Book Review – Pastel Innovations by Dawn Emerson

I confess, I am not really one for writing book reviews, it is rare that a book excites me enough to give it a star rating on Amazon but this one is in a class of its own….

Following a very enjoyable workshop with Mark Cazalet a few weeks ago I was looking to broaden my pastel drawing skills so trotted off to my local library to see what they had, the front cover of the book immediately grabbed my attention and flicking through the vibrantly colourful photos in the book had me hooked.

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The title, Pastel Innovations, 60+ techniques and exercises for painting with pastels is a little misleading because this is really a mixed media book with pastels as a recurring theme, but in my opinion the mixed media element really enhances the book rather than detracts from it.

Dawn starts with a materials list but I like her pragmatic, “use what you already have” approach, she makes a very sensible comment that you are more likely to experiment and take risks when working on cheapo newsprint paper and the art materials you were given as a child but never found a use for. An opportunity to use some 20+ year old materials that I couldn’t bring myself to throw away? I like her already! 🙂

She then takes you on a journey through some basic art theory: line, shape colour etc but she compares each element with her own twist and provides lots of examples and drawings along the way. This section culminates in how to self-critique your work against each of these elements.

At the end of each chapter there are exercises to practice what you have learned, I thought these were the best part of the book and if you learn best by doing, I think they are what sets it apart from so many art theory books.

This is my interpretation of the exercises from chapter 1…. Dawn provides a detailed still life photo to work from by I preferred a black and white photo of some pears on a window sill that she provided for an exercise later in the book.

Line:

Shape:

Value:

Texture:

Colour:

Translating this into textiles…

Working with pastels and charcoal is all very lovely but I was itching to put this into practice with felt.

I “cheated” and use some commercial prefelts as a support for my painting with a few wisps of wool between 2 prefelts. Bearing in mind that these fibres will migrate as the felt is fulled I laid out an “underpainting” of tones roughly where I wanted lights and darks to come through between the two layers of prefelt. These fibres will also help the two commercial prefelts glue together

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I laid out some purple fibres to suggest the outlines of the pears and windowsill, I used wool tops rolled between my hands with some wool yarns for different line weights and some variety.

 

Adding white highlights:

Using yarn and Kap merino.

Adding shadows:

I used some low-immersion dyed Kap merino provide some extra depth but you could also blend 2 or 3 different colours / shades to get the same effect.

Adding a light complimentary colour

The compliment of purple / mauve is yellow… unfortunately the only yellow I have is quite a dark, orangey yellow, not ideal but blended with some white, it will have to do.

Adding some interest to the background:

Looking at the photo, there’s still something missing….

I think it is green! Green and purple, always a good combination in my mind, and the reddish pinks in the background really throw the greens (their complement) forward, although I am running the risk of ending up with khaki brown once the picture is fulled.

 

Then I brought touches of the bright pink from the background and used it for mid tone highlights on the pears to try to visually link it all together.

Once it reached the firm prefelt stage (fibres holding together but no shrinkage) I let it dry out so I could assess the colour and needlefelt in some details this is dried prefelt. Wetting the fibres reduces the contrast between the light and dark colours so it is best to let your painting dry out before fulling:

And after adding some more details and dark blue shadows:

To mimic the texture element from the first exercise I screen-printed some blue and purple patterns over the background and a small area of the foreground before fulling it ready to be stretched over a frame:

 

My tips for wool paintings:

  • Layout your wool directly onto your felting set up, trying to move it once you have starting arranging the fibres could lead to disaster. I like to work on a sheet of plastic over a bamboo mat as the mat gives to wool some extra support, especially in the early stages of felting
  • Use only enough soapy water to anchor each layer of fibres down, it it is too wet it will be difficult to place the next layer of fibres where you want them
  • Check and rearrange your fibres as necessary every time you add water
  • Kap merino is very versatile for wool painting, the short fibres make it very easy to blend and feather the edges of a colour, it is available from Woolknoll in Germany
  • Spend at least 10 minutes gently massaging the front of your painting to ensure the surface fibres are knitting together before flipping it over and checking the back is evenly wet before starting to roll.
  • Roll up your work, at least to begin with, with the painting facing down, this will minimise the folds and distortion forming in the face (the outside of the roll is slightly stretched while the inside of the roll is slightly compressed when it is rolled up).

 

Chapter 2 covers various monoprinting, stencilling, embossing and brayer printing techniques, most of which I haven’t tried yet.

Dawn is clearly a fan of frottage (rubbings), I am sad to say some of the exercises I did for my City and Guilds course put me off this technique but I really like Dawn’s approach. For the most part she seems to use it as an accent in her own work but she also advocated using it to build up an entire image in what she called a “drubbing”. I found this a useful for pushing me away from trying to be to representational and literal in my interpretation and was a lot of fun to boot, this was my attempt at a “drubbing” of a calf using various textured wallpaper samples and charcoal:

 

Chapter 3 concerns itself with backdrops and under-paintings, among the options presented are, abstracted brayer paintings, watercolour and charcoal value drawings. The exercises at the end of this chapter felt a little disengaged from the chapter content, they predominantly focussed on the effect of different colour combinations but were still very enjoyable and informative in their own right.

Mass drawing with compressed charcoal:

 

Monochrome:

Complementary colours:

 

 

Adding analogous colours:

 

Towards the back of the book there are more mono-printing techniques, how to take a print from a pastel drawing and how to paint with pastels by mixing with a painting medium and using as paint. I confess I simply haven’t had time to work through those exercises yet but am really looking forward to having a play with them.

I was particularly smitten with a photo of a fancy chicken that Dawn shared to illustrate the inspiration behind one of her paintings, he was so funny I just couldn’t resist… 🙂

I can see him as a wool painting with his feathers made from coloured yarns and perhaps the occasional wool lock but that will have to wait for a later post….

Christmas is a comin’

Today was a very good day, it was my first Christmas fayre of the year and it was at a company where I worked for more than 10 years, I sold a few prints but the best part was catching up with everyone, most of whom I haven’t seen since this time last year. The lady who organises this event said they are planning a much smaller scale event next year but I hope I can persuade her to repeat a similar event next year, or make it even bigger and better, I just need to network with a few more sellers who might be interested. If you are in the Surrey / Berkshire border area and would like a table next year please drop me a line via the contact form at the top of this page.

It is funny how the stuffed kitten was the only thing on the table not for sale but it was the one thing everyone made a bee-line for, I could have sold him a dozen times over! 🙂

 

It was quite a luxury to have 2 x 6 ft tables today, I could really spread out…

This week I made a start on 2 new felting hangings during my life drawing group, they both need more work, some embroidery for the hands and a mixture of needle felting and embroidery for “Chantelle”. I am liking the random dyed backgrounds, I will be making more of those…

Chantelle

Happy Thanksgiving to all my US friends, I hope you are having a lovely day with your family and friends.

 

Up-cycling for the home office

My new job is going very well, the people are lovely and the company ethos seems to be very people-oriented, in fact the head office facilities are so nice, I’m tempted to make the 4 hour commute more often than I need to! I expect to be working from an office at home most days and making the hideous commute around the infamous M25 (dubbed Britain’s largest carpark) to head office every 2-3 weeks.

With that in mind, this weekend’s project was focused on prettying up the space where I will be spending many of my waking hours. I found this very tired, slightly damaged pin board on freecycle a few months ago and it has been patiently waiting in my to-do pile. The poor thing did look very sad, with chunks of board peeling away where it had been pinned in the same spot, over and over again. PVA glue and some felt to the rescue!

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I set about making a simple but colourful sunset scene for the felt and glued and stapled it over the repaired notice board. The white dots down the right had side are push-pins waiting to be used.

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It does a good job of brightening up an otherwise dull corner of my home office, it just seems a shame to cover it with scribbled hand-written notes to myself now…

Happy Holidays!

Although I haven’t been able to blog much recently I have been working! Below are a selection of pieces I have been working on over the last few weeks…

These are a few brooches / pins inspired by a session with the Region 2 IFA ladies, they are just so much fun to make and one of the few things I can make relaxing in front of the TV 🙂
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I finally finished the icicles / snowy night wall hanging that I started nearly a year ago! This is a fairly large piece, measuring approx 3ft x 2 ft.

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I finished (and photographed) a new pair of gloves. I don’t know about you but I seem to be waiting for days if not weeks for enough daylight to take photos this month. Roll on spring!

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The fishy reef nuno felt made a reappearance from the UFO box too, this is how it looked a few months ago.

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Just adding some darker blue tones where the reef meets the water made a world of difference to the sense of perspective.

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Then I got a bit paint happy…

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It still needs some work, but it’s making progress, I foresee a trip to the sewing machine to add some tiny fish in the distance….

Some dyeing, the red and orange wool is corriedale that I expect will become a bag. The blues are merino which I have carded into batts and plan to use with the blue variegated blue silk pictured below.

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My technique for variegated dyeing is totally random, I just scrunch up handfuls of fabric and stuff it into a bag, hence I was surprised to see a distinct pattern on this piece of silk:

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I’m hoping to make a dress from the blue materials and combine it with some screen printing techniques from Ruth’s online class in January (click here for more information). If I can get the idea in my head to work, I plan to submit this dress to the Spinners Weavers and Dyers National Exhibition next year (no pressure Ruth! 😉 )

Whatever your faith or denomination I hope you have a wonderful break, filled with fun activities and surrounded by the people you love.

Fourth Quarter Challenge 2015

I’m still feeling a bit direction-less on this challenge, ambling from one idea to the next but I have at least managed to commit to making a couple of pieces of felt this week, both based on the challenge.

The first is a small hanging based on this photo of some cone flowers (rudbekia):

cone flowers

My idea for this picture was to use different tones and shades to visually bring some of the flowers forward while sending others into the background.

Using the ball of ochre coloured wool in the middle of this photo I blended some different tones and shades by adding different quantities of white or black.

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And used these batts to make some prefelts:

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I confess I cheated a little – the yellow in the middle is not a tone or shade of the ochre colour, the original colour is the square 2nd from right on the bottom row.

These prefelts were cut up and arranged on a square of black commercial prefelt:

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After lots of rubbing and a little bit of rolling all the pieces are firmly attached and it is ready for some finer details to be added.

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I quite like the jolly, cartoon-like effect but think I can make the flowers look more 3-dimensional with some shading using the left over prefelts and pieces of the batts.

This weekend I also made a start on a hooded jacket, again applying the challenge instruction of using just one colour plus black and white. There’s still some way to go but here is a little taster…

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Rummaging through my stash I found some bundles of carded natural merino batts in white and dark brown, I had an idea that using batts would speed up the layout, which it did, but any time I saved in the initial lay-out was lost needle-felting more wool over the thin spots at the prefelt stage. 🙁

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I attached a hood to my favourite dress resist. Masking tape is great for making temporary changes to resists. You can see where I have permanently altered this resist to add sleeves using duct tape.

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Laying out the wool with some lovely Wensleydale locks for extra texture and some white mulberry silk for a little bit of sheen.

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Starting to layout the front sections:

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With a little luck I hope to post the finished jacket next time.
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