It’s time to share my pastel picks for July. As always, a difficult decision to choose just ten pastels but here they be. They’re chosen from the many delightful pastels I came across over the last month.
I was blown away when I came across this pastel by Elaine Despins. There’s so much I love about it – the figure’s expression, the colour of the background, the deceptive simplicity of the pose, the accuracy of the drawing, the subtle shifts in values and temperatures of the skin, the daring use of black clothing, the amazing depiction of the hands, the capturing of personality and pose. See more of Elaine’s work here.
Not only do I appreciate how Gail Piazza has captured the sense of this boy, I’m also delighted by the monochromatic colouring of this piece with the paper itself being used as an important element of the whole. I enjoy the simply yet so effectively shaded face with all the contours revealed in a minimal way. Also, look at the fine hatching in contrast to the more thickly applied stroke. And don’t you just love the red accents on the nose and lips? In the course of locating Gail’s website, I discovered that she is an illustrator of children’s books
I like the close cropping of this pastel by Sylvia Laks. It, along with the contrast between the warmth of this woman’s skin and the cool colour of her clothing, make sure we focus on her face. We create a story based on what little we see, a story that is coloured by our own cultural background and bias. The painting compels us to ask questions, for instance: Is this woman upset? Or does she instead exhibit curiosity? What are her thoughts, her feelings? The subject is an individual and yet, almost iconically, she represents all women who are in the same situation. You can see more of Sylvia’s work here – you’ll be surprised when you get there
Drawn to the contemplative pose of this woman, I enjoy the way her smooth flawless pale face sits in contrast to the colourful and vigorous marks surrounding her. Leoni Duff’s skill at combining the perfectly rendered face with the more impressionistic interpretation of the clothing and background gives me great pleasure. Check out Leoni’s website for more of her work.
We now move to the landscape with this deceptively simple demo piece by Terri Ford. The subject is a fairly nondescript patch of land yet Terri, with her skill in composition, value, and colour, has created a pastel that excites and moves me. She effectively and masterfully moves our eyes easily around the whole. She’s unafraid to apply the pastel thickly and directly, with confidence and vigour yet with consideration. Click here to see more of Terri’s work.
Look at this pastel by Jorge Gomez close-up and you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s an abstract. Step back and you see water that moves over hidden rocks and splashes against the outcropping. I’m fascinated by this dichotomy between what is evident from afar and what disappears and becomes much less representational at close quarters. Jorge manages to achieve an almost magical feeling with this piece. There is also that lovely feeling of imagining jumping into cool water on a hot day. Check out his facebook page for more.
A mostly monochromatic painting in saturated blues, Michele Wells uses the pinkish accents judiciously, just enough to create that warmth that remains in the sky at the horizon and tinges the clouds after the sun has set. We are drawn deeply into the far distance only to be swept outwards, back to where we stand, as our eyes follow the clouds up and out. Such a beautiful impression of an elusive time of day. See more of Michele’s work here.
A similar time of day as Michele’s pastel yet Suzanne captures a totally different cloud effect. Rather than being swept into and then out of the painting, this time we stand still as we witness the majesty of the effects left by the setting sun and feel the peace settling in at the end of the day. There is a beautiful texturing of the water as the remaining light glints off it. I enjoy the quiet simplicity of this piece. Check out Suzanne’s website for more of her work.
I love that time of day when the sun has set but the sky is not yet fully dark and still, it’s dark enough for lights to be needed. This painting by Linee Baird certainly captures that time of day. The pastel balances out the blues of day end with the warmth of the glowing lights. The vibrancy of this southern French city at night is fully conveyed as is the dampness in the air found in a seaside metropolis. I love the expressive energy of this painting. See more of Linee’s work here.
And for a complete change of pace, we have this piece by Neva Rossi. I was totally charmed by this painting – by its bright combination of colours, by the impressionistic rendering of this man engrossed in playing his stringed instrument, by the feeling it evoked in me. See more of Neva’s work by clicking here.
So what are your thoughts about this month’s pastel picks? I’d love you to leave a comment – please let me know what you think!
Thanks for being here with me on this pastel journey,
I’m home from my wonderful trip to Ontario where Cam and I visited various family members. Kicking myself for not taking more photos! However, I did have time to do one pastel en plein air It’s one that I did of a beautiful view of Big Rideau Lake from Cam’s Mum’s porch. The weather was changeable, rotating from heavy cloud and grey skies to blue sky with white clouds. Ahhhh the unpredictable delights of painting on location!
The Plein Air Progress
Here’s the view through the screen. (Yes, I was cheating a bit sitting inside a screened porch but I still consider it a plein air piece!)
I was so happy to have done any work en plein air while away. It would have been nice to have done more but since the main reason for our trip was family visiting, I put all my focus and energy into doing just that! And I’m ever so glad as I had an amazing time first with my sister and her partner, then with Cam’s family (I have now met them all!), and finally with my cousin Alex and her partner. All very special times.
Look forward to hearing from you. Please leave a comment and tell me what you think of my newest plein air work.
At the beginning of June while at the IAPS Convention, I met Donna Yeager. In conversation, she began to tell me about her experience of going back to art school and how it had affected her work. I asked her if she’d like to saw a few words about that experience on camera for my YouTube interviews. She accepted but we found when she began to speak, she had so much more to say. It occured to me that the video could become the basis for a guest blog.
Donna also wrote up an account of her artistic journey to date and you’ll find that, along with the video interview and images that illustrate her words, below.
Take it away Donna!
My life as an artist has had many changes throughout the years. This is not going to be a diary of my life, all “drawn” out, but a highlight of the journey.
Drawing–I love it! Always have. I have drawn all my life. It is so natural to me. My first real art class was taught by a former New York illustrator, Harry Fredman. His claim was: “I can teach anyone how to draw.” It was a technique based on measurement but working with live models and later, just photo references. It was very formulated and I caught on fast. I could draw anyone to look just like the photo – boy could I copy.
Some students were better than others but all looked like we were cut from the same cloth. Knowing exactly how my drawings and later oil portraits would look like before I even started was reassuring–at first. Later it felt unfulfilling. Where was my creativity and spontaneity? Granted, it is very important to have skills and to keep them sharp but that should not be the end all but the basis for my growth as an artist.
So, I let go of that successful formulated way of working and began studying shapes, value, light, and working in a loose suggestive manner with master painter, Phil Starke. I used big brushes and lots of oil paint. My paintings were not good. I had to think and interpret instead of relying on a formula. It was so hard to let go of my comfortable ways and successful work but I knew I had to in order to grow. I needed to be willing to look bad, to embrace the tenuous, the unknown, the big non-formula. It took a long time and never was success guaranteed. But I did begin to grasp what I was searching for.
I also began doing figure drawing and in the first session, fell in love with it. My drawings were raw and not very good but it was so exciting – capturing the moment and connecting with the model. The lessons of proportions I had learned in my formulated class came forth. My eye/hand coordination grew. I could see how the figure drawing made me a better painter in all aspects.
Along the way, I began working in pastel. It was a medium to which I connected – it felt like a part of me, an extension of my hand. My first pastel painting was a home run. It was accepted in the Pastel Society of America Exhibition, the Kansas Pastel Society Exhibition, and even The Artist’s Magazine competition.
It is still one of my favorite paintings – simple, direct, and engaging. You’d think after that I would just be knocking them out of the park. That was not the case. I equate it to a beginner bowling a perfect game the first time up. It was trial and error after that.
I stayed with the medium and eventually became skilled in it. I excelled in it rather quickly and developed a style. I have become an award winning artist and instructor.
When I moved to Kansas from Missouri, I started taking figure drawing and painting classes at the Johnson County Community College. I loved being a student. Working alongside young people was energizing and fun. I learned as much from them as the instructors. Never having a real college experience, I gave it my all.
Going to school, doing homework, teaching, painting, entering competitions, exhibiting – all this happening at once – was exhausting and exhilarating. The art department knew I was a serious artist and it showed in my work. My painting professor, John Carroll Davis, and the head of the art department, Larry Thomas, suggested I take a class called “Digital Imaging for Artists.”
I knew I was not a computer expert by any stretch of the imagination but I somewhat knew my way around a PC. So I enrolled in the class. I walked in and all the computers were Apple computers. I had never been on a Mac. I couldn’t even follow the lingo. I was lost. The professor was patient and since there were only eight students in the class, so I knew I had a chance. It was up to me to make something out of it. It was a tough class. I couldn’t “draw” my way of this.
“Nothing is sticking in my head,” I said to my professor. He responded, “I know – I thought you would do much better.”
Well, that didn’t give me much encouragement, but I was determined not to quit. I heard God’s voice in my head: “I’m giving you this gift. It is free but you will have to struggle. It won’t be easy. It will be very hard. Will you take my gift? Be strong. I am with you.”
I stayed. I went to every lab, every class. I struggled through homework with deadlines. If it wasn’t for an angel named Danny Ashley who was the lab tech (and also an instructor in computer classes), I could never have made it. He tutored me, he became my friend, and he never gave up on me.
I started combining the digital with drawings and paintings. My new pieces were good. I re-enrolled in the class and kept going.
In the next three semesters, my work was published in three of the “Mind’s Eye” student catalogs. It was also selected to be included in the school’s calendar. The Nerman Museum purchased my abstract assignment entitled “Guardo-Sol”.
Because of this journey I have done work I’d never dreamed of before. I think differently now. I now consider content as well as style. My composition skills have increased. And I am more creative.
I’m not sure where this new language will take me but I know that it is unique and special.
So what do you think of Donna’s artistic adventure? Have you thought of going back to art school? Are you inspired to do so? I’d love to hear from you so please leave a comment!
Until next week,
At the beginning of June, as you know, I was at the wonderful bi-annual International Association of Pastel Societies (IAPS) Convention. I was fortunate to be asked to demo twice using Schminke pastels at their booth.
What to paint? Well, if you know me, you know I prefer working from life, so the first demo was a no-brainer – I’d do a still life set up. And if you’ve been following my YouTube videos you know I’m a big promoter of using quality pastels in a limited palette. (This is to help show beginners that they only need to start with a small selection of pastels which means they can afford to purchase good quality rather than mediocre pastels!)
And what did I decide to do for my demo the following day? Well, wait and see!
Let’s have a look at the first demo.
One down, one more to go.
I decided that since I had recently begun offering a workshop called “Reality to Abstract,” I’d have my second piece use the first demo as a base from which to go abstract. And even though Gary was kind enough to offer me the use of a larger set, I decided to stick with the smaller set to see what would happen.
I enjoyed trying out new papers and can certainly recommend them both – UArt 320 and Pastel Premier 320 Italian Clay. They both took the layering of soft pastel very well. And of course I loved using the Schminke pastels!
Look forward to hearing what you think about these pieces! So please leave a comment
Until next week,
Oh. My. Gosh. I can hardly believe we are already in July and it’s time for the roundup of the pastels I’ve enjoyed through the month of June. Once again, culling the 55 collected pastels down to 10 choices was incredibly difficult. It’s always when I get down to about 15 that I look and ponder, look and ponder. It takes ages to make those final choices. I actually hate having to make the chop but I still think 10 is a good number to present to you. So here are this month’s remarkable pastels!
I’ve always loved this pastel by Adrian Frankel Giuliani. I can hear the sounds of the swimming pool underneath the water and the bubbles just beginning to break free from those bulbous cheeks. I can feel the flow of water as this child moves vigorously by me. I inhale ‘swimming pool’ aroma and recall my own childhood full of exuberance and blissful innocence. I also love the thickness and energy of the pastel marks in this high-key, slightly abstracted, large piece.
I was totally charmed by this pastel done by Glen Maxion. Like Adrian’s piece, I can feel the experience of being there – the sound of the waves and the cries of the figures jumping in the waves, the taste of the salt, the slight breeze that sends a shiver over wet skin. One girl looks out perhaps at the figures or maybe beyond while the other appears to examine the action of the water over the sand at their feet. What’s amazing to me is a closer look at the painting suggests the paper is Canson even though at first glance, the pastel looks thickly applied and layered. Another memory of childhood and the joys of summer at the beach.
This pastel by Nancy Feinman Nowak stopped me in my tracks when I came across it. Simple simple simple yet absolutely captivating. I love the taking of something so seemingly insignificant – the side of a fairly ordinary house in light – and making it into something worth stopping for. Certainly this is what Nancy has done in this painting. Look at all those grayed colours that when combined make for what feels like a colourful painting. There’s such confidence in the strokes, the range of values, and in the colour choices.
Another plein air piece, this one by Kathy Falla Howard (done during the Santa Fe Plein Air Festival) gives me a sense of calm and peace. This simple backlit church sits solidly on the paper surrounded by a mountain and sky backdrop, trees and shrubbery on either side, and the sunlit cemetery with flower-marked graves in the foreground. Such simplicity of vision gives a feeling of times past and speaks to the importance to the community of this small church built in 1880.
There’s something about this piece by Barry Monohon I just love. It’s so simple yet vibrates with colour and texture. There is a feeling of the magnificence and the vitality of nature that comes through. You may not think so at first viewing, but there’s depth – just look at the piece from far away and you’ll see the field glowing beyond the trees. You’ll also notice the warmly coloured textured ground in front and the cool dark shade beneath the sunlit trees.There’s no obvious centre of interest yet my eye travels around the whole, never stuck in one place, moved around by the mark-making itself. Is there something European about it? Perhaps it reminds me of the work of the Impressionists.
Okay, without looking at the caption, how large do you think Jeff Ventola‘s painting is? Come on, ‘fess up! Did you consider that it was so small? I didn’t. I was sure that it was a huge painting! I think that phenomenon comes from the vastness of landscape suggested. Yet another painting of a simple subject in nature, this one brings together the sound of rolling thunder in the distance, the smell of imminent rain or perhaps of the earth after the rain has fallen, the glory of being alive. It feels like a metaphor for life – its ups and downs, its clear skies and menacing clouds, its ever-changing cycle. I love the way Jeff has coloured the small slice of water, reflecting the colours above. And I need to add that apparently Jeff withdrew from painting for 10 months after receiving some vituperative remarks. Well I, for one, am glad he’s back on the painting horse!
Similar in composition to Jeff’s work, this one is completely different. I love the energy and directness of this abstract painting by Bre Crowell. The pastel marks feel intuitive as they range in squiggles, meanderings, and slashes across the paper. The title helps me see a figure whirling and turning, dancing like no one’s watching. For me, for some reason, it brings to mind fairytales of dancing princesses and also the character of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady when she sings, ‘I Could Have Danced All Night.’ Funny what can come up when you view a painting! Isn’t that part of the joy?
I’ve always enjoyed Ron Monsma‘s figurative paintings but for some reason, it’s this non-figurative piece that made it into this monthly collection. There’s always much to think about when you view Ron’s work and this one is no exception. What does it mean? What clue does the title give us? Why are these objects combined and what does the combination tell us? There’s the solidity of brick and wood creating a structure on and around which something of nature – a nest but one with an egg-shaped hole in it, and an egg, pierced by a nail yet unbroken – reside. All all starkly visible against a brooding sky. For me, the painting says something about the relationship between humankind’s construction and the damage it does to wildlife. Am I way off base? Ron paints the objects in a realistic way yet the content of the painting is more surreal than real and asks more questions than it answers. What’s your take on this painting?
Speaking of questions, what about Neil Condron‘s pondering self portrait? There’s nothing held back as Neil looks at himself and records what he sees – a middle aged artist complete with wrinkles, bumps and all, the face of a life lived yet one that may be pondering the past? or the present? or perhaps the future? The vignetting effect at the bottom of the painting reminds us that we aren’t looking at an actual face. Instead, we’re looking at pastel marks on paper posing as a face. I rather like that prompt.
Lastly we come to Jz Xu‘s pastel – a mostly blue painting with a splash of red. You’d think the eye would be caught, trapped almost, by that square of red near the centre of the painting and although it captures our attention initially, our eyes instead, move around the picture taking in the interesting details of pillows and blankets on a bed, items on the windowsill, the landscape beyond framed by the blinds and window frame. We do come back to the box and wonder about its significance but rather than stop there, on that nondescript though bright square, we move on. Quite the feat, persuading our attention to be diverted from that mysterious red box. There’s a wonderful directness in the pastel marks with only a few strokes representing folds in the sheet and light between the blinds.
And that’s it for this month’s roundup. Remarkable pastels all!
I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, opinions so leave me a reply. I look forward to hearing from you!!
A quick aside, I was delighted to see so many of my monthly choices show up at this year’s IAPS Pastel World Exhibition with some winning prizes. A pleasant confirmation.
Until next week when I’ll have some of my own work for you to consider,
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. Here’s another study:
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: