All posts by Timothy John-Luke Smith PSA

Day 24 My Book: “The Pastel Palette Method” Art History and Your Study of Pastel Painting

Art History and Your Study of Pastel Painting

Photo by Bara Cross from Pexels

We all enjoy working on our art. It’s the continuity that keeps our work organic and ever growing. This is our quest to improve daily. What is one area of artistic growth that you might have overlooked?  It just may be art history.

Since I was 18, I have included the intense study of art history to my personal growth routine as an artist. I have found that art history helps me to find my place within the rich tapestry of artists. I am able to find painters and sculptures who were like-minded as me. These like-minded artists inspire me and let me know that I am not alone. They also had chosen such a life as being an artist.
There are so many movements in art throughout history. The understanding of various art movements will give us perspective into our own time and the movements that are at play in the art world today.
With a strong foundation of art history your work will become richer. You will learn about allegory and themes in art that are as prevalent today as they were hundreds of years ago. When I find a particular artist from the past whose work I admire, I immediately search for a biography of them at my public library. Most times, I find that I can relate to them as an artist but I can also relate to them as a person.
Another great art history resource is video on the Internet. There are wonderful movies and documentaries that are free on YouTube. These documentaries give insight from the most talented and brilliant art historians. Their knowledge of artists throughout history brings the art to life. 
We live in the information age and let’s use this wealth of knowledge at our disposal to grow as artists. Through the independent study of art history our inspirations will run deeper as we become part of that tapestry.

Day 23 My Book: “The Pastel Palette Method” Painting in Pastel and Taking Notes

Painting in Pastel and Taking Notes

Today I am going to be talking about painting and the mind. Painting and the mind are two forces that can work in harmony or they can be opposing forces that mock one another. 

Do you ever wonder why some of your paintings come out marvelous from the start; they flow and move as if you have done them before? The painting feels as though it’s almost too easy. Your mind and the act of painting are working in unison. They are in lock step, creating a flowing beauty that you almost feel like an observer to its process. We have all felt this at one time or another, haven’t we?

Then there are those other moments, the moments when your painting is like a mule that doesn’t want to go anywhere that you’re going. You push, sweat and try to bend its will to yours with futility. This is when the mind and the act of painting are not working together at all. Do you ever wonder why this happens? There are not many differences from one day to next. The subject matter is very similar yet it’s a different world from the flowing painting session.  
We artists get in our own way so often, don’t we? We block our own geniuses because we fear the unknown results. We try and fix the problems before we even get to them. In the beginning of a new painting, especially after a successful piece, we hope that we can do it again. Our motto should be like that of the baseball pitcher, “Think Long, Think Wrong”. 

Planning your steps is very important. Making sure you repeat the processes that made your successful paintings flow with ease. Have a notebook and pen next to your easel. If we write down painting experiences during and after each painting session, both the hurdles and triumphs that we encounter, we would have a much better time at it. Let’s say for instance: The under painting was too strong and it got in the way of the application and coverage of the subsequent pastel layers; If you write that down, it becomes a written warning you have logged into your painting journal. If there is a great mixture for luminous shadows that you discovered, write that down. It now becomes an added weapon at your disposal.

These are tools that are just as important as the pastel stick or anything else in the studio. Before you start your painting session, read over the notes of the past painting sessions. You will find that you are now in more control of your mind and the painting process. If you see the bump in the road that you encountered in a past painting, you can easily steer around.

Progress is made when we learn from our mistakes as well as our successes. Alone in our studios we need to be our own teachers, coaches if you will. Writing detailed notes we are able to see trends in our own work; we can also share this insight with fellow artists.

Day 22 My Book: “The Pastel Palette Method” Erasers, Great for Details in a Pastel Painting


 Erasers, Great for Details in a Pastel Painting

Yes, all those wonderful erasers that you use for your pencil work are among the best tools you can use with pastel. As you know, erasers come in all shapes and sizes, from the very broad to the finest tips and from the very soft to the hardest and most aggressive.
When working with the marble dust treated Masonite panel, you can erase aggressively without worrying whether you are going to damage the surface. This is one of the many ways painting on Masonite is superior than paper.
Underneath the under painting and the layers of pastel is the pristine white of the gesso. If you wanted to achieve the most brilliant highlight in the pupil of the eye, you could remove the top layers with erasers. How many layers of pastel will determine which eraser that you would use. You can also use erasers for more subtle ways. You could create texture with a kneaded eraser or use a pencil eraser to create strands of hair.  In this book I will demonstrate a few of the many ways that erasers are one of the secret weapons of the “Pastel Palette Method”.
They say that pastels are the bridge between drawing and painting. Why not bring those amazing erasers over that bridge with you.

Day 21 My Book : “The Pastel Palette Method” How do you paint hair in pastel ?

Painting the Hair in Pastel

How do you paint beautiful passages in pastel to accurately and realistically portray hair? Too often I see hair that is painted too loosely and generalized that it no longer resembles hair. Sometimes hair is painted with so much detail that it looks like angel hair pasta. Why work so hard to create beautiful skin tones upon a stunning drawing if you are going to run out of gas when painting the hair?

I like to start the hair with the large shapes. In the beginning, all I need are the 2 values, the light and the dark. Once those 2 values are established, I concentrate on the exact shapes and how the edges are at the borders of those 2 values. In my search for larger groups of hair I don’t get concerned about smaller ones. Getting too detailed too early is a trap and the painting will look broken up without any structure.

The direction of these larger groups of hair is vitally important to gain the gesture or energy of the hair. I try to envision these larger groups of hair as thick ribbon like fabrics.  I also used a liner brush and some India ink to paint in the dark accents, this gives a deeper depth to the mid tones of the hair.
Now is the time that I observe and paint the highlights. I notice that highlights in hair often resembles the shimmering sun sparkling on a wavy lake. In hair, the next time you are painting a portrait, I want you to look for these shimmers of highlight. I carefully gauge these highlights with the highlights elsewhere on the model. I make sure they’re not relatively too light or too dark. This will insure that my work has a continuity of light as it cuts across her entire person. Painting hair is a “give and take” and “back and forth” between the lights and the darks and between the highlights and the dark accents.
In Conclusion, break down the hair from its larger shapes to the smaller shapes until it is refined with the perfect amount of detail. I want you to get detailed but only at the very end.

Day 20 My Book : “The Pastel Palette Method” Where do we find the time to paint?

How Can We Be More Productive Artists?
Artists are like sharks in the sense that they need to keep moving to survive and to thrive. It is often said that if a shark stops moving, they will die. If an artist is not growing they are artistically dying. That movement for the artist is their time working on their art.

There are no finish lines or pragmatic levels of achievements for the artist as there are in other careers. Art is not a career that one can measure in common terms. There are no promotions or company perks that come on schedule.

So how can this seemingly unbalanced and formless career bring balance to the artist? They need to use the tools of the non-artists to rein in their wandering, creative and active minds. One of these tools is time management. 
I have read many books on the subject of time management and most of them are not geared towards the visual artist. They are directed at the office manager or business person within the corporate structure. When I first began reading these books on time management I was a little disheartened. As an artist, I feel that I am the polar opposite of these corporate types who can naturally schedule their time within day planners and business meetings.
Just as we pose the model to capture what we want to express, so could be the time management techniques we capture to produce the work.
An example of making one of the principles work for the artist is the concept of scheduling their day and avoid little distractions that can mess up such a schedule. These little distractions of the day, such as unnecessary meetings, checking emails several times a day, are just a few of the silent assassins of effective time management.

The largest percentage of fine artists today must have regular 9-5 jobs to pay the bills. The artist today is no stranger to the corporate life although I honestly feel that the artist has no affinity for the corporate world. This mixture is oil and water.

We can, however learn from our time in the corporate world. At the easel or drawing board we need to be just as careful with our time. The easel is where our business happens. Just as for the corporate manager, one rule that the artist should set for themselves is to limit or prohibit checking email or social media while in the studio. Independent studies have proven that limiting social media and checking e-mail throughout the work day increases productivity by leaps and bounds. There are many other ways the artist can claim back time that has been wasted away of their own accord.

The artist can take back some of that lost time each and every day. Just one hour of intense and uninterrupted time dedicated to painting or drawing is worth a week of thoughts wishing they could get the energy to begin.

I definitely suggest picking up some powerful books on time management. Remember that they dont need to be geared for the artist. We artists definitely know how to adapt to and create opportunities to find the time, and space to work. Learn the skills to become better time managers and better artists.

Day 19 My Book : “The Pastel Palette Method” When to Use the Softest Pastels

When to Use the Softest Pastels
When you are further along in your painting and you feel that the texture, the darks, mid tones and lights are well established; you are ready to go to the next step in the “Pastel Palette Method”. Yes, you are ready to start using the softest pastels in your arsenal of pastel sticks. The Schminckes, and the Senneliers, are a few examples.
Not so fast! You need to ease into these extremely soft pastels when we apply them to the painting’s surface. You don’t want to ruin the beautiful textures you created by applying thick and unrealistic passages of pastel pigment. That would defeat the purpose of this method.
“Study of Vermeer” (work in progress)
Pastel on Masonite Board
Timothy John-Luke Smith
As you can see in the progression of my painting above, I am ready for the darkest darks and lightest lights. I begin mixing the softer pastels with my medium soft pastels, such as, Windsor and Newton or Holbein. As I apply these mixtures I will slowly increase the ratio of the Sennelier and Schmincke pastels. This will insure the proper build up of the softer pastel and I will retain the realistic textures that I worked so hard to achieve. My progression from light to dark needs to happen slowly to preserve the surface texture of the marble dust gesso treated Masonite board. I never want a surface that is overloaded with pastel.
You will find that as you go softer with this progression, that the softest pastels will be reserved for the darkest darks and lightest lights, this includes the highlights. It’s much like the progress of a drawing done in graphite. The painting will come together with the texture, color and the focus that you had envisioned when you first began your picture. There must be a game plan with any endeavor and painting in pastels with the “Pastel Palette Method” is no different.

Day 18 My Book : “The Pastel Palette Method” Using Markers in a Pastel Painting?

Markers on a Pastel Painting?
You most certainly can use waterproof markers when working on your pastel painting. There, I said it. When I say that you can use waterproof markers and some brush work, I mean that in a very sparing way and only when it’s needed.
The Pastel Society of America, states in their annual open exhibition prospectus that an eligible pastel painting for entry must be done at least 80 percent in pastel. This gives the pastel artist a wonderful 20 percent of other mediums to work with and still have their work considered a pastel painting.
I usually don’t start to use markers or paintbrush techniques until the late-middle or the end of the painting process.  There are instances where pastel, even with the “Pastel Palette Method”, that the medium cannot handle certain details. Some examples would be the tight details inside and around the eyes or strands of hair. The markers and the paintbrush are the perfect tools for such details. 
As you can see by the example above, using the pink waterproof marker is a much better tool for the tiny details in the corner of her mouth. If you follow this 80/20 rule, it will open the doors for you to experiment and discover radical methods to solve particular problems. Another great example is using a liner brush and brown ink to depict some of the strands of hair against the background. We must free our minds of convention and think outside the box.
Happy painting and happy experimenting.

Day 17 My Book : “The Pastel Palette Method” The Painting Won’t Accept Any More Pastel!

The Painting Wont Accept Any More Pastel!
(Don’t Worry There’s Hope!)

This is when there is just too much pastel on the surface and the texture of the board is totally covered and filled up. The pastel is pushed around with no adhesion to the painting, leaving the artist unable to complete their work.
There are many different variables that could contribute to this overloading of pastel. The most common occurrence is when the artist uses pastels that are too soft and they used them too early in the painting process. The texture on the board accepts and holds the pastel pigment only when its pores are not completely filled. Even with the perfect surface such as the marble dust treated Masonite, the surface can get still become overloaded.
There are a few fixes that I have used over the years to save an overloaded painting. Here are two of my techniques to get the surface to accept a few more layers in such an emergency.
One of the ways would be to use a “workable fixative” spray. This comes in a spray can and you can purchase fixative at any art supply store or online retailer. It is a little toxic and I recommend spraying your painting in a well-ventilated room or even outside. Spray an even coat, holding the can about 12 inches from the painting. Apply this in a back and forth motion.  Please make sure that it is a very light and even coat. You need to spray with no visible patterns. After it is thoroughly dried, repeat another coat if needed. You will notice that it did darken the colors a bit but the surface will now accept some limited pastel applications. It will not accept a great amount pastel but at least you will be able to adjust the colors and complete that area of the painting.
A second technique that I like to use for overloaded pastel on my board is using leftover marble dust gesso mixture from when I prepared my boards. First, I will try and lift as much of the pastel as possible with a kneaded eraser. Once much of the pastel is removed, I will cover the affected area with a light coat of the marble dust mixture. Let it dry and after I can repaint the affected area.  This is a more radical technique but there are times that even the fixative wont work. This will save the day and your painting.

Day 16 My Book : “The Pastel Palette Method” When to use Packing Peanuts.

Covering Large Areas of Color
“Study of Vermeer” (work in progress)
Pastel on Masonite Board
Timothy John-Luke Smith
When working with the “Pastel Palette Method”, there comes a time when you want to work with pastels in the traditional sense. Sometimes applying the pastel on the surface with the pastel stick is actually best. One time time this is definitely true is when you are covering large areas of color such as a background.
Using the pastel stick directly on the surface is vastly more efficient for large areas. You don’t need to be exact in large areas and the triangles would take too much time to cover them. In this instance you would simply find the pastels that would make the colors that you would need and then layer them until you have the desired color and value. The next step is where the technique differs using the “Pastel Palette Method”.
Earlier in this book, I mentioned the particular packing peanuts that you can squeeze into different shapes; we will be using them to blend the colors of the background. The packing peanuts can be used on their side to blend large swaths of color or squeezed into points to blend tighter and smaller areas and along the edge of your subject.
This blending into the surface will also produce a smooth area of color to match the rest of your painting. It will create the perfect “block in” of the background and define the contours of your portrait or figure. You will have an exact background in a relatively short time. Once the background is in place, we will once again, be using the foam triangles and the sand paper palette to apply the pastel to the surface. This will help to vary the edges of your figure or portrait against the background. I will explore the subject of hard and soft edges later in this book.

Day 15 My Book: “The Pastel Palette Method” Patience and Pastel Painting

Patience and Pastel Painting

“Study of Vermeer” (work in progress)
Pastel on Masonite Board
Timothy John-Luke Smith
Patience is definitely a virtue in life. It helps us not to make careless mistakes and patience helps us to be calm when others are impulsive. Remember, between stimulus and your reaction, there is a space. The length of that space or time that you react to the stimulus is up to you.
This need for patience is especially important when painting in pastel. I always tell my students to never get too excited or emotional during the painting progress. The most common instances are when the painting is going very badly or very well.
When there is a mistake our initial instincts are to hurry and fix it, like a leak in a pipe. This accelerated thought process usually makes the mistakes worse because we are running on emotion.
Here is where the patience is most needed. The artist needs to stop, step back, and assess the situation. Often times, I will walk away from the easel, have a cup coffee, and then return to easel. This way I could calmly find solutions to the issue with a clearer mind set. This is the thought process that I want you to have whenever you make a mistake. After you had found the solution, I want you to write it down in a notebook. This way you recorded your solution and it is available if you come across a similar mistake in a future painting.
The second instance where you need patience is the opposite of a mistake. It’s when your painting is going very well. When the painting is flowing, moving along very smoothly; you are excited about how beautiful that it looks. This is often when the instinct to rush the completion of the work comes over us.  It is same as when a runner can see the finish line and accelerates too early. They run out of energy and ultimately lose the race.
When the painting is looking amazing and all is clicking and flowing, I want you to recognize that impulse to rush to the finish line. When you do that, step away and slow it down. Write down what you did and how did you get it to flow so well. This way you have a reference to reference to and then recreate this blissful technical occasion.
In conclusion, when things are getting nerve wracking or exciting, step back and assess the situation; make sure that you calmly choose the best decisions rationally and not emotionally.