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Enchanting Woodland Wonders: Painting Light and Depth with Pastels | Trevor Osborne

11th October 2023 Estimated reading time: 4 mins

Woodland-Pastel-TrevorOsborneWoodland wonders always captivate me, as light dances through the trees, both illuminating and concealing. These rays create a natural curtain, offering glimpses of the landscape beyond. It caught my attention when I was on my normal woodland walk with my dog, Gilly, highlighting the transformative power of light. I often recreate these enchanting woodland scenes in Pastel Paintings.

Materials List

Shop Soft Pastels

1. Using a Design Stem for great Woodland Pastel work

Using a piece of Clairefontaine Pastelmat in Sand as my base, I choose warm mid tones – Soft Pastels in Burnt Umber and Smoke Grey – to help me find the tonal variation I need to get the design stem to work. A design stem is a simple composition tool, useful for ensuring a good composition at the start of a painting – the simplest would be a circle, a pyramid, or radiating lines. This helps to organise my thinking before I paint this Woodland Scene.

I teach design stems to students to help them find stronger compositions in their work. They are drawn from the work of Edgar Payne, from his book Composition of Outdoor Painting (1941). This painting is based on a tunnel stem and my drawing establishes an off-centre tunnel in the Woodland with a focal point at the bottom left of the tunnel.

2.  Strategic Colour Blocks for Woodland Tunnel

Woodland-pastels-TrevorOsborneUsing blocks of colour, I use Deep Green Pastels for the dark leaves, Cerulean Blue for the sky, Blue Green for the right-hand side, Yellow Ochre for the left hand side of the woodland path, and Permanent Magenta Pastels on the majority of the path – I rough in the areas of the simple design. Here five blocks allow me to check that the composition works. However, I decided it was too fussy and planned to draw the three shapes in the middle together and add a darker shape, using the shadow, across the bottom of the composition.

3. Utilising Warm and Cool colours for dynamism

I start to find the colours I want within the tonal range of each block. By using warm and cool colours of equal tonal intensity – as in the distant trees and sky – you can add space and volume to areas of work. As a rule, I try not to blend pastels: by blending we lose the vibrancy of the colours. If we put all our pastels in a blender, we would produce an unappealing sludge colour. Our mark is an important part of our work and our statement as an artist: let the colour sing.

4. Challenge Conventional Rules

I turn a few rules on their head to increase the tunnel effect. I want to draw the viewer into the scene, so I use cooler colours in the foreground and warmer colours as the foliage and the lane recedes. The rays of light are made using sets of colours that have the same hue but different tonal intensities. If grey or white pastel is dragged over the painted areas to create the ray, the vibrancy of the colour would be lost. The sense of golden light is what drew me to the painting, it is my primary message. I don’t want to lose that in a mass of distant grey.

5. Dappled Light Effects

In the final stage, I introduce stronger colours, such as Deep Green and French Ultramarine. To avoid discord these are more intense versions of colours I have used elsewhere in the painting. Dappled light through trees is fascinating: where light squeezes through a narrow gap in leaves, the gap acts like a pinhole camera. The result is that each dapple is not the shape of the gap it comes through but becomes an image of the light source, the sun. Each dapple is rounded.  Photographs taken of dapples during an eclipse show each dapple as crescent-shaped. I soften some of the edges of the dapples and save the contrast of harder edges to create the gateway through to the light. The composition is created by contrasts, dark to light, cool to warm, and hard to soft.

Trevor’s Top Tips

  1. To check colour and tone when you work from a photograph, use a piece of grey paper with two holes punched in it. Place one hole over the photograph and the other over the corresponding area of the painting. By isolating the areas, you will see if you have it right.
  2. Before you paint, check four things
    • What do I want to say?
    • What is my design?
    • Where is my focus?
    • How will I use contrast to create my design?
  3. Getting angles right is important, as with the angles of the light shafts. If we can imagine an angle as the minute hand on a clock face, we can give it a simple numerical value and so draw it accurately.

TrevorOsborne-Artist-PastelsFor more information on Trevor please visit his website

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