Saturday, February 28, 2009

Which Pastels?

Bright Trees Through
@ 8" x 5.5"
Casey Klahn

Occasionally I get questions from my readers, and I answer all of them. The questions that I received from a Canadian reader this week were specific enough that I think it worth sharing my answers.

From Patricia Vesely:
Hi Casey

I am an avid fan of your website - each painting posted is more awesome than the last! I am also impressed by the professionalism and the organization of your blog.
The information I have noted there is very valuable to me, being a relative newcomer to pastels and having not done anything artsy for years.
Now I must purchase new pastel colors - I wonder if you could post the names of some of the Experimental Colors?
I like the way you are able to switch, for instance, from a somber palette one painting (Tree on a rock Bed) to a more intense/vibrant palette like WK's pinks and greens.
Do you select a palette before beginning then stick to those particular colors, or do you select them as you go along?
Thanks for all you share.

Thanks for the kind comments, Patricia, and also for the questions.

hard pastels to begin with...

I would say that one should not overlook getting a set of hard pastels to begin with. They can and do contain vibrant, intense colors, and also the muted earth tones you'll want for some paintings. Not to mention that they are easier to work with.

That being said, we all desire the luscious soft pastels and could blow $10,000 on them and still not have all the available ones on the market!
To solve that problem, get hold of the Multi-Brand Color Chart, from the publisher Huechroval.

...then buy open stock

Using this book will help prevent expensive redundant buying, which can happen when you buy pastel sets and find that some sticks are repeats. I would say to target wisely the set that you want to get started with, and then buy open stock, using a color chart for a guide. I also keep a file of each brand of pastel that I use, with either a printed proprietary color chart, or a hand made one which I get from Dakota Pastels.

Now, to the specifics of which pastels I use. Here is the image, again.

I recall using hard pastels to indicate the tree trunks, the muted ultramarine of the sky, and the muted yellows in the tree canopy that is behind. The brand I favor is Sakura, which isn't available anymore in the US. Lucky you, Patricia, because I think all of the Commonwealth nations do have these yummy hard pastels available. They are Japanese made, and I particularly like the way they are embossed with numbers for easy reference.

the grand champions of intense pinks

While on the sky, the pink is by Sennelier, who are the grand champions of intense pinks.

All of the darks are from my favorite maker, Diane Townsend. I would say most of the other colors, including the intense blue of the mid ground, are DTs.

The pale greens in the tree foliage remind me of the buttery soft Schmincke brand. Probably if I were to repeat this image, that's what I would reach for here.

There I was...

As for the process and selecting my palette, I recall that this painting was formulated during one of those wakeful nights where I was thinking of art at bedtime. The picture of bright trees behind was invented this way, and I recall wanting them to be high key yellow-greens. The perfect compliment (in my opinion) to the greens is pink, and the compliment that speaks to me for yellow is ultramarine blue. Of course, the theoretical compliment to yellow is violet, but my eye wanted blue.

There I was, with a violet background set of hills, and it wasn't right. Did I reach for a hue for resolution? No - that's not my method. I prefer the color attribute of intensity above all else. And, when addressing my palette, I keep a mental checklist of which sticks present which intensity. The blue that I chose for this job is a jumbo Sennelier - the only stick that would make this mark and the first one that I think of for intense blues.

selection, then resolution

I am afraid to say that for that stick, you would need a time machine, for the French proprietors, in their infinite wisdom, have discontinued that size. They do offer the "La Grande" size, but the experience isn't the same and neither are the marks.

In review, the palette selection is an idea for one, then two and often three colors in a composition, but then resolution always becomes a major factor in completing a work. The decisions are responses and they are often based on criteria that is surprising, such as the brand and the behavior of a particular stick.

For more posts on pastel brands, see my label, Pastel Brands Review.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Plein Air On Purpose- Loriann Signori

Loriann Signori, at the Easel.

Artist and blogger Loriann Signori, of Silver Springs, Maryland, is committed to plein air practice in her painting. The one thing that strikes me first about her landscapes is the freshness of her vision. I asked her about her art direction and methods.

Daybreak at Hawksbill Peak
26" x 32"
Pastel and Oil on Marble Dust Board
Loriann Signori

Pastel: What is your motivation for plein air painting?

For me, plein air painting is a passion. There is no place that I feel better, more at home, than being outdoors. To live I need to be connected to the earth, air, and water to feel solid. I have been painting outdoors since I was in my teens… I’d say that is a long time. Like the enduring postman, I am outside in any weather, working. Happy.

Buttercups in May
Loriann Signori

Say a few words about the Towpath. What excites you artistically about this subject?

In my life I have found that I resonate to the idea of making a series of paintings. At many different points I have found a series to be pivotal. For the past 3 years it has been the river and nearby reservoir that is my muse. Long ago, when studying for my MFA it was mums. Then I painted only a
pot of yellow mums every day for 2 years. Back when I was in my teens, it was a laundry basket full of multi-colored clothes. One might think it would get tiring. But no, in fact, for me, it is what sets me free.

I find I can easily
become a victim of painting “things.” But when I am in a series I get beyond whatever is my subject matter. Instead it is about the feeling, the color and my passion for making art. Each day when I go outside to paint I search for a way to describe the intangible ideas of atmosphere, emotion and poetry. It is a search I will have my whole life.

Golden Wind
10" x 10"
Pastel and Watercolor
Loriann Signori

Do you have a particular palette right now?

As for the more pragmatic – I must own a million pastels. The workhorses are Unisons and Girault. I also add selected sticks from Schminke, Terry Ludwig, Diane Townsend, Mount Vision and even a couple NuPastels. I make a yearly pilgrimage to Dakota Pastels in Washington to try and buy. It’s a great place for a pastel artist.

They have it all there to see and touch…like a kingdom of the gods. You are so lucky to live in driving distance. My watercolor palette contains the usual suspects: ultramarine, cobalt and peacock blues, lemon and cad yellow, alizarin crimson and opera (love this one – great grays and vibrant oranges can be made), Payne’s gray, all in Holbein and Windsor Newton. Oils are similar and made by Gamblin and Holbein.

Topaz Serenity
20" x 20"
Pastel and Watercolor

Loriann Signori

Who are your inspirations?

For the last 3 years I have been studying and dreaming of the great masters of space: the Hudson River painters, Sanford Gifford, Frederic Church, George Inness (who later branched away from that school) and the Romantic landscape painter, J.M.W.Turner. As a discipline for learning I started my blog and have created one painting each day. I call them my vitamins. They help me to grow stronger each day.

The living artists I admire most are Richard McKinley (I can’t say enough good about him), Elizabeth Mowry, Mary Sipp Green, Joseph McGurl and Jane Bloodgood- Abrams. While I am a pastel painter I look to all mediums. It is the feeling that I seek no matter the vehicle. One reviewer has described me as a “poetic realist.” I like that description.

Winter Softness
@12" x 12"
Pastel and Watercolor
Loriann Signori

Pastel: What paper do you like to use?

For a surface I use two different ones, depending on the need. I have developed a love of Uart paper (400) and I make my own gator board /marble dust supports for work in the studio and sometimes on location.

Pastel: Anything more you'd like to tell us?

As to my “style,” my plein air goal is to use a paucity of marks. How few strokes can I make and say what I need to say? It helps that I use a watercolor underpainting which creates the underlying skeleton of color. I find it harder to have the same goal in the studio. There I get wrapped up in the richness of pigment, layered and vibrating.

On another note, I feel very fortunate to live where I do. Washington, DC (a few miles from my house) has a plethora of unbeatable, free museums. When I feel stuck, I head downtown to visit a friend (painting) for inspiration. And even though this is a metropolitan area we have (most importantly) the Potomac River and 185 miles of undeniable access through our wonderful towpath. It is such a gift to have such a treasure chest of painting sights right at my door. I feel I never have to go anywhere. Ever time I go it looks different.

Lorian Signori's Painting-a-Day

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Tree School - Freely Working from Photos

Olive Trees & Paint
May 2008
Pigment Wash, Charcoal & Pastel
On Diane Townsend Paper
21.5" x 14"
Casey Klahn

I hope you are aware of the troubles of working from photos. They include getting permissions from the photographer, incorrect perspectives that are inherent to photos and color and value issues. A good rule of thumb is to work from photos of places that you have been, yourself. This olive tree image originates from Italy, and I have a deep connection with the landscape there. I am currently working from some photos that I took of coastal Washington State, where I had recent plein air sessions and where I grew up.

I used reductive treatments where I rubbed away the pigment in the trunks with a kneaded eraser.

All this being said, the response that you have to your photos may be a great point of departure for your masterpiece. When I began this olive tree series, I had a picture in my mind of how the master, Wolf Kahn, treated olive groves in Italy. I had a feeling for the oldness and the primary nature of these much-painted trees. I wanted my treatment to be new, but still somehow related to the classic look of olive trees. I wanted the emotion.

Olive Trees and Paint is as much about the tools I used in the painting as it is about back light and ragged branches. The Townsend sanded paper; the under wash of pigment and water; the over-sized electric green Sennelier pastel stick and gestural elements are forces that I brought to bear. Composing on-the-fly, with intuitive placement of the elements, was a focus of mine in this image. The use of black charcoal established a strong and gestural pattern to the branches and trunks. I used reductive treatments where I rubbed away the pigment in the trunks with a kneaded eraser. The triad of violet against green and reddish umber provides life to the color composition.

Remember how you freely re-arrange the elements in front of you when you are painting from nature? The same applies to using photos for reference material in composing new works.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

High Tide at the Jetty

The Jetty in Ocean Shores, Washington.
My Set-Up is the Guerrilla ThumBox and an Ampersand Panel.

The painting was begun at high tide, but as you can see the tide was going out by the time I took this photo. Interesting how the camera compresses reality - my painting is accurate for relief, showing more ocean above the jetty, but the photo makes the ocean appear flattened.

I had to drive to my home town area this past weekend for a funeral. The art kit went with me, since I have had a desire to do some images from there for some time. Specifically, I want to do a series on the Hoquiam river.

This painting of the wild Pacific Ocean hitting the rock jetty in Ocean Shores, WA has some things I like. The technique of pastel strokes is pleasing. The colors are accurate, it seems. But, an interesting thing happened with this rare plein air session. I had my new large box of pastels, which is organized by hue first, and value second. My smaller boxes are purely organized by value. So, wouldn't you know it? The painting I rendered in this method suffered a little for having incorrect values! I'll keep this in mind for my next efforts, and I'll see if I wish to correct this one in the studio. Live and learn.

As things turned out, the drive was too hard for me this close after my surgery. I know - I should be well by now, but such is the case. I did get some good family and college buddy visits in, but after one morning session at the beach, I was wiped out. I tried a second session at the mouth of the Copalis River, but circumstances and wind got the better of me.

Not to despair, though. I did take my camera with me. More importantly, I had my eyes, too. Paintings will follow.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Environment of the Artist


In this case, the environment I'm talking about is the one that just my eyes and mind see. My content. My influences from nature. Mine are completely unique - which isn't saying much. Everyone should have different environmental influences.

There are some superlative things about my peculiar environment here in Washington State. I'll be posting about that in the next installment of the tree school.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Loriann's New Pastels

I found it interesting that Loriann Signori is buying up these new pastels to flesh-out her plein air box. See her reorganized box here. I found it so because I am refilling my studio palette, too. It seems that my pure tones in every hue have all been used up or migrated into my three or four plein air boxes! I have a big order in for many pure tones, and I look forward to re-organizing my studio palette.

Permanent Station for Making Pastel Sticks

Your Pastel Making Station Should Be a Mess - Mine Is, Anyway!

Thanks to all of those who have "hit" my how to make pastels posts. I did those early in my blogging career, and they were way harder than I thought they'd be. Dirty hands, camera - you get the idea. I much admire the well done blog posts on this subject. I feel a re-do of that post coming on. And, I feel the pastel making station calling my name, too. Especially with a new bunch of pure tones from which to key off! I want to see if I can make my own statement with hand made pastels in these colors, and I want to get my tints and tones of value expressed, as well.

Upcoming: my interview with Loriann Signori.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Three Things - Tree School

Maples with Blue
8.1" x 6.5"
Casey Klahn

One thing I glean from this image is the necessity to compose the whole picture when featuring trees. Direction, the rule of threes, and (believe it or not) a controlled palette are three important lessons.


Dianne Mize wrote about this recently, and I want to use this image as an example of directional strokes. The big, scumbled strokes are unified. In other words, there aren't a bunch of big marks, plus small, finicky lines, plus whatever. This image uses the same types of strokes. The directionality is strong, with a diagonal steeply rising to the right. A strong violet horizontal provides a counter pose, and electric greens give an entrance for the eye at a shallower diagonal in the foreground.

The Rule of Threes.

New blogger (and my High School classmate) Garth, wrote a post about the power of three. Maybe there is a mystic numerological reason for favoring threes, who knows? I employ a "rule of threes" in composition as a means of simplicity and yet there is still a depth of idea to three spaces.

This image is composed with sky, trees and ground. How basic can you get? Also, notice three basic colors, ultramarine or violet, green and yellow.

Controlled Palette

Two primaries and their intervening secondary limit this palette to, essentially, one side of the color wheel. That limitation provides power and unity to the color composition. The viewer is less apt to be confused looking for the whys and wherefores of a broad palette.

As a colorist, I choose to present full intensity colors as much as possible, and yet I want to keep nature recognizable. This image keeps the viewer grounded by utilizing local colors, yet they are "amped" to maximum intensity and contrasted against the olive green trunks. The value scale is spread from darks to middling values to not-too-lights.

The venerable maple tree is as evocative an image in America as any of nature's offerings. I tried to keep that in mind when I executed this green maple. I wrote more about this image in Deciduous Trees Expanded.