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Paul Lewis Demonstrations

Visit Paul's new website at www.starfishstudiosuk.com (old website www.starfishstudios.co.uk)

2011, Portrait Back to History Page 2018, Bird

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Watercolour & Pastel, Bird, 25 May 2018
You'll see from his websites (above) that Paul's skills are much broader than just birds
but for tonight he had brought several examples of his avian work


He had also suggested that members might like to bring some of their own paintings of birds
and two or three were also on display for comparison.
Paul likes to paint from his own photos and sketches.

For tonight, he offered us a choice from half a dozen photos. The overwhelming favourite was a Grey Heron from Frencham Pond, unusually posed with its neck buried between its "shoulders".

He looked carefully at the colours in the photo before choosing a sheet of pale blue pastel paper. This late choice of paper excused him stretching it but his painting technique actually minimises wrinkling.

Paul prefers to paint with the board upright, even with watercolours, because only then do you see the work in the same way as it will finally be hung.
He uses fairly big brushes, typically Nos 12,16 and 20 round. One brush he keeps just for water, as opposed to paint: for wetting the paper and softening edges. Similarly he has two pots of water: one for rinsing brushes and one for clean water. To keep colours fresh he takes this even further: one brush for warm colours (reds/oranges) and one for cooler ones (greens/blues).

Using one of his smaller brushes (size 12?) Paul lightly moistening a fairly large part of the the centre of the paper. For drawing, he mixed a pale grey that you could see clearly against the paler blue of the paper itself.

With the same brush he began drawing the outline of the bird and then scribbling some background tones very roughly and superficially with the same brush.
He kept mixing fresh paint so the colours were never exactly the same but at this stage they were always very thin. The brush was never overloaded and he applied paint so quickly that he suffered very few runs. More purple/blue was added for shadowed areas. A green was mixed for the background bush.

I found it very difficult to see what each stroke was for: Paul scribbled in an area and then left it to go somewhere else (to unify the picture). The strokes seemed almost random although they were undeniably in the right general areas!

He was asked about he direction of his brush strokes: "They relate to the subject matter", he said. Bunches of vegetation were very stylized but then the "clean" brush came out to soften edges away.
Paul took much more care over the bird itself. Several edges were re-positioned, particularly the beak (which had been too long) and both sides of the body. This sometimes involved moistening existing paint and lifting it out with a clean damp brush. The eye position, relative to other marks, is critical.

Don't use black from the tube, he said. There are so many blacks that it is better to mix what you need. He uses Windsor Green, Windsor Blue and Cadmium Red in various proportions for his "blacks".

As the first half of the evening went on Paul's colours gradually became less pale. It became clearer then that he was not painting a bird - he was painting marks he could see in the photo, scarcely concerning himself about their precise significance.
After the coffee break he turned the picture upside-down. This is an effective way of checking the composition - it identified a couple of errors although, interestingly, he turned it back the right way up to correct them! Then came the pastel.

Paul uses Jaxell square pastels; a French make. They have an intermediate hardness: soft enough to let you make strong marks; hard enough not to crumble. For pastel-on-watercolour work he uses only as much pastel as is necessary to make highlights and detail.

There are dozens of pastels in a box so he advises you to choose all the colours you expect to use before you start. He spent quite some moments studying the (dry) watercolour and picking our 8 or 10 corresponding pastels. After testing them on the edge of the paper, just to be sure, one or two were replaced.
His practice of moving all over the picture continued here: "Don't get into detail in one place". Paul again started with paler colours, touching them in here and there as well as making the occasional deliberate confirmation of an edge.

We all know that black-looking areas in a photo are not really black and so here he just used two shades of blue pastel. Paul never filled an area with colour all at once: he scribbled some marks, went somewhere else and then returned repeatedly so that the gaps were gradually filled.

Some areas (the yellow round the eye, for example) were still easier to do with a brush. Paul has no objection to going back and forth between brush and stick.

The final touches were with pure white, giving a surprising lift to areas of blue paper which one had previously been seeing as white.
So ended the demo.
The painting was not really finished but the evening had given us a
great impression of how a coherent picture can be built up from hundreds of small marks
and how slavish copying of detail is not all necessary for a satisfying result.
Thank you Paul for a very absorbing evening.
2011, Portrait Back to History Page 2018, Bird

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Pastel Portrait , 22 July 2011
Paul had set out a car-load of examples of his earlier work but nothing as big as the 3' x 4' sheet of blue/grey mountboard attached to a wooden board on one of our easels.

Paul had asked for a volunteer to model for him with a musical instrument instrument. Maureen Broomfield persuaded her husband, David, to give up his evening for us but he must have felt a bit nonplussed when Paul seemed disappointment that the guitar was silent - I think he was expecting musical inspiration as he worked. He came back to this later on, commenting that to leave multiple drawings of a moving subject can give a certain dynamism to a picture.
He had a couple of boxes of Inscribe pastels and a few other bits of pastel and charcoal. Before starting he separated out the 10 or 12 he was going to use.

He said that the first thing was to decide where the extremities of the picture were to be: end of guitar, feet, head etc. and to locate central features relative to these. Sadly he made no marks to show these points and went straight into the head with charcoal.

Paul located other features relative to the head by visualizing vertical and horizontal lines through significant points, always using the height of the head as his reference length.
He did, of course, take into account some of the conventional rules of thumb: like the distance between the eyes being equal to the width of the eyes (regardless of race!) and noting the height of the ears relative to eyebrows, nose and mouth.

During the demo he seemed to do very little measuring. Paul explained that when you start portrait painting your first couple of months need very careful measurement but that you will then be able to consolidate what you have learned by doing very many very fast ones. The jazz trumpeter above took only about five minutes and he often does 10-minute or 20-minute portraits at village fêtes.
Quite early on he began careful drawing of the face, using a sharp piece of charcoal, and adding shadow. Paul's not one for blending pastel but at this stage he frequently used his fingers to spread shadows and to rub out poorly-placed charcoal marks: "They are going to be covered with pastel, so it doesn't matter".

Colour came in after about 30 minutes, starting with placement of lights all over the picture. The initial charcoal drawing is never perfect, so you have to keep looking and correcting. Working on such a big ground makes it worse because it's pretty certain that you'll have moved your head and misplaced at least something. The secret is to keep working around the picture, continually re-checking relative positions.
When the flesh and shirt colours came in, Paul started to work almost entirely with the sides of broken sticks of pastel, using what a watercolourist would think of as dry brush technique - very light strokes so that the paper or any earlier colour showed through.

The process from now on was one of continuously working over the whole picture: hinting, correcting, adding bits of complimentary background, touching skin colour into the hair, background colour into the figure, getting more of a likeness into the face, drawing straight lines very quickly, deliberately neglecting areas away from the centre. "Enjoy yourself. Forget about developing a specific style - you'll lose your spontaneity".
The end of the demo was arbitrary. Not long after the coffee break, although much of the original charcoal drawing and the paper were still visible, we had a quite presentable "finished" painting. So most of the second half was spent gradually making it even more presentable. Towards the end Paul decided to put time into the hands, shading and moving fingers by millimetres and reminding us, perhaps, why he would have liked David to have actually been playing.

It is most interesting to have the opportunity to enjoy watching someone work on such a big scale using, and enjoying using, techniques that most of us associate with much smaller paintings.

Thank you, Paul.
2011, Portrait Back to History Page 2018, Bird

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