Gallery: Art Connections Gallery 123 N. Main Street on the Square in La Grange, Texas.
979-206-2222 http://www.artconnectionsgallery.com/

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Elements of a Good Painting, Pastel Demo

The demonstration last night at the Bastrop Fine Arts Guild went well. I demonstrated by doing a pastel painting and talking about the Elements of a Good Painting. I created a handout with ideas I have gleaned from experience and other artists. (see end of post)

Each artist has their own method and style, but we can always watch and learn and use the ideas that fit into our interpretation and style. My information and education comes from workshops, reading, watching and practice. I think practice helps the most at this stage. I learn from every painting and sketch I do.

A few of the artists I have attended workshops with: Jack Hines, Jessica Zemsky, Terry Smith, Kathleen Cook, Bob Rohm, and Richard McKinley. Artist friends are very influential and helpful (check out my links to the right). You can learn a lot from painting with others.

We need to practice and work at our art. We also need to break into self publicity and for most of us that is the hardest part. I have links on my blog in the sidebar to the right, Helpful Links for Artists. From there you can jump off into a whole new world of learning and discovery.

Of course, I was too nervous to think about photos at the demo. (My camera was in my pocket) There were several photographers there and I forgot to hand off my camera to one of them. We took photos at the end. I didn't take a photo of the painting until it was already under glass, but this is a pretty good image after stretching and fixing with my photo software. It is 8 x 10 inches on Colourfix sanded paper. I precut the paper to 11 x 14 to fit the frame. Upon finishing I put the painting in the frame with a double mat, stapled it closed, taped it with artist's tape to seal it and ta-da. The painting!

My plan was to give the painting as the door prize, so I asked the attendees to fill in a card as they arrived.

Greatchen Dueble was the happy winner.

A shot of Greatchen and me together.

Here is the information from the handout:


  • Be happy. Be in a good mood and enthusiastic. Be physically comfortable. Have your surface at a good angle with no leaning over. If you aren't comfortable you won't be able to enjoy and do it again and often enough to improve. If you do more small or fast paintings, you learn more that one large painting that takes weeks to finish. (This was suggested by Susan Carlin, executor of good paintings.)
  • If you paint/draw on paper, mark off the standard size area before you start to conserve cost of framing. Take photos of your efforts and try to frame them. (Susan and I both do this and have for a long time.)
  • Lighting on the surface and your palette should be the same.
  • Get focused. Remember why you wanted to paint the subject and what you liked about it. Simplify your information.
  • Thumbnails on paper help most artists. Sketch main items and values in a value sketch. Three to five main values and shapes. Squint to see values and large shapes. For still life and portraits you can take photos and manipulate them on a computer to help decide on colors, background, etc.
  • Composition is important. You can have a triangle shape, circular, rule of thirds, off center, etc. Most landscapes have the rule of thirds. If the sky is important, make it two thirds of the painting or vice versa if the land is important. There are very few times that centering the focal point feels correct. Paintings are more interesting if the center of interest is not in the middle.
  • Balance. Too much info in one place gives an "off kilter" feeling.
  • Contrast and value changes create excitement and interest. Usually the most contrast is in the center of interest. Most good paintings have a dominant value .. dark, light or medium with the other two as accents. A midday scene is harder to make interesting with the lighting being direct and the same over all. Morning or evening scenes with shadows are more dramatic.
  • Try to tie in your shadow areas and your light or mid ground areas. This helps in the flow of the painting and directing the eye.
  • Vary your shapes, size and margin lines.
  • Color and value change depending on the objects next to it. A color on your palette may look perfect, but on the canvas be too dark or light. You can actually hold the brush or pastel up against the object in the distance to help judge your starting colors. It is helpful to put down color around the canvas to coordinate your painting. I usually try to have some of each color in every part. Not necessarily the same value, but the same color. Complements (opposite colors on a color wheel) are usually found in shadows and highlights.
  • To create depth, vary placement and overlap objects. "Kissing" or touching of objects is a no-no.
  • In landscapes, aerial perspective is important. Cool colors and light values go back into the distance, warm colors and darks come forward. There are exceptions but it takes practice. Van Gogh used a yellow background for his blue iris and it worked. :)
  • In still life usually the back is darker and the light is up front and on top of the items. On the background it is darker where the light is coming from and lighter around the subject except for the shadows.
  • For realism in objects I try to use five values. The body (main) color, the body shadow, the cast shadow, the highlight and the reflection. For example in a brass object, it is mainly yellow - body color. The shadow as the object turns away would be a darker yellow with some purple to gray it - body shadow. The shadow on the table would have purple and be the darkest value - cast shadow. The darker side would have some light from the table or other objects, this light would not be as light as the highlight and would have some of the complement and color from the object - reflection. The highlight on brass would be very light, almost white, and a touch of lavender/purple would make it look brighter - highlight. (Advice from Helen Van Wyk and others.)

Now ... THE BEST ADVICE ... forget about rules and methods and advice and GO PAINT!!

I wish I could always follow my own advice. :) You will see here if I put the painting into black and white that my values are very similar and I have almost zero highlights. It was one of my efforts where I used color to separate instead of value, right? Something I work on. I have an excuse, I was trying to do the painting in forty minutes.


Valerie Jones said...

Jo, thanks for sharing your notes!! Glad to hear about your workshop!

Jo Castillo said...

Thank you, Valerie. I'm delighted to share info. Most of this isn't new, except to beginners. But I hope they remind us of things to watch for.

Bag Blog said...

Good rules to paint by - or not as you say. I love it that you have taken time to write these rules out - I think I might print them out for myself. It sounds like your demo went well.

Jo Castillo said...

bag blog, thanks for commenting. You are welcome to print! It was fun to see old friends and meet some new members of the group.

Joan said...

Glad your workshop went well & the painting is lovely! What a wonderful door prize! Thanks for the list of tips for a good painting.

Rose Welty said...

Good tips Jo. That last one sounds interesting...I shall have to try that.

Clear and concise! Nicely done Jo.

Nancy Moskovitz said...

Thank you for another thoughtfully complete post. I think your values are plenty clear with an "H" as a compositional backbone. The highest value is just above the crossbar.

Jo Castillo said...

Joan, Rose and Nancy. Hi. Thank you so much. Hope the ideas remind us to keep on track. In the demo I started with a plan, then just sort of painted. I did an under painting with water and that was interesting to the non pastel artists. :)

Susan Carlin said...

Jo! It sounds like your demo was a resounding success. Wish I could've been there to heckle, I mean cheer you on. Thank you for the nod on some of the "Elements and Ideas." Did you sleep like a rock Tuesday night? Whew!

Jo Castillo said...

Susan, Heh, heh. I can always use heckling. It did take a while to wind down and I slept well! Thanks.

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Bastrop, Texas, United States
I Grew up in a small town , Magdalena, New Mexico. I enjoy art and the pleasure other people get from my work. I always donate some of my sales and art to charities, especially for children. That started in Bolivia with Para los NiƱos. (Link on sidebar) "I cannot pretend to feel impartial about colors. I rejoice with the brilliant ones and am genuinely sorry for the poor browns." -- Winston Churchill


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