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Art Masterclass - 94



How to Bring Drama to Your Paintings

Christine Russell - Posted on 28 May 2014

The late afternoon light is coming from top left, just behind the row of trees. Painting contre jour can be quite challenging, as the artist is looking directly into the sun. In this situation, the sunlight is filtered by the trees, and the figure, trees and coconut stall are effectively silhouetted. Lengthened shadows are projected diagonally in front of the scene.

You will need:

  • Sennelier La Carte card 9x12in. (23x30cm)

Magenta pastel pencil

Soft pastels used include:
  • Cream
  • Cerulean
  • Peach
  • Dark indigo
  • Prussian blue
  • Mid-tone green
  • Dark and pale brown
  • Pale and burnt orange
  • Warm blue
  • Bright yellow green
  • Violet

Step 1

On a sheet of Sennelier La Carte abrasive card in a warm shade, I began by making a simple outline drawing, using a magenta pastel pencil. I wanted some of the background to show through, as well as some of the drawing. This would give me a head start in helping to convey plenty of warm sunshine in my picture.

Step 2

Working broadly and lightly, with the pastel on its side so as not to fill the tooth of the surface early on, I blocked in the sky, sea and some foreground areas, working around the tree trunks, coconut stall and figure, leaving these areas as negative shapes within the composition. I used separate strokes of pale cream and cerulean for the sky, cerulean for the sea and warmer shades of peach for the foreground.

Step 3

I then worked on the tree canopy, using a very dark indigo and Prussian blue, overlaid with strokes of mid-tone green, allowing some of the darker colour to show through. Working from dark to light in this way helps me to achieve a three-dimensional quality. I also established the remaining dark areas of the composition, including the almost silhouetted figure, using strokes of indigo and dark brown.

Step 4

I put in further touches of progressively lighter foliage and some pale brown shades on the tree trunks. Patches of soft, dappled light were indicated with pale orange. I chose a warm blue shirt for the figure, which contrasts well with the much lighter-toned ocean and waves. The coconuts were blocked in with a deep burnt orange for the shadow areas, topped with a light, bright yellow-orange. All the edges in the picture were kept deliberately soft and unfinished.

Step 5

Returning to the tree canopy I developed the foliage further, adding more dark blue and green and some touches of bright yellow green. The foreground dappled shadows were put in using violet, with occasional dabs of green reflected light from the canopy, contrasting with patches of pale cream and peach to indicate the dappling. The warm background colour was allowed to show through in places. I further developed the foliage to the right and inserted sky colour between areas of foliage to open it up. Finally, I darkened slightly the coconut seller’s shirt to enhance the silhouette, brought a few strokes of pale sky colour into the sea to blur the horizon and added one or two touches of violet and cream to the roof of the hut to further enhance the effect of dappled light.

The finished painting

The Coconut Seller, Sri Lanka, soft pastel, 9x12in. (23x30cm)

Christine Russell
Christine will be leading painting holidays with Authentic Adventures to Puglia in southern Italy and Sri Lanka later this year, followed by Madeira in March 2015. For further details contact Authentic Adventures on 01453 823328 or visit Christine also runs courses at her studio in Gloucestershire. For further information telephone 01454 269268 or visit

This feature is taken from the July 2014 issue of Leisure Painter

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