A portrait of Nell
a portrait of Nell
Whether you’re painting wildlife or domestic pets, the techniques for producing a pastel portrait are the same. PA Vic Bearcroft shows you how
When I’m working on a piece for sale, I like to spend a lot of time on the fur texture, layering several times, trying to achieve a high level of realism.
However, it is possible to create a lovely pastel portrait in just a few simple stages.
Once you have mastered these steps, you can then practise your techniques and push yourself to greater levels of realism if that is your aim.
For this demonstration, I have selected a photograph of one of my cats to work from; Nell, a beautiful young tabby.
The surface I am using is velour paper, ideal for painting animals in pastels, as it gives a lovely soft finish without smudging.
Begin by creating a fairly detailed drawing of Nell, using the sharp corners of the hard black pastel.
Note that I have also used the flat side of the black pastel to establish general areas of soft shadow and dark tones.
Stage 2 is the ‘under-painting’. The purpose of under-painting is to add basic colour and tonal values over the initial monochrome drawing. This will start to give your subject shape and form.
As Nell’s fur is a mix of greys, browns and yellowish tones, I have selected a Raw Sienna soft pastel to stroke in the darker areas of fur, followed by Smoke Grey for the mid-tone grey fur, and finally the Light Yellow Ochre for the light coloured fur.
Make sure that you stroke the pastel in the direction of fur growth, and pay close attention to the length of fur in the area you are painting.
TIP: By stroking your finger over each section as you apply the pastel, you will push the pigment down into the fibres of the velour, at the same time removing excess. This will allow you to apply many more layers of pastel.
Now that the fur tones and textures are established, you can add some more details.
First of all, take the hard Rose Carmine pastel and gently ‘brush’ some of this colour into the ear facing you. Soften the edges with your finger to eliminate any hard outlines.
Then, with the same pastel, colour the tip of Nell’s nose.
Now for the eyes.
Again, stroke your finger over these two colours to create a softer look.
To complete our pastel portrait of Nell, we now need to introduce some contrast.
Contrast will give your painting a lift, and take it from looking flat and a little dull, to having more depth, and therefore, more realism.
The first part of this contrast stage uses the hard Black pastel to emphasise some of the darker tabby fur markings. As before, use the sharp corners of the pastel for this.
Then pick out and sharpen the more important features – around the nose, whisker follicles, the pupils and around the eyes.
The second part of the contrast stage, and indeed, the final step of your painting should be the highlights.
Use the hard White pastel to pick out a few highlights in the fur, but try not to overdo this. Remember that white is very strong, and should be used sparingly, or it could look artificial, especially in an animal painting.
You can use a little more of the white around the eyes, nose and mouth areas, as this will help to project these important features forward.
Add a few white whispy hairs in the ears, and draw in the whiskers.
Finally, add some sharper reflections in the eyes to give them life.
TIP: Remember that reflections are just that, they reflect sky, clouds, trees, etc. Putting a single white dot in the centre of the eye takes away the natural shine, and looks false.
I really hope you have a go at this lovely portrait of Nell, and that you will find that painting animals in pastels on velour is a great combination, as well as a lot of fun.
Remember that you will achieve the best results with velour paper, so get some, try this demonstration.
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