Using Texture in the Support for your Pastel Art

A few months ago, I prepared some acid-free mount boards with a mixture of gesso marble dust and a small amount of water. I painted it on, purposely leaving painterly marks with the brush. I secured onto the boards some dried twigs, rushes, seed-heads, and split lentils with a good thick coating of my gesso mixture, and left them to dry for several days. In advance I collect natural objects and dry them out standing in a jug for around 6 months before I use them! I rubbed a glaze of pastel over the entirety of the boards and brushed a coating of water over them. This knocked back the glaze of colour sufficiently to tint the gesso support. Then my supports were ready for work!

Using Texture in the Support for your Pastel Art 1
Fig 1

For the first layer, with the point of the darkest red Unison pastel (Portrait 9) I had, I drew along the direction of the twigs. (see Fig. 1) Using the side of a lighter red pastel, I glazed in certain areas, revealing some more texture. In places where there were gaps, I dipped a fine brush in water and washed the colour into the crevices, continuing the line. Using the point of the pastel again, I used the actual shapes in the ground to make interesting patterns, introducing new colours as I went along. In order to give the suggestion of flow, I dragged some colour with the wet brush. I spontaneously found myself emphasising some parts of the painting more than others. I defined some lines using a purple Faber Castell pastel pencil. I then added blue (Blue Green 9) and a vivid lime green, because they complement the rich reds and browns.

Using Texture in the Support for your Pastel Art 2
Fig 2

Some creamy white Unison pastels (Brown Earth 7) (as in Fig. 2) were then used to suggest the small hollow structures in the growth of the plants. I added deep greens (Yellow Green Earth 18) and whites throughout to link the whole piece together, (as in fig. 3.), developing a more contemporary piece of work depicting the seaweeds such as bladder wrack. I feel there’s a lovely organic effect here which can be hard to achieve! The completed artwork is entitled ‘Underwater Symphony’.

Using Texture in the Support for your Pastel Art 3
Fig 3

A few years ago, I successfully used this texturing technique in my 30-piece solo exhibition ‘Come Away’, an homage to the poetry of William Butler Yeats in 2016. I wanted to illustrate the mystical, other worldly and ephemeral imagery of his words via this textural work. My aim was to capture the semi abstract atmosphere which he assigned to nature in his poetry.

One of his most famous poems is called ‘The Fiddler of Dooney’, which inspired me to create this particular piece of the same name.
As the poem goes:

“When I play on my fiddle in Dooney
Folk dance like a wave of the sea….”

Using Texture in the Support for your Pastel Art 4

If you look at the bottom left section you will see the little figures dancing in the surf! This was the very first pastel painting I did using added textures. I cut strips of corrugated cardboard and glued them into place like limbs reaching up as dancers do in a Céilí. (That’s a word meaning an evening of Irish dancing.)

Can you see the sweep of the girl’s skirts as they move if you look closely!!? The fullness of the skirts is achieved within the context of the sea waves at the foot of the picture, created with squeezed tissue paper glued under the gesso with marble dust. This carries the texture throughout the artwork.

You get the idea why “Riverdance” became so popular around the world. Ordinary people of all ages still enjoy an evening of Céilí dancing to the fiddle in their own homes or in the local village halls across Ireland. Therefor texture can be used to help your painting tell a story and that’s what they mean when the saying goes ….

“A picture is worth a thousand words”

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4 Responses

  1. Fabulous fun! I wouldn’t have thought of using texture in this way with pastels but I really want to try now. Thank you for sharing and inspiring.

  2. (Translated)Wonderful illustration of poems! The artist very subtly feels the atmosphere, color and space in motion. For the first time I learned about such mixed technique in working with pastels. Thank you to Kay and the Unison team for introducing new talent!

    (Original)Чудесная иллюстрация к стихам! Художник очень тонко чувствует атмосферу , цвет и пространство в движении. Впервые узнала о такой смешанной технике в работах с пастелью.. Спасибо Кей и команде Юнисон за знакомство с новыми талантами!

  3. Beautiful and intriguing textures! May I ask how you frame the finished painting when there is this much depth to the texture?

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