Desert Florals in Pastel: Plant Portrait: Gesture


We are seeking to capture the fundamental quality of a desert plant. I’m looking at a flowering Brittlebush. This is a complex plant so it will take some time and many steps.

First, get the gist with some gesture drawings. Gesture captures movement, weight, gravity and growth. Exert more pressure for heavier , thicker parts and less pressure for the more reaching airy parts. Make marks in the direction of the growth of the plant, from the base up. Work quickly and look mostly at the plant.


Make a few gesture drawings, wiping out each one with a soft cloth, drawing the next one on the same page, each time looking more, tuning in more to the quality of your subject.


Once you’ve made a few gesture drawings, and wiped them out, you’ll have a mid-tone with some old marks from previous drawings peeking through. Leave all of this and make a final gesture drawing with an eraser instead of charcoal. Subtract material from the page. Use a feather or blow to remove eraser debris.


Now, still using charcoal, begin to make a contour drawing of the plant right over the top of the ghost. Try to keep your eyes mostly on the plant, you can even make this a blind contour, where you don’t look at your paper. Eventually you’ll want to look, however, to make sure you are placing some of the major features in the right areas. You can make this drawing as exact as you like. I’m not being very exact, but I am making sure to distinguish some different shapes and repeat others.


After you have a fair amount of contour, which is essentially the outline of value shapes, begin to fill them in . Because you are working from a gray toned paper, you can use the eraser for higher, lighter values and the charcoal for darkest values. You may switch from vine charcoal to compressed charcoal, since you have a better idea of what goes where at this stage. Compressed charcoal has grease in it so it is much more difficult to erase than vine charcoal. (I am not using compressed in this demo).


Use a pencil eraser for detail.


Choose a palette. I am using one color, its tints, tones and shades plus gray, dark gray and white for a monochromatic color scheme.


I begin with the flower heads because they are very bright and strong. Even thought they are yellow, I try to stick to my scheme of yellow-green and use a saturated yellow with greenish tinge.

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Next, I place a color close to the pure hue. It happens in the mid tones. I try to put it everywhere it might fit, all over the piece, even in the parts surrounding the plant. Beacause this is a monochromatic painting, all parts should have the same color scheme.


I place a shade of yellow-green, mostly in the shadow areas. I mix or overlap dark gray with it where I want to lower the saturation and cool off and dull the color.


Now, I return to the lights, placing a tint of yellow-green everywhere I think it will work. I continue this pattern af placing lights, mid-tones and darks and cooling and dulling them with light, mid and dark gray until the daylight has changed so much that the shadows have moved significantly.

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I began the piece at 11 o’clock and stopped at about 1 PM. It is at a stage where is resembles a Brittlebush in essence to me. I can return to it again at the same time of day to continue to develop it more.

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3 thoughts on “Desert Florals in Pastel: Plant Portrait: Gesture

  1. How long did this process take? The result is great but I think I need to stick to simpler subjects at present. I save all your blogs so maybe I can accept this challenge later in my “practice”.

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