Jenny Keal – Pastel Workshop in Marlborough

Sometimes it is a good idea to take a completely different approach to a painting. I normally start by painting the sky, background hills and trees and then painting the focal point, finishing with the foreground. There are practical reasons for this, as it is easy to smudge a focal point that you are pleased with when painting the area above it.
Farm Above Dinas Cross JK
However, in the case of the painting illustrated here, a cottage in the Preseli hills, Pembrokshire, I began with the focal point, then painted the sky and trees ending with the foreground.  The surface I am using is Fisher 400 art paper which has been tinted with a purple ink wash. This gave me a dark background and allowed me to leave some of the surface unpainted giving a unity to the work.

By adopting this order of working I found myself working in a much looser way, for example adding the light between the branches of the trees instead of the other way around, and painting the trees around the buildings rather than painting the building over the trees.

So experiment with your approach to a painting and see what happens.

I will be running a Pastel Workshop in the White Horse Bookshop in Marlborough on 4th August, 2016. If you are interested in enrolling please contact Edwina Pearce on 01672 the White Horse Bookshop in Marlborough.

Painting in Pastel & Sketching in Watercolour

I love sketching, in fact I love sketching more than painting. There is nothing like the feeling of being outside, hopefully in pleasant weather, capturing an old buildings or lovely landscape in your sketchbook.

Stockland, Devon

Sketch of old cottage in Stockland, Devon, by Jenny Keal

Many of the sketches I make will never become paintings as most of them I do just for the pure pleasure of it, but every sketch I do teaches me something, sharpens my observation and improves my painting and drawing skills.

Sketching in watercolour is not as difficult as you might imagine, and there is a sense of liberation about painting a watercolour in a sketchbook that is absent when working on a sheet of expensive watercolour paper in the studio. You do not have to worry if it goes wrong as it is ‘just a sketch’ . You can slosh the paint around and so often I prefer the looseness of the sketch to the carefully considered finished painting, whether it is in watercolour or pastel.


Typical Exmoor scenery, (photo)


Lynmouth Devon (photo)

If you would like to experience this sense of liberation you could join me in Lynmouth, Devon from 20th to 23rd May this year. We will be sketching in watercolour out of doors, and then turning these sketches into pastel paintings in the studio. You don’t have to use pastel of course, you can use whatever medium you prefer. The main emphasis will be on capturing the marvellous Devon scenery, pretty cottages, tumbling streams, woodland and even the coast.

One of the benefits of watercolour sketching is that it definitely improves your studio watercolours.

Sketching on Skye

David and I have just returned home from a trip to Skye. We stayed with Rosemary Hale in Aird of Sleat at her lovely coft house for a few days and for me it was sketching heaven with traditional buildings in every direction against a backdrop of mountains and islands.

Cottage on Skye

Half Seventeen in Aird of Sleat where we stayed with Rosemary

There were so many scenes to sketch that I had to work very quickly. In these circumstances I often create outline sketches in the field so that I can capture more compositions, and add watercolour washes to these in the evenings. That way I have plenty of material to work from when I return home and return with a feeling of having done justice to the plethora of subjects.

Sketch on Skye

Lower Breakish, Sketch done out of doors in about 10 minutes

Watercolour Sketch

Lower Breakish, Watercolour washes added the same evening

By adding the watercolour washes to the sketch the same evening, the colours are still fresh in my mind. Sometimes I make colour notes on the pencil sketch to remind me. Working this way I can produce 5 or 6 sketches a day instead of just one. This sketch was done on a walk along the shore at Lower Breakish.

Towards the end of our stay on Skye we spent a couple of nights with Helen Stephensen at her superb Bed and Breakfast, Sealladh Alainn,  in Lower Breakish. The views from the breakfast table across the Loch were stunning with subjects to draw and paint in every direction.

Sealladh Allain

View from the breakfast table at Sealladh Alainn

David and I are both demonstrating at Patchings Art Festival on 14th and 15th June. Come along and say hello to us there.

Pastel Dust Control

Jenny's studio set up

Jenny’s studio set up

The most common criticism of painting in pastel is the problem of dust. This can be a concern if you have breathing problems or are sensitive to dust . I am asthmatic myself. However there are a number of methods of reducing the dust considerably.

On the right is a page from my new book, Painting with Pastel, which reproduces my studio set up. (copyright Paul Bricknell and Search Press)

My three point dust reduction plan is as follows:-

1. Always work with the painting vertical on an easel with a right angled channel, (cardboard or plastic) under the drawing board. This allows the pastel dust to drift down into the channel and you do not have to blow away the excess pastel as you would if the painting was at a shallower angle. If you don’t like standing you can use a desk easel, but keep the painting vertical. You can make an angled channel with a length of mountboard. At the end of a painting session I rarely have more than a quarter of a teaspoon of dust in the channel.

2. Keep a dry flannel in your hands while you are working. This serves two purposes; it keeps your hands relatively clean and you can clean any grubby sticks as you work so that you can identify the colours easier.

3. Work on fine sandpaper; the abrasive quality of the surface grips the pastel and produces less dust than working on paper. Sandpaper also encourages you to work ‘thin’, i.e. use fewer layers of pastel. I find the colours are more vibrant on sandpaper and there is no need to build up layers to get depth of colour.

You will notice in the photograph there is also an old towel on the floor, this also absorbs any dust and prevents dropped pastels from breaking. The towel on the table helps to keep the pastel sticks clean.

The tools in the holder hanging from the easel include colour shapers for blending, brushes for removing mistakes and palettes knives for creating the spatter effect (more on that in another post) etc.

I have been experimenting with Pan Pastels, as you will see from some of my other posts, and have found that they produce much less dust than stick pastels. The method of working in Pan Pastel is quite different from stick pastel and a number new techniques need to be developed. If you want to see some of these, I have an article in the March 2012 issue of Leisure Painter Magazine. (available now)


Brecon Beacons

Brecons Beacons, pastel by Jenny Keal

I will be demonstrating pastel painting techniques at

Erwood Station Craft Centre

on Saturday 10th September 2011 between 1.00 p.m. & 4.00 p.m.

Click here for details

Above is the painting I did as a demonstration at the station in July.

Come along and enjoy the best coffee and cakes in Powys.