The attractive qualities of pastel are its directness and the textural marks which are possible with the medium. With a portrait currently on my easel I began to consider strategies which might be implemented to bring the painting to a conclusion. It helps when deciding on a particular approach to look at examples. One valuable source of reference is ‘Pastel Painting and Drawing 1898-2000’ published by The Pastel Society to celebrate the Society’s Centenary Exhibition.
The book illustrates some fine examples of portraits done by PS members which display the broad range of techniques which can be used with pastel. Ken Paine is an artist who tackles his portrait heads in a vigorous direct manner. The faces seem to emerge from a flurry of textural marks. His subjects are usually old, hirsute, and with ‘character.’ In contrast Victor Ambrus portraits are essentially light firm drawings with hints of colour in the face and parts of the clothing. The linear approach he adopts is ideal for recording detail.
Between these two extremes are portraits which have highly worked parts – usually the face – and more more loosely treated areas which exploit the dry textural nature of the chalk. I decided that this would be the best strategy for a portrait of a child where the skin is smooth with subtle tonal contrast best achieved by blending the coloured marks made by the pastels. Background and clothing could be given looser treatment.