In my last post, I shared the first half of the interviews I made at the International Association of Pastel Societies (IAPS) in early June. Here is the second set – the landscape interviews I call them since they’re all related to painting the landscape. Let’s go!
I first discovered the work of Lyn Asselta when I presented one of her extraordinary-from-the-ordinary pastels in my November monthly roundup. She’s a master at taking something that we might not give a second thought to and making it into something that makes us look and look and wonder….like a gray day with an empty rutted road leading off into the distance accompanied by telephone poles possibly no longer in use. The paintings below are of places fairly close to Lyn’s home.
I asked Lyn about how she sees beauty in mundane, everyday scenes:
Andrew McDermott is from Vancouver (nice to have a Canadian in among these interviews!). I’ve always admired his work, particularly his bold use of colour. He has a way of capturing that time of day when it’s night and lights are on but there’s still enough light in the sky to see colours. (You’ll also see his figurative work in the November pastel roundup.) Have a look:
Knowing Andrew’s penchant for colour, I asked him to give us a tip or two on how to use colour effectively:
Next we have two fabulous plein air artists.
To tell you the truth, I was unaware of Aaron Schuerr and his work until Andrew McDermott introduced me to Aaron. I looked him up online and was delighted to find fresh and light-filled plein air work. Take a look at a couple of the pieces he sent me:
Learning that Aaron was a plein painter, I asked him to tell us about why he paints on location:
Last but so very far from least, we have Richard McKinley. You’ll hear in the video below Richard’s comment about the benefit of returning to paint at the same place again and again through the years. With this in mind, he sent me three pastels created in the same location in Goleta, California over a period of ten years. You can see how the feeling and style shifts as well as the composition. The earliest comes first, the most recent, last.
Richard writes, “When I painted the last one, I was profoundly struck by how much the scene had changed. Upon reflection, I realized I had as well. I included a couple of these painting images in my new book The Landscape Paintings of Richard McKinley in the final section titled “Old Friends”. Whenever I reconnect with one of these locations, I have the luxury of memory. It may have new wrinkles and grayer hair, just like me, but I still remember it in all of its manifestations. This provides a comfort and intimacy that allows me to be more creative.”
I asked Richard to tell us what he sees as the benefits of painting en plein air:
And that’s it for this year’s interviews (except for one which will appear in July as part of a guest blog). Wish I’d been able to do more – I certainly had many more artists lined up to interview – but that’s just the way things turned out. I have an idea in mind though, so stay tuned!
Speaking of painting on location, my online course Pastel Painting En Plein Air is well and truly almost ready for release….just working out some technical glitches and then I’ll let you know aaaaaall about it. Soon come!
Please let me know what you think of the landscape interviews. What’s the most striking thing that you learnt?
Until next time (when I’ll have the month end round-up of awesome pastels),
PS. If you’re interested in Richard McKinley’s new book, here it is. (It was sold out at IAPS before I could get my hands on a copy!)
And for Canadian purchasers – and check it out – it’s practically the same price as in the US! What a deal!!:
I managed to persuade 10 artists at the International Association of Pastel Societies (IAPS) Convention to say a few words on video in answer to one question. This post will include half the IAPS interviews, the next, the rest. (One interview went way over the one-to-three minute mark and the story was so fascinating that I thought, hey, this would make a great guest blog so look for that next month!)
Along with the IAPS interviews, I have included two pastel examples by each artist. A few of the artists attached words along with the images they sent and these are included in the captions below each painting.
First up is Sandra Burshell who is well known for her luminous interiors. Most notably, she won the IAPS Prix de Pastel (the highest honour ) in the 18th IAPS Juried Show. Now take a look at these beauties! I feel as if I’m in the scene, bathed in the atmosphere and light.
I asked Sandra about why she paints Interiors, or Roomscapes as she calls them:
Next we have my lovely friend Stephanie Birdsall. She has become well known for her intricate and delicate as well as bold and direct florals. Here are a couple of her delightful floral pastels. I could just put my hand in and pick up the blossoms!
Given that Stephanie’s expertise lies with painting flowers, I asked her if she had a couple of tips to share:
This year’s IAPS Prix de Pastel (the highest award) winner was Christine Swann. And just by the way, Christine won the Gold Award at the 22nd Juried Exhibition at the 2013 IAPS Convention. And if that wasn’t enough, she also won the Maggie Price award at the 24th Juried IAPS Exhibition. (I wrote about the pastel last year. You can read about it here.)
Rather than show you Christine’s winning piece (I’ll put a link to the IAPS website when they have the show available online and you’ll be able to see it there), I thought it would be interesting to view two pieces I hadn’t seen before. Christine’s work is all about the story they tell beyond the surface content.
I asked Christine about the most important element in her paintings:
Arlene Richman does stunning abstracts. She’s won many awards for them including numerous ones in the Pastel Journal’s Pastel 100 annual competition. Arlene has also been a guest blogger here at HowToPastel and you can read her article here. Let’s have a look at the two pieces she sent:
You can hear how Arlene starts these marvelous pastels:
And finally for this post we come to the work of Duane Wakeham. I’m always awed by how deceptively simple they look – so clear in their intention. When you look closely at Duane’s work, you see shapes. The abstract underpinnings of his work help to make our experience of them that much more (unconsciously) satisfying. And although the colours, when you look closely at them, may be stretched away from what we might think we see, the paintings seem to reflect reality perfectly. Often, there are such subtle shifts in colour and temperature and values that unless you observe the pieces closely, you won’t notice them. Duane sent me four options: I had the dickens of a time picking two! Here they are:
You get the feeling when looking at Duane’s work that in each painting, every part of it has been considered. Listen to what Duane has to say about how he builds a painting:
And that’s it until next time when I’ll bring you the other four IAPS interviews. I also want to thank these artists for sharing their time and expertise with us. They are all such darn lovely people!
Let me know what you learnt from watching the videos. Yes, you. Go on, leave a comment!
Until next week,
PS. And if you know me, I just can’t stop. I realized I hadn’t chosen one of Duane’s warm glowing landscapes and since this is my blog and you know, I can break my own rules, here’s another Wakeham pastel.
Settling back into real life after a fabulous time at the 2015 International Association of Pastel Societies (IAPS) Convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico. What to tell you about it??
Well, for the first time, I was totally on the Vendor side of the Convention – I didn’t register as a participant (for one, it sold out so quickly – which is fantastic!) so I didn’t sign up for any demos.
I got to serve and play in the Candy Store both at the Holbein booth and at the Schminke booth. At each place, I was greeted by many of my subscribers who shared how much they love this blog. Wow – talk about walking on air!!! Makes all this effort oh so worth it. I’m kicking myself for not getting photos of me with these encouraging folk.
I also didn’t get photos with myself cozying up to the big whigs and my pastel heroes. Why I didn’t do that I can’t tell you – I just never thought of it at the time. Argh. I’ll do better in 2017! The connecting with old friends and making new ones is a huge part of the joy at IAPS. Here are a few photos in the trade show:
One of the really fun things at IAPS was the Paint-Around with Stan Sperlak, Tony Allain, Terri Ford, Alain J. Picard, and Marla Baggetta – what a hoot. Each artist starts a painting then every 10 minutes, the painting moves on one person until it comes back to the originator. I only saw the end of the event but could, on entering, feel the fun and frantic energy in the room.
When not demoing over at the Schminke booth in pastels, I was playing around in acrylic (heavy body and the new fluid paint), Acryla Gouache, and water soluble pastels at the Holbein booth, showing off how fabulous the products are. This while Stef showed off her skills in pastel at the Holbein booth.
Then there was the IAPS exhibition itself that I managed to dash into a couple of times (but regrettably missed the walk-around with Duane Wakeham). So many wonderful pictures!! Happy to see many that have been featured in my monthly round-up!
It wasn’t all work. The first day I got there (Tuesday 2 June), I managed to get in the pool. The outside temperature was so warm. What a treat. Ahhhhhhhhhh. AND, to top it all off, that night there was a full moon. Sigh.
Here are some of the other cool things that happened:
– I danced like crazy Thursday night with Stef as my partner then persuaded Schminke’s Gary to have a dance, and eventually got a whole heap of gals up to dance to Artisan Art Store’s own Ron Whitmore’s band
– I recorded about 10 short video interviews (which I will be posting in the next few days) thanks to the generosity of the artists who participated
– I enjoyed the keynote talk at the Saturday banquet by Esther Bell (Curator in Charge, European Paintings at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco) about the effect of the French Revolution on the way pastels were used in later decades. It’s only now that the full force and styles of pastels is being revived
– I ate and drank very well thanks in huge part to Holbein’s Doug Hopper and to other kind souls around
– I caught up with my friend Stephanie Birdsall – a lot can happen in two years!
– I had wonderful conversations with so many fabulous artists like Duane Wakeham, Jimmy Wright, Sandra Burshell, Bill Creevy, and Marla Baggetta. I only wish I could have found the time to do more socializing (for example, Sally Strand and I totally missed getting together – I don’t know how that happened!).
– I did two demos in the Schminke booth and was generously provided with UArt and Pastel Premier papers to try out. I loved them! Not so much worry now about the unavailability of Wallis paper. I will show you the demo progress of the pieces in my next blog.
– On Sunday 7th June, after connecting with various folk in the morning, I made my way to the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History just around the corner. (I got caught in an unusual 2-min downpour getting there. Crazy! I was pretty wet by the time I found the entrance.) I’ll share some of the work I saw in a blog for gailsibley.com. In the meantime, here’s a few images to keep you going.
And that’s about it!
Being at the IAPS Convention really was a time of joy – hanging out with people who love pastels as much as I do in beautiful and warm New Mexico. Doesn’t get much better than that!
Until next time,
PS. Really, I’m not Rita!
Ahhhhh…we are already at the end of May and it’s time for another monthly round-up of ten fabulous pastels I’ve encountered through the month. I started with 52 choices this time. I thought, by now I should be able to make the cut to ten pretty quickly. But it’s when I get to 19, then 15, then 13 and I go over and over and over and I think, I can’t cut anymore! But in the end I do and here they are. Once again, there’s a mix of more well known artists and not so well known.
May’s Fabulous Pastels
I kept returning to this pastel again and again. There is something in its bold simplicity and directness that speaks to me. I feel the heaviness of the air, full of the dampness of the marsh and the morning. The darkness brings with it an ominous quality. There are so many greens here to deal with and I love the many levels and differences that Becky makes. I also feel the clouds – I’ve seen them like that when they don’t come in a neat ‘cloud package’. I was unable to find a website for Becky (who apparently is a poet as well) but you can link here to her Facebook page.
From the dark of the marsh we come into a bright day on Florida’s Forgotten Coast. I love the way Nancie manages to make a beautiful painting out of something many of us might not look at twice. She uses the design of the whole operation to the composition’s benefit (we travel the triangular track easily through the painting) and works wonders of colour in all those areas of whites and grays. The whole is backed by a lovey pattern of greens as a foil. I’ve wanted to include one of Nancie’s pieces for sometime and so I’m happy to include this one here! Go check out more of Nancie’s work here.
I love the broad expanse of Laurent’s pastel. I can sense the sea as the light glints off the water. The rain has passed and the skies begin to clear. I feel as if I’ve been in this place and am now standing there again. I’m filled with the joy of nature as I look at this piece. Although pretty much monochromatic, the piece gives off the feeling of colour. You can feel the warmth of the day beginning to return through the coolness. And how incredible that it was done in pastel. Go see more of Laurent’s work on his website.
I found this pastel full of mystery. It appears to be that time of day when it’s neither light nor dark, when you can still see colour but the warmth of the light spilling out is made more apparent by the cool time of day. I love the way Opedun has treated the repetitive roof tops – enough to be different but not so much that they don’t hang together as a single value entity (except for the one in the foreground that stops our eye going straight to the red roof in the distance). He’s taken a complicated scene and simplified it into its essentials. There’s also the fabulous use of negative space to carve out the windows on the right side. Opedun has created three versions of this piece. You can see them on his Facebook page (I was unable to find a website.) Opedun is another of those artists who has come so close to making the ten cut that it’s a pleasure to include him here.
From the repetition of rooftops we go to the repetition of trees. Mate’s treatment of the many tree trunks into a unified mass is masterly. We see the mass but also feel the trees as individuals not just a bunch of tree trunks repeated in a formulaic manner. There is much movement – you can almost hear the wind blowing through the tree branches. You feel as if the trees themselves are vibrating with life. There’s a wonderful feeling of perspective as we are drawn into the woods, up the path that appears. I love the bold and direct pastel marks. And I smiled at the title! Go see more of Mate’s work here.
I’ve enjoyed many of Mary Ellen’s abstract pastels over the past months. I’m a lover of Joan Mitchell’s work and I’m often reminded of her when I see Mary Ellen’s vibrant and exuberant work. In this piece I got sucked in not only by the saturated rich colours but also by the marks in black. They’re like some sort of coded message for us from an earlier time, another dimension, or even a far-off civilization. What does it all mean? For me, this gives a deeper element to the painting that keeps me coming back for more. The primary place I found Mary Ellen’s work is here but unfortunately, it doesn’t show her abstract explorations.
I’ve always been a huge fan of Marla’s work and am delighted finally to include her pastel in my monthly choices. I love this piece. I’m always drawn to figures and this one certainly hooks me. The way Marla handles the light and colour in this pastel is fabulous – bright highlights (as a result of the overhead lighting) balanced by a mass of colourful darks. Everything that needs to be indicated to give us context is there but with just enough detail to make it readable, no more. There is a story here but it’s Marla’s capturing of this figure under these lighting conditions that holds me fast! Have a look at more of Marla’s work on her website.
Vianna is another artist whose work I’ve admired for some time and so I’m thrilled to include this beautiful pastel of a man who pauses in his book looking, distracted by something beyond the picture. What has happened? The tension in his body is evident and I can’t help wondering what is bothering him. I’m also curious to know what book he is perusing – an art book perhaps? The hands, notoriously difficult to render, are exquisitely done. The planes of the face are so solid, the shape of the facial forms so sensitive, and all created in such a small space. You can have a look at more of Vianna’s work here.
Speaking of sensitive, look at this beautifully painted face. Carol has captured a dreamy and thoughtful look on a young girl’s countenance. Although this may be a portrait (Carol’s daughter?), it stands for so much more for me. It’s as if it’s a symbol for young people as they look towards the future, full of possibilities. There’s a sense of calm yet unease at what it may bring. And specifically, I can’t help but wonder about what will this young person be and do as she grows to maturity? I couldn’t find a website but you can see more of Carol’s work on her Facebook page.
When I first saw this pastel, I was immediately drawn to it by the intensity of the eyes. What is going on behind them? And what’s the story of this woman’s life? Rosemay’s use of green throughout (the eyes and surrounding areas, the earrings, the collar) give it a haunting quality. This woman is not just a pretty thing, nope, she has a powerful personality yet with eyes like green pools that you can sink into, there also feels like a world of compassion here too. This is a striking piece with no need to be a perfect copy of reality. The directness tells us much not only about the subject but the painter herself. Have a look at more of Rosemay’s pastels here.
And that’s the 10 fabulous pastels for this month!! I’d love to hear which is your favourite and why. Did you learn anything from this month’s blog? Do leave me a comment below!
I am off to Albuquerque and IAPS (the International Association of Pastel Societies) on Tuesday to help out at the Holbein booth, demo at the Schminke booth (Friday 9-12 and Saturday 2-5), hug and catch-up with old friends, make new friends, create interview videos, connect and network, and generally have a darn good time!
This is your last chance to tell me what’s the one question you want me to ask the artists there in my upcoming video interviews. (For example: What’s the first thing you do when you enter your studio? Or what about, How does the way you set up your studio affect the way you work? Or How do you work, on an easel or flat, and why?).
Leave them in the comment box below or send me an email at email@example.com (my travelling email address).
Thanks for joining me in this world of pastel!
PS. If you are interested in seeing more of my choices from the past few months, just click on “Today’s Artists” under Categories.
Back in April, a pastel was posted by Don Gardi on the Pastel Society of America Facebook page. It was by an artist that was unknown to me – Frantisek Kupka. Once I started to dig a bit, I realized I had seen his work but it was his more abstract paintings that I was familiar with whereas what had been posted was a figure done in pastels. After commenting on the post, I received an email from artist Duane Wakeham who shared an extraordinary pastel by Kupka with me. And from these two beautiful pieces, this blog was born.
Initially I had a hard time finding pastel images online. I borrowed a book, Frantisek Kupka 1871-1957: A Retrospective published by The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 1975 (which I later discovered online – click here to see it). Inside, I found a number of pastels but they were mostly black and white reproductions. With that information, however, I was then able to track down many of the images online and in colour as posted by the various museums where they reside. (The Musee National d’Art Modern – Centre Pompidou has a large collection of work by Frantisek Kupka primarily due to a gift by his wife Eugenie.)
Short Bio for Frantisek Kupka Prior to 1910
Frantisek Kupka is primarily known as one of the founders of pure abstract art (along with Wassily Kandinsky, Robert and Sonia Delaunay, and Piet Mondrian). Born in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) in 1871, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts Prague where he received traditional training, then at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna where he was influenced by Symbolism. After moving to Paris by 1896, he studied briefly at the Academie Julian and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. To earn a living, he first created satirical caricatures for newspapers and magazines and then moved on to designing posters and book illustrations.
He would have been exposed to and influenced by the avant-garde movements of the day – fauvism and cubism – but still his work remained wholly his own. In 1906, he settled in Puteaux, a suburb of Paris (where he lived until he died in 1957). His works started off representational but after reading the Futurist Manifesto published in 1909 in Le Figaro (it’s quite something!), his work began to move more towards abstraction, reflecting the idea of showing movement and also his colour theory. You can read more about Frantisek Kupka’s life here.
The pastels I will share with you are from the period 1906-1911, i.e. after he moved to Puteaux up until the time he was being influenced by the Futurist writings and the notion of capturing movement in figures. You can also see how he utilizes colour expressively, beyond any ‘realistic’ associations.
These two pastels look quite different in style – one is more naturalistic with overtones of Kupka’s illustrations for Les Erinnyes (begun in 1906), the other more decorative revealing the Art Nouveau influence with its sinuous lines. The tiny insert reveals a more realistic rendition of what is seen while the larger image studies the effect of water on the figure in a more patterned way.
The beautiful oil painting that emerged from these studies can be seen here. This was the first time Kupka had shown forms immersed and transformed in water. The idea that the natural element of water dissolved the distinct and concrete boundaries of the body appealed to Kupka as seen in this quote from his 2013 manuscript discussing the phenomenon of reflection: “What adorable tricks on the absolute limit of things.” (as quoted in Retrospective, p.107)
This pastel, Girl with a Ball, precedes the fairly naturalistic oil painting of the same subject, namely Kupka’s stepdaughter Andree. A series of eight drawings exist that came out of Kupka’s frustrations with being unable to describe movement of the ball and the girl in the pastel (and the painting).
Here’s one drawing where Kukpa describes both the contours and forms of the body as well as the track of the moving ball as Andree plays with it.
In a note on the pencil drawing above, Kupka details his frustrations in the inscription on the side: “ici il n’y a que/ la dissection/ des surfaces/ la conception/ de la/ conpenetration [sic]/ atmospherique/ est a trouver/ tant qu’il y/ aura la difference/ des couleurs/ du fond et/ de la chair/ je retomberai/ dans le [sic] photo/ carte postal”. Loosely translated it means, “Here I am only dissecting surfaces. The atmospheric copenetration is yet to be found. As long as there is a distinction in colour between ground and flesh, I will fall back into the postcard photograph.” (Click here to see the translated quote and to see a much more abstracted pastel study for the painting, Amorpha.)
In the eight drawings of Andree lay the seeds for studies for the painting, Amorpha: Fugue in Two Colours, which, when it was exhibited at the 1912 Salon d’Automne in Paris, was one of the first abstract paintings ever shown publicly.
The Girl with a Ball drawings also led on a parallel track to the colourful and vibrant pastels of the Woman Cutting Flowers series. You can see in these how Kupka worked through the idea of dissecting a plane and of showing motion by using overlapping phases of movement. In these you can also see the influence of high speed photography pioneered in the 1880s.
Apparently there may have been about 15 in this series but the whereabouts of the others are unknown. (Note: the numbers applied to each in the series is from the Retrospective Catalogue rather than the Pompidou’s website where they are all called “Woman Cutting Flowers.” It is unclear in which order they were created.)
It’s fascinating to go through the series, noting the differences and the evolution of the theme. The fourth pastel seems the most abstracted with less focus on overlapping motion; the second loses the seated figure; the fifth one shows the figures most at one with the background.
From the Retrospective Catalogue (p61): “In the last version….although the grid structure is once more visible, the figure is shattered and integrated into the surroundings space. Here Kupka achieves a unified all-over pattern in which focal image, trace or memory imprints and ambient space are fragmented, flattened and enmeshed in a single plane. Kupka wrote in his notebook of approximately the same time (1910-11): ‘When we try to remember a dream…often we only retain a skeleton of the dream images…a vague grid through which fragmented forms emerge and disappear as quickly as they came.’”
Some of these pieces bring to mind Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending Staircase #1 and #2 but those weren’t finished until 1911 and 1912. Interestingly, one of Marcel Duchamp’s brothers, Jacques Villon, was Kupka’s neighbour in Puteaux while Marcel himself lived in Neuilly-sur-Seine, another suburb of Paris.
Kupka also began making studies for a piece called Planes By Colours (‘Plans par Couleurs’). Here’s one of those studies:
Amazing colours yes? Click here to see the final oil painting.
The last pastels below lead up to the painting, Planes of Colours, Large Nude. Kupka worked on this series of reclining nudes over a few years starting in about 1904. The first I’ve included is in a private collection and so I was unable to locate a colour version of it. Nevertheless, I’ve included a black and white reproduction of it taken from the Retrospective Catalogue (p. 128) as I feel it really shows his progression from realism to something more expressive. (Sorry about the curve in the page.)
You can see how Kupka used colours (and values) to create the figure rather than volumetric shading. You can see the final oil painting by clicking here.
One more, just one more I promise. Although I was going to stick with figurative pieces, I wanted to include this abstract pastel as it seems to grow naturally out of the Woman Cutting Flowers series. It felt like the completion of Kupka’s process towards abstraction. I think the colour is exquisite! Here it is:
So what do you think? Has this inspired you to work out your ideas in many iterations? I’d love to know if you have any perceptions about this work. Had you seen Frantisek Kupka’s pastels before? Were you even aware of him as an artist? Do let me know in a comment below.
One more blog post coming before I head off to IAPS 2nd of June!!
Until next time,
PS. Because I can’t help myself….
PPS. And here’s the book I referenced:
I have done a few pastel demo videos now, all of them on toned Wallis paper. A question I’ve been asked is, Why don’t you use white paper? and What would the pastel painting look like on white paper?
I have taken these questions to heart and decided to do a demo on white paper even though it’s not my usual surface colour. In the demo, I use, for the first time, Terry Ludwig’s set of 14 Best Loved Basics – the company’s uber starter kit. When I first looked at these, I was surprised and a little bit anxious, if I’m truthful, because there wasn’t the usual saturated colour selection I’m used to, for instance, no bright yellow, orange, or green. But I was up for a challenge! Here’s the result.
So let’s have a closer look. First the set-up:
Next the thumbnail.
So let’s look at a few progression pieces:
The combination of the softness of the Terry Ludwig pastels and the sanded texture of the Wallis paper allowed layers to be built up thus eliminating most of the white specks of paper showing through. Where you can see them, I rather like the sparkle that the white paper brings, for instance in the shadow side of the bowl.
Here are the photos of the Terry Ludwig set:
I love the name of this set of pastels – Best Loved. It doesn’t have the name “starter box/kit” or anything like that. Instead, it appeals to our emotions. And this is typical of the way Terry works. For instance, while at IAPS conferences, I have received free samples. (You can see a whole piece I did from this selection of IAPS samples by clicking here.) Terry (and team) also posts artwork by others created with his pastels on the company’s Facebook Page. It’s through this generosity that we not only come to love his pastels but also the man himself.
I was curious as to how this selection of pastels came about – how were the colours chosen? I put the question to Marie Ludwig, President of the Terry Ludwig Pastels. Here’s what she had to say: “The Maggie Price Best Loved Basics, a set of 60 pastels, is the set we most often suggest to new pastel artists just getting started with the medium. We became aware this set would be a price stretch for those new artists and decided to create a small set geared toward them. Terry selected the 14 pastel colors and values he believed would be most useful for the new pastelist.” So there you have it! A fabulous beginner set for sure.
Limitations, counter-intuitively perhaps, enable you to grow as an artist. A limited colour selection, working with colours not usually in your palette, these things will lead to creativity and progress. I leave you with this quote (substitute the word ‘artist’ for ‘writer’):
That’s it folks! Tell me, do you use white paper? If so, why? I’d love to know how you use the white paper. Let’s get a discussion going!
Until next time,
PS. I recently did a pastel self-portrait using the same set of 14 Best Loved Basics. Watch for that coming soon!!
Oh. My. Gosh. It’s the end of yet another month and once again I’ve faced the terrible and delectable task of picking my pastel favourites from the many I encountered over the month. This time I started with 60 to choose from and once I had whittled it down to 18, my, what a time I had making my final selection. But 10 is the self-imposed limit and by golly I’m going to stick to it! And so I struggled and pondered and finally made my decisions. I hated eliminating those that I had chosen throughout the month – they were all wonderful!
Let’s have a look at this month’s choices.
There was something about Gary’s pastel that kept bringing me back again and again, a mystical and quiet quality to it in both colour and content. Where does this path lead? Am I inclined to explore and follow where it goes or am I fearful about what I might find? With questions like that, the pastel becomes a metaphor for the process of art-making itself! There’s something about the overall blue and the darkness that makes me ambivalent about whether I should be calm or anxious. I love this tension between disquiet and ease. To see more of Gary’s work, have a look at his website.
The exact same size as Gary’s pastel, this one is older (all of eight years) but when I saw it, I knew I would have to include it as one of my pastel favourites for this month. Here mark-making is of the utmost importance. You can feel the energy of the artist as he applied the pastel. He reacts vigorously to what is in front of him. How daring that purple line outlining the hills in the distance. And look, did you notice the buildings in the distance? Scrub and bush, you can feel the chaos of it in the foreground. I also love the way Raoul incorporated the colour of the paper into the whole. Go see more of his work here. (Thanks to Jimmy Wright for posting Raoul’s work on the PSA Facebook group page and bringing this artist to my attention.)
It’s deceiving seeing this pastel, here on the blog, as the same size as the two above when in fact, in real life, it’s much larger. I love the predominant combination of yellows and purples in this piece – the feeling of warm light and cool shade. There is much to explore and enjoy in this piece from the various trees trunks to the refections in the water to the way Mike has indicated the foliage and rocks. A delight. See more of Mike’s work here.
From the darkness of Mike’s pastel, we come to this high key painting by Lorenzo Chavez. The first three pieces had much to say about trees. Here trees are thin on the ground but add a useful vertical. There’s something about the lightness of feeling that comes through in this piece. Winter doesn’t seem so bad as the cool shadowed snow is balanced here by the warmth of the sun illuminating the scrub and parts of the snow. The colour of the water area is that greeny colour that comes from a thin ice layer that’s almost not there. Do you know what I mean? See more of Lorenzo’s work at his website. (As an aside, this painting was on my January shortlist. For some reason, it popped up again in my April viewings and I’m delighted to include it in this month’s pastel favourites!)
We go from a high key pastel to a great example of a low key painting. In a nighttime painting, most of the values are dark and it’s by creating just enough contrast in those dark values that allows us to read the shapes of the painting. Judy does this so well in this piece. Here’s another mysterious painting that invites questions. Is this merely a quiet street or is there something more going on? An ominous feeling surfaces as we notice the car approaching – it heads directly towards where we stand. Incredibly, this is Judy’s first night painting. I look forward to seeing more! It appears that Judy doesn’t have a website but I’m linking here to her Facebook page.
I can hardly believe this is a pastel. What incredible detail and observation! Who knew what you could see in a few pieces of cutlery? I love the complimentary colours of orange and blue and how they both colour what essentially is monochromatic silverware. How amusing that the vases of the title are nowhere to be seen….or are they? Go here to see more of Lisa’s meticulously rendered paintings.
From Lisa’s realism we go to the expressionistic abstraction of this work by Halla. I am mesmorized by this piece – by both the colour and the application of pastel. Line informs both the plant shapes and the negative spaces. I keep looking and seeing more all the time. The title invites interpretation beyond what we see. Within the shape of what I take for a vase, I see a landscape full of life. What do you see? I was surprised not to find a website for Halla but you can see her work on her Facebook profile.
I was totally charmed by this portrait by Jeanne Rosier Smith. Jeanne doesn’t delineate every little detail but gives us enough information to capture this young girl glancing off to the side, her attention caught by something beyond the frame. I have a need to ask her what she’s looking at. The delicacy of the partially opened mouth, the eyes that stare into an unknown distance, the soft shadows on her face, all these fill me with a quiet pleasure. To see more of Jeanne’s work click here (she does some amazing seascapes!).
Another face fully in thoughts of her own, the solid simplicity of this pastel totally captured me. I love the way the linear marks suggest the bare minimum of a three-dimensional form. For some reason, this pastel brings to mind the graphic work of Aristide Maillol and the paintings of Paul Gauguin. Michael says, “I drew this of a friend when I lived in Rhodes, Greece. It’s a study for a concept of the Last Supper.” Wouldn’t you like to see the finished work? I sure would! Click here to see more of Michael’s work.
There’s something about figures depicted against the light that get me every time. In this piece, I am enchanted by the various colourings of white – the blouse, the walls, the crockery. This pastel has a strong composition of abstract shapes that leads the eye around the piece. Working on toned gator board, Ronnie brushed on pumice gel to create texture. After her initial sketch, she “scribbled” in areas with Nupastel and then applied alcohol, “brushed on section by section to avoid mixing values.” She then “went crazy with layers of soft pastel.” The light and colours are reminiscent of the work of Sally Strand. See more of Ronnie’s work and her process here.
And that’s it folks. Another month of pastel favourites. Which one is your favourite? I’d love to hear from you!!
Until next time,
Lesson Learnt at Opus Demo
Last month, I was invited to do a pastel demo and chat at Opus Downtown Vancouver on Sunday afternoon. I went over to the mainland and spent the weekend with my brother and his family. On Saturday, I went out and bought a selection of vegetables. I thought it might be a good idea to try a set up and then make a small thumbnail so I could have some sort of plan the next day. Good idea yes? I thought so. So I excused myself from family fun and went to work. Here’s the thumbnail sketch I did:
I was all set. Or so I thought. The next afternoon, I set up the vegetables at Opus, turned on my flood light, and…..all the values were different. For instance, where the shadows had been the darkest value, now they were a middle value. It didn’t matter that the set up was the same including the same temperature bulb shining from the same direction. The ambient light was different and that seemed to make all the difference.
Conundrum – should I stick with the old plan even though I don’t see that, or take the time and effort to create a new one? I decided I couldn’t just make it up and so created a new one:
Subtle difference in the thumbnails but a big difference when it came to pastelling. Just goes to show, even though you prepare, you need to be flexible and be able to change at a moment’s notice! The plans of mice and men….. Still, I’m glad I did do the veg set up and selection beforehand.
Here’s the pastel that emerged from the demo. I didn’t get nearly as far as I had planned (it always takes way longer to answer all the questions before getting going and also along the way) and I added things like highlights long before I normally would but I wanted to show how I would finish. All in all, it gave a good taste of layering and how you can make do with a limited palette.
As you probably know by now, I’ll be on my way to the International Association of Pastel Societies (IAPS) Convention at the beginning of June. As I did last time and the time before, I’ll be helping out at the Holbein booth. This year for the first time, I’ll also be demoing…at the Schminke booth. I’ll be there Friday 5 June 9am-12pm and Saturday 2-5pm. In between, I hope to shoot a LOT of short videos like I did two years ago.
What I want to know is, if I asked one question to a number of the artists, what would it be?
I’m looking for input, what do you want to know? If it’s a question for a specific artist, let me know. Please leave your questions as a comment so we can all see them.
To get an idea of who is teaching, go to the IAPS website here. Remember too that there will be a lot of amazing artists attending and I hope to ask them questions as well!
To give you inspiration, here’s a few of the videos I shot last time. Click on the image to watch. To see all the interviews, go to my Channel and check under “Interviews”.
So, what’s your burning question?! Tell me so I can ask it when I go to IAPS!!!
Next time, I’ll have my pastel choices for April. Wait for it!!!
Thanks for being here,
PS. Your burning question is???
PPS. If you are coming to IAPS, please come find me at either Holbein or Schminke booths!
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? Please leave a comment on the blog.
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):
For Canadian buyers
For US and International Buyers.
Yes, I get a small commission if you purchase through my link, maybe enough for a cup of coffee. Maybe