Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Dynamic Drawing: Powerful Pastels

At the beginning of November, I had the opportunity to teach an advanced pastel workshop as part of the master class series at the McMichael Art Gallery in Kleinburg. The class was held in the newly renovated "Meeting Room", across form the main entrance, in the log building that was once the home of AY Jackson.

What a lovely room! Set in the woods, with large windows overlooking a cavernous ravine, the view was moody and spectacular really. I immediately though this would be a great space for a winter landscape class. We quickly set up and spent the next 2 days busily creating art.

the full value study; and the accompanying pastel

This was the first time teaching this particular workshop. I LOVE planning workshops. This one came out of the observation that my students are anxious to get going on a painting and miss some of the key stages of planning out a good painting.

This was a two day workshop. WE spent the entire first day setting up still life in a credible composition, with good lighting and backdrops. Everyone worked in pairs or three, to create the various set ups.

                                                               The various set ups


After a review of composition, I did a demo of a set up, in a 3 value study, large. Not a thumbnail, or,...the largest thumbnail you've ever seen! To create a complete value study is to make the artist responsible for a composition plan in every part of the picture plane. By making this study large, or the same size as the pastel to come, we are using this stage of preparation to weed out any composition problems that will weaken the entire plan. It also helps us visualize our plan, and get us thinking about colour as we assign value everywhere. 

Students used the afternoon to work up these studies. We spent a good amount of time talking about grounds, the paper we'll use in pastel. Sanded or not? But the biggest effect is colour. What colour will enhance our limited palette that we begin all our paintings with? What ground colour will enhance the initial idea we had, creating the mood or feeling we want to get across as artists.

Taking time in each of these stages, playing here and asking, what if? on colour, moving objects around to create more flow, and making a satisfying arrangement of values. These steps will greatly improve the quality of your work before you even start in with pastel.

taking the time to really play with colour and choose a satisfying palette. 

WIP: And then, the pastel work. 

same scene, slightly different angle and completely different palette. 

Penny, on her way, working on a dark red sanded surface. 

Ann: the ultimate experimenter, capturing the essence of the rock.

Over my years of teaching, i have observed many artists working slow, it's their nature. Then you also meet those who work fast, creating many pieces in the same timeframe others created one painting. No right or wrong, just different natures. 

This artist was very careful with every stage of the work, producing a really lovely, simple yet powerful composition. 

Experimenting with a dark and intense colour, harmony happened right off the batt, green, turquoise, and sienna. 

working out the details, reflections, etc.

Same artist, two differentness papers creating different moods. 

Just one version of the ever morphing rock under Anns' tutelage. 

Honestly, I was blown away by some of the work created in the 2nd day. It was wonderful. Using the value study to guide out way through value, and any changes we made to the composition, everyone worked the entire day in pastel, with a critique and walk around at the end of the day.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Peru part 4: Ode to the students

Ok, maybe I could just make this a general Ode to the student. However, Peru was a perfect example of hitting many of the typical challenges for plein air painters. So I am using that experience to give all the kudos to the brave students who come on my trips, or who try plein air painting.


 Plein air painting is one of the most challenging artistic disciplines around.

When painting on location, not only must you come up with a decent idea, create a flowing composition, mix colours, draw, paint, and trouble shoot.

A plein air painter also cuts out all distractions.

Plein air painters have noise, people (sometimes), wind, rain, and way too much detail staring them in the face. We must cut out about 90% of our stimulates, in order to focus, concentrate and paint.
On top of all that, we have the everchanging light. Light is extremely important to any composition, and often can make or break a scene.

Huacachina Desert:

Roaring and blowing strong wind, and low sun in the sky, which makes for fast moving light,  all BIG challenges to the artist. The lower the sun, the faster the light changes, but also the more interesting the shadows, and therefore composition. 

Paracas Nature Reserve:

Full on sun, in need of shade to make decisions about colour, and just to work. I try to always work in the shade. 

Sometimes a steep cliff can be distracting, or just the spectacular beauty of a place can be too distracting! 


cuteness is definitely a distraction

Too many people can be distracting or intimidating. Who wants to have a conversation when you are trying to focus on creating a painting. 

Grandeur can also be distracting,...or the mental distraction of realizing how astounding these archaeological sites in the Andes are!!

Casa Colibri: As mentioned in previous blog posts about Peru, this is where we stayed in the Sacred Valley, Urumbamba. 


Here are three views on the premises of Casa Colibri, that illustrate the difficulty of how much detail one must encounter when painting on location. The biggest problem is figuring out how to simplify the composition, in order to say something very clearly. This is probably the hardest challenge within plein air painting. Still, in the photos, if you can just identify the big shapes, and disregard the detail in the beginning, you can assess how well this image can translate into a painting. 

Simpler, yes, but still needing tweaking in order to make it into an effective painting. 

Pisa open air Market

Here's Bev, painting on the sidewalk at the Pisac market. Many of us encountered many children that day. I had a boy of about 10, leaning on me as he sniffled constantly, watching me paint in the market. Bev couldn't say no to these cuties, and shared her supplies. I'm sure it was a huge deal for them to try out pastels! 

She's got a baby Lama in her arms, costumed, ready to take her picture with you, but she is more enamoured of the painters, Liz and Betty, then in her vocation. 

This day is Pisac, we had many complicated scenes to choose from. The weather looked like it would rain any time (and did) as well as dealing with all these children. 

It's quite the challenge to stay focussed amid all the distractions I have listed here. That's why I praise my students who commit to the challenge of plein air painting (painting on location), regardless of all these excuses not to paint. It's much easier to take a picture and create in studio or at home later. However, a few things to be wary of: Photos do skue the perspective. Copying a photo is copying a photo. It's not composing. They do the interpreting for you, from 3 dimension to 2. Plus, it's not quite the challenge if you are not drawing what is in front of you. Learning to draw dimension by drawing what is in front of you is a foundational skill for all artists. Learn to draw, and don't skirt around the basic skills you need. 

There's a freshness that comes across in plein air that you cannot get painting in the studio.  It challenges you to keep you drawing skills absolutely up there. It challenges you to be confident in your creative ability to be spontaneous, and take risks. This is how we learn and grow. 

I am so proud of my students who have committed to this discipline. Congratulations!

Photo credits and thanks to: Janet Milne, Barb Dickson, Loretta Kucic, and Michele Baddoo. 

Congrats to the Peru Gang! 


Barb, getting a handle on the values. 

An affective composition of the Andes in warms and cools, with more possibilities, by Jan 

Loretta lets it rip with the colour!

I heard an interview with Joni Mitchell once, where she stated she didn't understand when people didn't "feel" creative. Creativity is all around us! Ideas abound! 

This is what I think of when I see Liz's artwork. Kudos toy Liz, for working hard on fulfilling so many ideas through image. 

On my trips, people work in pastel or any medium they choose. This is Liz in watercolour. 

Liz in pastel!


Liz, pen and ink, watercolour

Bev and I had a quiet day back at the ranch and created some still life. Nice job,  Bev!

Janet does very well artistically on the road.

The brave, the adventurous, the creatives,....way to go guys! 

See you next time : Portugal, here we come!

Monday, 10 September 2018

Peru Part 3: The Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu


Every painting trip I lead, I have moments where I say to myself, it can't get any better than that. But it does. Spectacular is the first word that comes to mind to describe the grandeur of the Andes.
We start the next leg of our trip with a flight to Cusco, where bowlfuls of cocao leaves await for visitors to stuff in your mouth, and suck on, so as to alleviate any altitude sickness. It's a big part of the culture here. Cusco is at a very high elevation, 3400 metres, steeped in history, as the capital of the Inca civilization. But we'll come back to Cusco at the end.

On our descent we stopped here for a washroom break and photo op. Many Babies carried around on Moms' back. The colourful hats, floating on a backdrop of the biggest mountains I have ever seen.
We got out of the high elevation and down into the sacred valley (still pretty high! 2870 metres.) quickly.

Here, we are about to enter the sacred Valley, with the town of Urubamba below in the valley. I'd seen pictures. But to be in the presence of these giants! Diego, our guide from Peruvian Soul ( says this town has much sought after real estate. The first town we experienced  as we entered the sacred valley. 


Relief set in as we landed at Casa Calibri in Urubamba. 3 nights in one place! set amongst the towering Andes Mountains. We set to work to paint the gorgeous surroundings.

Our gardens at Casa Calibri, many flowers, gnarly trees, sweet little ponds, birds,...with the Andes closing in above us. 
We all had very nice rooms, nice meals and time to paint.

1. stopping where the hats are there with mountains behind. Journey day
2. Urubamba
3. Casa Colibri
4. Living museum
5. Moras/Moray/Olleytaytambo
6. Machu

The living museum was on our way out of town one day. We were greeted by two women, one older, one younger, dressed in traditional costume, with a fully costumed Lama in tow. 

Many photo opps were had. This was a fascinating place, where cultural living practices were explained and demonstrated, from painting, how to make bricks from clay and grass, to dying and weaving. 





a fellow artist, painting her culture. 

On another exciting day (yes, they were all exciting) We took in Moras (naturally occurring salt fields) and Moray, circular terraced valleys.  Heer's a few exciting moments there:

Some of our intrepid travellers/artists. Loretta is on the left, and she is the author of many of these photos to follow (thanks Loretta) :

When we see terracing like this in many countries around the world, we think it's for agriculture. In Peru, much of this terracing is actually to control the erosion of these extremely steep mountains. However, in this case at Moray, these were places where experiments were conducted on plan life at varying elevations.

Terracing profile with snowcapped Andes in the background.

A mixture of terracing and sunlit buildings 

The immensity of the site.

And then, onto Ollay Tay Tambo. I hope this photo shows the immensity of the site. This town is the last town you can reach by car or bus. It's a sweet little town with many interesting things to see and do. A lovely town square, 3 archaeological sites, a chocolate museum, and many places selling the handmade wares of it's inhabitants.  To my way of thinking, of all the sites we saw on this trip, Ollay Tay Tambo was a lovely mixture of an old and charming authentic town, with a spectacular world class archaeological site. We were all amazed at the sheer size, not to mention the setting.  Very highly terraced, and extensively constructed terraces and buildings. It took us some time to climb to the top. We had really spectacular views of the town, the Andes, and surrounding territory, pretty well in every direction.

And then,....

We did it. We made it to Machu Picchu. Stunning. Touristy? You betcha. Tons of people. However, worth is in every way. First, it's the mountains surrounding the site, kind of protecting the main archaeological site. They are towering, huge, massive. And straight up, coming over us. The, there's just the sheer immensity of the place. We're used to the pics of the mountain behind us here, but there is so much there! Terracing in every direction, high up, low down. Buildings in different states of repair, at the main gate, on the main hill, everywhere. Fascinating facts and knowledge of the site abounds.

The beginning of my piece done on site at Machu Picchu. Yes, it's about as predictable as one can get from a view and composition point of view. But I am there for Machu, so it goes down,...I apologize ahead of time for the amount of photos, it's just too hard to leave ANY out!

The quintessential of course,..

Liz and I, rehearsing for our upcoming Humm photo shoot. The Humm is a tabloid style artsy newspaper from the Ottawa Valley. They post people reading the Humm from all over the world. Ferraro Art Workshops has been featured many times! Hopefully, there'll be a few Peru sightings there. 

The real view,...

On the side, with terracing

Showing the extent of buildings on site

The terracing disappear into the valley with Andes in the background. 

A room with a view

more building scape, juxtaposed,...

rambling down that hill

sunlight and shadow on mountains, can it get any better? 

Sunshiny Us.

side view

up,...and down


Balconies,...parting is such sweet sorrow. 

Believe it or not, this is not the last posting on Peru. Til next time!