Horse Portrait in Oil Pastel by Melanie Cambridge 16 October 2021

This was our first “real life” demonstration since 15 February 2020 due to the Corona Virus pandemic. Attending were 20 members and 2 guests in the Club Room at Ferring Village Hall.

Melanie started by sharing a copy of the reference photograph and a sample of the pastelmat support to be used. She explained that this was ideal for oil pastel, as it would accept many layers of pastel comfortably. It is important to spend money on a good quality support. Pastel paper tended to show the grain of the paper through to the final picture. She was to use a light brown coloured piece of pastelmat. Pentel oil pastels were to be used.

Melanie started out by sketching the subject in charcoal pencil on paper. This enabled her to learn about the structure of the subject, including the muscles and skeleton present beneath the skin.


Turning to the light brown piece of pastelmat, Melanie sketched out the subject using a 4B graphite pencil. Care was taken to ensure that the main features were accurately placed at this stage. Bright orange and burnt sienna colours were applied with the side of the pastel - blocking in an underpainting. She then turned to the lighter areas of the coat, using white, light grey and dark grey. Layering the colours helps mute some of the brighter colours and builds up the texture of the picture. Melanie talked about achieving a tactile covering of pastel, almost like a skin. A delicate layer of light blue was applied to achieve a feeling of shine.

The darker area of the mane was under-painted in red. A layer of green was then added, the complimentary colour to the red. The lighter area of the mane was under-painted in in yellow, and the complimentary colour of purple was used. By the break the underpainting had been completed.


During the break there was a lively discussion on the merits of other brands of oil pastel, particularly Sennelier. These had many advantages, including a wider range of colours, but were of course more expensive. There was also a discussion on solvents to blend the pastel, Melanie promised to experiment with this in the second half. She also shared her belief that oil pastels were great for portraits and pet portraits, but were not really suitable for landscapes.

During the break Melanie had noticed the horse’s right eye, to the left on the portrait, was too high. She applied low odour thinners with a watercolour brush to remove the offending eye. Her preferred method of blending was to overlay different colours of pastel. Time was spent to create the shadow of the left eye socket. Melanie frequently stood back from the picture to assess progress.

At this stage Melanie tried blending the lighter area of the mane using solvent on a brush. It proved less than successful, causing the pigment to granulate, and would need to be left to dry before more pastel could be applied. The conclusion was not to use turps or other thinners to blend oil pastels, at least on pastelmat.

Nevertheless a good likeness had been achieved at this stage.


Applying a square mount gave an indication of the appearance of a square cop of the image.


In the remaining time Melanie treated us to a crash course in sketching horses. Her technique was to build up the image using a series of shapes, e.g. an oval for the belly, a circle for the rear quarters etc.


It was a thoroughly entertaining afternoon and a great way to restart our “real life” demonstrations. While you did not have such a close view of the artist at work as Zoom provides, it was good to interact with the artist and other members and guests.

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