The majority of my still life paintings begin with a photo shoot. In the case of "Eve of Seduction" the shoot was contained within a large photo box that I built out of cardboard. The photo box allows me to control my lighting as well as remove any clutter that might be behind the image. Most of my photo shoots consist of 100 to 300 shots. This is where it is so handy to have digital.
For detailed realistic work I work out my drawing first on a separate piece of paper then transfer it on to my preferred paper which is La Carte by Sennelier. La Carte is a sanded paper which can hold many layers of pastel and isn't hard on your fingers when it comes to blending. The only draw back with it is that you can not get it wet if you do it removes the finish leaving a unsightly hole in your painting.
My preference for transferring the image is to use transfer paper which comes in both black & white. I have used the chalk method to transfer drawings before but find that the transfer paper is a cleaner option for me.
In this photo you can see that my paper is affixed to a firm board using masking tape. Any type of firm surface will work, I've even been known to use an old canvas for my board. I keep the photo reference clipped to the top of the board so that it is close by to refer to and also so that I don't misplace it.
When I work with pastels I usually start on the left hand side of my paper or the upper left hand corner and work my way across the drawing. This is so that I don't smudge areas that I have already painted. Although a mahl stick can be used I find it easier to work without one.
The board is kept slightly tipped forward to allow the pastel dust to fall freely onto the catch cloth that I have below the painting. At regular intervals I also remove the painting from the easel, tilt it and give it a good hard spanking to remove any loose pastel dust.
(Please note that spanking would not work on smooth papers or velour.)
Note: Although not shown here, while painting I would have the painting held in place by the canvas holder.
I use a wide variety of pastels with my main staples being Great American, Unison and Terry Ludwig Pastels. The reds for "Eve of Seduction" are from the Terry Ludwig Intense Darks collection which I just love.
Pastels come in various degrees of hardness some are very soft, just a little touch and they explode on your paper and do not accept other layers on top of them, these are the finishing ones the softest of these is Schmincke's.
I start with the hardest pastels first and build up to the softest.
Once I am finished with the main painted area I work on the background. In this painting I knew in advance that I was going to have a fairly solid color for my background. With a more elaborate background I would have worked on it in the beginning.
Add some final touches and tada a painting is born!