interested (in my work) of trying to recreate a scene exactly as it would appear in a photograph, I want to try an infuse emotion into the scene.

Assignment criteria:

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

I think I have tackled the aerial perspective aspect of this subject quite well.  I have also captured the essence of the place and not reproduced it as a photo-realistic facsimile. 

Quality of outcome

I’m pleased with the finished painting, I’ve achieved what I set out to do and have produced a large landscape that has great depth of field and atmosphere.  

Demonstration of creativity

I have demonstrated creativity in my approach to the subject matter, materials used and process employed to produce the final painting. 

Context, reflecting thinking, critical thinking, analysis

My approach to the subject matter and my reasoning behind using this theme as my painting topic is discussed herein and I think I have clearly stated why I chose this subject and the influences I have with regards pastel works. 

Bibliography   Zaria Forman’s website   Article on famous historical artists who were drawn to pastels in their work.

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