Tag Archives: charcoal

pastel portrait

You learn something new every day. They forgot to mention that some of the stuff you learn really sucks. Today we learned that white paper causes the scanner light to overpower much of the more delicate shading with our charcoals and pastels. But, it’s nice to know that before you do 100 of them or something. This portrait used a friend’s baby photo as a reference.

pastel portrait 5

Check this out. You may know we’ve been frustrated with spray varnish, the way it makes our pastels and charcoal drawings look different once it’s applied. That was the spray varnish from the craft store, so we took a look around the hardware store instead. Where men go to make art and be men, etc. We thought polyurethane might work, but the guy at the paint counter suggested this Rustoleum product, shown below. At about half the price, it also gives us better results. It requires an optimum spraying technique. Spray too close and it soaks into the paper, leaving a darker area. Spray too far and it seems to dry in the air, covering the paper with a layer of grit. Spraying too fast or too slowly yields similar results.

rustoleum clear coat


charcoal planets 1 v2

Pastel Planets 1
Buy it as a print or card.

We mentioned our little problems with spray varnish before. Above, you see the post-varnish version, with some pastel touchups. For comparison, below is the original before varnish. Notice the more subtle whites, the more detailed highlights, and the slightly different hues of color in the original. While it was still damp, we hit it with some pastel to brighten up the highlights and add the atmosphere around the moon in the foreground.

charcoal planets 1

Either way, we learned to scan – carefully – before varnish to get the “true” image. We just did this charcoal/pastel thing to relax, anyways. The paint takes a while to dry on the acrylic version in the kitchen.

planets in progress

We’ve painted this canvas, layer upon layer, at least four or five times. Why? Because we have no clue! It just sounded like it would be fun to paint planets. The first version really sucked. The second version, in primary colors below, also sucked, but the composition was better. It provides the basic layout for the current version.


From there, we just kept trying different things. Is a fan brush useful for a cloudy atmosphere? Do these colors merging in a wash look like anything? Can you do stars point by point or just flick some white paint? What abstract techniques suggest the textures of rings? Earth tones or comic book colors? … and so on. It’s just one big experiment, after all.

charcoal bird 3

charcoal bird 3 -001

Pastel Bird
Pastel on toned tan paper.

Buy it as a print or greeting card.

charcoal bird 2

charcoal bird 2 -001

Again we experimented with mixing pastels in with the basic black charcoal. It scanned pretty well, but we processed the colors a little bit further in Picasa.

charcoal bird

charcoal bird -001

Bird 1
Pastel and charcoal on toned tan paper.

Buy it as a print or greeting card.

ellie in charcoal and some notes on materials

ellie in charcoal -007

Sleepy Kitty.
Pastel and charcoal on toned tan paper.

Buy it as a print or greeting card.
Buy the original, framed.

Afternoons are the best time to catch her napping. This drawing encountered a little problem. It had a lot of white highlights – until we sprayed it with a matte varnish. For not the first time we noticed that the spray made all the white charcoal seemingly disappear. Why does that happen? After the spray dried, we went over it all again in white, and reworked some of the grey areas too. We had the same problem on our rendering of lightning, which fortunately got scanned before the evil spray varnish un-whited it. We reworked that one today, too. Spraying both pieces a second time now left plenty of white showing through the varnish.

We tried a bunch of new stuff recently, and our mutant brains are still reeling from the impact.

Palette Knives – The plastic ones with level planes and multiple cutting edges turned out to be a LOT of fun. Finally, we can get some of the surface effects we admire in other abstracts. While the plastic ones are fun for experimentation, we can easily imagine buying a few more durable metal versions of our favorite shapes.

Red Gesso – This was fun even if we didnt really use it for its intended purpose each time. Buying more of it depends on the price. If it is cheaper than a comparable color of paint, we would consider buying it.

Clear Tar Gel – We can see how this is used in some modern art, now, for poured effects and so on. But we didnt like working with it. Paint doesnt seem to adhere to it dependably – which is part of the appeal, presumably, if your technique involves removing some paint from an upper layer to reveal the under layers. But we are more concerned with building up textures, which is why we much preferred the next thing:

Texture Paste – Texture paste, fuck yeah! While it doesn’t seem to go very far, this is a perfect substance for getting some really interesting surfaces for color washes and abstracts. We’ve gotten close with other materials but this one just seemed made for the job. We will be working with more of this.

Pumice Gel – We only used it once and we may not be calling it the right thing – but it was fun. What we used seemed about the consistency of texture paste but with grit. Anything that makes surfaces more complex for our abstracts is generally a “yes!” We especially like the way it made washes more texturally dynamic.

Iridescent Medium – Fun stuff. If you mix this with your paint, the dried result takes on the lustre of a pearl. It lives somewhere between ‘metallic’ and ‘glittery.’ We really dig the look, but arent sure what to do with it yet.

Retarder – This additive birthed a revelation: sometimes paint is better when it is retarded. It takes longer to dry and stays supple longer for brushing and washing. The right dose of retarder also gives it a more fluid consistency for smooth, fine brush work. Though we like that acrylics dry fast and you can get right to work on the next layer, sometimes they dry too fast to blend values or create surface effects.

Open Acrylics – Open acrylics take longer to dry, just like retarded ones. But they do it without any additive. Several times their longer open time proved to be just what we needed – for large surfaces and/or blending colors. On the other hand, they can be a drag when you have to wait for what seems like two hours before going back to a canvas with multiple washes. You think it’s safe to spray on some water and get to work – but then your last layer begins to “open” back up and bleed. Oops. Golden’s open acrylics may be some of the best colors we’ve yet seen come out of a paint tube, but sometimes you wish they would just dry. While we are going to work a lot more with these beautiful paints, we suspect the perfect solution would be getting colors of this caliber in a regular form, and adding retarder when we need more open time.

ellie in charcoal

Pastel and charcoal on toned tan paper.

Buy it as a print or card.

You might not notice the Frank Miller influence here, but we’re huge fans of Sin City. In several of the stories, Miller uses just a single primary color as an occasional highlight to his stark black and white renderings. The idea of limiting your selection is a powerful creative tool for artists in any medium. The blank page – whether a music staff, a canvas, or drawing paper – can intimidate with its unlimited possibilities. Throwing out the majority of them to choose a few select elements brings your project into focus. Today, we decided to add to our neutral tones for Ellie by using pastels to capture the colors of her eyes.

ellie lounging 8


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