Tracy Wilson demonstrated her pastel techniques to a full room at the Lakewood Arts Council Gallery on Friday. An accomplished oil painter (who also teaches oil painting workshops), Tracy, some years ago, decided to try pastels. Once she realized that they couldn’t be treated like oil paints – they have their own unique characteristics, she began to enjoy the process of working in this new medium. Like many of her oil paintings, her method for pastels employs chiaroscuro, an Italian term meaning light and shadow.
Before starting the demonstration, the basics were discussed, and even though non-beginners might find the information redundant, Tracy apologized, as one student pointed out, repetition can be very beneficial.
Varieties of pastels were listed and the differences of hard and soft brands. Hard pastels are more controllable and have a sharper edge due to a higher proportion of binder. Soft pastels contain more pigment creating more intensity of color. Different types of paper give different results: Wallis sanded paper can hold twenty layers of pastel, while Ampersand Pastel Board allows for ease of framing. Basic safety issues were also addressed. Pastel dust can be inhaled, and toxic pigments can be absorbed through the skin. Methods for eliminating those concerns were presented.
With the basics covered, Tracy explained her demo procedure, “The first thing we look at in art is the last thing the artist did”. So she likes to proceed step by step, but stop before too much is done, so as to allow the student to start working on their own piece, with the first few steps still clear in their minds.
Even though Tracy usually works from real life, she also points out the benefits of working from photos. “At least your plants don’t die before your work is finished,” she jokes. The students are then given photos of a strongly shadowed apple and watch as Tracy begins drawing her subject, filling in the dark background, defining shadow areas, then begins applying color – underpainting, blending and glazing.
Individual help is then offered the students, as she circulates the room to aid those in need. The students follow her steps, creating their own works of art. Snippets of advice gleaned from her counsel aid in producing a rewarding result. “Always check your fingers before you blend” – a damp paper towel at your workstation is a must. “Shadows tend to be not only darker, but duller.” And to emphasize the look of chiaroscuro, “use more details in the lighted areas, less detail in the shadow areas, even if those details are evident in the photo or still life”.
Enthusiastic students, or those of you who weren’t able to join Tracy for this workshop are in luck, as she will be teaching another pastel workshop on November 9 at the LAC Gallery. But sign up soon, as her popular class fills quickly! Tracy’s work can be seen at her website www.tracywilsonart.com