Among the Mountains - A Behind-the-Scenes Look at my Pastel Drawing Process

This post was sourced from my Patreon follower page. It was originally published on Aug 26, 2016. It has been lightly edited, but details related to time have been left as-is.

I started this pastel three weeks ago and finally got it to a state that I’m happy to share. This is a 9.5” x 12.5” soft pastel drawn on Sennelier La Carte Pastel - a sanded paper that I love to work on. Here’s the behind the scenes:

1. I stumbled across this amazing photo by Chris Burkard, which I decided to use as inspiration:

2. The first sketch:

3. Another sketch, with a more simplified style. I also chose to remove the figure:

4. A third sketch combining what I liked about the first two. This time on pastel paper so I can start adding color:

5. Adding dark and lights to the mountains starts to give them a three dimensional weight. I blocked out certain areas of the water to be in shadow, and started filling in the rest with a base color.

6. I finished filling in base colors for all the mountains, the water, and the cliff-like structure in the foreground. Now it just needs a sky:

7. Skies are probably my favorite thing to draw with pastels. The sanded paper and the soft pastels work together to create really creamy textures that can be blurred together into rich gradients of color:

8. Several years ago, I might have stopped at the previous image and considered the drawing complete. But as I stated before, those are just the base colors. Pastels can be layered atop one another very well if you use a nice paper with a good tooth (the paper is kind of like sandpaper, which lets it hold a lot of pigment). So I put another layer on top of everything, reworking the mountains and water to bring out a lot more details.

9. At this point I stopped drawing for awhile and had the drawing on display so that I could analyze and critique it any time I walked past. It almost seemed right, but something seemed wrong to me about the cliff in the front. It doesn’t sit right. I considered removing it entirely, and covering it with water. But I found another solution in these following paintings by Lawren Harris (one of my new favorite artists). When I was recently at the MFA, a curator was explaining how the bottom of his paintings often include these little rocky ledges, which give the audience a place to situate themselves within the scene, resulting in a sense of depth and calm. Here are two examples:

Two paintings by Lawren Harris which inspired my work.

10.  I modified my cliff to be a bit more like those in Harris’ paintings; subtle, yet grounded. This was a risky step, one that I could not take back, but I braced myself and scribbled over the cliff I had put so much detail into: 

11.  After the operation, the bottom ledge was a bit smaller, and faded into the color scheme of the drawing a bit better. I added extra texture on the water to hide the faint outline of the old cliff. 

12.  I then reduced the height of the ledge even more, and gave it a bit more dimensionality:

13.  At this point, the drawing was pretty much done, but I made a mistake! The paper I work on is very water-sensitive. A drop of water had gotten onto the mountain, resulting in this discoloration (the little dot). If you try to dry it or brush it away immediately, the material will fall off that part of the paper and leave an ugly splotch. The solution is to wait awhile for it to dry, then draw over it:

14.  A couple more touch ups: blurring the water texture so it doesn’t grab too much attention, refinishing the sky (especially the part by the horizon), and it’s done. If you’re wondering why the color is different in this one than the previous images, it’s because the lighting in my workspace is very warm, so I processed this image on my computer to white-balance it and restore the original colors (but I didn’t take the time to do so for all the previous photos):

Among the Mountains, 2016

15.  Well, there you have it, folks. The entire making-of this drawing, which I titled, “Among the Mountains”. Using “Among” was intentional, because a lot of my landscapes are drawn from a flatter, horizontal perspective (as if you’re viewing far away at eye level). I tried to capture a different perspective in this drawing to make the audience feel more a part of the scene – among the mountains. Finally, you can see my workspace setup below. It gets a bit messy with pastels, pastel dust, sketches, etc., ending up everywhere.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more.

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