|SUNSET DEMO IN SOFT PASTELS
L. Diane Johnson
At the request of one a colleague, I am going to paint the following
sunset from a photo which he sent to me. Although the demo will
be painted in soft pastel, much of what I will be doing applies
to any media. Before painting from a photo there are several
things to consider and do:
1. Take several photos of the same location.
When photographing, take shots before, during and following
the sun setting. I sometimes have dozens of photos of just one
subject. Photos taken before the sun sets are important for
obtaining shadows information in particular. Cameras are notorious
for killing shadow detail even with meticulous metering. Shadows
can go flat, revealing only a silhouette. Even photo professionals
find it difficult to tackle shadows. And as a painter, you can
never have too much visual information.
2. Whenever possible, paint on location.
Photos do not provide the same information as painting on location,
no matter how many pictures you take. Even if you will paint
primarily from photos there is nothing quite like painting on-site
to capture information that photography misses. Sketch, make
color notes, etc. live to use in tandem with your photos back
in the studio.
3. Use only the best photos.
Some photos are better left as photos and not be used for painting.
You can't paint what you can't see. Use only the best photos
of your subject. Have enlargements made from your negatives,
or use a projector and hand magnifier to work from slides. Even
if you deviate from the photo, knowing what you are deviating
from takes the guesswork out of your efforts. If you paint a
particular subject over and over again, you can make changes
with more authority and confidence.
There are also inherent problems with photographs that the painter
must overcome. I will not address the subject in-depth here.
Just to say to painters working from photographs -- it's essential
that you learn as much as possible about photography's limitations
and shortcomings before engaging in using them as the sole source
4. Be selective.
Paint only those elements within a photo(s) that will produce
a great painting. Leave unnecessary visual information out.
When I first began painting I loved the silhouette created by
a breathtaking sunset. I learned early that viewing a sunset
live is quite different from attempting to capture the same
on paper or canvas. It's been eons since my first sunset painting
and it is no less challenging or interesting now.
I am at a disadvantage for this project because I will be using
a 72 ppi, web-only picture. I do not recommend painting from
small, low-resolution images. So this demo will be kept simple
With all the above in mind...let's go...
OBSERVATIONS FROM THE PHOTO:
Here is the original web-ready photo I received. I have slightly
lightened the photo as it was very dark. I observe the following
from this picture...
MY APPROACH FOR THIS PAINTING:
- Sun is in the center
- No details in the shadows
- Overall a complementary color scheme
- Photo is somewhat blurred
MATERIALS TO BE USED:
- Work smaller due to lack of photo information
- Paint as shapes rather than with detail
- Move elements to strengthen composition
- Work from dark to light while painting
PROCESS I WILL USE:
- Senellier, Rembrant, Girault, Grumbacher, Schmenke, and
Terry Ludwig pastels; in varying values / temperatures of
violet, blue, orange, pink and yellow.
- Canson paper - "felt" side (originally I would have chosen
my handmade board, however, since many members use Canson
paper I will use it for this demonstration.)
- Paint large shapes then work to the smaller ones
- Least amount of detail to the most amount of detail
- Work from darkest darks to lightest lights
- Paint loosely
- No blending
From this one photo alone, there are many possible compositions.
Just a few are shown here:
Since the original picture has many shapes and no real detail,
I will simplify my composition by repositioning and enlarging
the focal point (the sun) to bring more attention to it. I like
the upper left side of the sky so will move it and the left
side trees further to the right.
This is the final composition I have decided to paint from:
PLANNING THE PAINTING:
I'll start with a piece of standard 19.5" x 25" Canson paper
in a medium-value violet. This color complements the oranges.
The painting overall will be low-key. To avoid having to cover
a light paper with so much pastel, I start with this darker
value. All the colors will "read" at all times, therefore, this
paper color works best for me. In addition, the violet reads
as "warm "even though it is an overall cool color.
I use the "felt" side of the paper so I do not have to fight
the machined "dimples" of the opposite side. I use Homasote
as my backing board surface with several additional sheets of
the same Canson paper under my painting. This allows the surface
some "give" yet is not mushy. If I paint on the Canson without
extra pieces behind it, it will be like painting on a brick.
Much pastel can be wasted without this extra cushion.
a dark blue-gray pastel I work out the largest shapes
first. I have elected to lower the overall horizon to
reveal more sky.
The original photo shows the sun not quite in the center,
not quite to the right, tending to float. I add strength
to the composition by moving it farther to the right which
gives more definacy. [Note: Learning the principle of
the "Golden Mean" or "Golden Section" can give you more
creativity and confidence when building your compositions.]
I am going to remove some trees and move others to bring
more continuity and unity to the whole piece (hopefully!)
begin laying-in the darkest areas with the side of a dark
blue-black pastel, keeping everything loose at first.
If I commit a tight drawing early on, painting will become
stiff and I'll be reluctant to move things when needed.
I work around the entire painting, not just in one isolated
area. The whole must be at the same level of "doneness"
all along the way.
notice that I am indicating reflections as I create the
Lay-in The Shapes
Begin the Sky
I block in sky and water, but not as light in value as
they will eventually be. I save the lightest lights and
darkest darks for last. I cut into the negative areas
left behind by the trees and water. Later I will adjust
the positive -- back and forth until I achieve the effect
I want. Remember that the positive and negative spaces
hold equal importance.
· First Oranges · Second Oranges
am beginning to lose my original sketch, so it's time
to review the structure of my painting. I come back in
with a NuPastel to check and restate proportions, make
adjustments, and clarify edges before applying more color.
to the fun part -- really painting in earnest. I use the
next higher dark values to build the shadows and tree
shapes. Totally black silhouettes will give a "cutout"
appearance. Even though nondescript, I want my trees to
look like trees. I am not shooting for a likeness, but
rather an impression or simplified version of this scene.
The silhouettes will be lighter and more diffused than
the original photo to compensate for the camera's loss
of information. To create a sense of depth I lighten the
distant-most trees using a combination of medium violets
oranges and blues.
that the composition and basic colors are in, I indicate
the sun and work more carefully in each area, comparing
values, colors and intensities to one another. I constantly
work to "knit" the colors using the edge of my pastel,
laying colors side-by-side or grazing over top. This is
how I avoid having to blend. I want the colors to be lively
and rich even when they are dark. Working this way also
keeps my colors clean.
· Clouds · Negative Space · Sun
notice there are basically two levels to this scene, a
middle and background -- no foreground to speak of. I
could bring the nearest water into focus, but to do so
would make the water the focal point rather than the sun.
have to be cautious of the clouds. Overworking or making
the edges sharp here will draw too much attention to the
sky. Therefore, I continue to simplify by scumbling medium
tones over top.
· Final Darks
to starting a painting, this is my favorite part - the
finish! Adding the glowing highlights and darkest darks
is what makes a painting which utilizes value "sing".
I apply thick pastel to the highlight areas while the
shadows have a thinner application of paint. I work rapidly,
back and forth adjusting color and value to achieve the
effect I want.
could continue, but this is where I'll stop for the final
painting. Ordinarily I paint with more detail and a more
"polished" finish, however this photo lacked the information
necessary for a highly detailed piece.
decided that capturing the bold, rich color with simple
open shapes would be best for this particular subject.
In addition, I used more visible strokes so you could
better follow what I've done.
||Hope this will
give you some insights and ideas for your next sunset!
All the Best,