Introduction to Plein Air Landscape Painting in Pastels
Instructor: Steve Hill, has said, “My passion is to find special places…and explore these with every element of my psyche dialed into the joyous, expressive and interpretive language of painting on-site.” He is a signature member of The Northwest Pastel Society, and an active plein air painter and studio artist from Lopez Island, Washington.
Dates: July 21, 22, 23rd, 2017
Registration deadline: July 7, 2017
Place: SJIMA, 540 Spring Street, Friday Harbor
Class size: minimum 8/maximum 12 students
Student level: all levels
Questions: contact Malinda Dryer 360-378-2918
Workshop Description and Overview
by Steve Hill
Please note: I refer to Pastel as “painting” and not a drawing technique. When this workshop is over, you will surely understand why! My specific goal is to teach you to successfully use the pastel medium to create paintings that are quite simple in nature, but that can also create the illusion of greater detail, to the uninitiated. You really only get about 2-3 hours MAX to start and finish a painting “en plein air”, so we’re going to focus on techniques that make you hit the ground running, and be able to do that, when we go outside on days 2 & 3.
We will begin indoors, at the museum for the first day, and work on basic Pastel Stroke Exercises (grids and paper provided by me), set-up our outdoor painting gear and work from landscape reference photos to get warmed-up enough to take it all outdoors for days 2 & 3.
If you’ve taken one of my workshops, the “Stroke Exercises” for this plein air class, are shortened and modified versions from my beginning level classes, using both hard and soft pastel sticks, as well as some new exercises to learn how to apply alcohol washes for “under paintings”. I lead the exercises along with the whole class, to get you moving in the right directions and have found them to be invaluable “basics” to master, no matter how advanced you might be with the pastel medium.
After the “Stroke Exercises”, I will do three small (4”x6”) live painting demos from three typical San Juan Island land and seascape reference photos to show how the exercises actually apply to real painting scenarios. You will also do the same three small paintings from the same reference photos. Those will cover just about every land and seascape element that you will encounter outdoors from trees, buildings, water, rocks, skies, boats – even people in the landscape. I will provide the reference photos for this part.
Each of these will take less than 45 minutes to complete, as I will also be demonstrating how to “simplify” all of those pesky details into a painting that makes total visual sense, by utilizing textural effects, different stroke pressures and stroke directions (all covered in the exercises) as you quickly learn to edit-out all the unnecessary details that plague most artists.
At the end of the day, we will all take-down our gear and have it packed into vehicles ready for the next morning’s painting session.
Please note: On day one, we will all have the luxury of a small table next to our easels, indoors, but that won’t be the case when we go outside. Economy of space and materials is paramount to outdoor painting. Basically you will need to be able to transport all of your gear to your selected painting sites, outdoors. A backpack, small stand-up easel and backing board, pastel papers and an umbrella if you are going to use one, will be what you have to carry. Large canvas tote bags are good for carrying a bundle of gear.
We will car pool to pre-selected outdoor painting sites that will offer everyone fairly unlimited choices of subject matter and that have bathroom facilities nearby. Some of my favorites include: Jensen’s Boatyard, The Gann Ranch, Cattle Point, Eagle Cove areas, English Camp, and American Camp just to name a few. I am positive we will find some very cool and interesting places to paint on San Juan Island!
I begin with a live, narrated demo, at whichever painting site we end-up choosing. My demos will provide a lot of different techniques and take less than 90 minutes. First, I decide what to paint, followed with a small thumbnail (like 3-5”) sketch/value study to give myself a basic “road map” of how I am going to break down the largest shapes and forms in front of me. Also what I might plan to edit-out or move around or change a size, here or there . . . and most importantly, where my lights and darks will be! It all happens right there in a small sketch or two. Get used to it, because that’s one of the best tools I can teach you to instantly get a feel for what’s going to work vs what’s not. You will be doing these little studies throughout the workshop. They shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes each, as you’ll be working in small format. It’s also another way to “getto-know” your subject, as you will actually be drawing the basic shapes and form before you ever start trying to paint them.
Once I have my “design plan” hashed-out, I will launch straight into a larger size 9×12, 11×14, etc., demo painting directly from the subject. I will inform you what I plan to do next, as I paint, and what I’m thinking about each step of the way and how it relates towards finishing the painting.
I highly recommend that you bring cameras to take a few “progress” shots, as I work, because those will help jog your memory when you are on your own after the workshop. I still review some of the photos I have taken at workshop demos with artists like Desmond O’Hagan, Richard McKinley, Susan Ogilvie, Teresa Saia and others who I’ve had the opportunity to study with over the past 15 years. There is always some technique that gets completely covered over somewhere in the painting process and it’s nice to have a few pics to look at later, to see what went down first.
You will set-up and paint after my demos and for the remainder of the day I will come around to each of you with helpful advice.
The museum will send you my recommended pastel supplies list for plein air, upon request. If you’ve already taken a workshop or class and have some, you’ll be ahead of the game. You can expect to spend @ $200-$250 for the basic pastels, pastel papers, backing board, sketch book, 3-in1 viewfinder, etc. If you already have a good solid stand-alone easel (like a French easel, not a big cumbersome studio easel) you won’t need to buy one. I do have great recommendations for inexpensive plein air easels in my supplies list. You will also need a separate pastel stick storage box to put on your easel to keep your sticks organized. Those will be separate cost items, but totally necessary for you to have after the workshop, especially if you want to keep painting, en plein air!!
Most importantly, I want you to have fun, succeed and learn a lot!
I am very pleased to be coming to San Juan Island again to teach a 3 day Plein Air Pastel Workshop! I highly recommend Dakota Art Pastels in nearby Mt. Vernon. They are the largest pastel supplier in the world, have real people who know exactly what they are doing if you have questions and take excellent care of their customers. They have frequent sale specials, as well. www.dakotapastels.com or 1-888-345-0067. Their entire catalog is on-line.
This list is made for the complete beginner who has never used pastels before and needs just the “basics” to learn the pastel medium and be able to function well in the workshop. There are many, many pastel products out there and it can get very confusing trying to navigate so many choices in their catalog – but it’s also kind of fun to look at everything on-line, shop around at other stores as well, and just get acquainted with various products. So, what I have done here is pare things down to a few good choices from the plethora of products on the market and with best prices in mind.
A good stand alone easel that will function outdoors. If you already have something like a French Easel, that will work great. I have seven easels for plein air painting, purchased over the past 15 years or so, from a very expensive $500 Titanium (Soltek) Compact easel (I do NOT recommend this easel), to many other set-ups.
What I have finally settled on (after years of painting outside) is the Mabef Tripod Mini Field Easel ($105) and Dakota Pastel Travel box ($150) with memory foam compartments, pictured here. When the box is opened for painting it will clamp onto their field easel and can’t slip off. The easel is very strong and folds down to 21.5” length for easy travel.
Note my pastel sticks all neatly laid-out by color/value/hard and soft sticks. Not shown are the two lightweight plywood box lids that are covered in memory foam and clamp firmly down to hold all those pastels in place, when the box is closed for transport.
Note: Easels and specialty pastel stick storage boxes can get expensive! You can also use a “lap” easel, and just work with your pastels straight out of the box, but you will need a seating stool.
To hold your pastel papers/boards securely on the easel. Recommended size is 14” x 18” 3/16 Gator Board or good strong foam core board. It gives you enough room to mount any size sheet up to 12 x16 and still have a little room to attach a scrap piece of pastel paper to “test” colors and stick pressures for various strokes as you work. It will also fit the jaw of the easel mast very well. As you can see my backing board is black in the picture above and that’s by design, to cut down excessive glare in bright sunlight.
Other Easel Accessories:
Push pins and/or strong removable tape (Artists’ Tape is best) to attach pastel papers/boards to the backing board. A small sketch book (like @ 5×7”) to do value and composition studies in the studio and field. Two soft pencils (for when one breaks or gets lost). I use those fat Dixon Ticonderoga “beginners” pencils because they have good soft lead, fit the drawing hand better than regular pencils and a broader tip. Graphite sticks will also work, as well as vine charcoal (you’ll need that anyway), Conte Crayons – whatever you are comfortable using for drawing. A knife or baby pencil sharpener – the knife comes in handy to “shape” a pastel stick now and again.
Optional – Clamp-on Easel Umbrellas are very nice to shade your “palette” (the pastels) and your work surface to have both in the same light. They can get spendy and are not totally necessary for this workshop. That said “Bestbrella” is truly the best at $110. It has a great clamp, provides ample shade and can be set for various shade angles. Take a look and decide if you want one or not. www.bestbrella.com
I have had bad luck with Shade Buddy, which sticks into the ground at your feet provided the ground isn’t solid rock (good luck there!) nor do I recommend the Collapsible plein air umbrella in Dakota’s catalog. Those are just my own personal preferences. Here’s the deal with using an umbrella. They work very best in bright sunlight and on wind-less days (HA! Good luck there, too) and can easily tip-over your entire easel (I’ve had it happen many times – no fun and gets expensive replacing pastel sticks that break into tiny pieces) – takes extra time to set-up, take down, etc. The one very good thing about an umbrella is that it will provide very consistent light as you paint – and also ward-off some rain, when that happens, and you can use it to poke at pick-pockets in big cities. Your choice!
A 3-in-1 Plus Viewfinder. Get one, you won’t be sorry. $17.90. These little wonders do many things, from finding ideal compositions and ratios, to filtering light with the red film, thereby isolating and simplifying values and will also make you look like you know what you’re doing when a crowd gathers to watch you paint. Just joking you WILL know what you’re doing at the end of this workshop, but just trust. They are a great tool and have a multitude of uses. Mine is like 15 years old, beat half-to-death, but I still use it and get great results, especially simplifying compositions for my “thumb nail” sketches and finding correct value patterns.
Storage and packing
A large tote bag is cheapest and works best for all of this gear. We will be painting at all sites fairly close to our cars, so you don’t really need a fancy back-pack.
Now we’re getting into the Nitty Gritty. There are dozens of manufacturers out there and you may already have a boat load, so bring them if you do. Do not buy cheap “student grade” pastels. They are loaded with binder and not very loaded with pigment. You want the best quality you can afford. Really shop for this one item and take some time to look at them in catalogs (like Dakota’s) or better yet, go to some of the major league art stores where they might have a few out of the box for you to try. Dakota has dozens at their store.
Hard sticks and Soft sticks – you need one set of both for my workshops.
Hard Stick brands are fewer, but the best deal out there is going to be Prismacolor Nu Pastels with 96 colors for $112.00. If you have a friend taking this workshop, buy one set and split them in half. You will never, ever use the full 4” length of a full hard stick. Break them in half and you’ve already saved $56.00 and maybe made a new friend! If you really want the higher end hard sticks, take your credit card out and be ready to pay more.
Soft Stick sets.
There are many, many other brands out there. I have pre-selected the following for both economy and quality. I recommend “half-stick” sets, because you’ll get twice as many colors for half the price of “full stick” sets of pastels and they are the perfect painting size, right out of the box.
Sennelier (my choice) with an 80 color half-stick “Plein Air” set at $125.
New this year is another Sennelier option, (I would buy both): 30 Seascape colors and 30 landscape colors, each at $55.
Great American, with a 60 Half-stick “outside” set for $115
Rembrandts (which are sort of a “medium” softness stick) would also work
120 Half-sticks for $180.00.
90 Half-sticks $147
60 Half-sticks $99.50
40 Half-stick $68.00 – ANY of the above quantities will work
The above are my recommendations to get you started and not break the bank.
Personal Note: Unisons, Mount Vision, Great American, Girault, Schminke, Diane Townsend, Terry Ludwig, Art Spectrum, Holbein, Caran D’ache, Cretacolor, Faber-Castell, Daler Rowney, are ALL excellent brands and I have bunches of each, in my personal collection of @ 4000 sticks. Last October, I bought the complete “Blue Earth” set, after 15 years of painting with Pastels. I LOVE this set and now use it almost exclusively for art competitions, plein air and studio work. It is $1500 for 336 colors (I bought mine on sale at Dakota for $850. It is a new concept in pastels and palette organization with everything laid out in hue, value and intensity. If I had it all to do over again, I would just buy this set and about a dozen “specialty” sticks in high chroma colors and be done!! See it on page 2 & 3 of the Dakota catalog. Buy it if you really want to get serious and achieve top performance in the pastel world.
OPTIONAL PAN PASTELS – totally optional and Dakota has smaller starter sets. I will be introducing them for one of my live demos. A 20 color “landscape” set (recommended) is $84.00. You would also need their “Sofft” tools used exclusively for blending the colors and I would recommend the Combination set, ($28.00) which has them all. See page 51 in the Dakota catalog.
PASTEL PAPERS I am providing the “Basic Stroke Exercise” grids which are printed on 12×16 Canson Mi Tientes Pastel Paper. It is inexpensive textured paper and great for doing exercises on day 1., but right after doing the stroke exercise, we’re going to graduate to fancier, more textured, tinted pastel paper.
I still recommend my favorite surface (sanded papers) Sennelier La Carte 9 ½ x 12 ½ assorted color (12 sheet pads) for $42.00. It’s great pastel paper for indoor use (or perfect sunny weather) but the binder used to produce the surface will dissolve in water. The likelihood of rain is ever present, even in summer, so I am also recommending other brands for our plein air workshop.
As a substitute, ( or add-on) any of the following brands will work great.
Richeson Color Sampler (6 sheets) 9×12 $17.90. If this is the paper you decide to use, buy 2 pads.
Art Spectrum Colourfix Paper 9 ¾ x 12 ½ (10 pack) comes in both warm and cool colors $29 each. I recommend the warm color pad if you’re only buying one.
Canson Mi tientes “Touch” 9×12 (14 color sampler) $32.
11×14 (14 color sampler $39.00
U-Art 320 Grit 9×12 pad (comes only in cream color) $22.95. This is the best paper to use for alcohol wash under paintings.
“Personal Items” – Sun screen, sun hat, extra clothing layers – including a rain jacket, plenty of water for drinking and sack lunch/snacks, bug repellent, sturdy shoes.
Note: I always wear black or very dark shirts to minimize reflective glare on my work surface..
- Easel set-up for outdoors
- Backing Board
- Sketch book and pencils
- Tape or push pins to mount paper to backing board
- 3 in 1 Plus viewfinder
- Hard Pastel Stick set
- Soft Pastel Stick Set
- Pastel Paper Pads
- Tote Bag or backpack to carry gear
- Optional – umbrella, Pan Pastels
- I will provide the isopropyl alcohol, small liquid containers and cheap hardware store brushes for “washes” and under painting.
Questions? Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org