Painting with Pastel
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(Jan 01, 2004)
Master Pastelist Gregory Biolchini, PSA shares with you his tremendous knowledge and award-winning expertise. Regarding pastel as an ideal painting medium, Gregory says, "It is easy to master the basics of pastels. It is colorful and convenient. Even a beginning student can use pastel effectively for artistic self-expression. The more accomplished artists may be pleasantly surprized at how the use of pastel can extend their technical skills." Gregory's willingness to share his wealth of information surpasses that of many college professors.
About the Actor
Gregory Biolchini, highly sought after instructor of pastel, is listed in Who's Who in American Art, and is one of an elite group of artists awarded Master Pastelist by the prestigious Pastel Society of America.
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There are two demonstrations of pastel painting. Both are still life paintings of the same set of objects. These are apples, a basket, and a bowl of pears. The first demonstration, lasting about 13 minutes, shows the beginning stages of a painting. The whole painting is not completed, but Greg completely paints one pear. For the second painting, Greg shows how to prepare a custom drawing surface by coating rag board with a mixture of gesso and pumice. He applies a wash of acrylic paint and uses pastels to paint a complete still life. This is the painting shown on the DVD cover. (The real bowl has a slightly scalloped rim. His painting correctly reflects this.) We see Greg work for about 30 minutes on the second painting. There may be a few minutes of his work that were "time lapsed" out.
Greg narrates with a clear, energetic voice. He speaks spontaneously, but in an organized and coherent manner. The design of the camera work is good. We have a view of his drawing and periodically we see the objects in the painting filmed from his point of view. The video isn't sharp and I doubt it shows the subtleties of the pastel colors.
Some specialized vocabulary is needed to understand Greg's remarks. Creating a pastel artwork can be called "drawing" or "painting". He tends to call it "drawing" at the initial stages. When he has built up several layers of pastel, he calls it "painting". He uses the word "ground" to refer to the surface that one draws upon. For example, paper is a "ground" for pastels. The term "value" is used by artists to indicate the degree of lightness or darkness in a color. For example, Greg says that it is more important to get the "value" of an area in the painting correct than to get the exact color of the area correct.
I rate this DVD as four stars out of five to indicate that it is an excellent introduction to pastel painting. You'll have to decide whether the current price for this product is fair for a DVD with poor video quality.
1. Opening Title
2. Explanation of Pastel & Grounds (begins 0:36 - actually this section is mostly about grounds)
Pastel is not the same thing as chalk. Pastel is pigment with only a small amount of binder. "It is impossible to work in pastel on a smooth surface." The ground must have a "tooth" or grid.
a. velor: he doesn't like it, too reminiscent of paintings on velvet
b. Cansen paper: most used by pastel artists, has "wrong side" and "right side" = smoother side
c. "Sansfix" by Schmincke
d. Pastel Cloth: from New York Central Supply, will powder contrary to claims
e) pastel canvas: canvas sized with rabbit skin glue, you should mount it on hard surface
f) Sanded pastel paper: made by 3M, it may not be permanent
g) Watercolor paper: use "cold press" type
h) 4 ply rag board (he uses 8 ply in a later demo) or "illustration board" toned with a layer of gesso and pumice
When he draws on Cansen paper, he clips several sheets, at least 5 of them, to the board that sits on his easel. He does this "for the pressure". (Gregs technique emphasizes blending colors by using varying pressure when you draw with one pastel on top of another. He avoids using his fingers, paper stubs or other implements for blending.)
3. Value Bar Exercise (begins 5:45)
You won't get all the values of a given color in any pastel set, however large. To practice creating a scale of values of a color by blending black or white with it, Greg recommends the exercise of painting a "color bar" which is black at one end, white at the other and shows values of a given color in between. He shows an example of a color bar for the color "burnt umber".
4. First Demonstration Drawing (begins 7:12)
He clips the Cansen paper to a piece of Masonite using "bulldog" clips. We see his pastels laid out on a work table. He refers to this layout as his "tab array".
Charcoal is an excellent medium to use for the preliminary drawing in a pastel painting. He begins by using charcoal to sketch significant features in the scene. He refers to these lines and shapes as "mapping points". He approximates curves by several straight line segments. He checks his drawing by noting how "mapping points" line up with each other on vertical and horizontal lines. He checks whether the lines he draws make the correct angles with the vertical and horizontal. "Make corrections to your drawing as soon as you see them - the sooner the better".
After finishing the drawing, he begins using pastels. The only thing that he paints completely is one of the pears. ( However, this preliminary demonstration is appropriate since the charcoal drawing is easier to see than the initial drawing in his main demonstration, which is done with a pastel pencil.
While Greg works, he teaches the following:
"Shadows are shapes". They are shapes just as much as the outlines of the apples, pears and other objects are shapes. Draw the shapes of shadows as early as you draw the shapes of other objects.
Don't "paint by number", constantly redraw. "Drawing and painting are the same thing" . Painting is drawing with a brush. "You'll never paint any better than you draw".
When you have a color in you hand, color all places in the picture where you think you see it.
Use a color slightly darker and more intense than the color that you see in the scene. Greg squints his eyes to better visualize the darkest areas in the subject of the painting. Several times, he says that he draws dark areas a little darker than he sees them in the subject. He says that when lighter tones are added to the painting, the intensity of the dark areas will be decreased.
Nupastels are the hardest pastels (referring to the brand "Prismacolor Nupastels") Rembrandt and Grumbacher pastels are softer. Have all your pastels laid out on your work table when you paint. Don't leave them in a box. Buy the biggest set of pastels that you can afford. All the reds in the Holbein brand of pastels are excellent.
Value is the key to successful realistic painting. It is more important to paint an area to the correct value than to match the color of the area exactly.
When drawing an object, put a little of its local color over the shadowed part of the object so the shadow will look like it is part of the object. Use heavy pressure on the pastel stick to cover areas, use light pressure to blend it with areas. "Cast" shadows have hard edges. There are softer edges on shadows that are caused by the edges of shapes. You don't have to work methodically from dark to light, but don't go into a light area with a very dark color or draw in a dark area with an very light color.
Although some people say "never use black", Greg prefers to use it near the end of his painting. He demonstrates using black to accent the darkest areas.
5. Preparing A Pumice Ground (begins 29.16)
He applies a mixture of acrylic gesso and pumic to an archival mat board ("alpha rag" 8 ply). You could also use masonite for the board. First he mixes 1/2 cup of Liquitex gesso with 1/2 cup of water. Then he adds 3 level tablespoons of "F2 medium pumice". (He may mean "2F", which fits the terminology used by sellers of pumice on Amazon.) He applies the mixture to the board with a small house painter's brush using strokes in random directions. The unused mixture can be saved in a sealed jar. He dries the surface with a blow dryer.
6. Toning The Ground (begins 33:50)
He applies an uneven wash of acrylic paints to the upper half of the board. He has a "stay wet" palette with several dabs of various acrylic colors on it. (You don't need to use such a palette. It merely helps keep the colors wet.) He uses what appears to be about a 3 inch wide house painters brush to imperfectly mix the colors and brushes them on the board. He uses a blow dryer to dry the wash. One technique that you cannot do with pastels themselves is to make a wash. An acrylic wash will be particular to the painting that is to be done. In this painting, he wants a dark background in the upper half of the painting. There is a white tablecloth across the bottom half.
7. Main Demonstration (begins 39.19)
He uses the board prepared in the previous section. He advises arranging the easel so the board is slightly tiled toward your. This lets pastel dust will fall into the tray instead of on the surface of the painting. (Greg's easel can be tilted this way. Typical 3 legged easels cannot.)
His first thought is begin with a Nupastel. The best way to sharpen pastels is on a sand screen that you can get in hardware stores. (Sand screens are used for sanding the joints in drywall. You usually find them for sale near the sand papers.)
He changes his mind and begins with an Othello brand pastel pencil. His advice is to begin the drawing in the color that matches the largest overall local color in the painting. (The "Local" color of an object is the color of the part that is not in a shadow or highlight. )
He repeats the drawing technique of the earlier demonstration - draws "mapping points". When drawing a symmetrical object like the bowl, he advises sketching a center line and also sketching the edge of the bowl that is hidden from view. This helps you devlope the correct shape for the visible part of it. He uses a ruler to draw the edge of the table.
When he begins to use pastels, Gregs works "from dark to light". He first paints the darker areas. Next he does the mid-tones. The light areas are next. After that, he does make an exception to the rule by accenting a few areas with black. The last stage is to draw the highlights.
When drawing the darker areas, Greg squints to visualize them more clearly. He repeats his advice to paint shadows and dark areas darker than you actually see them. He squints less when he begins the mid tones and lighter areas.
While he is working, he teaches us the following things:
"Paint what you see, not what you think you should see."
Periodically step back from your painting to evaluate it. Look at it through a mirror. The reversed image will give you a fresh look and allow you to detect mistakes. Greg normally puts a mirror on an easel in his studio so he can do this quickly. For the demonstration, he uses a hand mirror. When you detect a mistake, the time to correct it is "now".
Greg says that ten years ago he followed directions in "The Artist's Handbook Of Materials And Techniques" by Ralph Meyer (Viking Press) for creating homemade pastels. He still uses some of the pastels that he made.
"Pastel is a forgiving medium." Pastel painting resembles oil painting but in pastel painting, you mix the colors on the "ground" as you apply them rather than on a palette before they are used.
Light pressure with a pastel mixes colors, heavy pressure covers up the color below. Use softer pastels over harder pastels. If you draw with a hard pastel stick on top of soft pastel, the hard stick will pick up the soft pastel instead of putting down a color.
Try to develop all the painting all parts of the painting equally; don't work only in one area. If you work on all the areas then you will control the painting. If you get hung up on one area, the painting will control you.
If is fine to mix different brands of pastels, but do not use "oil pastels". "Oil pastels" are not actually pastels.
Rubbing the painting with your fingers to blend areas produces a mushy powdery effect. Greg tells his students to blend only by drawing lightly with a pastel stick. "Keep fingers and stumps out of it."
When applying a color to an object, he prefers to use strokes that follow the shape of the object.
When many layers of pastel have been applied to an area, the ground will lose its tooth and not take any more pastel. In such a situation, use workable fixative to add tooth to the surface. Use a light spray otherwise you will deposit a smooth film instead of a surface with tooth. Greg demonstrates this ( at 1:01:04) using Prismacolor Tuffilm matte fixative.
Bring light colors into shadows to make the shadow look like darker area of same object
Become less bold near the end of the painting Work slowly, step back more often.
Your signature on a painting becomes part of the composition of the painting. You don't have to sign every painting on the lower right. Sign at the place that makes the best composition. He steps back to view the painting and decides where to sign. He signs the painting with a sharpened Nupastel.
8. Fixitives (begins 1:08:18)
Don't fix a pastel painting to the point where the pastel won't rub off. This dulls the painting. Fixative should only be used during the painting process on areas where it necessary to add tooth. Using fixative as a final coat on a painting will change the values of the colors and cause them to lose brightness and luminosity. He shows this by spraying part of the pear that he drew in his first demonstration.
9. Final Blending (begins 1:10:37)
Drastic revisions can be made to pastel paintings. You can wash off areas with a sponge. You can paint over them with the gesso and pumice mix and start work on the area anew. He demonstrates blending the pastel in the background of the still life by using a damp brush. This works well in dark areas. Blending in light areas will create a milky look.
10. Framing ( begins 1:12:06 )
You must frame pastel paintings with glass or plexiglass. The arrangement must employ some sort of spacer to separate the glass from the surface of the painting and allow a "breathing space". He shows cross sections of frames that have been modified to achieve this spacing. Another way to frame pastel is to use a mat. He demonstrates this. A spacer should be used to keep the surface of the pastel from touching the mat. The mat should not be lighter than the lightest area in the painting. He demonstrates this type of framing. A "backer" is put on the back of the painting and held in place with brads or clips. The backer would be covered with brown paper. (Gregs doesn't tell us what materials are used for the spacer and backer. They look like thin sytrofoam or thick paper.) Brown paper would be put over the backer and the wire hanger would then be attached.
11. Additional Pastels By Greg (1:15:34 to 1:19:24)
Shows other paintings by Greg Biolchini with Pachelbel's Canon as background music.