The Mirror finished, and lessons learned

The Mirror
The Mirror, on Etsy at GreenBoat Gallery. Click on the picture to see the listing! More in-process photos below.

I’m pretty sure “The Mirror” is finished, and it’s been a real learning adventure. I rather like it — have already signed and listed it — but there are a lot of things I’ll do differently on the next one.

First, I’m going to work on heavier paper. This was done on some Strathmore Laid charcoal paper I had lying around and hadn’t used because I didn’t care for the color. Lesson learned: use a ground color I actually LIKE, and that will complement the subject matter. I’d eventually like to work into using prepared hardboard panels like the ones I’ve been using for colored pencil pieces (but with more grit in the ground), but since I’m going to be teaching this pastels course using paper, I suppose paper should be my first priority as a substrate.

Next lesson: I will NOT use white conte pencil for my grid! It still shows slightly, in the finished piece. Not only did I emboss it into the paper because the medium was so sharp and relatively hard, but it seems to resist coverage by the soft pastels. I do love using a grid; it gives me proportional and composition control while allowing freedom of movement for my drawing hand. However, I have to find another, gentler, less permanent way to line it out.

Another point learned: although the indiantrene blue and the burnt umber sticks are very dark and make interesting substitutes for black (I don’t generally use premixed blacks in any medium), the violet, though lighter, is a livelier black sub.

Over the last few days I’ve done a bit of online research on pastel technique, and one artist wrote that she generally works top to bottom so the pastel dust from above doesn’t fall on finished work lower in the painting. That’s a very good point. I don’t know if I can muster that kind of discipline, or how it would affect my work, but the falling pastel dust gave me some problems for sure. The last time I worked with pastel it was not upright on an easel, but that’s what I prefer now.

Last, a potential problem I haven’t yet confronted: color shift due to application of the final fixatif. Without fixatif, pastel work is incredibly fragile. But everyone I’ve read cites the color-shift problem as a serious risk. I do remember it from when I last used pastels, but I wasn’t as fussy then as I am now… we’ll just see how that goes.

Here are the final steps of my process:

The Mirror - stage 4
The Mirror - stage 4: blocking in the darks, bottom and center. I've also lifted some of the brown from the mirror frame, and gone back in with an olive green.
The Mirror - stage 5
The Mirror - stage 5: adding more dimension to the darks and the fleshtones, detailing the faces a bit more, blocking in the arm and hand at lower right, as well as the adjacent round pot form.
The Mirror - stage 6
The Mirror - stage 6: finishing details in the background/mirror, burnishing fleshtones a bit, finishing the modeling of the hands.

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