I began another series of daily portraits last week – planning again, to do one for every day this month of July but switching to a different material this time. I wanted to do something that would be a bit quicker than painting as I have lots of other work to get on with this month so I decided to keep it simple and use conté sticks and pencils. Whilst I used them a lot many years ago they feel very unfamiliar to me now as it has been so long. They do share some similarities to soft pastels (which I love) but I do find them very different to work with – being more a ‘drawing and sketching’ medium whereas I see working with soft pastels as more like painting.

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For anyone who is unfamiliar with Conté (excuse me if I don’t always have the accent above the é – I can’t for the life of me work out how to type it on my computer and I had to cut and paste this from somewhere else!) – it is a drawing medium which is made up of compressed pigments (often naturally found pigments although you can now get them in a huge array of colours) and clay. They are very opaque which means you can use them on dark paper and also layer them – the amount of layers depends on what type of paper you are using – rough paper will allow more layers to be created and they work well on pastel paper which has a very fine ‘sandpaper’ like surface which grabs onto the pigments and holds it there. They are a lot harder than traditional soft pastels and as a result you can get fine lines and details, sharpening them to a point or working them on their side or the edge of the pastel. They are also not as dusty as soft pastels which is a huge benefit to some who are irritated by it.

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I had a very old set that I got probably ten years ago plus a few conte and pastel pencils so that is what I started with but upon realizing they were never going to get me through the whole month I ordered a couple of new sets, some individual sticks and more pencils. I don’t often use fixative as I hate the way it dulls the colours of pastels and I usually store them straight away in glassine paper to protect them but with working on them every day they are going to pile up pretty quickly. I had read somewhere about this fixative so thought I would give it a try and so far so great! I don’t notice any dulling or darkening of colours at all at the moment – I am only putting one very light layer on the surface so it does not fix them completely but may add another layer and see how that does. There is also no smell at all that I can detect so it is safe to use in my studio.

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I will post later this week on my progress but I am loving it so far! For now I am going to tackle today’s portrait.

x x x

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