Thursday, May 15, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Twilight

When I first started seriously trying to do lighting studies with pastels on the movie, A Bug's Life, back in the mid-90's, I tried working on black Canson paper, as my inspiration for this, Ralph Eggleston, the Art Director of Toy Story, had done the same. However, I found in short order that I could not put down enough color to overcome the effects of the black ground, as Ralph could do so beautifully, so I went looking for other, less 'extreme' color choices. I quickly settled on the color  called 'Twilight', as it was a middle value, and the violet grey tone seemed to be harmonious with shadows and atmosphere in natural light, or at least the kind of light I was attempting to portray in my studies.

During that time, I started taking my pastels with me on bike rides around Pt. Richmond at lunch time, attempting little studies of nature, as I had noticed how fast the medium seemed to be. That violet grey paper worked pretty well outside. As I became more interested in working out of doors, the pastels
came with me on summer vacations to Oregon and Canada, and I incorporated the color Tobacco, a rich, warm brown, in my paper arsenal to allow for the colors of lakes, rivers, and streams I was studying.

About 3 years into this process, I began teaching periodic classes about the effects of natural light at work, to get folks that were lighting shots on computers, out of their offices to 'light shots' in nature, so to speak. Naturally I recommended they all use Twilight and for atmospheric views, and the other for creeks. That is my basic history with the use of those two colored papers over the last 18 years, though I have explored, and used, other colors.

Over the last few years I had noticed that Twilight was in short supply at local retail outlets, and had taken to ordering it in bulk from online sources. As I was prepping to teach a workshop, I wrote an online supplier asking about the shortage. He, in turn wrote Canson, and forwarded me their reply, which read as follows:

Twilight just didn't make the cut when Canson trimmed the colors to 50. Purely a business decision based on sales. 

Interestingly, I had started trying other lighter valued papers in the last few years, as I had noticed that I was getting a different range of brightness in the results, and perhaps the Twilight paper was making that expression more difficult. That said, I still use it regularly, but am left with a few conundrums to ponder: 

What to do when a reliable item one has been using for years is no longer being made?

How much of our work relies upon, or is defined by a specific element in our process?

The short answer to both these questions is "Stock up, and move on."

First off, I did locate and purchase enough sheets to last me awhile, but I am also fine with exploring other colors, and even surfaces. It turns out that Twilight is still in production in the 'Touch' line of lightly sanded papers that Canson produces out of Australia. Meanhwhile, I'm working with Moonstone, Dawn Pink, and Flannel Grey, among others. I don't feel,  nor do I wish to be reliant on a single color or surface to produce work that satisfies me.

In closing, here is a selection of my pastels done on Canson Twilight over the years as a tribute to its functional versatility.

So long Twilight!



Erika said...

Hi Bill,
I am suffering a similar conundrum since my go-to paper (Wallis Belgian Mist) is temporarily and maybe permanently out of production. I have tried other papers and even with underpainting they change the overall light of the work. It seems like an entire NEW palette even using the same sticks of color. The good news is that I have been experimenting a lot and gotten out of a bit of a rut. Each new paper is a new challenge to make work that pleases me. Perhaps all art materials should be changed every decade or so to keep us on our toes...

Bill Cone said...

Hi Erika, thanks for the note. I'm with you on experimenting more, and getting out of any 'rut' we might be in. I realized a long time ago that there was no 'right' color per se, for a ground, just one's that seemed more appropriate than others, given the lighting. I was very comfortable with 2 paper colors for years, but it has become evident to me that lighter valued surfaces can really make a difference at times.

Yes, it is good to shaken up a bit as we move along.

ddd said...

I got in habit of using Twilight ever since taking your workshop couple of years ago. It truly is a nice mid ground paper and I will miss using it. Nothing last forever so it is time to find other solutions. I used to make my own pastel paper, starting with a hot press watercolor sheet, then mixing water, fine pumice gel and gesso. It would result in very fine sanded paper, not course like many commercial ones, but very similar to gentle Canson feel I got to like very much. By mixing in some acrylic paint you can get any stain color you like. The problem is in keeping the consistency, not every batch would turn out the same. Also, it takes time to prepare it, and that was the main reason I stopped making them. Perhaps I'll get back in to it again. Besides twilight and tobacco, I really like like "sand" it is a warm neutral color. Also, speaking of black paper, I am using it for night paintings and I think it works well, the tone is still lighter than some of the darkest pastels, wich alowes for dark accents. If you have any paper suggestions for "nocturnes" please let me know, I am curious what you fund to work well. Cheers!

Bill Cone said...

Hi Dalibor, Thanks for weighing in on this one. It is good to know one can fashion their own surface and color if desired. I've never heard of pumice 'gel'. I just figured it came as a powder you mix with something.

I am using 'moonstone' a fair amount these days. It is a lighter valued warm, perhaps a bit darker and redder than Sand.

As for the black paper. I did use it more successfully on Cars for some of my night lighting studies. I also used some very dark blue paper for the same purpose. I still like the general principle of working from a ground with this medium, but there certainly are a variety of avenues. I remember the year you took the workshop, Diane Olivier did a piece one day just on white paper, and it was a knockout...very luminous. She might have done it on something like Rives BFK, a very soft printmaking paper. With a textured surface, one is often chasing away the paper color in some areas of the image, as it is in opposition to the desired color/value of that area.

Unknown said...

And so comes the end of the Bill Cone "Twilight" period. Glad I got my painting! ;)

Bill Cone said...

Hi Elaine, I still have some twilight stashed away, but a new period is 'dawning', for lack of a better term....

Jonathan Combs said...

Hi Bill, Jonathan Combs here--I love your pastel work. I know we haven't been in touch since you put me up for a couple of days in the Haight in the early 90's when I was looking for an artist's rep in SF but I was getting a bit nostalgic remembering school days at SF State (and getting roundly beaten in chess) and thought I'd say hi. I know the paper conundrum too well--a few years ago EssDee Scratchboard's coating machine went out and they stopped making the only scratchboard I ever used. On a positive note , it forced me to go completely digital and it's much better all the way around.

Bill Cone said...

Hi Jonathan, It is good to hear from you. Sorry to hear your favored medium also went out of production. We must be getting along in years, if our preferred means of making art come to an end, eh? Imagine if we'd been stymied by the end of halftone paper? Heavens!

I'm glad you're still keeping busy in the arts. Digital is vast, powerful, and more complex than I can fully grasp or use, but I also use it regularly at work these days, as the editing capacity is so useful when 'changes' are called for.

Still, I'm enamored by natural light and what it can teach me, so continue to wander in the weeds with a pack full of paper and pastels. (also therapeutic)

Yu Chung Peter Chan said...

Hi Bill, I have been a huge admirer of your work for a long time, and really inspired me to pick up learning pastels recently, thank you for sharing the info on the different paper types. Actually if you don't mind, can you share what type of pastel you use? I recently ordered the mungyo hand made pastel because they were on super discount :) alone with couple senneliers but have very little experience with other brands over all. thank you!

Bill Cone said...

Hi Peter, I'm glad to hear you're using pastels. A timeless medium that requires no batteries! I also started years ago with Sennelier, as one could purchase them readily at the Art Store, even individual sticks, which is very nice. I have also tried Schmincke, Unison, Mt. Vision, which are all compatible with each other. The bulk of my film work in the 90's was done with Unison and Sennelier. I stumbled onto Terry Ludwig pastels around 2000, and have used them extensively since then. They are unwrapped blocks that have a great deal of edge and surface to use for making different marks. In addition, I've found their range of colors to be more useful with regard to natural light, atmosphere, the figure, etc. In other words, a high percentage of the colors you might get in a landscape or figure set, you'll actually use. The disadvantage is you have to order them online, and can't pick open stock at a retail outlet.

It is good to try a variety of brands to see which ones feel right for you, as well as test the range of colors a manufacturer provides.

Rona said...

I think you and Dawn Pink make a good team!

Morgan Green said...

Hi Bill. Heard you speak at the California Art Club symposium in San Francisco. And I'd like to hear a lot more, especially your insights about light on water. When are you doing a workshop. I'd love to attend.

Bill Cone said...

@Rona: Thanks. We shall see how the 'relationship' with Pink progresses... ;-)

@ Morgan: Thanks for coming to my talk. I am teaching two more workshops this year. One is in the Sierra Buttes at the SF State Field Campus. I believe it is full up, but you can put your name on the waiting list, if you like. Here's a link to the page:
Scroll down to August 3rd, for my class listing, and who to contact.

In addition, I'll be teaching out at Pt. Reyes in October, which is still open. Here's a link for that:

Thanks for your interest.

Liz said...

Hah! I'm having a laugh at my own expense now... I wish I'd found this blog post two months ago - before my godsister, who I'm producing wedding invitations for, chose Canson Twilight as her inspiration color. I am kicking myself over how much I've now spent to ship sheets of the stuff in a piecemeal fashion from random suppliers. What's the saying... "Hindsight is Pantone 2020 C"?