Pointillism with pastels - "Pacific Baza" WIP1-3
Tired of smudgy dull hues in your paintings from blending too many colours? Looking for a way to visually blend pure colours without losing their brilliance? Interested in trying pointillism but not sure where to start?
I must confess, until yesterday I had never really tried 'pointillism' with my art. I was fond of the use of monotoned stippling technqiues with ink and a fine brush, but had never applied it to colour, and thus never discovered the beauty and satisfaction of pointillism, until now!
Having been fortunate to photograph a beautiful hawk, the Pacific Baza, in an unexpectedly attractive setting yesterday, I set out to paint it with pastels, using Mi-Teintes TEX A3 sanded pastel paper, and an assortment of artists pastels including Art Spectrum, Sennelier, Schmincke, and Faber-Castell Polychromos (see Fig. 1).
One aspect of the photo that really appealed to me, and that I was keen to capture well, was the beautifully vibrant background of blurred rainforest leaves, flowers and fruit. I've never been particularly confident with painting backgrounds the way I envisage them in my mind, however. In fact, I have a habit of starting a painting with the focal point, which is usually the animal/bird, and never progressing much beyond the animal itself.
With a suggestion from my mother, I decided to start out by painting in the 'negative' - that is, I would start with the background, and progress to the bird later (her actual suggestion was to work both foreground and background up together, but I got a bit hooked on the background when I started it). So I started with this approach, adding scumbled and stippled dots of colour to the background, which I was originally intending to blend together with a finger or tortillion (see WIP 1).
At this stage, however, I fell in love with the effect of combining multiple colours with stippling dots in overlapping patterns! I found I could use richly saturated hues such as reds, yellows and greens, and instead of creating a muddy dull mess when blended, the distinct dots retained their overall brilliance. Furthermore, standing back from the painting allowed my eyes to visually blend the dots of different colours, creating the colour transitions I was after, whereas close-up they created a fascinating pattern of rainbow colours (and I am addicted to visual patterns of colour, so found this quite thrilling). I soon learned (once again, from my very helpful and artistic mother) that this technique I had discovered had the name of 'pointillism' (see WIP 2).
Pointillism refers both to a technique and an (albeit short) art history movement (also known as Neo-Impressionism) that emerged around 1886 with French artist Georges Seurat and colleagues. The technique of pointillism involves the use of distinct spots of colour that are applied alongside each other in patterns. Assessing the painting from a distance blends the dots together to make an image emerge.
I discovered early on that it was more fruitful starting with darker tones and working towards paler tints - although this biases the work generally towards the lighter tints, it helps the shadows recede rather than 'pop out', because darker incompletely covered dots lie behind the highlights. Another aspect of the technique involves allowing some of the background to show through, adding overall unity to the image (you can see the dark-green background showing through in WIP 2), and generally this necessitates using a mid-toned ground or pastel card.
I didn't entirely want to lose sharpness of the image, however (as stippling tends to necessitate), so decided to bring the foreground forwards with the use of more traditional pastel techniques (strokes and blended colours). Having assessed that this combination of stippled background and blended foreground worked quite well with the upper leaves, I continued to further add foreground (extending the pointillism behind the branch that the bird rests on, see WIP 3).
Thus far I'm quite pleased with the effect. I feel confident at this stage that although the background appears somewhat 'busy' due to the shimmering dots, I will be able to sufficiently separate the bird and foreground leaves/branches from the areas of stippling to create a relatively coherent composition. My current progress and work set up area are shown in Figure 2.
Have you ever tried pointillism or stippling with colour? How do you go about it?