Sunday, March 20, 2016

Plein Aire Pastel

It's been quite a while since I've posted on UrbanSketchersMidwest. As many of you may have also experienced, I've been going through a bit of an artistic "identity conflict". I started working on my fine art in earnest about 3 1/2 years ago. Over that time I was focused primarily on technique...and getting my skills back up to an acceptable level. Much of that effort was spent painting on location.

About 4 months ago, I became somewhat disenchanted with the work I was doing. I felt it was a little too pedestrian. Focused on simply copying what was in front of me, and lacked the intensity and freedom I was looking to achieve. So...I started doing a bit of experimenting. I tried some abstracts, some tight, realistic approaches - and played with different mediums - acrylics, oils, lots of different watercolor techniques using plastic wrap, string, gauze, name it.

I also started spending more time composing paintings from photos and sketches I'd taken over the years. It's been a long, slow process - but I think I'm starting to come out of it with a few conclusions.

First, I've decided that I need to develop all areas, techniques and mediums that interest me. Second, that the real key in finding satisfaction in my work has been to spend considerable effort on simplifying my compositions and merging multiple shapes into simpler, larger, more interesting shapes. Within those shapes i have the freedom to work in a very loose manner. Third, I miss drawing, sketching, painting from nature.

This post is from an intentional trip out to paint plein aire. The above pastel was done on location just west of Kansas City in a county park not far from my house. I focused primarily on simplifying planes, and a very deliberate approach to the colors and contrasting warm and cool shapes. There are only four main shapes being 1) The sky 2) The background bank of trees along the horizon 3) The golden field of natural grasses and 4) The clump of trees in the center.

I included a photo of the actual scene so that you could compare the scene to the final work.

I was pretty pleased with the way this turned out. Unfortunately, my choice of fixatives was a poor one - and I pretty much ruined it. I used an archival varnish from Krylon that is made for use on multiple media including watercolor, acrylics, oils and "oil" pastels...I kind of assumed it would work for other types of pastels...oops. Oh well, the experience was well worth the effort - and I learned one more thing that I will put to use more often than not. So remember, if you are working in pastels or charcoal, only use a fixative that's made to work with those media.

Well, I hope you enjoy this post, and the work. Cheers and keep on sketching!

TK (a.k.a. David Tierney-Kanning)


  1. Love this drawing, David. Sorry about your tough learning experience in regards to the fixative. One of the reasons I switched to wax pastels (Neocolor II) is to avoid the fixative debacle completely.

  2. This is very beautiful, David! So sorry the fixative ruined it, how frustrating.


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