Pastel dust…

We are ready to kick in the new year of 2011 with enthusiasm and promises for a productive year! 

SO… about taking a look at some old paintings…we all have those paintings that are lying around, didn’t sell, probably won’t sell and what to do with them?  Some I think just deserve the appropriate resting place in the garbage can, but some maybe not so.  Why not see if they can reworked.   I have done this several times and mostly with good success that resulted in selling the piece.  Taking a fresh look at a piece helps.  Other artists do this.  It’s worth a try.

I have done some paintings on location that just don’t work, so I have brought them back to my studio and reworked them into something acceptable.  The most recent one was a painting that I did in the Joseph, OR area as part of the plein air event this summer.  Weather had been rather inclimate in the early mornings except for one.  I got up as the sun was peeking over the hills and it was clear so I gathered my stuff and headed out to a place that I wanted to paint in dry weather.  There are lots of old abandoned barns and bits of farmsteads long ago forgotten in the hills and out on the Zumwalt Prairie.  One such old building sits along a meandering creek with lots of brush and trees growing up around it.  It is but a shell of a building, but still standing in somewhat of an importance to the area.

So the initial painting was ok, but not a crowd stopper by any means.  I didn’t feel that I had gotten a good perspective of the barn and felt like I was overwhelmed with green (easy to do because this area is an intense green in early June).  So I have brushed off what I could of the pigment and did a little wash before adding new color and a more bold defined shape to the barn…It worked.  I improved on the perspective of the barn and loosened the colors of the trees and brush.  The painting is much brighter, but not so intense and the building was improved upon.  I unfortunately did not have a “before” shot of the painting to compare…

So  my message is…if you have one of those paintings that just isn’t quite right…give it a second chance and see if you can improve upon it.  A trick I read about and something I use with my paintings and actually with any reference photo I am using is to take the image and turn it upside down and view it.  If it appears to be of interesting composition, etc viewed upside down, you probably have something worth painting or  you have painted something of interest.  It is similar to that trick of holding a painting in front of a mirror and viewing it.  If it looks good in the mirror, you have probably nailed it.  If something doesn’t seem right – it’s back to the studio and rework it!

Pastels are fun to work with from the point of reworking a piece.  You can brush off the majority of the pigment and then apply alcohol to the paper and use the remnants of the color for a new under painting.  Maybe you want to turn that photorealistic image into something more impressionistic or abstract.  This is a great opportunity to begin again.  Maybe there is not a lot that you want to change and you can use some workable fix to build up some texture and add some highlights to certain areas.  A quick spritz, waiting til it is nearly dry and then lightly adding some highlight is easily accomplished this way.  I sometimes take a piece of scrap pastel paper and try some different techniques with the workable fix.  You can get some great effects with applying pastel pigment to a sprayed area while it is wet – not too wet as that will lift the pigment off.  It takes practice and that’s why grabbing a scrap of paper and trying different approaches is important.

So don’t just pitch those paintings that could use some help…give them one more chance and rework them…see if that gives you some good results!

happy painting…


About bonnie griffith

I am a landscape artist who works in pastels, oils and acrylics. My work focuses on representational studies of the western US. I am basically self taught with lots of workshops and studies with several landscape artists such as Bruce Haughey and Clark Elster. I live in southwestern Idaho, am a native Montanan with a strong connection to the land. I spend as much time as I can in MT painting as well other parts of the northwest. I appreciate getting out in the field and working plein air because there is nothing like completing a painting in the true light of day and visually not being compromised by the use of a photo. In my work, my goal is to produce a piece of work that draws the viewer into the painting and challenges them to explore the scene; get a sense of the time of day, the temperature, the light or lack of. If I have gotten that viewer to step out of their reality and into that painting and enjoy it, then my work was accomplished as I wished. View all posts by bonnie griffith

2 responses to “Pastel dust…

  • Wendy Marqiuis

    I really enjoyed this commentary , Bonnie. I actually just bought myself a box of new pastels! I haven’t used them in years!


    • bonniegriffith

      Wendy, thanks for the comments. Pastels are quite fun to work with. What I enjoy is the immediate result – npo waiting for paint to dry, etc. Use good pastels and good paper…that is so important to successful and satisfactory results. If you go back to some of my old blogs there are narratives about good luck I have had with certain paper/pastel combos. My best! Bonnie


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