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How did you get here from there?

Paintings go through many stages, from initial sketch to completed work. I like to take photos of the stages of my work and I have learned that many of my followers enjoy seeing this progression.

Some of the early images in a work’s progress provide a clear indication of the subject and where the piece might be headed, but for some that is not the case. My most recent pastel is one such piece. I had some fun with this piece’s progression on social media, sharing those early stages, asking my friends to guess what the subject of the painting might be.

When analyzing a photograph as a potential painting subject, I break it down into the basic shape patterns. Typically, I look for patterns of light & shadow. For this particular subject, it was the shapes formed by the lighter sky and the darker tree forms, both reflected in the water, upon which I based my value plan. I saw defined shapes that fit together like puzzle pieces.

It is important that this breakdown of shapes forms a pleasing composition even without knowing what the subject will be. This abstract pattern of shapes is what viewers will see at first glance from across the room. The shapes alone must be engaging enough to draw the viewer in for a closer look.(Perhaps the topic for a future post.)

Evansburg State Park, Autumn foliage, reflections in water
Source photo with increased contrast to enhance the shapes

Value sketch to show the composition of shapes
Initial pattern of shapes

It was this shape pattern that I transferred to my pastel surface. I typically may use a warm/cool underpainting to indicate light and shadow, but for this piece I changed it up, using the warm/cool to reference the cool of the reflected sky and the warmth of the reflected autumn foliage. This color is applied with dry pastel and then 'painted' with isopropyl alcohol or odorless mineral spirits to create a surface that will not lift when future layers of pastel are added.

Preliminary sketch of compositional shapes
Initial sketch onto my pastel surface

Underpainting to establish areas of warm & cool color
Warm/Cool Underpainting

The underpainting (above) is what I initially shared on social media. Those who know my work, are aware that I tend toward realism most of the time. This very abstract pattern of shapes was sure to baffle them. I absolutely loved the guesses as to what this subject might turn out to be! Waterfalls, city skyscrapers, bottles & champagne flutes, boats, people sitting, headless person praying while sitting in midair (you gotta love that one!), semi-cubist image of a boy/young man sitting at an old-fashioned desk and holding a pencil in his hand (another very creative interpretation that I am still trying to see!), a bunch of Picasso-esque blue nudes, water skiing, parachuting,… I had such fun that night reading all these wonderful interpretations!

In my second share, I had added a few of the dark squiggles to begin blocking in the major tree trunk shapes. I found it amazing that friends who are also artists are the ones who began to see exactly where it was going. Most of them immediately began to see reflections in water, while non-artists were still somewhat stumped.

Dry pastel over the wet underpainting
Adding the first marks in dry pastel

By the third stage, almost all could see where this was going, but not everyone. I was somewhat surprised myself how quickly the image began to emerge. When I began this piece, I anticipated it taking some time to pull it together into the scene I wanted. I was pleased the scene developed so quickly. It was just a matter of refinements to bring it to completion. Do not misunderstand. This final stage can take quite some time even though the changes made are not nearly as dramatic. I had an art teacher tell me many years ago that the last 20% of the painting can take 80% of the time. In most cases I must agree!

Pastel painting in progress - early stage
Building the image. At this point most could see where it was headed.

Pastel painting of Evansburg Reflections, showing progress
Developing the image further

Completed pastel painting, Landscape, Evansburg State Park, Reflections
"Evansburg Reflections", pastel, 12" x 16", ©Susan E. Klinger

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