Pastel Painting Process (Part 2)

With the drawing complete, now comes time to transfer the image onto the actual support.  In the case of this painting I’m using an 18×24, sand color, Ampersand Pastel Board.  The pastel boards are one of the best supports I’ve found for working with pastels.  The ¼” Masonite board offers a very strong, yet moderately flexible base.  The working surface of the board is evenly coated with a kaolin clay surface, which then has a grit filled primer applied to it to provide the final working surface.  The end product is sturdy, takes a great deal of abuse with drawing, erasing, scraping, etc., and most important takes several layers of pastel.  And because it is a sturdy board, there is much less complication with preparing the finished work for framing.  Compared to many of the pastel papers, pastel board is hands down a better choice.

I transfer the image onto the board by rubbing the backside of the drawing paper with white chalk, or pastel.  The paper is then affixed to the pastel board and secured with tape to prevent it from slipping during the transfer drawing.  Finally, I take a .5 art pen and carefully trace over all the lines in my original drawing.  The pressure of the pen transfers the white chalk onto the pastel board surface giving a near exact copy of the original.


Finally, it’s time to get down to putting color onto the surface.  To do this I use Photoshop to create a 4 level posterized version of my working image.  This gives me some basic shapes, and generalized local color maps to use for laying down what will essentially be the underpainting.  Matching the colors exactly at this point is not a necessity, although it does help to be close.  I try to find ways of using the same color in different areas, in this case the red, tan, rust, and grays were used in several different areas of the painting.  This will lend itself to a sense of continuity as the painting progresses.  It’s also very important at this point not to focus on a great amount of detail.  This is all about covering the surface with color and creating the next stage of roadmap for the final painting.


Once all the underpainting color is laid in, I spray the entire surface with 91% alcohol spray.  This breaks down the pigment and basically lets it melt onto the pastel board surface.  This fixes the pigment to the surface and makes it less likely to smudge or smear.  It also increases the amount of future pastel I’ll be able to lay down on the surface, which will become crucial as the painting gets into the fine detail stage.


Coming up in my next blog post I’ll start putting down the initial color values that will start to bring the painting to a more realistic appearance.  If you have questions about my process, or my paintings, feel free to stop by my store Barry Darnall Art.  Take a look at my current work for sale, or use the Messenger link to contact me directly with your questions.  Barry


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

Work in Progress – Face Details

This evening it was time to focus on cleaning up and refining the details in the face of the Lincoln portrait.  Aside from warming up several areas, I reworked the nose and eyes, added detail and shape around the mouth, and started work on the beard and hair.  I’ll probably move on to work on the hands next then go back to the face again later.  Moving around in a painting keeps you from overworking an area, helps build continuity (especially dealing with fleshtones), and gives you time to look at an area with fresh eyes which makes errors more obvious.  Stay tuned for more updates as the portrait progresses.  Barry

Barry Darnall Art

Work in Progress

Barry Darnall Art

Work is underway on another painting, this time of Abraham Lincoln.  In case you didn’t know Lincoln is far and away my favorite President, followed close behind by Washington, Jefferson, and Reagan.  Lincoln, however, has been a return subject for me on a number of occasions.  I’m not sure if it is because of what he accomplished as President, how he accomplished it, or simply because the nature of the man himself seems so out of character with so many others who have held that office.

The image I’m working from is also a long time favorite, taken by famed civil war era photographer Matthew Brady, who is responsible for most of the iconic Lincoln images.  This one in particular shows President Lincoln in a very classical pose, with very dramatic lighting, and captures what I believe is the real Lincoln.  If you spend enough time looking at the photograph you begin to realize that despite the toll of war and the presidency and likely illness, Lincoln remained a physically substantial person.  His hands are those of a man who has done labor, and strength in how he carries himself.  But it is the look on his face, and contemplative gesture of his hand, that really seems to bring out what I want to believe was the real quality Lincoln brought to the office.  He was a man of thought and principle in a time when reason and decency were not always at the forefront in our nation.

Stop by at my Work in Progress page for more photos as the painting moves along.   Barry



Open for Business

I’m very excited to announce that my new online store, “Barry Darnall Art” is now up and running.  In the coming weeks and months I’ll be adding new products including prints of previous work, limited edition prints, and original artwork for you to simply enjoy looking at (I hope) or purchase for yourself or a gift (I really hope  🙂 ).

When you stop by my store, at, please take a moment and sign up for my e-mail list to get the latest news about new offerings, works in progress, and special deals.  I’ll be setting up a Grand Opening special soon so keep your eyes peeled!

So please stop by and take a look, let me know what you think, and offer any suggestions or thoughts you might have about the store and what you’d like to see.

Thanks and All the Best


Reflecting On Success

It’s been a short while since my last blog post and a lot has happened in that time.  I completed a complex piece…twice (more on that in a bit), I took a much-needed vacation to FL, I got engaged to a wonderful woman who supports me amazingly in my art endeavors, and I’m re-charged with new ideas for next year’s pieces.  All in all, it’s been a great couple of months.  Now it’s time to get back into the groove and get some things accomplished.  So, expect to see more from me in the coming days, weeks, and months.

A huge part of why I stepped away for a bit was to focus on completing a piece for Diane’s parents.  We’d talked about it for some time.  Diane suggested I do an abstract piece, and while I did give it some consideration, abstract just isn’t where my interest lies when it comes to putting pen, pencil, brush, or stick to work.  We did some more searching and after a while came across several great images on a website for artists and photographers, Paint My Photo , which is a great resource and venue for artists and photographers (If you’re an artist looking for great subjects, or a photographer looking to share your work and potentially see it used by artists in their work, this is the place to go).

The image we chose, by photographer Sandy Scott, was of an egret looking down at its own reflection in the water.  The colors and general design of the image both caught our attention, and the subject matter offered me a new challenge in several ways.  The biggest challenge, and a large focus for me in the next year, was the complex amount of color in the image (admittedly not a skill I’ve worked on as much as I should).  Most of my work has been in pencil and charcoal.  The other challenges included reflections, ripples in water, and feathers, all things I’ve never drawn/painted to any great degree over the years.

I started the piece in October, making a mistake I knew was a mistake when I made it, and found myself restarting it almost from scratch the first week of November.  I had decided to do the piece in pastel, which lets me work in color but still enjoy the feel of drawing, and knew this piece would require several layers of pastel to finish even close to the way I would want it to look.  As I neared the point of seeing the finish line, the limitation of my support surface and the nature of pastel caught up to me.  I had too many layers of pastel down for the surface to hold any more.  I tried several different fixes for the problem (scraping off pastel, fixing with workable fixative, dissolving pigmented areas with alcohol) all no avail.  It was time to learn my lesson and start over.

Fortunately, much of the hard work was done as the layout and drawing were already done.  I did a very detailed tracing and transferred the lines onto the new support (a sand textured surface on hardboard).  I already had most of the colors figured out and things moved along much quicker than with the original.  Within about two weeks of evenings and weekends it was ready to go.  Diane and I framed it up, boxed it for the trip southward, and I used it as a clever ruse to hide her engagement ring in the car…J.  Her folks seemed to like it well enough and I’ve gotten several compliments from others who’ve seen it.  All in all, a success I think.

Sometimes You Have to Prepare

I’m taking a short break from writing (not too long) so I can work on a couple of different pieces that have been burning a hole in my pocket.  The images for both are from a great website  Paint My Photo where photographers share their photographs specifically so artists can use them as reference.  The images are free to use for drawing or painting, with no royalty, other than acknowledging the photographer and sharing your work on the site for others to enjoy.

I’ve not done a great deal of wildlife or animal drawings, but this image really struck me as one that will look great in graphite.  The drawings are just a couple of preparatory sketches I’ve done to work out some changes and layout before I get started on the final piece.  This is a really important step in the process of drawing as it gets you started seeing your subject, identifying what works and what needs improvement, and sorting out potential surprises before you get too far gone into a finished piece and then discover that stick you decided not to draw is a leg.


I try to do a couple of prep drawings to figure out light and shadow areas, as well as refining layout and composition.  Sometimes these are very quick and have little detail, and sometimes they are more complete.  Either way, the answers you get can be invaluable when it comes time to put pencil to paper.   I’ll add some progress images soon as I get started on the actual piece.   Barry

When a Book is Almost a Book

I’m starting to get close on the book.  I still have a few drawing projects to work through, tons of photographs to take, layout and design of the final product, and of course the ever important title to figure out.  I’m shooting for a final project date of November 1st and publishing it shortly thereafter.  I’ll try to post some photos and excerpts in the coming weeks.

This has all been quite a journey and learning process for me.  I’ve already revised several parts of the book, re-thought my approach, re-drafted my outline, added and removed and re-added sections, and even this late in the game there are changes I’m considering.  I have started setting some harder deadlines for myself, which I’m discovering is an absolute must.

For the title I’m thinking about posting several that I’ve come up with to see how well they play, and perhaps staging a completely unscientific poll to choose the final one.  Should be an interesting exercise given what I know about several of the people who might add their special brand of insight.

On top of all this, I’m already contemplating another couple of writing projects.  I’m trying to keep my thoughts limited right now, however, so I can get this one done first.  We shall see.