Maryland Pastel Society newsletter


Margaret Dyer Figurative Pastel Workshop

Margaret Dyer Figurative Pastel Workshop
It's All About Squinting and Values: Report from the Margaret Dyer Workshop
By Jean Hirons

After four intense days of painting the figure with Margaret Dyer, and producing 11 paintings (yes—11!), I am here to report that this was a truly inspiring experience.  Margaret gave us all so much during her time with us, working us hard, but constantly helping out, as needed.  Some of the group were obviously very experienced figure and portrait painters, but for some it may have been their first experience. Others, like me, had done figurative work in the past but now primarily work with other subject matter. So it was a challenging, but enriching experience for all.

The Initial Drawing:r]

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Massing in the Shadows

Margaret began with a one-hour demo on a mid-tone gray Ampersand pastel board.  She began by carefully drawing the figuring with charcoal, measuring and working on the volume of the form. Once the drawing was to her satisfaction, she then used charcoal to outline the large shapes of values: mid-tones, darks, and lights. To see the shapes, she emphasized the need to continually squint—at the model and at the painting. She identified the blackest areas using black pastel, so as to be able to determine the appropriate value for the shadowed areas. Then, working first in the shadowed areas, she began layering warm then cool, then warm colors, using the same color over the entire piece within the appropriate value area.  Her initial choice of colors is arbitrary, so long as it is the appropriate value.  In the light areas, she begins with a very light pastel, again layering warm and cool colors.  She generally finishes her skins tones with a cool color.  

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Adding the Light Areas

She emphasizes that it's never too late to redraw!  She keeps her shapes separate until the end, when she uses a mid-tone warm value to round over the edges of dark and light.  She also pays a lot of attention to lost and found edges, making sure that some edges of the figure disappear into the background.

The effects of all of this are paintings that sparkle with vibrancy and life.  She avoids too much detail, focusing more on the shapes—the result of all that squinting--particularly the beautiful negative shapes that help define the figure and add bits of light and color to the piece.  

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The Finished Picture

In addition to her demo, Margaret gave us a wonderful slide presentation (twice!) that showed paintings in various stages and many examples of her work.  It really helped when she gave it the second time around, after we had been trying to do as she said, some with more success than others!

As a participant, I found the workshop to be very stimulating and, of course, also somewhat frustrating!  For me the frustrations were 1) limiting myself to three values, 2) using lots of different colors instead of a limited palette, and 3) hands! (I omitted the feet!!!).  But the joys far outweighed the frustrations.  What I loved most was the sheer joy of seeing and drawing the figure again, after many years of focusing on landscapes.  I also enjoyed the freedom to use color in a completely uninhibited manner--there was no discussion on appropriate skin tones.