Saturday, January 13, 2018

Sharing My Process for Fall Into Winter, Pine Branches and Maple Leaves in Oil Pastel

Fall Into Winter, © Copyright 2018 by Sheryl Karas
I've having lots of fun exploring oil pastel as a serious medium for my work. This piece was done in phases.

First Step: taking lots of photographs of leaves and branches over the years so I have quite a nice file of images to use in my work.

Second Step: combining the images in a variety of ways in several layers in Photoshop using a variety of layering techniques. This piece used three photographs and I don't know how many layers because that file is long gone. 7-8, maybe?

Third Step: trying a number of ideas in three different software applications to explore various color combinations and looks. This led to many more layers being merged with the original photographic piece.

Fourth Step: At this point I had to pause. Should I use this new image as a "reference" photo to draw from or as an underlayer—a digital underpainting—and add pastel on top? I go back and forth on this decision quite a lot as I work both ways and have lots of art class / art critic demons who have way too many opinions in my head!

Fifth Step: I say "NO" to the critics. Am I really supposed to throw hours and hours of work away just because it was done with unconventional techniques? I print the piece dark to use as an underlayer.

Sixth Step: Using gel medium as glue, I applied the print to a cradled panel I previously prepared with 3-4 coats of PVA size. The sizing keeps acids in the wood from leaching out and discoloring my final work but, despite what the advice is online, the gel medium ought to do that, too. I think. I don't know so I prepared several panels awhile ago.

Seventh Step: I added a a light coat of clear gesso to the top of the print. I usually use two coats of gesso but this time I only added one. This created a texture I usually try to avoid but because this image is so multi-dimensional I wanted to see what it would do. I liked it! You can't see the texture well online but it is kind of cool in the final piece!

Eighth Step: I scumbled oil pastel over the underlayer. Sometimes I smeared and blended colors together using eye shadow applicators and a Staedler Mars retractable stick eraser that we sell mostly for engineers to use at the art supply store I work at. I don't use the eraser stick as an eraser. It just happens to be cheap, easily cleaned, and firm enough with enough give to be great as an oil pastel blending tool! At this point I made a number of significant changes to improve the composition and get rid of distracting elements. The final result is entirely covered with oil pastel except for tiny bits where the original photographically-derived image shows through as a darker textured color layer.

Ninth Step: I photographed my work so I can use it for reproduction and social media. This gives me a chance to look at it through different eyes. I almost always catch something I want to improve when I post a work in progress online. I'll photograph it again at this point if I do but I didn't have to do that this time.

Tenth Step: I covered the final piece with a couple of light coats of Holbein Hard Gel Medium to the tops and sides. This is experimental as acrylic isn't supposed to work on top of oily media! But it DOES seem to work. My original experiments using Liquitex Self-Leveling gel have held up for years. I've also used Liquitex Acrylic Gloss Medium/Varnish, Matte Medium, and Glossy Gel Mediums. They all work but have different effects. What I like about the Hard Gel Medium is that it is hard enough to draw on top of easily, it adds a light sheen without being super shiny, and it preserves the textures of the work underneath. But you have to apply it lightly without diluting it. (Don't use water!)  I also make sure to brush it on in the same direction as my handwork.

And now the piece is done! Well, maybe. I might add a more glossy final coat or one final additional Hard Gel Medium coat (I'm undecided). I'm also thinking about how I want to present it. It doesn't need framing under glass—that was the purpose of using acrylic medium. I could just add framing wire and hardware to the back and hang it as is, but I keep imagining it mounted onto a larger wood panel or framed without glass.

Contact me if you're interested in the original. I've also made giclee prints on canvas available in my Etsy shop.