Oil Pastel Sketches

You may remember that I mentioned the series of cold wax oil paintings I’m working on in an earlier blog post. They have been sitting in the studio…simmering (thanks to Tiffany Han for the word—simmer—that perfectly describes this phase of a new idea) for a month or more. While they have been on the back burner I have taken a landscape painting class, completed a number of collages based on landscapes, and done a ton of landscape sketches.

Then, last week I got out my oil pastels and sketched out more landscapes on pages in a paper bag journal (that also holds the collages …shared here).

Ohhhh boy…oil pastels are so fun to work with. Each day I was super excited to get back to these. When completed, I covered each page with Matte Varnish and there is a sheet of wax paper between each page as they really stick together.

You’ll be pleased to know that I’ve moved the paintings to the front burner. I shared some process on my Instagram Highlights. But for now, here are a few of my favorite oil pastel sketches from this week! Also, bought some oil sticks… oh I can’t wait to use those!

Getting outside and making art

Scene from 4th class at Pettengill Farm, Salisbury, MA

Scene from 4th class at Pettengill Farm, Salisbury, MA

I recently completed a 5 week class painting with oils outside (Plein Air Alla Prima). It is kind of funny...at each class I wondered why I was there. Oils are not really my preferred medium to use and I have zero experience with realistic landscape painting other than some quick watercolor sketches at the beach. But I wanted to take an in person class and I wanted to be outside enjoying the weather. I also have a series of cold wax oil paintings that are stalled and I thought some instruction and time working with oils in a different way with a focus on the landscape might help.  I am happy to report that I did find some connection!

Step 1, sketch in scene with vine charcoal

Step 1, sketch in scene with vine charcoal

We met for each class at few locations throughout Northeastern MA. This included two class meetings at Maudslay State Park in Newburyport, two meetings at Pettengill Farm in Salisbury, and one class meeting (the first) at Bartlett Mall in Newburyport near Frog Pond. I found it worked best for me to walk around and sketch out some possible scenes in my sketchbook as a first step. When I felt confident with the layout, I would set up the materials and sketch out a scene on my canvas board using soft vine charcoal. This step is the time to measure out the scene with a viewfinder and the paintbrush handle as a ruler. Vine charcoal wipes off easily when you are ready to add paint, but I was heavy handed with the charcoal, so I also found it worthwhile to use a pink eraser to get off as much as possible while still leaving the outline of my sketch behind. The Charcoal would muddy the paint (especially the white!).

After 2.5 hours of painting, ignore left side which is unfinished

After 2.5 hours of painting, ignore left side which is unfinished

I found the focus of the class for me was to "draw what you see." This may seem obvious, but I tend to draw what I see blended with what I assume is there. Every time I would come up against perspective or other measurements being off. This would skew the whole painting and even in an abstract painting, having the perspective and sense of space correctly laid out makes a huge difference. Funny enough, it actually connects quite literally to the figure drawing sessions I have been sitting in on lately. Measuring out what you see and where it goes on the canvas or paper using a view finder or other tool to measure is critical. "That's no fun" you say? Well, I used to think that too. I love the abstract landscape (and there is more on that to come for me I am sure of it), but it really hit home for me that in order to make a successful abstract landscape or figure drawing you have to know how to paint it realistically (-ish) in the first place.

Another challenge was color. Instructor and artist Sue Charles (please, stop now and click on her link... her work is GORGEOUS) recommended a set of colors which did not include black or gray-Cadmium Yellow, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Orange, Cadmium Red, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, Cerulean Blue, Viridian Green, Sap Green. We were reminded that complimentary colors will get you the grays you are looking for with a tint of color that will bring energy into the piece. Each week I wished I had taken the time to make swatches of the colors, but I never did. As a result, I was really challenged to get the colors that I wanted out in the field. There was a lot of green (duh) and I wasn't falling in love with the greens I was mixing. I still need to sit down and swatch out these paints.

Composition also presented some challenges. The first few classes I plopped my pile of stuff (there is lots of 'stuff') right down and focused on the first scene I saw.  By the fourth class I realized a few things; 1) I need to sketch out a few composition options before I set up easel (etc) so I know that is the place I will enjoy painting for 2+ hours and 2) I like a man made focal point in the painting (not all trees).

It was HARD and took a lot of brain cells and I needed a nap after each class to recover. But I felt that I was learning something new and that was exciting. The instructor let me borrow her old french easel. The thing was a beast to carry, but she saved me some $$ and let me borrow it for the summer!. Other materials included oil paints, soft vine charcoal, Gamblin Mineral Spirits, Paint brushes, Palette Knives, Palette, rags/paper towels, snacks, water, bug spray and a hat.

painting from my second class, house in center unfinished

painting from my second class, house in center unfinished

painting from third class ... no man-made focal point, and I found the reflection/water in the foreground very challenging!

painting from third class ... no man-made focal point, and I found the reflection/water in the foreground very challenging!

Painting from the last (5th) class...I can see a big difference in what I learned here. While water in the foreground is dark and reflection a little awkward, overall I am pleased with this one! I love how the shadow and light on the bright green grass came out. And the trees in front really do bring the perspective and depth into the painting. This was also my largest panel!

Painting from the last (5th) class...I can see a big difference in what I learned here. While water in the foreground is dark and reflection a little awkward, overall I am pleased with this one! I love how the shadow and light on the bright green grass came out. And the trees in front really do bring the perspective and depth into the painting. This was also my largest panel!

Using up the paint - Cold Wax Paintings

Last year, my mom gave me a bag of her old oil paints and I started playing with the paints on small canvases and paper. I quickly relalized I needed to learn more about HOW to use oils, so that I could get a flow to the paint and really benefit from the juicy quality of oils that is so different from  acrylics. Right away, the smell of mineral spirits and turpentine really put me off. I am working in my home and found the smell would easily take over the house. So I turned to the internet. I re-discovered Gamblin brand mediums, which are safer than basic mineral sprits and turps. I also came across Cold Wax, and was interested to learn more. Artists Pamela Caughey and Lisa Pressman have wonderful YouTube channels that explain a lot about their working styles. It looked so fun, and really drew me in.  I also discovered the new book: Cold Wax Medium by Rebecca Crowell and Jerry McLaughlin and promptly added it to my Christmas list (thanks BRY!). 

What appeals to me about cold wax, and what drew me in at first, is the textural, collage quality and working in layers. I have been looking for a way to bring my collages to “life” out of the journal format. What almost put me off is the cost of materials and feeling stingy with paint, canvas space, and wanting something to turn out like a masterpiece the first time around. I know this is impossible, and the free paint, gifted book (and subsequent gift of a few large wood panels - an essential substrate) helped me to break through this barrier that was all in my mind. Of course, I have since ordered more of everything and new colors of paint. Gamblin is the source I am using for cold wax and the less toxic additives and cleaners.  Blick is the cheapest source for wood panels and oil paint (at least compared to Amazon).

So, I now have three ‘series’ of paintings going in the studio in varying stages. I start with acrylic, much like Pamela Caughey shows in her videos. I don’t do quite as much as she does in the surface texture department, but I do layer and scrape into the pieces as I go. Something she said about her process (I’m paraphrasing..) is that each layer is fun, and she wants to have that fun for as long as possible. I am not sure exactly where these are going, but exploring the layers, having fun with the materials, and taking time between layers to let them set up and dry is something I am enjoying. With oil painting (which dries slower than acrylic) and cold wax (which slows the drying process even further) you do have to wait for layers to dry or you will muck up the colors. The paintings have to be walked away from. In life these days, I need more time for the pause, to take a break and intentionally think about where I am going. Most days I am running through my to do list and carpool duties, so the pause of this type of work has drawn me in. I dont know if I’ve fully explored everything there is to know about the cold wax techniques yet, but I am working on it and willing to waste a bit more paint.

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