I don’t know about you but I’ve heard
rumors that a lot of artists don’t enjoy painting commissions
(this is said “tongue-in-cheek”). I am not one of them. And
this pastel of Archer is a case in point.
As you can see from the look on my face, as I sit on him
barefoot and bareback in the river.....I am SO happy!! And that
happy day, when I was asked to photograph this gorgeous paint
Quarter Horse, turned into a commission and surprise Valentine’s
So! Let’s talk about how I painted the wonderful Archer with
pastel on velour paper!
1] I not only drew him onto the gray velour paper with a
graphite (9B) pencil, as you can see, I added a lot of detail at
the same time. I like to “feel” my way into a new painting by
doing a lot of graphite work underneath the pastel. No one will
ever see it but it helps me breathe through the fear and
nervousness of working with something new. Yes! I go through
I added a little flesh color with a NuPastel (a brand of hard
pastels that I use for detail) to his muzzle and then found a
hot pink, also in NuPastel for the inside of his nostril.
[Step 2] Now we’re getting serious (and covering up all
my graphite!) by first adding some dark grays to anything that
will have darker colors on top of it later. I do this with the
side of a dark gray soft pastel. I usually use Rembrandts for
this part because they have a great range of grays and they are
just the right “softness”....is that a word?! Well it is now!
Archer is a Paint (color) we put a light coat of soft gray
pastel underneath anything that will be white later. Then I used
a fabulous color (#538,5) that Rembrandt makes, sort of a
brownish purple, for another layer on the undercoat that will
eventually be black. On top of that a dark blue. We are trying
to deepen the color as much as we can before we add any black.
Black by itself is a very flat, unattractive color.
Find a nice olive green and just use the side of the pastel
stick to stroke in some loose color in the background. We want
the horse to be the object of attention and not the background,
so keep it loose. The cool greens will help the warm tones of
the horse pop out even more.
[Step 3] Lots going on in this one! With the tip of a
white NuPastel I started adding
white to the blaze on his face. At the top, where it’s in
shadow, I used a medium gray NuPastel, just the tip of it, to
darken in some of the shadows and give some definition to the
details on his muzzle. Then use a pink NuPastel to gently stroke
in a bit of color around his mouth and muzzle.
The next layer of color to go under the black is a dark, soft
gray. Again, since I love their grays, I use a Rembrandt here.
And as you can see, at this point I get out a Girault black (or
use NuPastel or Creatcolor) to start softly defining the darks
around his blaze, ear and the bone structure on his face.
[Step 4] The eye! I looooove painting eyes!! It starts
making the painting come alive! And because Archer has a black
coat around his eye it will make him look as if his eye is just
totally black, even though we horse lovers know that’s not true.
Stay tuned... we’ll deal with that in one of the last steps but
for now, just pretend it’s a black eyeball. Again, use a
smaller, harder pastel such as a NuPastel and fill it in the eye
on top of the grays and blues that are already in there. At the
top I put a bit of blue hard pastel (reflected from the sky) and
then a light gray hard pastel for a general highlight then a
point of bright white as a strong reflection.
Next with a sharpened NuPastel in light gray, I start drawing in
the details around the eye. With that same pastel the veins and
bone structure of his face can be brought up into view by gently
cross hatching little lines in the lighter areas. At this point
I go back and forth between the light gray and the black, to
really define the contours of his face.
He’s starting to look encouraging, don’t you think? At this
point in a painting I usually breathe a sigh of relief and
realize that it just might work! YAY!!
[Step 5] Oh what a handsome boy! You can see here that
I used some soft grays to play with the background a bit more
and then I got serious about adding the black to Archer’s face
and neck and ears. I used a black Girault for most of this
because they are just a really nice brand of pastels for velour
paper but use whatever you have. Try them all, you will find
your favorites too. I DON’T use a Rembrandt black at this point
because they make one of the most intensely dark blacks and I
hold that out until the very end. The only soft pastels I’ve
ever found to come close are the black ones I make myself... but
that’s another story.
6] Here I’m introducing some dark browns (use a soft pastel)
into his forelock, face and neck. This means that he lives a
good life outside, in the sun, and his blacks have gotten a bit
sun bleached. I’m also using a very soft (Sennelier) range of
green pastels to lay in the background. I do this with the side
of the pastel and sometimes loosen up the pigment on sandpaper
first then drag that loosened pigment across the paper for a
[Step 7 - Finished!] He’s finished!! I used a black,
sharpened NuPastel for the fine lines that make up his mane. Use
the sharpened side of the pastel and drag your strokes out in
one long motion to make each hair. On top of that a light gray
NuPastel, sharpened, for highlights (and used in the same way)
in the mane and on his coat. Some lighter greens in the
background to “pop” him out more and then a really soft reddish
brown (and just a touch of it) in the bottom part of his eye
makes it come alive!! The side of a very soft light gray pastel
was used on the bottom to soften up the edges and we have a
Valentine’s present all finished. Hopefully it will be a
wonderful surprise and make someone VERY HAPPY indeed!!
If you’re thinking about coming and painting with me anytime
this year, you will find my schedule for 2012 on my website at
All of the Sutter Creek workshops are being held at my studio in
small groups, so I can help you more. Come paint with me, it’s