The Development of a Pastel Portrait

Portrait of Josephine, pastel on paper mounted on board

In a previous post I shared my pastel head work.   But how are they done?   The facture of any work of art is fascinating, even for the casual observer.  So in this post I would like to share the development of a portrait.  Working from life definitely enriches the final piece.  It enables a collaboration with the sitter that other methods intrinsically exclude.   Improvisation and the ever changing environment introduce unforeseen elements that only time can reveal.  It is the artist’s duty to select from this collection of observations and weave them into a cohesive piece.

The number of sittings vary depending upon the project.  The average piece requires 4 to 8.  This portrait was done from life with sittings that were completed over a 2 week period.  Josephine (or Giusy for her friends)  is a child psychologist that works the youth with severe mental problems.  She is a very strong person and that pretty much informed the initial head pose.  In our subsequent discussion we decided to introduce a little doll to symbolize the frailty of man’s mental condition.  The doll that she is holding comes from her personal collection.

I apologize for the quality of the photographs.   The colors are richer and deeper in nature.  Some of the images are a bit out of focus and the lighting conditions are variable.  The portrait was done under natural light.

Day 1, charcoal lay-in
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Day 7
Final Portrait

Below is a photo of my pastels.  The majority are Matt-made.  Apart from saving a lot of money, home made pastels are much superior in quality.  The artist also has complete control over the colors and shape of the individual sticks.  The support is a sheet of heavy hand made italian paper mounted on a board.

My pastels
Detail
Detail of Doll

5 thoughts on “The Development of a Pastel Portrait

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  1. Hello, Matthew. I enjoyed your beautiful pastel portraits. I’ve had some experience with pastel and I think it’s a very sensitive and responsive medium! Would you mind explaining to me how to make my own pastels? I’d be very curious to know! Best wishes, Marjan

    1. Thank you Marjan,
      As most practical things, an explanation in words is limiting. Pastel is basically pure pigment with a delicate vegetable gum binder. Ralph Mayer explains the basic process quite well in his ‘Artist’s Handbook.’

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