I went along to the Stroud life drawing session tonight. Not many people because of the atrocious weather. But a lovely model who I have drawn before. She has wonderful hair. One day I will just try to draw that. A pleasure not to be drawing another middle aged man.
We were attempting pastel portraits today. I used the vertical feathering technique I have tried on various other subjects, and it seemed to work quite well. Is my preferred pastel technique now.
I’ve started working on repairing my poor headless girl. I knew drastic measures were needed, or I would simply redraw all of the errors. So I copied some of Degas’ techniques, on the basis that no one has ever done pastels better than him. I traced the photograph of the girls head off my tablet, and then transferred this to the painting with a yellow transfer paper (yes, Degas used photographs and tracings. Many of his best pictures are actually on teaching paper, with masses of fixative spray on them to keep everything in place. If it’s good enough for him, it’s more than good enough for me.)
This resulted in a much smaller head than I had originally drawn. You can still see a shadow of that above her. Now I am working pastel over it. It needs to be fixed, not so much to protect it as to give a tooth for the pastel to grip on. She isn’t finished, but it’s not far off. I want her to look much more abstract than I drew before. Nearly there at last.
I finished this lady some weeks ago, and liked her very much, but I was never happy with her head. It’s too big overall and her facial features are just too heavy and masculine.
I tried various alterations but never satisfactory. Hard to match the pastel finish in any case. So I went back to basics, and painted out her face with gesso, to start all over again.
That gave a good drawing surface, but that doesn’t guarantee a good drawing. Try as l might, the face still eludes me.
So extreme measures called for. I’ve finally decapitated the poor girl and will try all over again. Not sure how it will work. I was tempted to paint a brown paper bag over her head, but that seems a shame. Maybe a Modigliani mask? We shall see.
This girl has been developing slowly over several weeks, and I still feel she is far from finished. Complex media. I knifed a layer of acrylic over a canvas board that had been sitting blank on my eagle for ages. A mixture of gold and burnt sienna, with touches of green and red, just to get a rich ground. Had no idea what to paint on it until I found an old black and white photo from I should think the 1960s with a beautiful closed pose, looking backwards at the viewer. I decided to try pastel for it, which was tricky, as it did not take too well to the acrylic surface. Some did stick and eventually an image built up.
I liked the pose, but it was incredibly fragile. Just a light brush of the surface and the image simply disappeared. I found that if I sprayed fixative (hairspray!) over her, it gave practically no protection, but further layers of pastel would adhere much more effectively.
Eventually I got a figure I felt was about done, but I had to fix her somehow, or she would never survive. More fixative stabilised her a bit, but I eventually resorted to an acrylic overlay, after two or three experiments on smaller panels. You can’t paint acrylic medium over pastel with a brush. The pastel will simply be pushed out of place by the friction of the brush. You have to towel a layer of medium over her with a palette knife, taking great care just to spread it over the pastel in one stroke, without any rubbing. Quite nerve wracking and slow, and the initial result looks terrible.
But gradually, as the medium dries, it goes transparent and she is revealed in all her glory.
She is not quite as fresh as the uncovered pastel, and she is shiny now, but she looks lovely. Future pastel takes well on the new surface, so although I now cannot remove anything, I can still work over the surface and add more. I think she needs more background, but that will take a few more weeks of thinking.