I’ve spent this week working on a big piece for my upcoming exhibition in Charles Gilmore Fine Art starting on 14th June.  This was a photo I took from my studio with a long lens.  The two seagulls were being particularly co-operative.
I tend to photograph everything I think would make an interesting painting be it an attractive composition or nice light.  This lay on my camera since last Autumn and it was only when I had a closer look I thought it was really something worth doing.

Hope you enjoy the progress, for any pastellists I’m going to talk about how to build up the depth of field.


The finished painting (no name yet) 27″x19″ pastel on velour
My reference photo.  I’ve changed nothing except
I photoshopped the green hook further up the roof so
I could crop the photo better.  As you can see
I really heightened the colours to liven it up.
My line drawing of the rooftop and seagulls in place.  The background
is pretty loose so I’m just going to block it in as I go.
Starting with the sky and working my way down and forwards in the
composition.  This is mostly Unison soft pastels I’m using.
The brand of velour paper is Hahnemühle.  Make sure you
mount the paper on something firm before you start.
This helps especially when framing.  I use self adhesive mount board.


The sky area has had several coats of a light pastel
rubbed softly over the surface and lightly rubbed
in.  This puts a grainy mist over it giving it a more
distant look.  This is what I’ll be doing to each layer
to knock it back into the distance.


Working my way forward.  I’m being as loose as I can
be with this background.  I’m also standing to work at
this which is unusual to me but it helps me to loosen up
the marks and not get too fiddly at this stage.


Now I’ve got this middle band of the painting in.
I’ve used little flat diagonal strokes to build up the colours
in the trees and buildings.


The painting just got sprayed with fixative and now
that it’s dry I’m using the side of the light pastel to
put a very thin layer right over this.  Scary I know!
This is why I love velour.  People say they can’t get
pastel to blend on it.  I see how tough it is to move as
a plus.  It has real resistance and this means when I rub
this light film into the layers beneath, very little of it will
move.  It simply allows me to soften it into the mix.
When papers allow things to mix and blend too easily
I find that annoying as there is less control over it.


Small circular motions to gently blend this top layer
in.  I can rub heavier in areas that I want more of the colour
underneath to come through.


I’ve moved onto the trees in front now just taking
it one strip at a time and working from dark to light.



Once I’ve done all the blurry background I spray
the whole painting and knock this whole area from
the horizon to the rooftop back a layer again.  So I
use the side of the light pastel and gently rub a layer
all over.  This means the sky got knocked back about
5 times, the spire and everything in that band got it
twice and this area I’m working on will get it once.
I find this really builds up the depth of focus in
an image like this and it’s not hard as I’m just doing
it as I go.


Now when I come to work on the foreground
details they will really stand out in front of my
bokeh background.  Sharp contrast and bright colours
should really make the roof area and birds stand out.
This tool I’m using is so useful for sharpening
edges.  I score around the bird’s outline and it gives the
bird a definite yet subtle line separating it from the background.


You can see in the photo I worked from that the colours
were much duller.  I’ve picked a palette that is more
vibrant but in the same family of colours.  This
terracota made from vibrant oranges and reds will really
stand out against all the greens.  I’ll be trying to make
those roof tiles look as bright as when they were new.




Both seagulls in.  Lots of very small detail on them
as they’re quite small within the image.  I really
liked their attitude though and think I’ve been overlooking
birds as really good subjects to paint.


Painting in the evening sunset…it could be a late
night with all those roof tiles!


I’m using a black Faber Castell stick to mark in the main shapes
of the tiles and add the dark tones.  This makes it easy to come along
and lay the colour on top.


Using the side of the pastel to cover a large area with this undertone.


Then lots of patience needed to go back and strengthen the dark
areas, add the lighter tones and lastly those bits of moss!  It’s just
repeat now until the end…


So nearly there!


Close up section

Hope you enjoyed the progress.  I’ve really loved doing this painting and have learned a lot from it.  If you’re near Belfast next Saturday 14th June 2014 you can see this and many other pieces in my show with fellow pastellist David Sweet in the Charles Gilmore Fine Art gallery in Belfast.  Would love to see you there!