Les Darlow is a teacher and an artist working in pastels, who focuses on dramatic, often coastal skyscapes. Prompted by a review of the Set of 64 Jackson’s Soft Square Pastels which he left on the Jackson’s site, we spoke to Les about the various types of soft pastel he uses in his work.
Duncan: Hi Les. Would you be able to talk us through your artistic career? When did you start teaching?
Les: For many years I worked in the Graphics Industry. I was trained as a Technical and Scientific Illustrator at Palatine College in Blackpool. I began teaching around 4 years ago when I was ‘let go’, so to speak, through redundancy. I thought about my next career move and decided to do what felt good and right. It was something I had always wanted to be – “a professional artist” – so this was my opportunity.
I was asked to complete a demonstration for an art group locally and that was it – I was hooked. I had never taught before, or demonstrated. I love to demonstrate and I suppose I am a bit of a showman (having spent a few years in my youth as a rock star!) The teaching began when I arranged a local workshop in pastel and the response was quite amazing. I had teachers coming to my workshops saying how good I was at teaching. Not sure where this came from; I think just passion for my subject. I have now been invited to teach all over the UK and Europe and, in 2017, America, from Florida to San Diego.
Duncan: How long have you been working in pastel? Do you think of yourself as primarily a ‘pastel artist’?
Les: I have been using pastels professionally for about five years now, having been bought some at Christmas by a family member.
Pastels are my main medium. Although I paint in every medium – oil, acrylic, watercolour – pastels are special to me. They are quite unlike any other medium, being instant, vibrant, and manipulable. I love the freedom of pastel, and how they react when mixed on wonderful textured papers.
Duncan: Is there something about soft pastels which makes them particularly good for capturing the effects of a changing sky? Do you often work en plein air?
Les: There is nothing better than painting en plein air. It is much more fun and three dimensional, so it really makes a difference in my work. It does have its challenges, because pastels can’t be exposed to water, so the weather conditions have to be right before I can venture out. The great thing about being outside is that you get a real feel for your subject, and you can physically move around your painting. My paintings are usually very weather-based; this is primarily what I paint. I am fascinated by weather, so being in those blizzards and storms at night is important for me.
Pastels are so, so good when it comes to skies. Skies are constantly moving, growing, changing, dissipating, so the pastel comes into its own when it comes to skies, with its instant and manipulable nature. In my opinion, they were invented for this purpose. Skies, and clouds especially, are full of hard and soft edges, so the ability to blend with the pastel is extremely important. I love to apply my layers of colours, building all those purples and blue-greys. It is one of the only mediums that is very hands-on. I always feel that this again is a unique part of pastels, the fact that you get to work them into the paper.
Les: I have always used Unison Pastels, and purchased them for my students, but we often need a slightly harder pastel, so not to fill the tooth too quickly, so I also purchase Jackson’s Square Soft pastels for my students.
When I was introduced to Canson Touch, I soon realised it preferred a harder pastel, especially to begin with. The Jackson’s Pastels are absolutely perfect for this; they are harder and don’t fill the tooth very quickly, so they’re ideal. Although they are a cheaper pastel, compared to other brands, there seems to be little dust when applying. I use them more for my background work, but then again the square hard edge is great for adding those sharp, intense, hard lines for finishing.
The colour range of 64 pastels is pretty good for working my base in. The square shape is appealing as I always use the side of the pastel. Overall, a great pastel for the price.
Les’ original review of the Set of 64 Jackson’s Square Soft Pastels ran as follows:
‘Excellent pastel, especially on abrasive surfaces. Generally I would go for Unison or a professional pastel, but for the money these are excellent. I highly recommend these. The square shape helps you block in very easily. You can also get sharp edges for detail. Surprisingly little dust when using, compared other cheap brands. Loves Canson Touch as a paper. Personally I think papers should be sold with the correct pastels, but we all know that will never happen… GREAT pastel for abrasive surfaces.’