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Rick Holmes Pastel Demonstration

Friday 12th April 2024

Rick Holmes began the evening by saying that his passion is ‘plein air’ painting. He got into painting with an Art ‘O’ level but when he declared he wanted to go to art college but his parents were not keen on that idea so he did an apprenticeship and became a Design Draftsman in Crawley. He married and had three children but his passion for art was only revived many years later on a holiday with his family in Cornwall. Depressed by all the rain he took himself off to an old tin mine he had seen and he started to draw. This was the turning point and he has not looked back since. Below is the sketch he did on that eventful day.

On his return from his Cornwall holiday he decided to learn to do watercolours. He joined Farnham Art Society on a painting day with the artist Paul Banning. This was another important event in his artistic life. It was at evening classes and 4 or 5 trips to paint in France that he learnt about colour mixing, perspective and so much more at the same time as becoming good friends with Paul Banning himself. Rick has painted in watercolour but he has developed his own technique with pastels over acrylic inks which he will demonstrate tonight.

He always works on an upright board on an easel as can be seen in the photo above. He works against a smooth board; MDF or hardwood work well. The board needs to be smooth so that the pastel does not catch on any raised surfaces. He will paint on ordinary mount board. A good tip is to have a piece of card folded into an L-shape to put at the base of the board to catch all the pastel dust that will be created. Pastel is pure pigment and it can easily stain carpets and floors.

Rick handed everyone a swatch of different kinds of paper. He explained that the top piece of paper was Canson pastel paper which comes in various tints. It does not have much tooth. The next was Fisher 400 pastel paper which is much rougher and will eat up pastels very quickly. The grey piece is Colourfix Art Spectrum pastel card which has quite a lot of tooth but will allow ink to sit on the surface without the top surface coming off. Lastly there is a sheet that has had Colourfix Primer applied. This comes in a tub which is quite expensive so Rick likes to dilute it with water. He has primed the card he is using tonight this way.

To start his painting Rick will used acrylic inks: Prussian Blue, Yellow Ochre, Red Earth and Magenta. He will also be using a two inch printing roller. This he finds is the ideal size. He will also use a little water spray and some small containers, he uses old cat food tins. He will use the roller to apply the acrylic inks.

The photo reference he has is of a section of canal by the River Wey. He uses a white Faber Castel Pitt Pastel Pencil to mark the centre of the photo with a little cross. This is to ensure that he uses this the mid point for reference and sketches from the centre out. It is time to apply the acrylic ink with his roller.

Rick starts with the Prussian Blue, then adds a little Magenta. He then sprays some areas with water to make the colours run into each other a little. Incidentally acrylic paint does not work for this technique. Watercolour inks are new and might be good but Rick likes to keep with the acrylic inks he knows. The ink must be dry before it is possible to start working with pastels on it.

Once dry Rick uses his white Pitt Pastel Pencil to sketch in a few guidelines before getting started with his pastels. There are many kinds of pastels on the market. It is important to use good quality ones and not something bought from a supermarket as poor quality pastels can never be a joy to work with. He used to use Daler Rowney soft pastels but he was not impressed with the pale colours. Unison pastels are hand-rolled and expensive but the colour range is very good especially for dark colours.

Pastel sticks inevitably break and a full set is expensive so Rick has put together a starter set of half sticks in a box for £35 which can only be purchased through him. While Rick is working he tends to put each colour as he uses it into the lid of a box which he keeps by his side. He will only be using a few colours tonight so this is not so necessary but when he is using lots of different colours it helps to keep them together. To his mind it is tone that matters rather than the exact colour of everything.

The focal point of the picture is where the sun is going down and it is here that Rick begins to apply the lightest colours of yellow and white pastel. He uses the side of the pastel which enables him to work quite fast. To blend he uses his finger but a torchon or even a piece of insulation foam can be useful too. Rick also demonstrated how he uses a razor blade to scratch off an area that was too dark in order to be able to get more vibrancy from the light pastel he was using for the water.

Rick stressed that the idea of this demonstration was not to produce a finished painting but to illustrate the process. He was asked what he would do to finish this work and he said that he would give it a little time, setting it aside before working it up into a finished piece of work. However, the next problem is how to get it home. He would NEVER spray it with fixative which dulls the colours and does not work well having used inks. Instead he uses a sheet of Glassine paper. Glassine is a smooth and glossy paper that is air, water and grease resistant. He showed how he could put it over the painting and rub hard on it and yet very little of the pastel transferred to the sheet.

To end the evening Rick had a few more handy tips. When it comes to framing he puts a little strip of card on the back of the mount which serves to let any pastel dust drop down behind the mount as it stands a little proud of the painting itself. This can avoid having to double mount it.

It is a good idea to divide any small and broken pieces of pastel into colours from dark to light. Rick then takes the light section first and puts it into a pot to which he adds some dry couscous. After putting a top on the pot he gives it a good shake, he then uses a sieve to separate the couscous from the pastel pieces and hey presto! the pastels look so much cleaner. It does not take too long to work through each section of colours ending with the very darkest section.

Rick had introduced everyone to a different and interesting technique that combined acrylic inks with soft pastels. The transformation from rough rolled lines of acrylic ink made to mix with sprays of water dripping down the page to a clearly recognisable canal scene with muted sunshine streaming through trees and reflected in sparkling water was impressive. Thank you to Rick Holmes, who has developed this technique to his advantage as can be seen from a selection of his paintings made into cards.

Rick organises Surrey Hills Plein Air Group which visits various locations around Surrey, occasionally even venturing to the seaside. Whilst there are over 110 members most Fridays between 15 and 20 artists turn up paint and then go to the pub.

For more information see : https://rickholmesartist.com

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