week third: chalk something

Today I thought about what would be not as daunting as paint but more of a stretch from my comfort zone than pen and pencil… I settled on chalk pastels.

The first thing I thought of was a silhouette type of drawing, with the subject as white space and a pattern of brilliant colors behind it. I did a search for that, silhouette and found a bunch of people. I guess I wasn’t that into chalking (around?) people, so I thought of how chalk stacks better than other medium. I found some really fun images on unsplash when I searched for transparent and followed a tag for shadow.

I found an image by Andrei Slobtsov that had the hard lines and layers I was now looking for.

I busted out my trusty old chalk pastel color set and looked at them. The standard set is very bright. The term pastel is misleading when it comes to chalks. They have brilliant pigment. However, I wanted more subtle tones to stay with the calm and coral reef type of feel of the image, and I thought earthy would be good, an orange, pink, red mix. Then I remembered: I have a set of south western earth tones. I think I like this brand, but there may be hard spots in the chalk sometimes that catch on the paper. Jury is still out. I then sketched out the shapes I wanted.

I didn’t even consider for long on what type of paper to use. It’s not just preference, paper with a lot of tooth holds the chalk better. You can layer on top of colors better. Chalk needs something to grab onto. Here’s a quick primer on surfaces for pastels. Texture makes detail a little harder, but I wanted detail, even if I wasn’t going to be able to hold the lines exact. I used a blue pencil for that. FYI: That is hard to change once it hits the paper. It damages the paper and colored pencil is not particularly erasable.

This is something I saw today on an Adobe video. Don’t get the wrong idea… I don’t usually spend too much time on random videos, but my computer decided I needed to know about a live virtual event with a graphic artist from Brooklyn. I was mildly intrigued so I clicked. It was a live stream. I got bored, okay, but I wanted to see her work.

I went to the artist’s site. Jenny Liaw is pretty fantastic: the art is raw and rough and I like it. She’s done artwork for Puma and Billy Eilish. The point is that I stumbled on this image of her working. I saw the blue lines and filed it away. Chalk sorta lends itself to this technique. Turns out I needed the file pretty quickly.

After a little bit of visualization and planning the colors, some exact, others different, I set about. I started at the top right, where that shadow has a couple of layers, but the red within the leaf shadow really catches your eye. I learned that I didn’t like filling in the shape really hard.

So, I moved into the large space of the wall without shadow. I thought I should backup a little and do the lightest colors first. This way I could keep using my smudge stick without cleaning (sanding) it. For this space I decided a lighter touch with the peach, and pink highlights would be best. I worked around the space, loosely filling in most of the space. I worked the chalk into the crevices of the leaf shadows and pushed it into the paper. I found myself tearing up the smudge stick a little, but I liked the texture that it gave it so I kept going.

I moved onto the center of the image, the shadows of two distinct leaves. I changed the brown color to orange, I wanted the colors to be somewhat brighter. This was a mixture of hard and soft strokes. I used the smudge stick to rub the hard lines in on the edges, which was the opposite from the technique used on the pink/peach wall. I worked the color to the edges but left them brighter by not making hard lines there. I think it helps to visually separate the layers.

The left upper leaf is not a shadow. This needed a little texture, which meant that now that I was as comfortable as I’ve ever been with the smudge stick I would use it again a little differently. I used hard and soft lines for the big palm leaf. I used the smudge stick, again, to push the pigment into the grooves of the paper to create hard lines, and tried to get hard smudges in different tones on the side of the leaf in order to make it look a little slick.

As the pastel drawing progressed, I learned a few things about pressure and the smudge stick.

What would I do differently? I think it needs the balance of the other dark green foreground leaf in the lower right. I would plan the full composition better with small dashes first. This would allow me to figure out where each element goes before I put down the full blue pencil outline.

Winging it in terms of composition is fun but sometimes you run the hell out of space.

I’m not the only one that struggles with the challenges of winging vs. planning. Sometimes you need to just start something, as this blog has certainly helped me get, again. Sometimes you need to plan better, like when you’re getting paid for something.

Likely, I will plan on winging it next week for the final blog in this little series, when I will paint something. It’s been fun getting my hands dirty.

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