56. Mist over Vela Luka

•2018/11/26 • Leave a Comment

Mist over Vela Luka – oil pastels on paper, 39cm x 29cm, by Delfino Cornali ©2018

On a misty October morning in 2009, I snapped the photo on which this piece is based. I’d hopped an early morning bus from Korçula’s main town across the island to the port town of Vela Luka. The crew aboard a blue fishing boat made its preparations before heading out to sea.

What prompted me to snap this photo was the unusual reflection on the water’s surface. The entire port was bathed in silver light, probably due to the refracted sunlight as it penetrated the low band of fog that hung over the hills above the town. The water reflected back that glow, diffusing it in all directions. It was truly magical – within moments, the fog bank dissolved completely.

In this piece, I attempt to capture the effects that the fog bank had created on that day.  I deepened the colors in the hills just above the town – I think this was caused by the fog’s shadow. Notice that the tops of the hills above the fog bank were in full sun. A light breeze ruffled the surface of the water just slightly, which distorted the reflections of the houses and boats.

I made use of the Sennelier oil pastels “Transparent Blue” and “Aluminum” to accentuate the reflected light on the water’s surface.  To create the illusion of still water, I blended Mars Grey with Indigo Light and French Ultramarine.

55. View from Iceberg Point

•2018/08/22 • Comments Off on 55. View from Iceberg Point

View from Iceberg Point – oil pastels on paper, 8″ x 10″, ″ by Delfino Cornali ©2018

In July of 2018 Michele and I took a midweek trip to Lopez Island, a quiet island in the San Juan Islands of Puget Sound. On our first morning jaunt, we visited Iceberg Point on the southern tip of the island. A morning fog had just lifted, a light breeze suffused the hillside in sea-cooled air that smelled of salt spray, spruce and kelp.

I took a dozen or so photos that morning. The one which became the basis for this piece is my favorite. I love the depths in this image. It’s as if the image leads your eye progressively deeper into the image, from one depth plane to the next. When I’d taken the photo I hadn’t noticed the reflections on the water.  Yet the photo showed them unmistakably, despite the waves’ distortions.

While I was working on this piece, I had been reading a book about Gustav Klimt’s landscape paintings.  Klimt was an Austrian artist better known for his portrait work.  A color plate of Schönbrunner Schlosspark 1916 struck me.  It amazed me how he’d abstracted the shapes & textures of trees into thousands of parallel lines of color.

So I focused on reproducing a similar abstraction, especially on the foreground grasses.

Special thanks to Carol, our Airbnb host, who’d suggested we visit Iceberg Point that morning.



54. Seascape, Cafe Levanat

•2018/07/09 • Comments Off on 54. Seascape, Cafe Levanat

Seascape, Cafe Levanat – oil pastels on paper, 11″x14″ by Delfino Cornali ©2018

On the last day of a vacation along the Dalmatian coast of Croatia in 2009, we discovered a small cafe overlooking the Adriatic.  It was a breezy October afternoon in the outskirts of Dubrovnik. The sun filtered onto the table through the leaves of the bottle brush trees that lay between the table and the cliff on which the cafe rested. Despite being in a big city, we’d found a quiet spot away from the city noise.  The wind blew the sea into a frothy texture. I snapped the photo of that textured sea, framed by a stone wall mottled in sun & shade.  Nine years later, I rediscovered that photo and resolved to attempt to capture the image in pastels.

The first issue with which I struggled was to duplicate the color of the sea. I didn’t have the “perfect” shade of blue in my pastel collection that matched the photo. I describe how I solved this issue in my previous blog.

I studied the photo’s details, especially the mottled texture of the tree trunk.  Although the trunk hides mostly in shadow (so therefore the texture should be more muted), I knew firsthand that people can see textures that cameras cannot.

What fascinates me about this piece is how those two textures – sea & tree – meld into their respective images as we step away from the painting. Up close, our eyes see blobs and lines of color.  But at a distance, our brains “mix” the colors – a process over which we have zero control.



Flat Seascapes in oil pastels

•2018/06/23 • 1 Comment

Working with oil pastels has its limitations.  While working on my latest piece – an Adriatic seascape – I discovered I didn’t have the “exact” color match from my blue oil pastels to the shade of blue I needed for the seascape.  The photo from which I was working suggested little variation in the sea.  I tried mixing several colors directly onto the paper, but I didn’t like the end result.


color mix on plexiglass palette

What I came up with was to use a small piece of plexiglass as a palette. I selected the five colors which I wanted to blend (white, grey, violet, medium blue, ultramarine), and forced a bolus of oil pastel onto the plexiglass.

Then I pulled the colors I wanted to blend onto a fine-pointed paper stub. In most cases I blended just two or three colors at a time.

For the seascape, I wanted to make the surface of water appear more lively, to suggest a seascape where the afternoon breeze is stirring the water’s surface, but not so much as to suggest a storm.

I created a cross-hatched texture by making small ‘x’ and ‘y’ marks with the stub.  I made the effect more pronounced in the foreground, less so in the distance.  I deliberately chose a distinct texture for the leaves/branches in the foreground.


sea texture using grey, white, violet & blues

Here is a sample of using the above technique.  The next posting will show the completed piece.


11.Tassajara Lantern

•2009/02/11 • Comments Off on 11.Tassajara Lantern
Tassajara Lantern, chalk pastels on paper, 2004

Tassajara Lantern, chalk pastels on paper, 2004

I came to know Tassajara from my interest in cooking.  Years ago, I was introduced to bread making through Edward Aspe Brown’s (1960s-classic) Tassajara Bread Book.  I wouldn’t physically visit Tassajara until twenty years later.  Tassajara – a Zen Buddhist monastery-retreat in the mountains of central California – is miles from the nearest patch of pavement, cell phone tower or telephone pole.  When evening comes, a designated resident dutifully lights a handful of these blue kerosene lanterns.  This one hangs at the entrance of one of the communal bathrooms.

I love that, in the background, blurred and out-of-focus, is a walking staff, at the ready for someone to pick up and use.  I love the grey smudge of kerosene soot on the inside of the glass.  I love the flecks of Coleman paint chipped off the finish.  And I love the strong, harsh California sunlight that blazes hot white and pitch black.

I realize it would have been a much more challenging piece to capture the lantern at night, at “work”, to try to capture the yellow glow the lantern casts onto the dusty path. Instead, I chose to show the lantern “at rest.”  To me, this is like the night worker asleep at mid-afternoon, resting for what will be a long, illuminating and useful night.  But without the rest, there can be no work.  Aren’t we all just two sleep-deprived nights away from madness?  I know from my years of competitive running that the “work” of becoming fitter happens at night, while we’re asleep.

So this is how this faded blue Coleman lantern with the smudged glass speaks to me – it’s reminding me that it’s quite impossible to be “on” all the time.  We all need the balance, the darkness and the light, to be useful. Nor do we need to be fancy, burnished copper, highly polished without a trace of soot – that therein lies the beauty of Utility.

I donated this piece to the Kline Galland Home, Seattle in June 2018.

53. Two Fish

•2018/05/20 • Comments Off on 53. Two Fish

Two Fish Drying in the Sun  oil pastels on paper, 11″ x 14″, by Delfino Cornali ©2018

In 2010 my partner Michele & I traveled to the south of Thailand and rubber-plantations on the island of Ko Libong, a fascinating place off the well-beaten path. On one of our walks through the rubber tree groves, we came to the village of Ko Libong on the south side of the island. The local fishermen dry the day’s catch along the railings of the long concrete fishing pier. On that morning, the first 100 yards of the pier railings were adorned with glistening blue fish, drying in pairs, jawbone to jawbone. The pairing gave the illusion of mirror images, the fish had been mated so precisely. The morning tropical sun was so intense that the light reflecting off the fish looked like polished metal. I snapped a photo.

I came across that photo last month, and immediately thought I could attempt to capture that metallic light using oil pastels. Sennelier makes a range of oil pastels, including some metallic shades – aluminum, gold, copper, bronze, pearl, etc.  My approach would be to layer the colors – several base layers for the bodies of the fish, that I would work flat with paper stubs and my fingers. Then, I would overlay the metallic colors in streaks.

By contrast, the concrete surfaces have a different texture – rough (apparently this was a “homemade concrete” containing various-sized stones.)  I wanted to capture that texture as well. I chose to make those surfaces more three-dimensional, piled-up like oil paint (the softer greys & violets will amass in beads directly off the pastel stick, especially when sun-warmed.)  To continue the illusion, I’d want to retain the same texture into the shaded concrete areas, even though those areas are nearly black by strong contrasting light & sun angle.

I’m pleased with the end result.


52. Wailing Wall

•2018/04/01 • Comments Off on 52. Wailing Wall

Wailing Wall, oil pastels on paper, 13″x11″, by Delfino Cornali© 2018

An update to my previous work-in-progress post.  Here is the final piece, done with Sennelier oil pastels on Strathmore Bristol paper, vellum finish.

My immediate goal is to contrast the apparent ambient light between the women and the wall.  I want to symbolize the idea that prayer is a physical manifestation of reaching towards light.  Using greys and violets, I subdued the light around the women.  But on the higher wall surfaces, I worked an overlay of titanium white over an initial application of the stone’s tans & yellows.  It’s not quite a “whitewash” effect, but enough value change to suggest illumination.  In a landscape piece, you could use this contrast to suggest sunrise or sunset, where light strikes the wall above their heads.  But in this piece, my intent is to show the subjects striving to connect to the light.

Some artistic license. I applied metallic colors into women’s clothing, matching values where possible. I removed the woman who was dressed in more contemporary clothing from the image altogether.  On the small table immediately behind the women, there is a small pad of note paper – the written prayers which visitors to the Wailing Wall insert into the cracks of the stone.

The most compelling figure of the group is the woman dressed in black. In her, I see a more physical, energetic form of prayer.  She is the only woman without a head covering.  Her hair is red – not just to provide color relief to her black overcoat, but also to portray an inner fire. Strength. Courage. Defiance. We can’t know this from her face, which she buries beneath her uplifted arm, but her body language speaks more loudly than her face.

51. Dahlia

•2018/03/25 • Comments Off on 51. Dahlia

  Dahlia, oil pastels on canvas, 2010

An experiment working with gesso canvas & oil pastels, based on a photograph I took in 2010.  Since this piece, I’ve found other canvas-based papers to produce better results.  This piece, for all of its great symmetry & pattern regularity, always struck me as being too “shiny”.  Slightly unnatural.

But an interesting experiment nonetheless.

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