Wokingham Art Society
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Tony Jackson demonstration
"Indian scene in Pastels", 20 October 2015

Visit him at www.spanglefish.com/TonysPaintings
Nineteen years ago, after 30 years schoolteaching, Tony "retired" and took up painting seriously.
Almost by chance he got involved with the Institute for Indian Mother and Child, IIMC,
a Calcutta-based charity. Several trips to West Bengal have inspired his painting.
Tony does only about 15 or 20% of his work in pastel, the rest being mostly acrylic. Both media suit his "let's see if that's better" style of painting - you can overpaint until it looks right!

He works freely from photos on a tablet computer, assembling a composition from "Photoshopped" bits of different photos.

He is not "precious" about artists' materials. Tonight's purple/red paper was "some stuff they sell in Hobbycraft at £1.70 a sheet". Inscribe pastels are "medium hardness and cheap" although he does have harder and softer ones (Conté, Rembrandt and others).

Pastel, he says, needs big sheets of paper. A4 is much too small -tonight's piece was about 24" x 30".
The painting was of a riverside scene in a village in West Bengal. The first thing is to get the composition on paper. Tony made lots of experimental marks with a red pastel that just showed up against the red paper. He then switched to blue, picking up darker edges from the photo.

He made much of the fact that he doesn't try to get anything, especially colour, "right" until he is well into the painting process. "Get an overall feel" he says. "Draw badly, ignore detail". But if you look at the final painting you will see that these early red and blue marks are still there, representing light and shadow.

Fairly soon he wanted to introduce dark negative spaces between trees: "Black is the kiss of death - use dark blue".
Then, still not aiming to get the colours right, Tony started blocking in coloured areas (sky, water, grass, trees) with the sides of pale blue and green pastel sticks. This is like using a big brush with acrylic.

The greens you buy are rarely realistic for foliage, so it is traditional to put them onto a red ground (or even mix red with them). He soon changed to a darker green to get rid of excess red. The dark Prussian blue kept on appearing. Negative shapes defined many of the objects.

Well before the coffee break the process had become one of picking up a pastel stick, making a mark and then looking to see where else it might be used. The picture gradually emerged. Any "errors" were quite unimportant - the pastel can be pushed out of the way with another colour.
As Tony said, the second half was to be more of the same: lots of small marks, each colour being used all over the painting. But he did produce a string of useful hints and comments:
Smudge only in the early stages of a painting
Avoid photo-realism - let the material show
"The more I jump around the happier I am"
Squint to avoid seeing colour or detail
Look on your picture as a whole, not as a lot of bits
Unity and harmony are everything
Paint what you see. Take risks - don't think about what you are representing.
. . . and it goes on . . .

Start fast with a big "brush", slow down only for final detail
If you go wrong, don't think about it - go away and come back with fresh eyes.
Take a break every 30 or 40 minutes
In the studio, have a mirror behind you so you can see the picture both at a distance and reversed
Lacquer makes pale pastels transparent so don't use it late in the process - it is an invaluable fixer, providing a good key for later layers
Avoid expensive hair lacquer: it has nasty oils and perfumes in it that yellow with age. You need a really cheap one, like Tesco Value Hairspray!

By the end of the demo, the "right" colours had appeared, the sun was shining on the grass and trees, the river bank looked suitably muddy, the reflections were appropriately vague and we all felt we had had a stimulating and entertaining evening.

Thank you, Tony

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