Wokingham Art Society
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Rob Wareing demonstration
"Pastel portrait", 20 August 2019

Visit him at www.robwareing.com or email wareingart@gmail.com
Rob had brought some examples of his work: including cards.
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Dani Marsden had already been posed as the sitter and as soon as Rob had been introduced he got straight down to work.

His easel had what looked like a full Imperial sheet of a middle-tone warm grey pastel paper (Canson No.49). Working on the smooth side he started making rough marks with a sanguine (orange to me) pastel pencil. This was "just to get a feel for it" but it was only moments before he started careful measurement of the positions of the eyebrows, end of nose and chin. Pencil at arm's length, one eye shut, careful to be in the same place every time, small definite marks and then even smaller ones, double-checked, with less trial and error, for the corners and edges of the eyes.
A good likeness relies on the differences from the "standard" measurements of a face. You have to see these and treat them as sensitively as possible. For example eyes are not exactly one eye-width apart and you have to get it right. So, at this early stage Rob was concentrating on getting the exact angles, positions and proportions (which cross-check each other).

He had scribbled in some hints of shadow with the orange but he switched to his other pastel pencil: a sepia one for eye shadows, the dark down one cheek, the hair against the neck and some general scribbled shading.
Rob re-measured the nominally equal distances between hairline, end-of-nose and chin to verify that he had Dani's real proportions. Then he re-checked (and in fact had to correct) the eyes. He was frequently re-measuring the distances between features (arm's length pencil, of course) and the vertical alignments between them: like a tear duct and the edge of a nostril.

Although he continued shading he still kept re-measuring. Am I overemphasising this? Asked about flattery he claimed to be more interested in accuracy than flattery. You need to look at the face as a whole (squinting helps) and avoid concentrating too much on the more difficult bits (like the mouth).
Rob was now switching to softer NuPastels to mark what he called catch-lights rather than highlights: small areas of reflected light. Forehead, cheeks and chin were coloured very rapidly before making more deliberate smaller marks with a skin-tone pastel. Very frequently he changed to slightly different colours.

I was most struck by his never seeming to try to finish anything. He would make a few marks and then move somewhere else. For the hair, for example, he had partially covered the grey paper with the orange pastel pencil then some sweeping strokes of a much blacker colour, then a switch back to the sepia pencil to tidy up details - many visits to the same area over a period of an hour or more.
But at the same time he was picking up pieces of pastel, making a few marks elsewhere, re-measuring and adjusting eyes and edges of the mouth. Most of this was done with tiny marks, even in the flat areas. But the important thing was that each time he revisited an area he subtly strengthened the shape, making only a small change and then moving to a quite different area. It could be ages before he returned to firm things up a bit more.

I took two almost identical photos half a hour apart but when you look you can see a lot more dtail in the hair in the later one.
The word meticulous came to mind. He would frequently pick up a minuscule bit of pastel and visit an area to make a single mark too small for me to see. He made these little marks even in smooth areas, like cheeks and forehead, and did comparatively little smoothing with the little finger. Nevertheless the shadow tones and colours gradually developed and Dani's skin looked flawless!

Towards the end he blocked in some background and hinted at her shoulders, pullover and necklace (even here doing it in several stages interspersed with visits back to the face and hair). The sepia pencil had also re-appeared for a few final finishing touches.

The result was a remarkably good likeness, especially when you remember that Rob had perhaps only 90 minutes actual painting time.
I noted a few more of Rob's general observations:

The smooth side of Canson pastel paper has more tooth - the other side is so rough it's more suitable for special effects"
Sitters tend to look more sombre after they have been posing for a while, which tends to thicken the top lip. Remember what you are aiming for.
He doesn't recommend stickng with one brand - use what you find you like. And for beginners he suggests starting with harder pastels and progressing later to softer ones.
His portraits are not pre-planned but for a commission he expects to get to know the sitter to help find their "normal" appearance and to decide on the pose, lighting and context. For example the colouring outdoors is different from what it is in the studio. Once all that is decided he works quite quickly - time spent thinking is time well spent. He doesn't like his sitter to be too rigid - the painting becomes a characterless still life! For the same reason he prefers to avoid painting from photos (I found myself thinking of the TV show competitors who take an iPad photo of their live sitter and pant from that!)
Thanks, Rob for a very instructional and impressive demo - few words but a mass of useful things to see and note.

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