It was a last minute decision to splash out £58 on a pastel class at the Island Arts Centre in Lisburn. This was the first time I had signed up for anything in their evening programme and I guess I only did so because Lawrence, one of the members of Lisnagarvey Art Society, had recommended this class to me.
The news on that first night was that a sewing class had hijacked the usual room (the one Lisnagarvey Art Society meets in) and we were in a smaller one where four tables were not high enough to get your knees under – I think this was a children’s art room! Not to worry! There were about sixteen in the class – mostly ladies. There were quite a few beginners so I didn’t feel too overawed. Dawn Allen the tutor was absolutely brilliant, spending fifteen minutes with everyone, looking at work, encouraging, throwing out little tips, giving advice and answering questions – and I had loads of those. She was a proficient pastellist herself so I knew she was speaking from vast experience when I asked about the best paper to work on and how to strip overworked pastel off a page.
My pastel style is quite different from most pastellists I see online or in books. They definitely don’t go into as much detail as myself. Trial and a lot of error has shown me that Unison Soft Pastels and most brands of pastel pencils don’t work very well together. The exception to that would be Conté a Paris pastel pencils which have a thicker and softer lead and though it’s not a perfect marriage they’ll do for everything except the really detailed work. For that I have learned to forget about Unison and go straight to Pitt or Derwent pastel pencils. They work perfectly for me and my style of painting.
Looking back now I didn’t really do much work during my time there – I missed two, maybe three weeks due to being too busy with work. I used the two hour class to experiment and trial techniques on scrap paper that I would later work into my paintings whenever I was confident it would give me the desired result. For that reason the bulk of my paintings were done in my studio at home. I worked on three pieces during that first ten week spell at the pastel class – Gold Hill, Ballintoy Harbour and Gus the Gorilla. They’re all nearly finished just requiring a few last minute touch-ups and a signature before I take them to Fiona for framing.