Pastel Painting Process (Part 1)

“The Ride”

Selecting the image you want to work from is easily the first, most important part of the process.  This is where you start from, and a weak image, one that lacks appealing and interesting elements, is not a great starting point.  This doesn’t mean it is impossible to start with a less than wonderful image and turn it into something great, however, just like building a house a great foundation goes a long way.

For this painting, I chose a photograph from Paint My Photo photographer Pauline Govaert.  Her shot of a rodeo cowboy riding a bronco captured several great elements:  the cowboy stretched out one direction while the horse is pulling the opposite direction trying to unseat him, the power of the horse demonstrated in flexed muscles and a look of determination on its face, and the grimace of the cowboy’s face as his muscles and joints strain to withstand the ride for eight long seconds.  Even as good a photograph as it is, there were still changes I felt were needed to make it a successful painting.  Among the elements I changed, or removed:  I completely eliminated the chase horse and cowboy at the left of the original image as I felt they served as more of a distraction than anything else;  I cut down the figures along the fence from four to just three to take advantage of the tension created by odd numbers of objects in an image;  I eliminated the tassels along the fringe of the cowboy’s chaps again out of concern for distraction, but also for fear they might become a focus of the painting rather than the horse and rider.  These are all ways an artist makes decisions about the image that they believe will make it a stronger, more interesting painting.

I pull my images into Adobe Photoshop and onto a large monitor, which allows me to crop the image to the same format as my support (in this case an Ampersand 18×24 pastel board), zoom the view to a size that allows me to see details more easily or zoom out to see the entire composition, it also allows me to place lines across the image that I mirror on the drawing as guidelines for placement of the image.  Many artists, myself included at times, use printed images as their source or even a combination of paper and electronic images.  And no, using a monitor and technology is not cheating.  If so, DaVinci, Michelangelo, Carravagio and the rest of that disreputable lot are just as guilty as myself and other artists today.


The finished drawing, or Cartoon, is a fairly complete representation of the image as a whole, with the detail I believe is needed to complete the painting.  I’ll spray a working fixative on it to keep the graphite from smudging during the transfer stage.  To transfer the image to my support I’ll use white chalk or pastel to cover the back side of my drawing.  I’ll secure the drawing to the pastel board and trace over the lines of the drawing with a .5 ink pen.  When finished, I’ll have a nearly exact duplicate of my original drawing on the support as a roadmap to start the painting journey.  Before I start the actual painting, I’ll spray the transfer drawing with a light coat of alcohol to fix it to the board so I don’t smudge my map when I start laying down my first pass of pastel.


I’ll update again soon as I make some progress on laying down the first layer of local colors, shadows, midtones, and highlights.

Barry Darnall Art


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