Out with the old and in with the new!

How many of you have had a soft pastel painting/s, which are framed and possibly have been in an exhibition and / or galleries over a period yet are returned unsold? This happened with one of mine a while back. I only re-discovered it lying almost hidden on a shelf in my studio. It would never be seen lying there on a shelf and I would need either to get it back out to another gallery or recycle it.

So, what to do?

Well I could try and rework it, redefine parts of it or enhance it in some way?

Or I could wash it out and start afresh.

After giving it some thought I decided the latter was best to start afresh with a new scene.

First thing was to unclip and dismantle the board from the frame. I then sprayed the board with water and basically mixed, with a large flat brush, all the previous pastel colours together (smiling, I don’t know how you feel if you do this but I always see it as a real cringe moment, perhaps the Scotsman in me seeing all these Unison pastels being wasted, washed off the board).

The result of this process can sometimes be very interesting and inspiring whereby some lovely tones and contrasts appear which I might keep and use in the new painting. There were nice blue-greens and turquoises initially although it was predominantly darker tones, most probably due to the amount of darker hues in the original painting. However there were some nice faint dark greens and hints of reddish brown here and there which may work well in the new piece.

Out with the old and in with the new! 1

Once dried I then mixed Golden pastel ground slightly diluted / thinned to give the board a key. This can be mixed with various amounts of water to give the type of key you like to work with be it smooth (fine) to rough (coarse) or somewhere in between.

I have chosen a Scottish mountainous landscape for this new soft pastel painting and am using a couple of reference images taken by a climbing and hill walking friend to achieve that accuracy in shape and form of the landscape.

Out with the old and in with the new! 2
Out with the old and in with the new! 3

Having a close affinity with the Scottish mountains and glens, they really do inspire me in so many ways and I love being out surrounded by them, thus I nearly always aim for a true likeness whichever hill/s I paint.  Hopefully so the viewer can readily recognise a specific mountain or range or scene. For this reason an essential part of my work is to draw (outline using Conte pastel pencils blue, orange in this case) the actually topography first so that both the aspect and perspective are accurate.

Out with the old and in with the new! 4

Once the drawing is done I did something never done before which was to block out lightly the main warmer and colder colours of the hills.

Then it’s down to the really enjoyable part of getting my fingers moving across the canvas. I generally always start from the top left corner (being right handed) and sweep across diagonally downwards towards the bottom right corner. This prevents or rather minimises any smudging or trying to paint in an awkward position. I know many artists like the randomness of filling in blocks / sections of colour leaving a sense of freedom whilst working, which yes I do from time to time however, and more often than not, I tend to go back to this method. I suppose it’s a learned behaviour, a method that was taught when I first experienced pastel painting and one that seems to work best for me.

My main palette range from Unison’s Colour Chart for this are as follows:

  • Blue Green BG 2, BG 3, BG 9, BG 11
  • Green 29, Yellow Green Earth 7, 12, 13
  • Yellow 2 & 10, Red 18, Brown Earth 9, 11, 12
  • Light 7 & 8, Dark 17 & 12 Grey 27, 28, 36
  • Blue Violet 5, 12, 17 and JS 11

Plus several others here and there.

Painting in progress.

It’s important to regularly step back and view your painting, making several checks for perspective looking at form and the warm and cold colours that make that overall shape or by checking perspective, angles of slopes in relation to others or negative spaces etc. Sometimes though I get a bit carried away and “in the groove” so to speak and I forget to check, this is where things can and usually do get a bit skewed.

So, on checking my progress at one point, thinking everything was flowing well, I had been going great guns. Then standing back from the easel I noticed part of the hill and crag in the mid foreground (an essential part of the main landscape) didn’t look right? It wasn’t the right shape. Something wasn’t quite right, so by taking a bit of time I soon realised what it was. Now how do I correct it, there are a few solutions open to me. I could try and overlay more layers or rub it out and redraw or I tried something different for me and to wet a flat brush and wash the affected area out. This seemed to work a treat and a method I will definitely use again. I thought this was best in this case and would allow me a clean base to build back up again. 

Out with the old and in with the new! 5

From there it wasn’t long before I was starting on some of the fine detail parts of my work. For this I use a combination of fine edges of the main pastel sticks, a couple of blending tools, pastel pencils and several tiny little broken shreds of previously broken soft pastels. These tiny fragments although very fiddly to grip and hold in the right position between your fingers are really great fun to work with. So persevere in using these pointy bits or the sharp edges of these delicate morsels of broken pieces of soft pastel on your canvas. They can be tricky to use and do require some patience at first but they are an enjoyable challenge none the less to work with in getting the detail.

Out with the old and in with the new! 6

Once completed I gave it a light spray from a short distance back from the easel with Windsor & Newton colour fixative being careful to part shield the lighter sky sections to minimise any changes (darkening with the lighter colours).

It was then ready to photograph more professionally before setting it back into the frame.

Recycled and ready to go out again.  Et Voila!

Out with the old and in with the new! 7

Thank You Best Regards Greg

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13 Responses

  1. Thanks for that post, I’d never considered recycling a pastel painting, nor had I thought of painting on a canvas. I might even try in a panel.

    1. Hello Alison and thank you for your comments. You must give it a try (its not actually a canvas as such but mdf board with primer added). Good Luck !

  2. Hola,
    Impresionante! El nivel de realismo es increíble!

    Un saludo desde Santiago de Chile!

    1. Buenes Dias Ninoscka,
      Thank you for your comments.
      I have been to Santiago and visited the vineyard of Castillo de diablo when I was on my South American trip a few years ago.

      Good luck Greg

  3. Beautiful work! I hadn’t considered washing off and starting again, but I will now. Thank you for the information. I’ve quite a way to go yet, with my artwork, so information like this is greatly appreciated.

    1. Hi Eileen, Thank you yes give it a go – you may have wasted some pastel from the original but if you feel its not good enough then why not. (mind you I’m not sure how that will work on pastel papers?) Keep up the good work.

      All the best Greg

  4. Beautiful painting! Thank you for sharing your experience! I’m just starting with soft pastels and i’m only working on paper, so I don’t know if I can wash if necessary. Greetings from Argentina!

    1. Hi Sandra, Thank you for your kind words. I don’t think you can wash out on paper although you maybe able to rub off with a damp cloth.
      Good luck and Keep trying.
      Cheers Greg

  5. Terrific, helpful article and loved the results. It wasn’t clear to me the surface you were working on, other than “board”. Was it a canvas, Pastelmat, Uart, or another sanded surface?

    1. Hi Lori, Thank you for your kind comments. I use MDF board (around 2-5mm thickness which you can buy from most DIY outlets and hardware shops possibly. They
      come in various sizes and I cut them to suit whatever dimensions I want for the painting. I then use a primer – Pastel Ground which can be diluted to choice for the key you want. Once dry you can then start pasteling. Hoping this helps _ Enjoy!

      Chee3rs Greg

  6. Мои наставники художники тоже советуют не оставлять ни одной работы без доработки даже через длительный период времени. Это дает художнику рост мастерства и дисциплинирует, надо работы доводить до выставочного уровня. Для меня, как начинающему художнику, это очень полезный совет. Не передать словами радость от нового вида старой работы! Замечательно, что Грэг делится своим опытом! Спасибо!

  7. Loved reading about you repurposing your original painting. The result is stunning. Very helpful article thank you x

    1. Thank you for your comments although I have no idea and cannot translate. Hoping you are well and enjoying your pastelling.

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