L’Atelier Indigo – finished pastel


I wrote about the process of this in an earlier post and it feels good to finally have it finished. I look at this and the pear charcoal and frankly I’m chuffed that I’ve actually created these myself. I’m so surprised with pastel, I had no idea it could be used dramatically like this. However I’m still not crazy about the subject.  I was working from a photograph in the art class and find the pose is just too posed. And though I think it’s possible to get lost in any subject, it helps if the love is there!

What I’ve learnt most from working in charcoal and pastel is how it takes confidence. Go in bold, then ‘sculpt’ the material to bring out the subject. It’s actually fairly easy to correct mistakes – at one point that foot shifted by several inches!

It’s a little shiny in parts – a mistake with the fixative…

L’Atelier Indigo – first life class

My first life class at L’Atelier Indigo –  intimidation, exhilaration, frustration!

We started with 2-minute pencil sketches, leading up to 10-minute sketches for each pose and I completely understand why – for the fist couple of sketches I was totally thrown – angles and proportion were beyond me. By the time we got to the 4th sketch I was finding a way in.

For the last two poses we had 30 minutes – to do the most basic of pencil outlines, adding tone with gouache (watercolour?).  We used a dry brush with no water.

I’m happier with my man on the left – though he lost a foot – it does look like a man sitting down, though his left elbow seems to be hovering rather than resting on his knee.  His face and upper right arm were in shadow – I found it impossible to explain what I was seeing.

My dead man on the right is way less successful – his head and right arm seem to belong to another man of entirely different proportions and the whole seems to be floating rather than on solid ground.

All the recent focus I’ve had on negative space from the course was helpful in getting the basics down – and I can’t wait for the next opportunity to have another go.

From L’Atelier Indigo – in progress


This is the second piece I’m working on at my local art class – using ‘pastel sec’ (dry pastels) and a ‘pierre noire’ (not sure of the translation of this). In addition to learning how to use new media I’m also learning about the time needed to do things right! I spent about 4 hours sketching this out, another half an  hour practising with pastels to get the shades I wanted and I’m probably about 6 hours in to the work itself – and still not finished.

As with my last charcoal drawing, this is working from a photograph. I’m not crazy about the subject – the pose is a bit contrived – but I am really impressed by how pastels can  make a subject glow with light.

Things I’m learning about pastels:

*they are very similar to charcoal

*pushing and rubbing the pastel into the paper with fingers gets a beautiful matt velvet result

*colours can be layered on top of each other – in the above I layered three different greens down with black over the top – the result is the darkest, densest velvet green – an almost black

*to create an area of bright highlight – first layer down white (surprisingly thickly) – colour will be placed on top of this. For very subtle colour a smudge of a pastel on a finger will do it.

*to make corrections, a rubber first to take away what I can (sometimes not everything), followed by white – if it’s a highlight that’s needed.

*as with charcoal, there is no point being tentative with pastel – it’s best to get colour down on the paper and then sculpt away at that colour – a highlight can be created even from the darkest black if needed.

*it’s messy – best to work top down and left to right (if right-handed)

From L’Atelier Indigo


The second piece from the art class I’ve just recently joined, using what the teacher calls the ‘real charcoal technique’. Things that surprised me:

*most of it was created by working in reverse – taking out the charcoal – or as my teacher is fond of saying – sculpting

*I worked in small sections, from top to bottom, so while the top of the bowl and top pear were complete, the bottom half of the page was blank

*occasionally fixative was applied to the charcoal – it allows more charcoal to be applied to get an even denser effect

I used a ‘fusion’ (I think the English is a willow stick) with a 2B charcoal pencil for the very darkest tones and a H charcoal pencil for some of the lighter detail on the background and bowl. Even the dark edge of the rim of the bowl was created with the stick, rubbing out furiously to leave a slim line.

I was copying from a photograph, which somehow feels fake, though I suppose this exercise was really about discovering charcoal rather than creating something of my own.

From L’Atelier Indigo

Happily I’ve been able to get myself in to a local drawing class (L’Atelier Indigo) where I can get hands-on help with basic techniques.

My first task in learning the ‘la vrai technique fusain’ (the real charcoal technique) was to cover an entire sheet with dense velvety charcoal. With a photograph of three pears clipped to the side of my easel I then had to work with a putty rubber to leave all but the pears, now in silhouette.


Immensely satisfying and surprising how brutal you can be with both the putty and the charcoal and interesting to be working back to front – sculpting out the spaces to leave the object behind. The background seems to glow like a lit parchment – for such a basic exercise I love the result.