Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Painting Summer in Winter

Posted by Maggie

It's been cold here in New Mexico, though lacking in snow or rain. Still, one day I decided to warm up a little by painting from a photograph I took in Colorado last summer.

I decided to do something experimental, using the Pastelmat surface. I like this surface, though I'm still getting used to it. I began with a block-in, using only the sides of my pastels, and using very soft pastels throughout.  While I often exaggerate or change colors for an underpainting, in this case I stayed fairly close to the local colors, going a bit darker in some areas than what I intended for the final.

Then I washed over each area of color with alcohol. (In this case, I used ordinary rubbing alcohol. Denatured alcohol is a different thing, and I'll write about that later.)

Moving towards realistic color, I developed the painting, still using only the sides of the pastels, and working until I had covered every part of the painting surface with fresh pastel.

My goal for this painting was to keep it loose and lively, so I tried very hard to limit how much detail I added. It was difficult to define the edges of the trees without going to small strokes, but I continued to use fat soft pastels, hoping that would keep me from getting too detailed.

When I got to this point (above right), I wasn't happy with it. So I took the alcohol and brush and washed the whole thing again. I was careful to keep my colors clean and separate, starting with the lighter values and moving towards the dark at the end. The wash softened edges and mingled color (in spite of my best efforts to keep the colors separated). I liked it better, but felt it needed a fresh layer of pastel to liven it up and remove the muddiness created by the second wash of alcohol. (Left, the painting after the second alcohol wash.)

In the end, I still felt it could be looser, but I liked it. I think it was interesting to use a second wash halfway through the painting, and I may do that again with other paintings in the future.

The final painting, below: Summer Solstice, 12x12, pastel, ©Maggie Price.


  1. Lovely and interesting. I used alchohol on the sienna pastelmat for a summmer scene done on site last summer and noticed where I washed with the alcholhol there was a whiteish ghosty milky look on the surface. Have you seen this happen before? I continued with the layering of new pastel over this and it was OK, but it was odd to me. I use this method on uart, watercolor paper and others, even canson, and haven't seen this before.

    1. I have not seen that happen. I wonder if your brush picked up too much light pigment in the beginning? That's unlikely but the only thing I can think of; usually with alcohol there's not much transference of color. Have you used the sienna color before with an alcohol wash?