Friday 17th March 2023
Rebecca de Mendonca is a pastel artist based near Exeter, South West England. She often finds inspiration for her landscape paintings from nearby Dartmoor. She will cover elements such as the use of soft pastels to capture atmosphere and distance in landscapes. She will also give lots of tips on colour choices, colour-mixing, and use of tone and saturation. She intends to put figures in the landscape to create a sense of scale.
One important way in which pastel painting differs from paint is that pastels have to be mixed on the surface of the artwork itself. Rebecca likes to work on a primed surface. She uses Art Spectrum Colourfix, an acrylic primer with pumice, mixing white and deep blue and painting it onto the mount card with a two inch old decorators brush. It has to be accepted that textured surfaces do eat up the pastels more quickly than paper.
Rebecca is going to use two sets of pastels; a starter set and a mini earthy landscape set. She will also use a little charcoal and a rubber and pastel pencils to draw the figures.
To begin there are four things to consider. (1) Tone – light or dark; (2) Saturation – how vivid are the colours. (3) Warm or Cool – creates sense of distance; (4) Mark making – movement and energy.
Rebecca likes to do a little thumbnail in black and white to develop the composition. She will make the horizon quite high and a strong diagonal creates a sense of drama. The size of the figures will give a sense of scale. She illustrated tone with a tonal ladder from darkest charcoal to lightest white.
The sky will be the lightest element and will become less saturated as it goes into the distance. The same is true for the foreground. The warmest tones will be at the front and the cool ones will be in the distance. The darkest darks and lightest lights are nearest to the viewer. The grasses will give light and life to the foreground. The figures will be in the middle distance and in a mid-tone.
Colour mixing is the next consideration. With pastels it is best to experiment on a spare piece of paper as it is not easy to know how different colours will mix. Rebecca uses Unison pastels. Different brands mix differently. To blend she needs a good amount of pastel and with a textured board it can be quite rough on the fingers. At times it is easier to use the palm of the hand.
Rebecca has used a lilac in the mid distance to create the muted colours in the landscape. She also used it in the clouds to give them the softness of a warm summer day. She used cream to give the hint of sun on the clouds. She does not always start at the top of a pastel painting but with this landscape it makes sense. She often works on an easel but not when giving a Zoom Demonstration.
The camera has not coped well with the colours in the shadows of the rocks. Mark making on the rocks give them a craggy look. Rebecca twists and turns her hand and uses the edges of the pastels to make sharp marks. The facets and sharp edges contrast with the soft lines the fields in the distance. Twisting and varying the pressure produces interesting marks.
Rebecca gave some useful tips. She brings all the colours she uses in the sky down into the landscape to make a gentle transition. When it came to the field boundaries she pointed out that the land curves away so the trees do not have trunks as they follow the lie of the land. Rebecca is keeping the mid-distance quite light to contrast with the figures. She uses a scraper to take off any loose pigment and she wipes her pastels clean on a piece of kitchen paper.
For the foreground grasses Rebecca used the light yellow olive. The long grass will help to give the impression being much nearer and push the landscape back into the distance. To neutralise the yellow she knocked it back using the lilac colour. She then decided to try an orange colour and a little pink to add interest.
After the break Rebecca was going to put in the figures. She wants these to suggest movement. She mentioned a book “Figure Drawing Without a Model by Ron Tiner as a good reference source. She likes to simplify figures and bring the legs together. Remember perspective. Heads should be on the same level whether near or far away. In this landscape there is no clue as to where the heads should go but Rebecca knows the size of the figures will give scale to the rocks.
Notice the curve line on the back of the girl which will help to indicate movement. Rebecca has emphasised the hood on the man’s jacket to add form. She uses a brown pastel pencil to draw the figures lightly. She then uses a dark blue, (never black in a landscape), to develop the figures. She adds yellow ochre to highlight the edge of the figures and adds a suggestion of a ginger colour for the girl’s hair. With good quality pastels it is possible to use a light colour over dark. By adding a few light lines around the figures it is even possible to suggest more movement.
Although Rebecca has masses of different pastels in jars, in box lids and in drawers in her studio she tends to just take a set of cool colours and a set of warm ones when she goes out to sketch.
This is a little sketch to illustrate the warm and cool colours. The concept remains the same as what she has demonstrated this evening. There are strong darks in the foreground and muted shades in the distance in the background. Rebecca uses cellophane to protect her work. It is effective since even if some of the pastel attaches to the cellophane it is placed back where it came from when the cellophane is replaced, so the work remains clear.
Rebecca had a great variety of work in her studio in different stages of development. This painting of horses is on a very large scale and has taken some time to do and is not complete yet. She is very productive and has run a number of different courses to encourage people to use pastels. She is running a pastel course in Exeter in July and there is one more Zoom Workshop entitled “Travelling with Pastels” on Monday 3rd April which can be accessed via Eventbrite at £15.00 for two hours.
Eventbrite link to find out more and register for ‘Travels with Pastels’. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/zoom-pastel-workshop-with-rebecca-de-mendonca-travels-with-pastels-tickets-570018449527
Rebecca is a wonderful advocate for the pastel medium. This is her book ‘Pastels for the Absolute Beginner’ which is available on line and there is more information about it on her website.
Rebecca was using Unison Colour pastels, which you can buy from lots of art outlets, and from Unison Colour themselves.
The sets she was using for this demonstration (Small Starter Set and Wild Landscape Extras) are available from her website at
If you would like to you can follow her on social media to hear about pastel opportunities as they become available
@rebeccademendonca.artist for Facebook and Instagram
There is a mailing list on her website if you want to be kept informed in the future : www.rebeccademendonca.co.uk