Building a Studio

Like many artists, I have created space for my art in a spare room in my home to paint. I used an old easel I had purchased 45 years ago for painting until I had a good paintings sales month last year and I bought a terrific American made “Best” easel that will tilt forward for pastel work.  I have a made a temporary Taboret that works fine for now, but eventually want to replace it with something more functional.  The room is otherwise comfortable and has worked well for a number of years.

Unfortunately like many bedrooms, the room is not well lit and it is on the north side of the house. Although I have added track lighting, and it provides sufficient light, it is too warm a light.  This gives me incorrect readings for my pastels and I have to take whatever I am working on out into natural light to check my values and shades.  I find the values way off in this light and wonder if other artists have this problem.



In warm but not hot weather when I am doing a studio piece, I will sometimes move my French easel out to the back deck and take advantage of the natural light to paint my landscapes. This summer with too many hot days in the high 90’s and low 100’s that has been out of the question on too many days. 

Checking values and shades is so much easier when doing plein air work.  The light on the subject is more natural and one sees shadows more correctly.  Painting from photos is more of a challenge than plein air work because the camera does not have the ability to capture the scene as well as our eyes.  I enjoy plein air painting when I have the opportunity to get out on my own or with friends and can use plein air studies to create larger works or if I am happy with them, frame them as is.

I have wanted to build an actual dedicated studio on the east side of our home for many years.  This year I saved some money from a long contract job with UC Davis that will allow me to build the new studio. The studio will occupy space that is currently an open redwood deck on the north side of our home that has outlived its life span.  I have spent the better part of the last ten days demolishing the deck, moving sprinkler lines, pier supports for the old deck, a concrete patio made from square paving stones and moving a fence and preparing the site to begin construction.  There is still a sidewalk that must be broken up and eliminated. There is so much junk to demolish, and dispose of and I am exhausted!

The final plans for the studio are almost done.  I reviewed the preliminary sketches and made some changes.  The plans have to be reviewed by an architect to make sure that proper calculations for the roof load and ridge support are all correct.  I am getting excited about construction starting this month if we can get the plans approved by the county without delay.  Today, I am taking a day off from all this work to relax and paint.  

Framing Our Pastel Creations

All of us have a passion to paint the beauty we see, and try to capture that beauty on our choice of pastel paper.  But just painting a scene that moved us or scene we created is half of the job. Properly framing the work so that it draws the viewer to the piece is as important as getting the values right when one is painting it.  When we take all that time to paint that scene we hope will get the notice of the judge, or will satisfy a client, we must be sure that the framed painting is going to last by being properly framed.  I have been amazed at how poorly framed some of the paintings are at art shows, and how little care was taken with this important part of the presentation.  Some poorly framed pieces come apart in shipping and the painting can be damaged or destroyed.  Improper matting, or a gaudy frame, will take away from the painting and cause the judge and other viewers to keep walking by. 

Framing can be expensive if you have a professional do that portion of the presentation for you.  A good framer can be provide guidance with the correct mat, or making a decision to use no mat at all.  The service of a professional can more than triple the price of framing. The price of commercially purchased frames in retail art stores is just one chunk out of your art budget, and the costs of mats, the type of glass and proper backing keep the sales clerk pushing buttons on the register tabulating all the costs to complete the framing and putting hooks and wire on the back so it can be hung.  The final bill gives one a gasp of shock, because it just ate most of your art budget for the next two months.  

If you are going to make the decision to frame your own work, then I encourage you to attend a workshop on framing or buy a book on framing that gives you some fall back information.  The first step in framing is to take the time to select nice quality simple frames to show you care and value your pastel painting.   Hopefully before you get started framing, you can take the pastel outside and gently spank the back to allow any loose pastel to fall off harmlessly, rather than doing that in the frame.  If you are not going to mat the painting and you did not use a pre-mounted paper, make sure it is properly mounted on a piece of acid free foam core with Lineco acid free linen tape or some other brand. Use a proper art spacer to space your painting away from the glass so that pastel dust is not drawn to the glass by static electricity. 

If you are going to mat your pastel painting, be sure to mat it with neutral matting that does not draw ones eye away from the painting.  Most rag mats are acid free.  I have used accent mats but found that the color of that accent mat may be the one thing that makes a prospective buyer decide that it will not fit in with their color scheme.  Lately I have been framing with double white mats with a spacer mat in between.  The spacer creates more distance from the glass and also allows pastel dust that decides to come loose to have a place to go without piling up on the edge of the bevel of the mat. 

Once my piece is mounted and properly matted, with the mats secured at the top with acid free tape so they will not move, I carefully place the painting in its frame.  A lot of store bought frames come with a back board made of thin Masonite. I will use this and secure it firmly in place with framing inserts.  Sometimes the ones that are there can be bent back when the backing is removed and cardboard taken out and then pushed flat once the painting and mats are put in place.   Once the painting is tightly secured, it should be sealed with an adhesive framing tape that seals the air gap between the picture back and the frame.  This way no bugs or moisture can migrate into your pastel painting.  

You are almost done, but now must attach flat eye straps that can be screwed into the frame to attach the hanging wire.  I use a plastic coated wire and provide plenty of extra wire twisted together at both ends and secured with tape so that people hanging the painting do not get poked.   

Lastly I put a piece of paper on the back that gives the tile of the painting, the catalog number and where it was painted as well as my name and signature.  Now you have a quality piece of art, properly mounted and displayed that can be hung in a gallery anywhere to attract new clients. Now get back to painting!

Plein Air Painting

Some people have no idea what plein air painting is since the words are French and mean "fresh air painting." There are many plein air painters today and even a great magazine dedicated to the subject that inspires one to want to go out with the group. I have been trying to get out more to paint on location having read how much it improves one's art and sense of color. I would have to say that those who tout painting outdoors on site are right on the money.   

Two weeks ago I packed up my French Easel, grabbed my Dakota pastel carrier, and Better Brella and a bottle of water and went off to paint a barn I had been wanting to paint. The barn is located on Wise Road at Linnet Lane on the back road way to Lincoln from Auburn. It was a sunny cloudless day, and a comfortable temperature when I arrived on scene at 9:15 am.  I decided that I would set up in the back of my Nissan P/U because it afforded a nice spacious level platform that was safe to stand on, and raised me a foot or so higher than if I had been down on the road.  

My plein air painting setup

My plein air painting setup

I took out my viewer and made a decision as to the dimensions of my painting on the 9"X12" piece of Wallis sanded paper I had taped to the wood pallet board. I first did a value sketch in my sketchbook of what would be my painting using a #3 pencil. Once that was done, I sketched the barn lightly on the Wallis paper along with the trees in the background.  I then roughed in an undercoat using some NuPastels in the major blocks I had determined. I used an orange behind the trees, some light yellow, in the sky and a darker brown where the barn would go, and a dark ochre undercoat where the foreground grasses would be. I then used Turpenoid and a 1/2 brush I had brought along to liquify the pastel and give me a nice base to begin my painting. Since it was warming up quickly, it only took about ten minutes for the undercoat to dry.

I then began using various hard and then soft pastels to bring the painting colors together, and capture the essence of what I was looking at. The barn began to take shape with its rusted roof, and multicolored wood siding. I managed to lock down the values on the shady side and in the surrounding trees and grasses. There were a lot of corral fences around the barn, and I roughed them in to get the correct placement, figuring I would complete those details at home in my studio. The sun was getting warmer as it rose and I was grateful I had brought along my umbrella to shade my painting and part of me as I worked. I locked in the sky, tree and grass colors to bring the painting together and felt comfortable with the paintings foundations. I packed up around 12:30 to head home since it was getting quite warm and the light was changing significantly. I was glad I had shot a few pictures when I first arrived on scene as a reference.

Sounds of Silence

Sounds of Silence

Once I was home and had a chance to have some lunch I began to tackle the fences and to add some detail and shading. I have entitled the finished piece "The Sound of Silence". Unfortunately, like many old barns, this one is no longer used and sits quietly, gradually deteriorating with no maintenance against the elements.





So Many Pastels to Choose From

I don’t know about you, but I am always on the lookout for new colors of pastels that will round out my palette.  I try to have one of every color I need whatever the subject I am painting plein aire. When I am in my studio I have my sets of Prismacolor and Gallery hard pastels for under painting. I also have quite a number of Rembrandt and Winsor Newton soft pastels that get me started on my layers of color. Once I begin building color, I add in the Schminke and Sennelier pastels in some of the light and dark ranges I have purchased to add different hues, and value.

Selling one of my paintings helps to give me justification to purchasing more supplies.  That was the reason I decided to splurge and buy the wonderful soft and lush Richard McKinley selection of Great American pastels at a demonstration last year.  In speaking with other pastel artists, one is always attracted to new colors, or wanting to try different brands that are offered at tantalizing prices. They are like eye candy to me.  I haven’t tried any of Dakota Art’s new Blue Earth pastels, but Richard McKinley said he bought a whole set and really likes them. They are organized by hue, value and intensity of color on a seven value scale and each one is numbered. The sets are arranged like candy and seem to beckon to me, saying, “Buy me!” I really want to have a reason to buy them and try them.

I have heard a number of people rave about the American made Mount Vision pastels, but to date I have not purchased any.  I did decide to try some of the beautiful soft and Rich Terry Ludwig pastels and definitely will have to get some more.  This month, Dakota Art offered a half stick set of Unison pastels, Jan’s Dark Side 30 piece set and I could not resist making that purchase. I was delighted when they came yesterday and I began checking them out on a piece of pastel paper to determine how dark they really were compared to my existing darks.  I was pleasantly surprised and pleased that they were darker than anything I had purchased to date.

Dakota Pastel Case

Dakota Pastel Case

That purchase made me carefully reorganize my Dakota travel case and include 27 of the 30 pastels in the diverse palette that I carry. I have been able to wedge in 357 different half stick pastels in this case, and fill every available space.  I don’t plan on buying a bigger travel case, but I when the bug hits me, I may still have to buy new varieties to flush out my studio selection.