Tag Archives: pastel

Sketchbook: My first serious attempt at abstract art

After experimenting last night, I decided to fill an A3 watercolour page with a wash using a few shades of pastel pigment picked up and applied with cotton wool. I applied the yellow and then a few shades of complementary purples and blue (see second drawing below). I was so pleased with the effect I spent some time staring at it and suddenly felt drawn to return to an idea I had in my first module of drawing a line that represents my relationship with my daughter. Except this time I was reflecting more broadly the nature of ego, identity, the hopes and fears that having children represent and the risk of projecting ourselves onto them or damaging them in some way. My mind then wandered to that first module and experiments with mark marking.

For reasons I do not entirely understand, and without really thinking too much, some ideas formed in my head of feelings I wanted to represent. I  gently used conte carre to create two lines, and then a gentle line flowing away from then. I went over what I see to represent two figures with water to darken the line. Finally I developed the cotton wool technique further and added the hot orange in the bottom right. I found this to be a deeply meaningful experience and was thrilled with the results as a representation of the mind, of hopes, fears, love, damage and everything that goes with familial relationships and the raising of children.

I wanted to continue the story so then moved onto the next drawing (see first drawing below). For me this needed to represent a stage before what I had just drawn, so I chose to separate the two figures with the warm orange to represent a divide, a thought, a hope, and the second figure bending away from that expectation and pressure.

By now I felt very absorbed and wanted to do the final stage in this to represent joy but also fear as a fragile being moves into the world and begins to find their own way – a child perhaps. I was certainly thinking of my daughter when I worked on this. I decided to reverse the colours as this is her own story, and have organic forms moving into a brighter sunset yellow to represent a dawn for her but a sunset for the parent – loss but in a positive way. Finally after pausing I added the final line in conte carre to represent the figure.

If I were to be harsh I’d say this is unlikely to score my points in high art. Who am I but a beginner using hackneyed colours to represent certain emotions with a crude technique. But if I put ego and what the external world values commercially or technically to one side and speak for me personally, then this is probably one of the most moving experiences I have had. When I laid the three drawings alongside I could see the story I wanted to convey,  I actually loved the result, and I feel there is more in this series I wanted to do to continue exploring the ideas I am thinking about at the moment.

I didn’t tell my husband what these drawings are about but asked him what he thought. He is aware I am reading about and thinking about these issues at the moment so perhaps was biased but he said he could see it was about relationships and in particular parenthood. I am going to ask a few friends who don’t know what I’m thinking about at the moment what they think this is about to see how they respond out of curiosity.

This was a strange mix of emotions – I would be interested to know if my tutor thinks this is normal – I felt very at peace afterwards but also very energised. This work suddenly means a lot to me and contains themes which I think I could spend a life time exploring, and with a technique and medium I really love. I wonder if it scales, so my next thought is to look at how I might work in larger format. This is something my tutor has encouraged and I haven’t felt strongly enough about any idea or confident enough with any media to try it yet but I feel driven to do this now.

When I got up this morning I could see even more things in the drawings that I hadn’t seen before. The figures are almost like needles and thread, like the patchwork of our lives that we weave. I have decided to title the three ‘Triptych’ because it both describes the fact it is three but the subject matter too:

“Despite its connection to an art format, the term is sometimes used more generally to connote anything with three parts, particularly if they are integrated into a single unit”. (Dictionary definition)


Artist research: Paul Cesar Helleu

My style of using pastels and pencils is to blend. As part one of the course is focused on different types of mark making, I researched pastel artists to see if I could find any art work where the pastel-work is primarily lines. Paul Cesar Helleu (1859-1927) is mentioned in the course materials and I was delighted to find many examples of expressive use of line without much blending in his work.

I copied Helleu’s Elegant woman at the rail pastel drawing to see what I could learn. I chose black, white and brown conte chalks. I couldn’t replicate the fine line of his marks as my paper was too grainy however I still learned a huge amount from the exercise. My work-based art tutor confirmed I needed to use smoother paper, perhaps hot pressed or not paper. He also suggested using a pencil holder which helps you to draw straight lines as it reduces the impact of the curvature in lines caused by the natural movement of the wrist and arm.


As I normally draw portraits it was challenging to move onto full figures. I was surprised how long it took to get the curvature of back and waist right and it is difficult to rub out conte chalk so this was quite an unforgiving exercise. I misjudged the length of her left arm but I was pleased with the shape of her skirts. I was also surprised how much you can convey with relatively little tonal shading and detail. I am definitely enjoying this looser style of drawing. I feel more encouraged to sketch knowing I can get still a convincing sense of form and likeness in this way.

I really like Helleu’s use of line. The background lines reinforce the path of the woman’s gaze which I particularly enjoyed. The direction of the rail reinforces this. I have not thought about background lines in this way before.  My work-based art club tutor said that diagonal lines are often used in drawings of women as they are gentler and less masculine than vertical lines and confirmed.

I enjoyed the way the use of tone in this piece moves the eye gradually around the drawing. The large chunk of shadow between the woman and the rail draws the eye first so your eye naturally focused on the elegance of her waist line. The contrasting white of the arm then leads the eye up to the most delicate detail which is on the face. The darkest darks are the the collar and hat which frames the detail on the face. The black lines down her spine draw the eye down waistline, which the eye is drawn into by the curved darks on it. The eye is then drawn down by the vertical lines of the skirts. I am fascinated by how well this use of tone and line works as a composition device. I have ordered, on recommendation of my work-based art tutor, The Painter’s Secret Geometry: A Study of Composition in Art so I can learn more about effective composition and inform the progression of some of my sketch book ideas.