I’ve devoted about half of my studio time so far this year to practice in oil painting and it’s definitely been easier to get out and do some plein air painting with gloves and brushes rather than bare hands and icy pastel sticks during these cool, early days of spring. One additional benefit of working with oils is that they are changing the way in which I work with pastel. I’m finding it easier to translate the complex motifs of my cityscapes with a loose underpainting done in oils. This idea is not my own. It originated with the well-known pastel guru Albert Handell and his student, Richard McKinley. Both artists are based out west, and they use this loose, ethereal approach in their landscapes to great effect.
Years ago, I took a workshop with Richard McKinley down in North Carolina. Unfortunately, the workshop occurred just days after I lost my grandfather and I ended up missing a portion of the workshop while attending the funeral in Wisconsin. Nonetheless, I saw McKinley demonstrate this approach with a plein air landscape and I filed it away for future use. It wasn’t until I started practicing with oils late last year that I felt I would want to experiment with this approach in my own work.
This first example is from a brand new piece, “Market Street, San Francisco,” an original 12″ x 12″ pastel on paper. Shown here are some photos of my working process from initial concept to finished piece as the work progresses on my studio easel. Although I found this subject during a bright, sunny day in the city, much of the street was shrouded in shadow by the tall office buildings of the financial district. For this reason, I laid down a predominantly cool underpainting. This work is done on paper with a custom pumice ground applied. I enjoy this approach because it allows me greater control in the “toothiness” of the surface and, therefore, the amount of detail that I can incorporate into the final piece.
The initial underpainting.
The first block-in, beginning with dark hues first.
About midway through, with some highlights and more definition.
More refinement and re-balancing of lights and darks.
This subject was appealing to me because I liked the contrast of the fiery red tail lights and the warm, distant sky against the geometric pattern of cool shadows throughout the composition. I'm still mining the source material that I collected from San Francisco this past fall and you can expect to see more pieces inspired by this fantastic city in the near future.
Completed and signed.