I have always loved working against a black background. It first sparked my interest when I was experimenting with colour pencils on black paper. Only using 1 white and 1 mid tone grey pencils to create the portrait was a good challenge. Just having to focus on values rather than colour.
Experimenting can be worth while!
Sometimes trialling new things doesn’t always work out. You may not get the finished look you want but only by trying will you know. I knew I wanted to find a way that worked with my techniques to achieve the black background when working in pastels. I’ll explain the process of elimination below but the new way I have found to work for me and I love it is to use Gouache. I picked up this one tube from my gallery who also has a art shop alongside and gave it a go! My intention was to airbrush it but for the trial piece on scrap paper I just used a paintbrush.
You may remember the pastel drawing of Teddy I completed earlier in the year. This was my first pastel drawing against the black background and I was really pleasure with how it came out. But there was things I learnt and the one thing that I soon realised was to get the rich, deep black colour I used a lot of my pastels. It burnt through them very quickly. So I wanted an alternative.
So… I did two test pieces on scrap pieces of Pastelmat paper. Pastelmat is my preferred paper to use for pastels.
If you intend on doing any experiments with any of your art supplies make sure you use the materials you plan on using for the actual portrait. There is no good in trialling something with cheaper materials because you may not get the same results.
Here is the actual portrait of Levi after my two test pieces worked out how I intended and I got the result I wanted.
So, how did I approach it?
What I did was mix up a batch of the black Gouache and water it down to create a wash. To make sure I didn’t paint over any of my sketch lines I used a 1 inch flat brush for this. I applied the wash to the background and let it dry. I was amazed at how the Pastelmat coped with so much liquid. I have used many papers in the past when I used to airbrush background for my colour pencil pieces and they always warped and never dried fully flat. Not so much of an issue as they are framed but still I’d rather it didn’t happen.
The Pastelmat warped initially but dried completely flat. I mean super flat. You wouldn’t have known. I did find that the paper absorbed the paint so much that I did have to do a few coats like this to get the look I wanted. I am rather picky and it has to be right. Gouache dries completely matt which is exactly what I wanted. This was more important as I planned on giving a very light black pastel layer over the top to get the black depth even stronger. And this is exactly what I did. I am really really pleased with the outcome and this is how I will do all of my black backgrounds with pastels from now on. Fantastic effect and its one of them times when experimenting has 100% paid off for the way I work and the outcome I like.
* Make sure you tape down all 4 sides of your paper. With any paper where you are using water, paint etc this is a good idea. It helps to ensure the paper is encouraged to dry flat.
* Make sure you let the previous layers dry fully before doing the next. I left a good few hours between layers. So for a portrait like this I would start these preparations a few days before I was actually due to start the portrait.
My routine for something like this is.. apply the first layer first thing as soon as your work day starts. I then do the second coat after lunch and then the final coat that evening etc. Spread it over a couple of days if needed.
* With Pastelmat, when the paper was flat with no buckling I took that as the paper was dry and ready to take the next layer.
I have been given permission to share the work in progress updates of Levi’s portrait with you so I cannot wait to share them :D. I’ll keep you posted!
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