LINDY COOK SEVERNS
Big Bend Artist
Old Spanish Trail Studio
PO Box 2167
Fort Davis, TX 79734
Above: A richly colored underpainting of pastel is washed onto the canvas with alcohol. I followed that with successive layers of pastel to ultimately create IN GREEN PASTURES, the 16" x 20" pastel shown below.
Lindy Cook Severns paints successive layers of soft pastel colors to create "A Place of Eagles" on Ampersand Pastelbord.
Photo by Jim Severns 2014
IN GREEN PASTURES 16" x 20" pastel Lindy C Severns
Davis Mountains ranch land in Far West Texas
"Now that you've rubbed flour into sandpaper for me, I must confess that unlike most pastelists, I rarely blend my colors.
SANDED PASTEL PAPER/CANVAS will successfully hold SOFT PASTEL PIGMENT without you rubbing it in. I promise.
When I was first doing serious pastel painting, I used mechanic's wet/dry sandpaper as my canvas. That's all I could get in Lubbock, Texas. Or, I made my own pastel board by coating masonite with layers of grit-sprinkled gesso. When we sold our Lubbock home, faint squares of gesso still decorated the front porch." ~ Lindy Cook Severns
The development of high quality, commercial archival sanded canvases has allowed pastel painting to evolve into an elite painting medium. Each brand has its own characteristics. If you're a pastel artist, experiment. I like these papers: Pastel Premier, Uart, and Pastelmat.
BIG BEND ARTIST TIP:
I often use ARCHIVAL AMPERSAND PASTELBORD for smaller pastel paintings, 18" x 24" down, especially when painting on location, en plein air.
Boards are more convenient than paper, which must be cut and taped to a board before painting.
Pastelbord has less TOOTH than Uart or Premiere, so I don't use it for my large pastels, which are more heavily layered.
BIG BEND ARTIST TIP:
To understand TOOTH, imagine sprinkling flour onto a piece of copier paper, then rubbing it in. Then sprinkle the same amount of flour onto a piece of very fine sandpaper. Rub that in, too.
Hold up the two surfaces (your canvases) with your now-abraded and bleeding fingers. Where does the most flour remain? (Besides the floor, which, hopefully you thought to cover with newspaper before you began this useful experiment.)
TOOTH refers to the grabbing quality, the texture of a surface. Tooth is the Significant Other to Soft Pastel Sticks.
Sanded, Museum Grade Paper is a heavily-toothed surface that holds multiple layers of soft pastel. High quality brands of fine art archival sanded paper include Uart, Pastelmat, Ampersand Pastelbord and Premiere Pastel Paper.
"A sanded archival canvas allows me to LAYER my pigments, which yields the glow you see in many of my paintings." -Lindy Severns
PIGMENT is the material of color.
Pigment is combined with binder to make paint. Oil paints have pigment mixed with oil (oil is the binder for oil paint). Watercolors use water, acrylics use plastic. Colored pencils have a wax-based binder. Oil pastels have an oil binder and aren't related to soft pastels, though both are "sticks" of color.
Soft Pastels, with a minimal clay binder depend on compression to create sticks. Rich in pigment, pastel sticks yield pure, intensely vivid and unchanging color.
While many remarkable pastel drawings exist, painting with pastels is a different animal. Painting in soft pastels requires a specialized painting surface. Artists often refer to their painting surface as CANVAS, but with pastels, the surface is usually paper or prepared board.
Lindy says, "I like to think every painting I start will be treasured for centuries, so I only paint on ARCHIVAL* SURFACES."
Art-Speak: *ARCHIVAL refers to an acid-free, non-reactive canvas. "Archival" means it won't fade, yellow or turn brittle like those newspapers in Grandma's attic are so prone to do.
SOFT PASTELS are pure color. Pastel sticks are pigment (color) compressed into stick form.
PASTEL STICKS (pastelists somewhat irreverently call these very expensive clumps of color "sticks") are held together with a minimal amount of BINDER (usually clay).
The softer (and more expensive) pastel sticks have the least binder in them and, the most pure pigment. They are the most difficult sticks for an artist to use, but they yield the richest, most brilliant color.
BIG BEND ARTIST TIP:
Blending vs. Layering Color
I DO blend my pastel skies, sometimes until the sandy surface abrades my fingertips so deeply, I must call it quits until I heal. Seriously. That happens on a large sky.
Don't know why or how I developed this technique of blending color into pastel skies until the canvas holds no more.
In the rest of my painting, there's no blending, smudging, rubbing. Instead, I stroke on layers of color, color over color over color. Sort of like cross-hatching, as in a pen and ink drawing. The advantage of layering color instead of blending it is that by layering, the viewer’s eyes must fill in the gaps. The viewer subconsciously visually blends the colors in one of my paintings.
It's a way for me to invite the viewer to participate in the painting.
"thick sticks of compressed pigment; pure color which, when skillfully applied to an appropriate surface, allow an artist to create permanent magic"
~ Lindy Cook Severns,
LINDY COOK SEVERNS
Are you an artist? Read Lindy's Outlaw Pastelist Blog for fellow pastel painters.
BIG BEND ARTIST TIP: Mixed Media
Because they are simply pigment, soft pastels can be happily mixed with any painting medium, and many fine artists produce delightful MIXED MEDIA paintings using pastels and watercolors (or whatever ) in the same painting.
I used to do this. Now, I'm generally too lazy to use two mediums in one painting. That doesn't mean YOU shouldn't try it.
Watercolors make an especially nice underpainting for a soft pastel because they don't fill too much of the paper's tooth.
Just be sure to let some of your brilliant underpainting show through to create a glowing effect.
PROPERLY PREPARED AND FRAMED PASTEL PAINTINGS ARE NOT FRAGILE
Seriously. Pastel Paintings are tougher than they look.
FRAMING and sealing an unfixed pastel under GLAZING (glass or acrylic) protects it from air pollutants, UV rays and smudgy fingers. I don't use fixative (I'm a purist). The surfaces I use all have tooth that holds the pigment in a death grip. The colors I apply will remain rich and pure without the risk of adding fixative. What you see now is what your great-great-grandchildren will see a century from now.
Before I seal my new pastel painting into a protective foam board case to await framing, I turn it over and beat its tender backside.
That's right. I beat my painting. Thump! Thump! Thump! Any dusty pigment that refused to attach itself to my canvas falls to the ground. There's never much, but I'd rather this happen on my watch than have dust settle later, after the painting is framed. (I usually shout, "TA-DA!" as I do this.)
So, now you understand what a PASTEL PAINTING is made of (besides inspiration).
Properly framed, a soft pastel painting on an archival canvas is the most permanent painting you can own, a richly colored piece of fine art that will endure, unchanged, for centuries.
Can you tell I'm passionate about painting in pastels?
LINDY C SEVERNS' SOFT PASTEL PALETTE CONTAINS ABOUT 1000 STICKS, PLUS PASTEL PENCILS.
THE PARROT, LIKE MOST ARTISTS, WANTS EVERY COLOR HE CAN GET HIS CLAWS ON.