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The Art of a Good Drawing

21st July, 2020
By Sue Kerrigan-Harris

If you are a beginner to painting portraits in Pastel, this is for you, if you’re struggling because you feel you’ll never improve or your just starting out, this is for you and if you’re looking all around you, seeing beautiful art that you’ll never aspire too, this is also, for you.

As I grow as an artist, I look back at work that I did in the early days and it spurs me on to see how much progress I have made!

The other day my very first dog portrait popped up on my Facebook memories from 5 years previous.  I saw how much I had improved in my search for realism.  More realistic, more detail, better techniques, better colour choices and better lighting.  But at the same time, it struck me that this first ever dog portrait was loved and received with true joy and compliments and still very much loved.

No matter how perceived ‘good’ the art is, because of the skills, techniques, and experience of the artist if the character of your subject can be seen the portrait is loved no matter what.

This dear departed Collie is still pride of place in the young boy’s bedroom, he actually cried when he saw it and still absolutely loves it.

If you are just starting out with pastel and struggling with techniques and worry about sharing your work with others, remember that getting the initial drawing correct is the most important thing. Practice your drawing skills, use a grid, use tracedown (transfer paper). All these techniques improve your drawing skills. Even tracing improves your drawing skills – yes it really does!  Use a combination of tracing for key areas like eyes, then freehand the rest.  The techniques for pastel will come as you practice. Your first paintings will be loved just as mine were and in a few year’s you’ll look back at your work and realise just how far you’ve come.

My top tip: keep all your work and do not be tempted to throw it away! Store it in a folder between glassine sheets and it until the next time you notice you have improved.  Then go peek at your early attempts, compare and give yourself a pat on the back!!

This is a comparison of my first dog portrait and one of my most recent. 5 years of practicing, nearly every day.

You can visit Sue’s website at skhportraits.co.uk

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18 Responses

  1. Sue is the greatest art teacher. She lives in the same village as myself and I started soft pastels by attending her workshops in our village hall. Always encouraging, supportive and fun too! Passing on her knowledge and skills has bought another dimension to my life and spare time in retirement!

    1. Thanks so much Wendy. It amazing to be making a difference to people’s lives and enriching retirement 😊😊😊 Best wishes, Sue x

    1. Thank you Muriel. It’s just practice, a little bit everyday. Oh and have a dedicated area to pastel so you can skip the boring bit of having to put it all away and get it all out again. Best wishes, Sue 😊

  2. I love both of these dogs, they are both great in their own way. I can see the immense improvement over the 5 years of your practicing. My problem is it is quite rare for me to be asked to do a pet portrait and the one thing I am not good at is ‘just doing’ art, I only find inspiration when someone askes me to do something for them. I do wish it was otherwise.

    1. Hi Sarah, I used to suffer from that problem but when I found pastels I just wanted to keep using them and get better and better – the enjoyment of improving perhaps. Best wishes, Sue

  3. Lovely portrait!!
    I live my breed, Cavalier King Charles
    Spaniels, and would love to improve my skills, please send any info from your blog. And would like to join your Face book page! Thanks Kim Conley

  4. Sue you are so inspiring! I want to learn and I was given some SAA pastels for my birthday. I don’t feel I can rush out and buy Unison, although I’d love to. I can only manage short spells since I broke my back, so it’s going to take a while.

    1. Hi again Jennifer, so sorry to hear about your back. Pastelling in short spells was all I could manage when I first started due to concentration levels. I’d get so tired. Also, short spells of learning anything are so good for the brain and learning in general. I hope your back heals soon ❤️. Best wishes, Sue

  5. Hi Jennifer,

    thanks so much for your comment. I had a set of Conte A Paris pastels to start with and they were fine to get some practice and see if pastels were for me. Then the inevitable happened and I fell in love with soft pastels 🥰 So every birthday and Christmas I asked for Unison pastels and over 5 years I’ve built up a great collection.

    The biggest limiting factor of student pastel sets is the range of lights and darks. So if I was starting again now with my collection, I’d save up for (or find a very good reason to give myself a treat 😅) Emma Colbert’s light and dark set first to complement what I already had. I hope that helps, best wishes, Sue 😊

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