Thursday, August 15, 2013

Pastel CPR

Vickery Creek Morning, pastel, 16x20

Well, this would have been a great one to show a "before" version. Sorry, I must not have had a enough coffee this morning before starting class today. Our topic today was reworking a failed or overworked painting. I asked my students to bring one such painting to class today, brushing off the excess pastel prior to class, so that just a ghost of the painting image is visible.

Normally if I need to make minor revisions to a small area of a pastel painting, I carefully brush off the excess pigment with a cheap stiff bristle brush. (If I'm brushing off a large area, I wear a mask to do this and sometimes go outside.) For a small area, I can simply rework the area with corrected layers over top of the brushed off area. However, for a larger or more important area, I sometimes want to take it back to a clean, non dusty surface. This usually involves wetting it down with alcohol (regular store bought rubbing alcohol), which is what I like to use for my initial underpainting. For a large area, I'll use a soft, wide watercolor brush (1 1/2" width) and gently apply the alcohol over the area. For a smaller area, I may use the same #8 bristle brush that I use for underpainting.

I've also discovered a fixative that's great for wetting down just a section of a painting...SpectraFix Pastel Fixative. It's meant for reworking a pastel painting, NOT for a final spray when completed. Sometimes wetting just a portion of a painting with a brush will leave a stiff edge between the reworked area and the remaining portion. The SpectraFix sprays on with soft edges between the wet and dry areas. Another advantage is that it's safe to use inside, right there at your easel (no fumes like most fixatives).

Several months ago I needed to rework the bottom two thirds of the painting below...basically all of the snow. The focus of the painting was primarily about the shadows in the snow, so it was important for me to keep the color application clean and in my intended shapes and patterns. I was already happy with my tree line and sky, and wanted to leave that part as it was. But I knew I needed to completely rework the snow by brushing it out and wetting it down. I didn't want to use a brush and end up with a stiff edge between the two areas. (When I start a painting with my initial underpainting, it's much easier to keep edges soft when ALL areas are wet.) I had the bottle of SpectraFix that I bought awhile back, but was never sure how to use it. After testing it on some other failed paintings, I gave it a go on my snow area and it worked just as I wanted it to, giving me a good clean surface to start again with my pastel application to that area.

Downhill Patterns, pastel, 16x20

For "Vickery Creek Morning," many months ago I did use a brush (before I discovered SpectraFix) to wash down a large portion of the bottom left area of the water, but managed to avoid the stiff edges. It was also an area of mostly dark areas, so any stiff edges weren't as noticeable. The painting at that point was set aside until this morning. I used the SpectraFix this morning to rework a couple of areas at the top left and middle. The upper right was the only area I liked, and that part remained from my original effort.

Being careful not to overwork things again, I wanted to livened up the color from my previous effort. I was working from a very rough plein air oil study and a not-so-helpful photo that was taken from a slightly different angle at a later time of day. So my color choices became a bit more interpretive on this one!

Have any failed or overworked paintings lurking in your studio? If they're on a surface that safely accepts liquid media, give it try! Just be sure to get as much excess pigment removed before wetting the surface. Otherwise you'll end up with a pasty surface that won't accept fresh pastel layers very well.


  1. Great post Barbara, and beautiful paintings too! You really have a way with shadow and reflections!

  2. Thanks, Rebecca! I think shadows and reflections are where an artist has the most fun with painting landscapes. :-)

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