“Art resides in the quality of doing. Process is not magic.”– Charles Earnes
One of my favorite things about what I do for a living is that every day is a new journey. The process of creating is pretty much endless and is only limited by our own imagination and desires. There are so many mediums in which to make things that I don’t think I will ever run out of ideas. All I need to do is browse through my favorite social media platforms if I am feeling a little ‘flat’ and within minutes I begin traveling down a wonderful rabbit hole of techniques, classes, and inspiration. It never fails.
I never used to think of myself as a mixed media artist. I kind of had the thought that the term “mixed media” referred to a somewhat less-refined type of creating. What my friend Cari and I used to refer to as “Macaroni and Glitter” art. But as I continue to explore the world of art and art techniques through online classes and videos, I see how wrong I was. There is so much wonderful information available to us now that the world is our oyster and we are able to pick through and learn just about anything we desire. All from our own homes.
The past two years of COVID restrictions have been hard on many. But I think for those of us who are creative, it has not impacted us in quite the same way. While the in-person conventions were put on hold for a while and are just beginning to resurface now, there seems to have been quite a shift to online learning. Be it through Patreon, YouTube, or Zoom classes, it has opened up an entirely new way to learn and explore different types of mediums and techniques. It has also allowed us to get to know our teachers a little bit better and on a personal level. More so than if we were to attend just one class. I really think that is a positive.
Those of you who follow me know already that I like many types of mediums. I can probably say that my “art career” began many (many!) years ago using acrylic paint. I love to paint with acrylics, and I feel I have a good handle on them. Since I am allergic to oils, that isn’t an option for me and I have learned to paint with acrylics and have the resulting painting closely resemble oils. But once I achieved that, I found that while I love to still use them for painting, I wanted to try some other mediums and challenge myself with learning how to make them work for me as well. I wanted something that would challenge me.
To me, each medium is like a different language. Each has its own characteristics and responds best to a certain process or application. By learning these specific processes, I find that I am learning about things like color theory, color relationships, and composition. Things that one may consider boring or unnecessary. After all – when I began painting I just wanted to do that: paint. But as I grew as an artist and designer, my curiosity regarding the why and how of what makes decent artwork got the best of me, and I enjoyed exploring these things and figuring them out. It gave me a surer footing and more confidence in myself as an artist. As a result, my work has improved quite a bit.
But this doesn’t come without practice. I didn’t just wake up one day and all of a sudden because I had watched a couple of videos or online classes just ‘know’ how to do this. It has been a process of trial and error and trying again, which I feel is the best teacher. Besides – the methods which work for one don’t always suit everyone else. We all have to develop our own way of doing things that we feel comfortable with. There is no wrong or right in this, as long as we are satisfied with the result. If we are not, we just need to adjust where we think we went wrong and try again. Eventually, we will get it. And as a bonus, we will have developed our own style -probably without even realizing it. It is quite exciting.
So on to the lion . . .
I have always loved working with pastels. Until recent years I always thought that it was impossible to achieve fine detail using them. I actually had a box of Carbothello pastel pencils from probably 25 years ago when I took an art class at the local college. They were for the most part untouched and most of them were never even sharpened after the factory had sharpened them for sale. They were sitting in a tin buried within my art supplies for all of those years.
Then I discovered Jason Morgan. He is a wonderful online teacher and one of the main mediums he teaches is pastel. (His website is https://www.jasonmorgan.co.uk/) When I saw the detail he was able to achieve using soft pastels, I began following and learning from him. It really has made a difference in my work. If you are interested in learning this medium, I highly recommend you check him out. His artwork is mind-blowing.
A few weeks ago when going through Jason’s Facebook group posts, I came across a beautiful photograph by one of the contributors to the group, Terence Porter. It was a lovely and dramatic photo of a sleeping lion:
I had just watched a video, which mentioned the ‘value of values’ (the relationship of lights and darks) in artwork, and I thought that this beautiful photo would be the perfect subject for me to do an exercise on that process. I thought that using soft pastels would be the best medium for this.
I used anthracite Pastelmat paper for the substrate. Pastelmat is really the only paper I would consider using with pastels. It is unique in that it ‘grabs’ the chalky pastel and allows you to apply many more layers than any other paper I have seen or used. There is nothing else like it. I really wouldn’t consider even trying to draw with detail using pastels on anything else.
I traced the main lines of the lion onto the paper.
(Yes – I am a “tracer”. There are those that look at tracing as ‘cheating’, but for something like this, I like my lines to be accurate from the beginning. To me, there are times when I draw freehand and other times I trace. This is usually the extent of detail I put in my tracings. The rest is my own adjustments and abilities. If people want to scoff about that, so be it. If you look at this and the final result, you will see there is a lot going on in-between. That’s all I am going to say about that. 😉 )
Once the initial linework was done, I did some adjustments to the reference photo. First, I took the color out of it and put it to greyscale:
This allowed me to really see the values – the lights and darks – without the interference of color. Often colors can skew how we see lights and darks, and removing them makes it much simpler to understand. At this point, you can also bump up the contrast and highlights to further accentuate the light and dark areas. This is really valuable in showing you the values.
A second thing I do to the reference is to really turn up the saturation.
While this looks wonky and weird, it really brings up the undertones that we may not notice in the original reference. For example, the blue around the mouth and nose, the purple on the log, and the orange/red undertones that are evident in the fur. While our final painting may not show these colors at first glance, applying them as base layers will give the final painting a great deal of depth and interest. I also use these ‘unusual’ colors as accents on the darker background.
I began applying the under layers using my PanPastels.
I used PanPastels for this part, as they are great for these types of underlayers. PanPastels are very similar to pressed powder and can be applied with sponges, brushes, or even your fingertips. They are great for covering large areas that don’t need a lot of detail. I frequently use them as my main background and first layers to establish the basic shapes. I also use these ‘odd’ undertone colors here and there in the background to give it interest. By using these colors that are naturally there, but not always evident, it gives a more cohesive result.
Next, I began to add the tonal layer over the base. You can see where I began doing this on the left side of the painting (indicated by the arrow).
Things still look quite fuzzy and blurry here, but what I did was establish the color patterns and basic lights and darks.
I only worked on the head, as I wanted to work on refining some of the colors.
This was where I really began to establish the final colors I would be using, as well as the direction of the fur. At this point, I didn’t think as much in terms of values, and while I kept myself aware of what was to ultimately be lighter and darker, I wasn’t worrying too much about it. That is why it appears to be quite flat.
I continued this process and finished the head, mane, and shoulder.
Again – I was more concerned with the direction and length of fur rather than the final look. While he has a bit of shape at this point, he still looks quite flat. But I realized that I needed to work on the arm and the paw before proceeding with the rest. Since the middle area of the arm (the elbow) was the part furthest back on the lion, that had to be done first and I needed to work my way forward on both sides of it, layering the fur with the areas closest to us (the paw and the face) to be done last.
So I did the toning on the arm as I had done on the head and face earlier.
I also added more shadows on the darkest parts of the lion, such as the left side of the face under the eye and under his head, the shoulder, and under the arm.
Finally, I added the detail layers (yes – there was more than one layer of this – especially in the areas closer to us and the face). This was where it really got fun, but scary. At this point, there were several layers of pastel in place and I had to be very watchful that I didn’t over-blend things or muddy things up. It was hard to know when to say ‘when’.
Once the whiskers were on, I knew it would keep me from fiddling. I am pretty happy with it now and I think that I will leave it as it is. Every once in a while, I will walk by it here in my studio and have the urge to add a little something here or there. “Just a few hairs.” But I stop myself. In the time it would take me to get out my pencils, I come to my senses. He is just fine the way he is.
I would be “lion” if I told you this was an easy painting for me to make. (Insert groan!) I painted it over the course of about three weeks and it took a lot of brainwork. That’s not to say that I painted on it every day. I absolutely did not. I spent about three full weekend days on it overall, as I was too tired at the end of my real workday to tackle it, and I didn’t want to mess it up. That was probably one of the smartest decisions I made regarding it.
Here are the particulars on it:
- It is on 12″ x 15″ anthracite Pastelmat paper by Clarefonte
- It is created using PanPastels, Carbothello pastel pencils, and Faber Castell Pitt pastel pencils
- The reference photo is by Terence Porter (Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/terence.porter1 )
Terence is an amazing wildlife photographer. I also used his photo for my Raven in Ink that I had shown on my previous blog. I see many of his lovely photos that I want to use for reference. If there were only more hours in a day!
I hope you all enjoyed seeing my process for creating this fun painting. I love sharing it with you and I hope it inspires you all to try something new. Hopefully, by breaking things down into baby steps and seeing how I create things, it won’t be as intimidating to you.
I guess the bottom line is that just about everything we do is a process. It is easy for someone looking in to see the beginning and the end of the process and forget that there are many steps in between. It is also easy to be familiar with the process of using one type of medium and assume that other mediums use very similar steps. I used to think that, too. But the more I learn, the more I realize that each medium is different and needs to be treated as such. By familiarizing yourself with each one, not only do you learn the differences within them, but also see the similarities, too. And that is what makes it fun.
There are many paths we can choose along this journey. And there are many correct paths to a single destination. By learning about what we are doing and respecting each type of medium for what it is, we not only find ourselves being more successful, but we also open so many wonderful options for our journey. All we need is the desire to travel.
Thank you for joining me on part of mine.
Until next time . . .