Try Your Hand at...

Woodland Walk in Pastel with Ian Risley

Ian uses SAA Soft Pastels to capture the colours in the sunlight and the trees, and shows you how to use a dark pastel background to great effect.

Let's get started...

My attention was captured by the colours in the sunlight and the path. This is a perfect opportunity to explore how light and shadow can be exploited to great effect on a dark background.

1 Using a black pastel pencil, gently sketch in the position of the key trees and the direction of the path. Try to make the right hand side of the trees darker than the left as the first suggestion of shadow. Leave random spaces in the lines of the tree trunks – these will be covered with a suggestion of foliage.

2 Now begin to add light colour in the sky and the sunlit side of the tree trunks using Cobalt Blue 9 and Yellow Ochre 9, with Smoke Grey 5 for the neutral tones in the trees and shadows around the path.

3 Now try and establish more light and shadow in the path and foliage of the trees using the three greens, bringing in Turquoise Blue for the shadow areas, especially the path.

4 Introduce Dioxazine Violet onto the path to add excitement to the shadows and continue adding the three greens as in the previous stage, blending with your fingers to soften the light. To increase the contrast, add a few specks of White into the sky and on the left hand side of the main 'feature' tree.

Add a small amount of Burnt Umber into the gaps in between the trees to give more depth to the scene. At this stage I decided I had overdone it with the Burnt Umber so I glazed more greens and Yellow Ochre over it to lighten it again. Remember, you don't have to get it right every time! I see a pastel landscape as a journey with a beginning and an end and sometimes you will take a wrong turning occasionally. I sometimes feel my own landscapes can be a series of mistakes which I rectify one by one until the picture is finished.

5 Finally, add Permanent Magenta into the path and Smoke Grey into the foreground either side of the path. Try to re-establish the brilliance of the colours over areas where you have worked in the pastel with your fingers into the tooth of the paper to keep it fresh and bright. You can also scratch in the vertical lines in some of the tree trunks with a Black Pastel Pencil.

I spent 2 - 3 hours on the picture in total and it's often possible to be too close to the work to spot something which is not quite right. So I would recommend putting it in a position at home for a few days where you would see it from time to time before deciding if any more needs to be done to improve it.

However, I think this is a good exercise to show how well vibrant pastels will work on a dark paper. The main point is to remember the best reason for painting - for the enjoyment of it, so good luck and have fun!