I’ve been following the work of Arlene Richman for sometime now. I remember when I first came across her work – it was a pastel of abstracted chair patterns.
Recently she’s been doing abstracts full of colour and varied lines. I sigh with joy at the appearance of each new piece. Like this one:
I was curious about how her subject matter evolved from chairs to become mostly non-objective. I was also interested to learn about her abstract painting process. And so I asked Arlene if she’d consider guest blogging to talk about these things and to my delight, she said yes!!
And so it is with GREAT pleasure that I introduce Arlene Richman.
Arlene Richman- Bio
Widely represented in exhibitions national and international, Arlene has won numerous awards including 1st Place in the Abstract category in The Pastel Journal’s Pastel 100 competition. She is a Signature Member of the Pastel Society of America (PSA), as well as a member of the executive committee of the Board of Governors of the PSA. Arlene also serves on the Signature Committee of the Pastel Painters Society of Cape Cod, and is a member of the Salmagundi Club of New York City, the Connecticut Pastel Society, and the Concord Art Association in Massachusetts. From June to November this year, she’ll be part of a group residency at Fruitlands Museum. You can see more of Arlene’s work on her website.
Arlene, it’s all yours!
First, thank you Gail for inviting me to share my work and process with your audience. I’m very flattered and honored. I hope that what I have to say is of interest to a wide variety of artists—not just “abstract” artists.
The rules (if you want to call them that; I don’t think of rules as boundaries) I follow are pretty much the same as those coveted by landscapists, still lifers, and pet portraitists. That is—I respond to color, shape, line, value, emotional impact, dimensionality, and a host of elements most artists either keep in mind or do intuitively. Content is not often my motivator, although many of my latest works are resolving into landscapes, but I seem to have no control over that! More about them later.
When I started painting seriously, about 14 years ago, I painted what most pastelists paint. I started with still life (cuz they don’t move—although the light does if you paint, as I often did, in natural light).
Then I went on to landscapes, which I was totally abysmal at, so I tried for a couple of years to improve my landscape skills. After all, pastelists must paint landscapes, right? So I got a lot better at landscapes, but the genre never gripped my imagination.
Then came the chairs. They came about when I was in France. I took a couple of photos of the chairs in a small French church. The light was just so as it came through the stained glass in late afternoon and cast colored patterns on the floor around the chairs. I couldn’t resist painting it. I then went on to paint several images of the church chairs before I cast off and painted other chair types that intrigued me, including chairs in restaurants, and garden chairs. The chairs are surrogates for people, maybe lonely, emotional, strangely and vividly colored, with their own personalities.
I still look for chairs to paint, but haven’t really found any that pack the visual/emotional wallop (for me) of the early ones.
Moving to Abstraction
But my ambition always was to paint abstract, non-objective paintings, the kind of museum art that has always resonated with me most. I’ve had revelatory experiences in a roomful of Mark Rothkos, got crazy excited by Robert Motherwell, swooned at de Kooning’s women. So there—Abstract Expressionism is of major importance in my pantheon of favored art movements. Richard Diebenkorn in his manifestations as abstract and figurative painter also ranks high. There are so many more, but let’s talk about me……
I came to abstract painting through the back door, one might say. At first, the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak, and I floundered around the issue of how to start an abstract. I know others have the same trouble—people have asked me how I go about my process.
I started by finding bits and pieces of photos I’d taken, extremely close up, to paint. When you get as close as I got, the image becomes unidentifiable and you’re free to play with it in terms of the bare elements of painting. After doing that for a bit, not very long, as it got old fast, I kind of got the hang of what I wanted to do. It happened in starts and stops. I think there’s a ramping-up period during which you just do what you have to do to learn something (if you really want to), without regard to judgment. You’re doing it for yourself; this is not for prime time.
I’m a big believer in the unconscious. I’ve found that my paintings often reveal my feelings or my wishes more than my words do. I was depressed last year and found myself using blacks and neutrals far more than usual. I painted three or four “black paintings” at that time, one of which won an award in the last Pastel 100.
Being a city girl at heart, having grown up in New York City, I found for a time that my paintings were in fact cityscapes—or they were to me anyway. I painted split screens, with what I saw as a wall between the viewer and the rest of the painting. More often than not I saw parts, elements, remembrances of the city on the far side of the wall, which showed its own patterns—graffiti? That was a journey of discovery….if you will.
This year, New England, where I now live, was pounded by snow. More than nine feet of snow fell and pretty much informed life hereabouts for two months. I’ve been painting regularly, and enjoying the hell out of it! And guess what…..most paintings were highly colored landscape-esque studies of things beneath the surface getting ready to poke through…..or at least that’s what I see!
The horizon dominates the structure, the sky above, the earth below with its hidden secrets and colorful compartments holding flowers, vegetables, roots of all sorts. By the end of the snow event, things were poking through, growing, erupting from below. I painted an inordinate number of them. They’re not big, and many are painted on top of older works that have been brushed and washed off.
Working in Series
I tend to work in series and on one painting at a time. I have to walk away from it after working for a while. Then I come back, make an assessment and continue. Because I don’t completely clean up after each painting (do you?), I use some of the pastels from previous paintings—so there’s often a color theme throughout a series. I work a series until I’m bored with it and realize I’m repeating color juxtapositions, placement of lines, etc. When I find myself overworking the painting to death I know I’m finished with that series. Then what? Aha, there’s the rub. After a series is finished….I usually go into a seriously deep funk, questioning everything, especially my imagination and my ability to paint anything ever in the future.
As for materials and process, I favor Rives BFK paper, which is a tough printmaking paper and therefore it can withstand washes of alcohol and water. I’ve tried LeCarte, UArt, Multimedia, Pastelmat, Richeson, whatever. I just don’t like a uniform surface. I prefer to start with paper and randomly brush on pastel ground. I use Golden’s acrylic ground for pastel, and brush it on with a 2” or 2 ½” cheap painter’s brush. I don’t tint the ground, although I sometimes do a color wash either under or over it.
I have an eclectic collection of pastels. My current favorites are Mt Vision and Great American, although I tend to also rely on Sennelier, Unison, Terry Ludwig, Diane Townsend,—oh, you name it……
This winter, I’ve cleaned out my flat file and discarded what I now deem failures. Discarding means washing them off and reusing the surfaces. So there’s a serendipitous underpainting there already. I often use the underpainting as a skeleton on which to hang a new painting—or not, as I’m moved. In some cases, especially when starting on a clean piece of paper, I like to use alcohol to wet pastel down and let it drip down the support to form evocative lines, sometimes turning the paper to get the lines going in different directions. I tape my paper to a board on all four sides, and work standing at an easel.
My process is intuitive. I do not plan my abstracts other than laying in a horizon line or a flat sky color (I’m specifically talking here about this year’s so-called landscapes—other series, other processes.). After that, the sky’s the limit—as it were. I choose colors rather than draw shapes. The colors might be harmonious or jarring, large or small in area, engulfed in line or not, dark or light. In the end, I look for balance—balanced color, balanced values, balanced volumes, line distribution—and variety of shape sizes, colors, apparent and disappearing lines, etc. No line or color is exempt from reconsideration.
I use a bristle brush to delete whatever I want to change. I sometimes use Spectrafix fixative make room for more pastel. I scumble, scratch out, crosshatch. I work all over the surface; I don’t concentrate on any one area more than the others. I lay color down and make sure there’s a color balance overall at each moment. Then I look at details and wonder what could change or be added/subtracted to make a unified and strong statement.
Right now, I feel that I’m winding down my landscape series. I might have a couple more in me. I notice the colors are changing. They’re going more neutral. Interesting, as spring is trying to insert itself into our world here in the Northeast. So you’d think I’d be using brighter colors……go figure. I’ll be thinking about that.
Wow, love hearing about your process Arlene. Thanks so much for sharing this information with us!
I love the colours and exuberance of mark-making in Arlene’s work. I hope you agree! If you’re itching to purchase any of these or other works by Arlene, click here to contact her. The prices for the paintings seen here range from $450 to $3,000.
As always, I’d love to hear what you think. Which of Arlene’s pastels is your favourite? Did you find reading about her process helpful? Leave a comment on the blog or simply reply to this email and I’ll post it for you.
Until next time,
PS. Click here to see Arlene’s pastel that I chose for October’s Pastel Gems
It’s been awhile since I really got into pastel work and rather than jump into a serious piece, I thought, Hmmmm, good idea to PLAY first. Since I’ve been itching to try out Canson Touch and since I now had a sheet of it – colour ‘Sand’ – I thought I’d play on that. I decided to go BIG and left it uncut.
This particular sheet was used by participants at my Opus demo (29th March) to test soft pastels. You’ll see their marks in the corner. I figured if the paper worked well that would be terrific as it’s available pretty much worldwide unlike much of the other sanded paper out there (e.g. like the Wallis Paper I primarily use).
Okay, I had the paper, now what?
I’d been listening to the radio about how musicians will take a piece of music by someone else and write ‘variations’ on it e.g. Brahms’ – Variations on a Theme of Paganini. Ahhhhhhh. An idea arose. I had been perusing a book of Richard Diebenkorn’s work and among the many pieces I admired, there was one abstract, Untitled ‘M’, that I was particularly drawn to. I decided to use it (instead of a blank canvas!) as the inspiration for my playing, a Variation on a Theme by Diebenkorn!
So let’s have a look at the original painting:
Using Diebenkorn’s painting as inspiration meant I wasn’t going to copy it exactly. To begin with, you’ll notice that the proportions of my paper are certainly not the same as the painting. Also, I’m working in pastel, he worked in paint.
I was mainly intrigued by the seemingly random black shapes, many of which are at the edge of the canvas. Also, Diebenkorn’s painting is pretty monochromatic except for some colour seen beneath the white/grey paint and the colour along the bottom edge. In the last year or so, I’ve strangely found myself pulled towards doing more work in subdued and greyed colours rather than the bright, saturated and pure chroma I’m known for.
The thing I realized once I was well into the piece was, where do I go from here? The master’s painting is done and I have essentially made my own variation of it but how in the world can I take it another step? Diebenkorn’s painting is finished and who am I to tinker with it?? I’d painted myself into a corner!
I was curious to compare my pastel with Diebenkorn’s oil painting as seen in black and white. Obviously the light areas on his work are way lighter than mine! And this lightness keeps you coming back to the centre of the picture. So I went back to mine, found a white pastel (Great American) softer than the one I had been using (Sennelier) and added more lights. And I think I can still add more. The trick will be to retain some of the marks and colouring below.
Here are a couple of close-ups so you can see the colour layering:
And here are the pastels used:
So, what did I learn? First, about the Canson Touch paper:
I wouldn’t call Canson Touch the ‘ultimate’ sanded paper as they say on their website but it’s certainly fine. It’s a smooth sanded surface that won’t eat up your fingers or paper towel. I would say I put on about 3-4 layers in some areas (the first layer being a harder pastel) and it held up pretty well. I think if I was going to add more layers I would need to consider spraying it lightly with fixative (something I rarely do). In another blog post I’ll do a more comprehensive review. (Please let me know if this is something that would be helpful for you.)
And what did I learn about using Diebenkorn’s painting as inspiration?
I’ve always loved seeing the hand of the artist, much of which can be seen by visible pentimenti. Diebenkorn was adamant about leaving changes visible, he never covered up everything so as you go closer to the painting, you can see the changes he made. I don’t know what the original layers looked like but I can get a sense of them from what’s visible beneath the final paint surface (in person, I’m sure much more would be visible) and so I tried to include them in my version. Still, so much is unknown and I was just guessing.
I went from thinking solely about a main figure/subject with its background (even in a non-objective painting like this) to really thinking about the expanse of the whole canvas, thinking about all parts of it, back and forth, negative/positive negative/positive. In Diebenkorn’s ‘M’, there’s much focus on the forms near and on the edge. And so I learnt how useful and relevant these shapes can be. I was surprised by their importance. I became more conscious of what was going on over the whole piece.
Also I learnt to love working with subtle monochromatics – using colour underneath to enliven it. I could do more work like this. I love the way the slash of red makes a statement yet doesn’t dominate. The whole is balanced. How does that work? Much to study!
The thing about copying is that you’re following someone else’s process and art experience rather than having your own. It’s a bit like the way I remember colouring books – it was fun while it lasted but the end feeling was one more of emptiness than the exhilaration that comes from creating your own response to inner or outer impressions. While creating this pastel, I could respond to the formal elements of Diebenkorn’s painting but because I was following a prescription, a template, rather than letting the work itself lead the way as it evolved, it began to feel lifeless with no emotional history of ups and downs that go with art making. That was an unexpected outcome.
Mind you, this piece was done with much less fear than doing my own work – fear of what to do next i.e. what colour to choose, what mark to make, where to make the mark etc – yet there was still some fear around ‘getting it right’.
As I mentioned above, another thing I didn’t realize would happen was the dilemma of how to move on from the original. What else could I add? subtract? What other marks could I make? Sure mine is different from Diebenkorn’s ‘M’ – different medium, different format – but still, it’s an impression of the original and I have a hard time trusting myself to take it elsewhere.
In the end, I found through doing this work that I now want to explore shape and mark making even more. It was a learning experience and I appreciate and like the outcome.
Try copying a piece you like by a master – it’ll open your eyes to new possibilities! Let me know how it goes.
Whew, this was a long one. Are you still here? Well THANK YOU for being such a committed reader and participant. Let me know your thoughts by commenting on the blog or simply reply to this email and I’ll post your comment for you.
~ Until next time,
PS. Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993) was born in Portland, Oregon, went to Stanford (the family had relocated to San Francisco) and then completed military service 1943-1945. After the war, he studied at the California School of Fine Arts and soon became a faculty member. In 1950 Diebenkorn enrolled at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. This new environment affected him and resulted in paintings from the Albuquerque Period, his first mature statement.
During the Albuquerque years, Diebenkorn saw the retrospective exhibition of Arshile Gorky at the San Francisco Museum of Art. The impact of this show on him along with his experience viewing the landscape from the perspective of a low-flying plane seems evident in his painting, Untitled ‘M’, which makes me think of an aerial view of a strange landscape.
PPS. Here’s the book I looked through on Richard Diebenkorn (borrowed from the library but just purchased):
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Yes, I get a small commission if you purchase through my link, maybe enough for a cup of coffee. Maybe
Once again it’s the end of the month and so it’s time for my personal and totally subjective selection of 10 pastel marvels for March. I’ve chosen these 10 from the many I have come across over the last 31 days. As always, I’ve had a difficult time choosing my self-imposed 10 choices. I started with 53 pastels, made a fairly easy whittle down to 27, and then the work began! Once I got it down to 13, I flipped through the images over and over, took a break, and did the same thing again. I had to make the cuts though and now have 10. There’s so much fabulous work out there and that makes it ever so difficult to choose!
The pieces here are ones that made me look again and again. They may not be by well-known artists but I believe they deserve to be here. That’s my own personal take of course!
I have to say that I have sort of, um, cheated (is that the correct word?) and not included in my long list, pastels posted in the last couple of days as accepted entries into the IAPS show. I already had a stack of wonderful pastels and adding those to the mix would have done me in! Those pastel marvels will just have to wait until April.
Okay, let’s look at the pastel marvels line-up for this month:
I love the directness of the gaze in this self-portrait. Having just worked on one recently, I know that intense look – it’s the look of deep self-scrutiny in the mirror! There is the sense of the softness of the pastel but it’s also combined with the linear quality of pastel often seen in Degas’ pastels. The simplicity of colour in shirt and background focus all our attention on the face and the character of this person. There is muted light – I feel this was painted in an interior room with a single light source. Who is this man? What is on his mind? Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a website or anything for Bun Hui Ang except his Facebook profile. I suggest you go there to see more work.
Lyn is most well-known for her incredible portraits of flowers and I actually had one of these paintings on my short list but I just fell for her self-portrait. (Click here to see more of Lyn’s pastels including her dazzling florals.) Unlike the self-portrait by Bun Hui Ang (which is almost exactly the same size), in this one we see the face lit by the sunlight and surrounded by an amazing array of fabrics and textures of various clothing. You might think it would all get a bit distracting but inevitably, we are drawn back to her luminous eyes as they look away from us, perhaps viewing the passing landscape. It brings up questions – where is this woman going? why is she dressed so warmly if she’s inside a travelling compartment? The story becomes an integral part of the pastel.
If you know me, you know that I was drawn to this piece not only because it’s a figure but because of its colour and the vigorous and direct mark-making. There’s not a lot of fussing in this pastel, the stroke is applied and left as is. This piece is a great example for showing the concept that if you know values, you can play with colour! I like the way the paper (Wallis Belgian Mist perhaps?) has been left bare. Go see more of Orit’s work here.
Another woman dressed in purple, this pastel gives us a different style of mark-making. Whereas the previous pastel was all about using the side of the pastel in various directions, this one is much about vertical marks made with the tip of the pastel. The skin, sofa, and pillow edging, all get the same basic colour treatment yet are readable for what they are. In some of my own work, I have been working with blurring the edges between subject and background and you can see this is also going on here successfully. I have to say I was very taken with the limpid eyes and the beautifully executed hand on the right of the painting. To see more of September’s work, click here.
Speaking of taken, I fell in love with this abstract piece. I am mesmorized by the warm glowing colours, by the pattern, and by the movement through the piece from light to dark. I love the play between geometric and organic shapes. And then there are those surprising ribbon-like blue bands that move from top to bottom. The pastel wouldn’t be the same without them. You can bring your own interpretation to the piece as I feel the title gives nothing away. Are you looking at reflections or are you looking through plant leaves to an indistinct view of buildings beyond? I keep looking and I keep seeing. Go see more of Ann’s work on her website.
This evocative pastel feels the total opposite to Ann’s piece above. Here my eye is soothed by the calm and the light. Yet all is not peaceful. Thunder may be heard in the distance as the trees are illuminated against a dark and potentially rainy sky. The piece is almost abstracted with minimal indication of details – we see sky, water, trees and possibly a few houses of light sparking along a line that cuts through the picture about a third from the bottom. I had many more landscapes in my March possibilities but this is the one that spoke most to me emotionally. See more of Pascale’s dreamy work on his website. The text is in french but the language of his art is universal.
I have been wanting to include one of Jen’s pastels for a while now and happily, this pastel made it onto my list. Jen is a master of colour and of the use of negative painting. You can see she thinks about shape rather than objects. All shapes intersect each other whether subject or background – all are equally important. This pastel basically uses two complimentary colours with the addition of a warm white and a warm dark. The paper beneath creates a third warming colour. I also love the energetic marks that are applied every which way – bam bam and they are on! This piece exudes vitality. See more of Jen’s work here.
This may be familiar as it is currently the banner for the Pastel Society of America Facebook group. The artist Jerry Boyd is the featured artist this month. And even though it has been seen by many, I just had to include it. I love its style, its colour, its format, its composition. And I’m a sucker for the work of John Singer Sargent! (Have a read of my blog about his fall from grace!) As a museum and art gallery goer, I am often entertained by the viewers themselves and find much there to capture. Jerry has done this masterfully here, giving us both a narrative and a beautiful painting. Don’t you just love all the colour in the plain old walls and the wood floor?! Jerry had quite the career in billboard painting but you will find little of that info as I was unable to locate a website of his work. Visit him on Facebook.
And now for something completely different! This abstract pastel gives us much to chew on. Obviously the iconic shape of house/home is front and centre but what is happening? The house is often seen as a feminine symbol and a place of sanctuary. This house is without a roof which can mean something less than happy in a literal sense but often the roof represents the head and our controlling aspect so in this case perhaps we have a spiritually open heart. There also is a feeling of roots and I could read this as nature taking over manmade objects. Just a few thoughts tossed out at you. Needless to say, I was intrigued by this piece and delighted that it was created in pastels over an ink suggestion. You can see more of Pirkko’s work here.
And finally, because this post has a preponderance of portraits I thought I’d add one more to give them 50% of the weight. I am continually drawn back to this face that stares back at me. Like the piece above, although it has a literal subject – here, the face – there seems to be so much more available for us to interpret. The colour split between blue and yellow, cool and warm, helps us along in this direction, as does the expressive mark-making. You can feel the hand of the artist moving, gesturing over the paper. This is a face that asks us to look, and look again more deeply. See more Anna’s work here.
And that’s all she wrote!
I’d love to hear your thoughts about these pastel marvels. Did any of them stand out for you? Were you surprised by any of my inclusions? Feel free to let me know! Go on, leave a comment
Here’s to pastels!!
PS. To read more about how this monthly blog came about, click here.
One of the most common questions I receive about plein air painting is, “How do you decide what to paint when there is so much to choose from?” My answer? Using a viewfinder can help enormously! The landscape can be so overwhelming and using a viewfinder will help you isolate the part that appeals to you the most.
I recently made a video about using a viewfinder. Have a look at it below.
When using a viewfinder, you will need to close one eye otherwise you’ll see crazy double vision! If you can’t close one eye, then squinting will help but it’s definitely not as useful or satisfying as the one-eyed look.
Using a viewfinder to help you design your thumbnails
The viewfinder I show in the video is one called ViewCatcher. It’s the one I use myself. You can try out all sorts of formats with this viewfinder – just remember to use the same proportions on your paper. For example if you decide on a square opening, make sure your paper is square. If the format of your paper is pretty much decided, for example you have a piece of 9 x 12 in Wallis paper mounted on foamcore, then create a 9 x 12 in window in your viewfinder. The ability to change from one format to another is one of the main reasons I like ViewCatcher!
Create your own viewfinder
You can of course create your own viewfinder by cutting out a rectangular hole in cardboard. If you regularly work on a 9 x 12 in paper which is a 3:4 ratio, then go ahead and cut out a hole measuring 3 x 4 in or if smaller, then 1.5 x 2 in – anything that retains that 3:4 ratio. If you always work square, then cut out a square opening.
Make sure you leave enough cardboard around the hole (like that shown below) to block out the rest of the view. That way you can concentrate on what’s happening in the opening as you move it slowly over your subject. A large surround also helps the viewfinder retain its shape while traveling in your art bag.
Having said all that, I think that the ability to switch easily between formats in the Viewcatcher makes it worth the money. Also, it won’t get bent in your art bag like a piece of cardboard might.
Using a viewfinder to crop a landscape
Let’s have a look at what I mean by using a viewfinder to help you compose your painting. I’ll take an uncropped photo and then crop it in various ways to show you what can happen.
First let’s try out two square crops:
Next let’s look at the same areas but in a vertical rectangular crop:
Now let’s try horizontal crops:
Although I’m cropping a photo, I’m sure you can imagine how this would work on location. Which crop of those above is your favourite? What other ways would you crop the original?
Remember that using a viewfinder will help you not only with choosing what to paint in a landscape. It can help with any subject be it figure, still life, portrait, urban view. Anything!!
Using a viewfinder to help with your drawing
Not only does a viewfinder help you compose your painting, it also helps with the creation of your drawing. Find where lines intersect the edges of the viewfinder and note their position related to the whole ie. a third from the bottom, a quarter from the top. You can also relate the angle a line makes as it moves across the space to the vertical and horizontal lines of the viewfinder itself, for example the line and angle of the rose’s stem.
Here’s the image of the rose with the marks I mention in the video.
Using a viewfinder to help with values
The other thing the ViewCatcher has going for it that I didn’t mention in the video are the two small holes. The colour of the ViewCatcher is 50% grey on the value scale of 1-10. This makes it ever so easy to check the value of a colour against the grey. Look at a spot through one of the holes – is what you are looking at darker or lighter than the grey of the ViewCatcher?
You can then move the ViewCatcher hole over your painting and check how the value there relates to the value of the viewfinder itself. You can also check how accurately you have captured the value of the colour you saw ‘out there’.
Check the image below – look at the top hole and see how light the background is especially when you compare it with the other hole that shows the colour of my hair.
Using a viewfinder to help with colour
These small holes in ViewCatcher can also help you determine the saturation of a colour – how much colour do you see compared to the grey of the viewfinder – is it greyer or more saturated with colour than you think? And what about temperature? Is it warmer or cooler than you think? Run the viewfinder over different areas to compare them one to the other. This is hugely helpful when you are unsure of colour saturation or temperature.
Viewfinder as gift
The other thing is, a viewfinder is a wonderful gift to give to non-artists as it will help them ‘see’ the world in a way they don’t now. I love hearing the ahhs and oohs as they move a viewfinder over whatever is in front of them.
This blog has turned out to be a review of the ViewCatcher as I like it so much!! You can pick one up in many art stores or order it from Amazon here:
Viewcatcher from Amazon.com
I’d love to hear if you use a viewfinder. How helpful is one to your work? Do you use a handmade viewfinder or something like the ViewCatcher? Do you use one all the time or rarely? Let me know by posting a comment on the blog.
I look forward to hearing from you!
Oh my gosh, how did it become the end of the month so quickly? Perhaps having a couple less days has something to do with it
Right, here’s the line-up for February. I think you’ll agree there are some pastel wonders here.
Without further ado……
I love the simplicity of this piece. I feel as if I’m standing there among the rocks, looking out to sea, blown about by a fresh breeze. The horizon line is soft with the sea mist. I can smell the almost overpowering smell of the sea as it emanates from beached seaweed and the sand and rocks themselves. There’s so much said with a limited number of broad strokes and little fuss. Wonderful! Go see more of Jean-Yves’ work at his website.
I love the quality of light in this one. I also appreciate the simplicity of the evocative scene – a river (?) bank topped with shrubbery and an attractive clump of trees, with a backdrop of dreamy sky with the sun that’s trying to burn through the thin cloud. Haven’t you experienced just this time of day and the way the light is warm and cool all at once? You can see careful value study at work in the piece! See more of Linda’s work here.
Another painting about the quality of light. And here it’s exquisite as we move from the sun tipped-grasses back into the picture that’s mostly about snow untouched by the sun. Look at the beautiful display of grayed colours beyond the warmth of the sun. Go check out more of Kim’s beautiful descriptions of light on her website.
Like Jean-Yves above, Lorenzo uses broad strokes to achieve this sunlight wonder. Can’t you just sense that taking just a few steps more and the sun will be blazing in your eyes. This piece positively glows. And he does it so simply! Look closely at the few marks he makes to achieve this light wonder. Notice too the balance between the warm and cool sides of the painting. You can see more of Lorenzo’s work by clicking here.
Can’t you just reach out and stroke that fur? And those eyes, they’ll blink any minute. And can I hear purring or rather, is it a meow that’s about to be heard? I was completely taken by this painting. One of the things I appreciate is that although the cat looks real, Heather hasn’t gone into super-realism to do so – we can still see the hand of the artist in the pastel stroke. Heather is known for her cat portraits and I can see why! Go see more cats as well as dogs and more here.
I laughed when I saw Suzi’s charming portrait of a giraffe. I love that she has taken this quirky animal and captured the character of its munching head. it brings into focus what a giraffe head really looks like. The wall tempers the delight as this isn’t the wild but probably a zoo. The close proximity of the wall to the giraffe could be making a statement. The lines of bricks form a cage and yet, they also mimic, in a way, the spots of the giraffe. There is a play of the rigidity of man against the flexibility of nature. When I first saw this painting, I read none of this into it but the more I looked, the more I saw. Perhaps this is a case of a viewer bringing her own experience to the picture. Go see more of Suzi’s work at her website.
Canson paper? Really??? How does Robin create this kind of pastel on Canson and not on a sanded paper? I am rather in awe. I love how the line of mosaic echoes the embroidery on the young woman’s blouse. I also like the link between angelic girl and mosaic angel who seems about to whisper creative musings in the young woman’s ear. I was torn between this painting and the one on the front of Robin’s website but I think it was the juxtaposition of modern and Byzantine that captured my attention in this one.
I’ve been an admirer of Jody’s work ever since I saw it in Carole Katchen’s book, Creative Painting With Pastel many years ago. Things I appreciate: the thick impasto quality of the pastel – there’s a lusciousness to it; the balance between the narrative and the abstract design; the emphasis on shapes; the broadness of stroke – you can see the mark of the artist; the extreme value range; the way Jody leaves out so much, including instead, only what’s necessary to say what she has to say. Go see more of her work here.
From the abstracted design above to this one of a pile up of houses in the Ardeche. This is such a difficult subject, all the various perspectives, all identically constructed houses yet with different shapes. How to make the scene fascinating rather than a boring repetition of similar houses? Claude has done that beautifully and boldly. The warmth of colour, the pattern of light and shadow, Claude’s obvious love of the subject, lifts my spirit. See more of Claude’s work on his website.
How fun is this?? A tulip lover, I was drawn to this piece by the unexpected and unusual portrayal of this flower. There’s also a mystery – what is the red shape to the right that also hovers over the tulips? I am mesmorized by the combination of red and blue colours and the variation within. The pastel marks excite me. I also like the flow back and forth between positive and negative shapes and the dissolution in places between the two. Searching for a website, I came across a number of places to see Bernadette’s artwork but no personal website. Try this website to begin.
As always, it’s a pleasure to bring you this collection of pastels, some from artists more well known, others from artists I’d never come across before. Curiously, three of this month’s artists are from France!
Please let me know what you think about these pastel wonders. Did any surprise you? Delight you? Sadden you? Please leave a comment!
And if you like what you see, please share!
Until next time,
Well I’m home from Mexico where I had a glorious time, first with my sweetheart Cam for a couple of weeks then with my lovely niece Aly for a week. Have to say it’s taken me some time to get back to this reality.
I did this plein air pastel while in La Manzanilla. I was going to post a blog about it while I was there but I just wasn’t happy with the pastel. So today I worked on it in the studio. I like it better but I’m still not sure about it.
Let’s have a boo.
Back in Canada, I ponder the pastel. I think the bright purple spot in the centre captures too much of the viewer’s attention. I also feel the turquoise wall needs to be darker (darker than it is in reality – this is where artistic license comes into play!).
So what do you think? Did you notice anything about the plein air pastel as it relates to the thumbnail I chose??
One of the problems is that I didn’t follow my thumbnail!! Bad girl. You know how I go on about creating a thumbnail as a way to design your piece and then continue to use it as a guide as you go? Well, somehow, I did NOT accurately make the transfer from thumbnail to paper. I have no idea what happened. Distractions perhaps?? Anyway, I think this is part of the reason I am not totally happy with the piece.
Look at how little of the wall is shown in the thumbnail compared to the pastel. In the thumbnail, I’m focusing on the design made by the tree trunks. (You can also see the hint of a possible figure.) In my pastel, I include quite a bit of the wall. I think that’s because I was so taken by the turquoise colour. You can see below that the wall is a prime part of the second thumbnail I tried. I think there is a residue of this thumbnail in the pastel painting!
Anyway, wanted to share this lesson with you. Follow your thumbnail sketch!!
I’d love to hear from you!
Until next time,
The end of another month has rolled around and it’s time to inspire you with January’s Pastel Delights!
As always, the decisions were TOUGH, maybe even more so because of the 3/5 challenges being posted on various pastel Facebook groups over the past month. In case you are unfamiliar with this challenge, it means a nominated artist posts three paintings a day for five days. So you can see that there was even more work than normal to view and then choose from. I began with over 50 choices! Some got dropped because I didn’t have all the info necessary (that made it somewhat easier although there were a few choices I hated to lose!). Once I got the pool of images down to 20, it took me quite a bit of time, of rotating through the images again and again, to whittle the choice down to the mandatory 10 (it was almost 11 this time!).
My choices are totally subjective. Some artists are well known, some emerging. I chose the pieces that made me look and look again, and that made some part of my being vibrate.
So, enough talking, let’s get on with the show.
I was absolutely charmed by this pastel of a young girl. I love the way Alain captured her sweet expression and the many colours in her skin. I also like his technique of blocking in the dress and the headdress (vegetation of some sort? makes me think of corn). The background is very simple and uses some of the colours from her skin and hair (purples and dark browns). Click here to see more of Alain’s work.
Alan is well known for his work portraying the French Quarter of New Orleans which he has been painting for 50 years. This pastel is of the St Louis Cathedral, a subject he has painted many times. In this version, Alan manages to capture both the architecture of the place and the mood of the approaching evening, when the sky is still light but the warm lights have come on. The light is reflected in the wet pavement and the lights themselves are haloed by the damp air. The sky gives the feeling both of heavy clouds and sheets of rain. See more of Alan’s work at his website.
I was totally taken with this piece when I saw it. Like Joan Eardley’s pastels of tenement kids, this pastel has a wonderful immediacy and energy. I love the colours and the blocky application of pastel used to describe a young girl in motion. Click here to see more of Corry’s work.
A beautiful rendering of rocks and look at the many colours that Diane used! The colours appear mostly in the areas of reflected light and areas of rock that face outward but are not directly hit by the sun. And look at the way she creates the same effect in the distant set of rocks but with values closer together, simpler shapes and greyed colours. The whole is a wonderful study of lights and darks and of shape patterns. This is a great example of how understanding values can open the door to colour! (And, be truthful, would you have thought of painting a pile of rocks?) See more of Diane’s work here.
When you’re demoing in front of a class or an audience, you’re under time pressure to produce work that you can feel good about and that teaches those who are watching something about pastels and how they work. When I saw this piece, I was appreciative of it as a demo but also as a completed work. There is a wonderful sense of light, of movement, of things (weather, light, people) changing, of place, of a mood. Interestingly, Dori’s colour choices remind me of those of Diane’s above. Check out Dori’s website for more of her work.
Just sea and sky, this evocative pastel gives me a feeling of being there. I can almost smell the sea, feel the salty air, hear the waves and perhaps even a distant roll of thunder. Jennifer used a simple complimentary colour scheme of yellow and purple effectively that’s for sure. There’s something about the colours and energy and line in this piece that remind me of Sargent’s watercolours.
I was totally beguiled by this piece what more can I say? It has a magical quality about it. Is it of this world or another reality? I find myself wanting to be there, and wondering where ‘there’ is. You can see more of Lysiane’s work here.
Although this painting shows the destruction done by beavers, because of the sombre quality of the work, I can’t help but see it as a metaphor for a larger destruction. Nature’s destruction is one thing but that of human’s is devastating. A difficult subject of water, field and lots of things sticking out of the water, I’m rather in awe of Marc’s ability to capture it. Like Jennifer above, Marc successfully uses a simple colour scheme of compliments – this time blue and orange. You can see more of his work on his website.
The warm glow of this iconic painting belies the sense of a house abandoned. The house remains beautiful in its form even though it is no longer inhabited. I love Marie’s simple design and how she has elevated a particular house to represent the touchstone of ‘house’. The work reminds me of Bill Creevy’s skill with composition, texture, and colour. To achieve the texture, Marie primed gatorbord with a couple of coats of gesso and a couple of coats of pastel gel medium. (The pattern of brush stroke may be random or basket-weave as it is here.) She coated the entire thing with an orange acrylic wash before starting in with soft pastels. Click here to see more of Marie’s work.
I was rather taken aback when I saw this pastel. I couldn’t decide if I liked it or disliked it. But one thing was for sure, it got my attention! Over the last little while, it’s grown on me. I’m fascinated by the juxtaposition of the sort of sickly sweet colours used for the human form, the rather awkward position of the hands, the terrific drawing skill and the rough application of saturated blocks of colour in the background that interrupts the body’s boundaries to the bottom of the page. I couldn’t find a website for Stacey but you can find more of her work on her Facebook Page.
So that’s it for another month. I have presented you with my choices, pieces that spoke to me. Such incredible talent and variety of styles out there don’t you think?
I would LOVE to hear what you think of my pastel delights! Please leave a comment and let’s get a conversation going!
I sure do appreciate your company
Until next time,
As you may know, I’m spending a couple of weeks in La Manzanilla, Mexico. I’m finally settled in and the sun has once again graced us with its presence (the whole weekend was cloudy but that was still okay as it was WARM!). Realizing I had a blog post due, I finally set up a still life yesterday to get me warmed up before I head out to plein air later this week.
What to paint? It was my honey’s Cam’s body brush and shaving things that caught my eye this time and I thought, what the heck. So I set up the items on a table outside.
First the thumbnail:
Outside of course means changing light! The shadow created by the can of shaving cream and the brush soon disappeared leaving only the shadow under the razor. Luckily I had my thumbnail sketch to consult!
Here’s the pastel progression:
And there you have it. What do you think? Have you ever painted shaving things? I’d love to hear from you.
Next time, being the end of the month, you’ll be able to wonder at this month’s selection of pastel gems. Then, in a couple of weeks, I’ll have a plein air progression for you of some scene here in La Manzanilla.
PS. Ahhhhh sunsets in La Manzanilla!
Have I got a treat for you!! I’ve been a huge fan of Casey Klahn’s work for some time now so I’m thrilled to have Casey here to guest blog about his new still life series. I’ve been watching him post fabulous painting after fabulous painting of these still life images on various Facebook art groups and I became curious – What was his inspiration? What’s driving him to create so many? What motivates him to keep going?
Born in 1958, Casey Klahn is an American artist whose “abstracted style and use of color embrace the expression of his personal idea.” He is a well loved art instructor and he also writes a blog: TheColorist.blogspot.com
Casey, take it away!!
Hi, Gail! Thanks for asking me to guest blog at How to Pastel and to talk about my floral series. I’m making a series of 100 still life or floral images, and trying my hardest to make each one different from the last, and to make each one a fully realized artwork.
Making florals was on my mind for a couple of years, but I never imagined the direction these would take. They have become an important part of my body of work, now. I don’t know much about flowers, and as an example my wife will put flowers on the dining table, and it will be a week before I even know they are there. I’ll say, “how did those get here?”
A great deal of my impetus in these paintings is my admiration for the art of Henri Matisse, the French giant of Modern art. I saw 2 major exhibitions in 2014 of his work and am reading everything I can get my hands on about his life and art. Those were: 30 plus paintings and sculptures in St Petersburg, Russia, and The Cut-Outs in New York City. Let me tell you that seeing the art is the secret trick – much more important than reading about or just seeing stuff online!
I blogged about my trip to see Matisse in Russia last August at TheColorist.blogspot.com. Noteworthy works included the 2 monumental paintings, Jazz and Music. Also, my personal favorite was Portrait of The Artist’s Wife, 1913. I remarked to myself that the few still life works I saw there were not masterworks, but they were works by a master artist. That gave me some wiggle room in my own approach to my paintings. Who cares if each one is a smash hit? The idea is to paint much! You are expressing your ideas and, to me, your feelings. You might be surprised at what comes out. Certainly, these florals I’ve been doing are my surprise.
More secrets from Matisse. Matisse pays as much attention to the negative space in a still life as he does to the objects in the painting. Further, he wants the overall construction of the painting to be supported. My article is worth the read because I went all the way to Russia (during wartime!) only to see Matisse, and some very strange things happened. He revealed 3 guiding principles for his paintings to me. They are: passion, color, and (French word) insouciance. He feels intensely, colors boldly, and could not care less what you think about his works!
So, when I came home from Europe, I had this big floral that I was working on and I was at an impasse. I had started it from a set-up of irises in my studio, 2 months earlier. As I went back to it, informed by new inspiration, I quickly finished what has now become a very important work for me.
For me, each new artwork should say something different. Creativity is about bringing the new thing about. Why retell what another has already covered? How boring is that? So, as a result of this philosophy, I decided to use this series of a hundred paintings to express this somewhat formal idea. New each time; same subject matter. See how the content becomes more ideal, and less particular?
Plus, there’s the challenge that I enjoy so much.
I am thrilled when I see some problems in a piece, because I have a direction for the next one. Attempting to fix the last one! However, I try to set up a different arrangement and make the “fix” about some formal quality of painting.
After that first larger work, I continued with the genre and soon had done, I think it was, 20. I thought to myself if I had made 20 that fast that I could eventually finish a hundred. The challenge, of course, gets harder with every 10 or so works because they must differ! Whether I’ve achieved that or not, I don’t completely know for sure, but that is still the idea I’m after.
At the time of this writing, I believe there are about 70 still life paintings completed.
I still don’t know much about botany, but at least now I am able to see the flowers put in front of me!
Thanks so much Casey!!
Aren’t those paintings something?? They invigorate my creative impulse and move my soul. I wish we could have had all 70 here. Check out Casey’s blog at TheColorist.blogspot.com to see the rest of the series – those completed and those still to come. Also, see them at the Pastel Society of America Facebook group page.
As always, I’d love to hear your feedback!
Until next time,
PS. Casey Klahn has a terrific video where he talks about and shows his painting process and where you can see more of his remarkable work.
PPS. I chose a floral by Casey Klahn for my first (September) Pastel Gems blog. Go see it here.
I have this pastel. It was painted on location and then worked on in the studio. I wrote a blog about it (click here to read it). It received some wonderful comments. But I’ve never been completely happy with the pastel. I feel it’s an overworked pastel and just not the way I want it to look.
Since it’s been worked on so much, I decided to rework it into something else and capture the process for this blog. Although doing this was a risk, especially knowing a few people really liked the piece, I was ready to plunge in. I figured no matter what happened, since I was unhappy with the pastel as it was, whatever happened next was just fine. I may end up with a wonderful new piece or I may end up with a mess. If a mess, I can always wash the whole thing clean! And if a new piece, then yay!
Here’s the original overworked pastel:
First off, I gently wipe the pastel with a paper towel to soften all the edges and blur the image.
Now where do I take it? Do I make it abstract? One thing’s for sure, I’m done working on the landscape that’s there. I’ve reworked it so much that I feel like it’s dead. But there’s still an interesting pattern of light and dark that I can work with. I’ll also look to see if there’s any other visible form, for example, figurative, or I’ll turn it on its side and see if there’s another landscape possibility.
Now what? I decide to choose a limited palette from the colours used in the original. I pick the yellow and a blue as the primary colours. I add magenta and a cool red. Then I began to add the chosen colours to the outlined shapes.
Hmmm, interesting I think. I continue.
I wonder about drips and add water along one edge. But I discover that drips don’t happen that easily in pastels. (You can see there’s a bit of darkness along the right hand side. That’s wet pastels.) I feel that how I’ve been working, hatching the pastel, has begun to look too much the same. Pretty, I think, and I don’t want pretty. I also feel the big swooping shape takes you right out of the picture. So I decide to introduce long lines across the whole picture plane to stop that movement as well as to add some discomfort to the prettiness. Will it work?
Stepping back, I think I’ve added more interest to the piece. But there’s still work to be done.
I begin to see light filtering through slats of wood or metal. Like the elevated train platform in Chicago or the Eiffel Tower. With this idea in mind, I continue on. I decide to break up some of the large dark shapes further.
And here it is in black and white:
The images above follow the vertical format of the original piece. Let’s see what happens when we look at it horizontally:
I don’t know if it was a good idea to follow the light pattern that was there originally but that’s what I did and this is what I ended up doing and how the piece progressed.
I’ll need to sit with the painting and see what happens, to decide whether I’ll need to go further, stop, or let go of the whole thing again. I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I’d love to know your thoughts about what I did!!
Wishing you a splendid 2015. Let’s see what wonderful things we can create and discover in pastel together!!
PS. On my mind while working on this pastel was the 7th January shooting of 12 people at the Paris offices of the satirical weekly paper Charlie Hebdo. Although this painting doesn’t reference it directly, the awful event was in my subconscious for sure.
To see an amazing outpouring in cartoons by cartoonists from around the world, click here.
PPS. It feels good to be back in the studio. I’ve been working at completing the Pastel Painting En Plein Air online videos (done) and I’m now beginning to choose a place to store the videos online, decide on and set up a portal for access, and determine a method for purchasing. All computer stuff i.e. NOT in the studio!