Pastel Landscapes

Expressive Skies

Les Darlow

Les Darlow loves the versatility of pastels

Painting with expression, passion and feeling took some time for me to realise, having been trained as a technical and scientific illustrator at college. I have spent the last few
years working with pastels, getting to grips with their instantaneous, expressive and manipulative nature, giving me a freedom I have not before encountered. They are amazing, versatile, instant and so manoeuvrable

  Preparation is the key

I have found that if I get the technical side taken care of at the preparation stage, I can paint with feeling and passion. Firstly I have the concept or idea; this often comes from a weather event, be it a storm, frosty morning or simply a wonderful colourful sunrise. I make a few quick tonal value and composition sketches which helps me visualise where the lights and darks are going to be. I think the worst thing when you are trying to paint with expression and feeling is getting to a certain point in a painting and thinking, “Okay, what next?” Having decided on the concept, a sunrise in this case, I select my palette and then often create a few small five minute colour sketches to get a feel for the painting. Now, I am ready to paint!

Having sketched in my scene
I added the cool sky colours,
working from dark to light
introducing three blues, 1168,
0618 and 0365, applying the
pastel in the direction of the light.
Painting skies in a sketchy, free way
helps to capture the feeling of
clouds building, dispersing and
dissipating, wisps of gases moving
across the sky.

Next I introduced all the
warmer sky colours,
concentrating on the wispy light
touches of pastel, building layer
upon layer of all those warm colours
in my palette, plus a little light
Prussian Blue and Violet for the
clouds just above the horizon.
When I create atmospheric skies,
I add lots of colours and mix them
on the paper.

When blending a sky I don’t blend
it all to allow the colour of the
paper to show through in places,
keeping it fresh and spontaneous.
Be careful to add the right amount
of pastel; too little and it will
be painful on you fingertips,
if you use your fingers to blend,
and too much and colours won’t mix
very well, smearing across the paper.

The sky now has the lovely soft
feeling of a morning sunrise and
for extra interest I added a few
morning jet contrails using a yellow
and orange. The main feature in the
painting is the castle, so I added
this using a mixture of all the
colours used in the sky on a base
of Dark Prussian Blue, leaving a
more subtle soft finish to the
right hand edge of the painting
to draw the viewer in. I didn’t
blend this as I wanted to keep it
fresh, bearing in mind that the light
will catch the left hand side of the
castle extremities. As the reflection
of the castle will be extended
downwards considerably I used
vertical and horizontal strokes of
pastel using dark Prussian Blue,
Violet, Blue Grey and Turquoise or

To create a realistic reflection of
the castle and sky in the water,
I added a few warmer colours before
using my fingers to drag the colour
downwards (you can use a blender if
you prefer). When doing this make
sure you drag straight down, and in
one go; if you keep going over this
it will turn muddy. Note how the
reflection has different lengths of
pastel strokes and that the colour
of the paper is clearly visible.

For the sea I dragged the cooler
blue colours across first, from
left to right, using the side of
the pastel, trying not to fill the
whole tooth of the paper. If you
look closely you can see lots of the
Twilight paper colour coming through.
Next I used a sharper pastel to add
the harder reflective, horizontal
lines to break up the reflection and
add some touches of light. To finish
off I added a fishing boat to the left,
rather subdued in the early morning
misty sunrise.


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