November's Terrific Pastels: Jessica Masters, "Wave III," pastel, 24 x 36 in

November’s Terrific Pastels!

Writing this blog, I look up and notice there’s SNOW on the ground! Whaaaaaat? It’s December in Canada so I guess that makes sense, mostly makes sense, except that we West Coasters are more used to rain in the winter and above zero degrees (centigrade) temperatures! All this to say, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas and wintertime. And hurray, the solstice is around the corner so for us in the northern hemisphere, that means the return of the sun. Yay!! (Sorry to rub it in southerners…) Oh yes, and it’s time for November’s terrific pastels so let’s get cracking!

November’s Terrific Pastels


November's Terrific Pastels: Cathyann Burgess, "Long Division," pastel on sanded paper, 7 x 9 in

Cathyann Burgess, “Long Division,” pastel on sanded paper, 7 x 9 in

Every time I see this piece by Cathyann Burgess, I smile. It has the appearance of being done very quickly as an intuitive response to the landscape. It’s small yet packs the punch of a much larger piece. And it keeps me coming back. The vertical light lines (of tree trunks?) to the right of the painting create a physical barrier that our eyes can barely penetrate. We can make out what looks like the roofline of a house and evergreen trees beyond. To the left, the tree trunks are dark and less vertical, more chaotic in their disbursement. They look broken or partially cut. Is this what the mathematical title of the painting refers to? The foreground is light, suggesting snow, and this reading becomes more apparent when you squint or look at the piece in thumbnail form. The painting is primarily light in value interspersed with the darkness of tree trunks and unidentified mass in the upper left quarter of the painting. The painting has a colourful feel despite the appearance of winter. One can’t help but be reminded of the expression and energetic strokes in the work of Wolf Kahn. See more of Burgess’s work here.



November's Terrific Pastels: Lana Ballot, "Snow in Cedar Beach Dunes," pastel on UArt paper, 8 x 10 in

Lana Ballot, “Snow in Cedar Beach Dunes,” pastel on UArt paper, 8 x 10 in

A low winter sun skims over the landscape, warming up sections of snow and grass. We can feel the winter cold through clothing layers. We rub our hands and stamp our feet, hoping that will help, and expecting the sunshine to warm us up. But it’s just too late in the day and little warmth remains except in the colours. The painting is primarily blue (snow, water, sky) but the red beneath the entire painting, the pink tinge in the clouds, and the sunlit tufts of dried grasses move the coolness back a notch and remind us of the joy that comes from the sparkle of a clear sunny winter’s day. Lana Ballot brings this simple landscape to our attention in design, colours, temperature (cools and warms playing off each other), and light and dark patterns. Our eyes bump along the horizon left to right and then the sunlit tufts of grass bring us down diagonally to the foreground, and then back up and over to the dark tree. A lovely circling with enough time to explore the nooks and crannies. Go and see more of Ballot’s work on her website.



November's Terrific Pastels: Kathy Dolan, "Spanish River Bank/Water's Edge," pastel on UArt paper, 8 x 12 in

Kathy Dolan, “Spanish River Bank/Water’s Edge,” pastel on UArt paper, 8 x 12 in

We move from the snow and cold of winter to the memories of warm, lush summer. Working with greens in the landscape is notoriously a challenge yet Kathy Dolan does it seemingly with ease and confidence. Greens can overpower and it can be difficult to achieve a naturalistic reading of the life of plants. In this snapshot of greens, however, Dolan has a knowing hand and uses a variety of values, intensities, and balancing colours like mauve, purples, and pinks in order to make the whole thing seem as real as anything. Not only has she successfully handled the greens, she’s also managed to capture an intricate piece of a woodland comprised of groupings of trees, stands of various bushes, clusters of grasses and logs, with all reflected in the water. It’s a tough subject this jungle of woods and undergrowth. We feel the depth but we cannot penetrate far into the woods. The painting is about light and the pattern within – we see dark against light and vice versa for instance – and it’s about design where the artists revels in the arrangements made by tree trunks and the shapes created by the bushes and also the value patterns. I’m endlessly fascinated by this small section of nature. Check out more of Dolan’s work here.



November's Terrific Pastels: Jessica Masters, "Wave III," pastel, 24 x 36 in

Jessica Masters, “Wave III,” pastel, 24 x 36 in

A wave breaks in front of us. But the realism of the wave is contradicted by the solid blackness above, taking the whole image into unreality. The design of the painting is paramount to the effect. Rather than a naturalistic looking sky, Jessica Masters chose to counterbalance the wave with a dense flat black that has no echo in nature. Strengthening the whole contradiction is the pale turquoise-y green in small parts of the wave suggesting tropical waters over white sands. And yet there is this black! What does it represent? Space? Sky? Nothingness? The unknown? The crashing wave rolls uninterrupted toward us. We are safe on a beach, perhaps with our feet in the water, so the wave itself, which is low and below us, doesn’t feel threatening. But the blackness behind does. It appears all consuming. What this way comes? The whole painting becomes metaphorical with many possible readings dependant on time and place. The painting is almost abstract in black and white. Only a closer look and the green colour help us perceive the wave, bringing us back to something that reflects a part of the real world back to us. See more of Masters’s work here.



November's Terrific Pastels: Judy Drew, "Nude in Black Stockings," pastel, size unknown at this time

Judy Drew, “Nude in Black Stockings,” pastel, size unknown at this time

Many pastellists today don’t use black but Judy Drew is unafraid of using this dense dark colour. Like Jessica Masters above, Drew has created an almost black and white painting especially evident if we squint or look at a thumbnail version of it. A pale skinned nude sits on white sheets. Her hair, stockings, and parts of the bed itself (the shadow beneath and the headboard) surround her with blackened shapes. The wallpaper behind provides some colour with what may be yellow flowers on a dusty green background. One can’t help but recall the work of the Impressionists not only in the marks themselves but in the bordello-like character. She sits with a world-weary downcast gaze, naked except for her black stockings. She seems detached and withdrawn, her thoughts elsewhere. The energetic confident strokes bring to mind the work of Edgar Degas, as does the feeling of desolation seen in his painting In a Café (also called Absinthe). Drew’s painting also recalls Toulouse Lautrec’s many paintings of bordello prostitutes. There’s also a reference to Edward Hopper’s work too, for instance his paintings Eleven Am (1926) and Hotel Room (1931) – both of which have a kind of lonely bleakness. You can see more of Drew’s work here.



November's Terrific Pastels: Margaret Larlham, "Belle," pastel, 18 x 12 in

Margaret Larlham, “Belle,” pastel, 18 x 12 in

Another young woman gazes off into an unknown distance, caught in her own thoughts. But here there’s hope rather than hopelessness. The edges in this painting combine a hard graphic quality (see the line of eyebrow down the line of the nose for example) with a more painterly effect (look at the wonderful swaths of colour in the head of hair). Larlham has managed to carve out the head from the underpainting as well as, at the same time, applying pastel to create it. The painting is mostly made up of neutrals and yet there’s a sense of colour – does it come from the piercing blue eyes, the warm browns in the cheek, or the mauve on her chin? The eyes, nose, mouth, and chin are the only parts of the painting that are naturalistic. Take any other section and it’s pure abstraction of colour and line. I like the way Larlham has vignetted the piece, putting all the focus on the resolved form of the face. If you half close your eyes, you can see the whole is divided into dark and middle value formed by a diagonal shape across the picture. Bringing the whole painting to life are light patches on her right shoulder, her chin, her right cheek, and pieces of hair, as well as the light of the paper that’s left untouched. You can see more work on Larlham’s website.



November's Terrific Pastels: Joni Beinborn, "Going Gray," pastel, 19 x 25 in

Joni Beinborn, “Going Gray,” pastel, 19 x 25 in

I was rather taken with this almost all-grey painting by Joni Beinborn. She’s worked grey on grey except for those amber punctuations of eye, bridle, and a gentle hint of the colour under the horse’s throat. It’s an unusual angle – looking up at the horse – that promotes the glorious animal looking over us, the humans beneath it. So there’s the horse portrait and then there’s and almost equivalent area of space in front of it. The space is devoid of anything that gives context – it’s just seemingly a lot of grey! Even so, this design choice sets up a quiet tension between horse and space, between subject and background, between mass and emptiness, between quiet and frisson, between what is and what is unseen. On the other hand, there’s a stability created by the triangle made up of the two lines of the bridle and of the mane (and the shafts of light running along it). This triangle is reflected unobtrusively in the shape of the grey space. So balance exists then in the proportionate division of the painting, yet surprisingly in creating this balance, there’s risk-taking on the part of the artist – will the space be too much or will it work? Will we see the reason behind it?  And what lies beyond the periphery of the painting? If we could see the reflection in the horse’s eye, we might know but for now, it’s a mystery. Check out more of Beinborn’s work here.



November's Terrific Pastels: Mathieu Weemaels, "Composition aux Pommes," 2012, pastel, 39 3/8 x 27 1/2 in (100 x 70 cm)

Mathieu Weemaels, “Composition aux Pommes,” 2012, pastel, 39 3/8 x 27 1/2 in (100 x 70 cm)

The title says it all – Composition with Apples. That’s what this painting is about – the deliberate and formal composing of a balanced yet asymmetrical set-up. The painting is almost spilt in half with the table and still life in the lower part of the painting reflected into the upper part. The reflection is a slightly skewed view showing the table angling away from us, but offers the viewer more than we can see in our own reality. There we detect a chair that’s somewhere behind us and also the edge of the room. The mirror also distorts and hides what we ourselves can observe from where we stand – the true relationship between the two apples and the rose. If we just relied on the reflection, we might be confused by the stem and leaf seemingly attached to the apples. Space is compressed in the mirror which is itself pitted and imperfect: the apparent truth is illusive and faulty. Weemael delights in a muted colour palette – greys are made the more alluring by the spice of warm oranges in the fruit. The painting runs through the whole value range albeit a narrow one with the dark rose punctuating what essentially is a middle value painting. So much is left empty but it’s this space that allows the painting to breathe and entices us in to discover what is unseen at first. It invites contemplation. This is a still life but hardly a traditional one. I think of it as Rothko meets Morandi – simplified abstraction melded with intentional careful object placement. See more of Weemael’s work on his website.



November's Terrific Pastels: Aidan Butler, "Coastal Wetland," pastel on primed Fabriano paper, 11 7/8 x 7 7/8 in (30 x 20 cm)

Aidan Butler, “Coastal Wetland,” pastel on primed Fabriano paper, 11 7/8 x 7 7/8 in (30 x 20 cm)

This painting by Aidan Butler is another painting where design and division of space underpins a painting of reality. It’s a vertical landscape divided roughly into thirds. The upper third is a rectangle of light value that expresses the far distance of land and sky. The lower two thirds are of similar value but the middle third is one of chaos and lines and compressed exuberance while the lower third dissolves into large abstracted shapes punctuated with quick, short lines. Here, where we stand, if we are still and quiet enough, we will hear the fauna of the wetlands close by and moving around us. We look up at the shifting clouds above the distant hills, then at the horizon where light glints on water and short trees line the edge. Our eyes are guided by the subtle zig zag of waterways through the wetlands, back to our feet among the marsh flowers and grasses. And then once again our eyes are drawn upward. This smallish piece speaks volumes about the artist’s feelings for this place. See more of Butler’s work here.



November's Terrific Pastels: Norma Stephenson, "Sound of Harris," pastel, 30 3/4 x 30 3/4 in (78 x 78 cm)

Norma Stephenson, “Sound of Harris,” pastel, 30 3/4 x 30 3/4 in (78 x 78 cm)

We go from small to a large scale painting. There’s no hiding the structure beneath – this time we have a square format. It’s inhabited by the shape of a Greek Cross, often seen as representing the four elements – water, earth, air, fire – three of which are obvious and one, fire, indirectly hinted at the warmth within the houses. These are the bigger aspects of living and breathing, of existence. This isn’t a pretty or easy landscape, rather it’s one of wildness – where sky and water, countryside and beach, meet in a turbulent way. Rain hurtles down yet somewhere a cloud breaks and the water glints with light and joy erupts. Land forms of shale and rocks, sand and earth, are coloured with somber neutrals swipes of pastel, and outlined in random sizes. A pinky mauve drives downward, yet the lines on either side swoop us back into the painting. There’s a balance between delicacy (in the colours) and power (in the strokes of pastel). Much is said with little leaving lots of room for interpretation. Despite the rather bleak aspect, I’m drawn to this place. You can see more of Stephenson’s work on her website.


And that’s it for this month’s round up. What did you think of November’s terrific pastels? I’d LOVE to hear from you so please leave a comment.


Need a Gift Idea?

The holidays will soon be here and if you’re anything like me, you’re only just beginning to get your head around buying gifts!

Well here’s an idea – why not give a gift certificate for my Pastel Painting En Plein Air course. Or perhaps you’ve heard your spouse wishing they could get a critique on their painting – you can surprise them with a video critique from me 🙂

Or maybe you’d like a couple of hours of private coaching to get you on track with your own work – give the hint to your partner and send them here to get all the info!! You could also hint for a gift certificate towards any of my paintings.

Have questions about any of these options? Just send me an email –


One More Thing – Look Out For a SURVEY Coming Soon!

I’m beginning to plan 2017 and I have LOTS of ideas! To help me plan my direction and how I can best help you, I’ll be sending out a survey later this week. I know these can be a pain in the butt to fill out but seriously, it will help me to serve YOU better! I’ll be including an incentive to help motivate you to complete the survey. 😀


Soooooooo…that’s it until next week when we have a special guest blogger – totally excited!!


Until next time,

~ Gail


29 thoughts on “November’s Terrific Pastels!

  1. Ruth Mann

    Wow, what a line up! Thanks Gail for presenting these wonderful works to us. I just love your commentary too, it makes me really look at the works instead of what I usually do, look, like or dislike and move on!

    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Thanks so much Ruth!! I’m so happy to read what you wrote about my commentary making you slow down to really look. In this age when there is soooooo much to visually excite us, it’s seems we have little time to explore why we might like (or dislike) something. And certainly, taking time to understand our preferences does take time, but oh, it can be so rewarding!

      1. Lydia Boyle

        I agree with Ruth Gail, I like your analysis of the paintings as it makes me look deeper into the composition, structure and colours, rather than just skimming over them. The reference of historical comparisons is also helpful.
        I enjoy the posts each month

        1. Gail Sibley Post author

          Love that the analysis helps you to go deeper Lydia for that is the point of it all.
          I am glad the art historical references help too. I have been wondering about including them, not wanting to take away from the piece, but also seeing the thread that runs through.

  2. Lisa Ober

    Hi Gail! Wow, another selection of gorgeous pastel work! I don’t know how you keep up on these monthly celebrations but I’m glad you do. It seems like I get one and only days pass between that and the next, barely enough time to read and learn about these wonderful artists. We are all too busy, right? Well I wanted to take time out to say thank you for the great work you do and to wish you the happiest of holidays! I’m jealous of your snow but it will eventually come here to St. Louis too.
    Keep up the great work, my friend.

    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Dear Lisa, thank you for your warm greeting! And also your understanding around all the work blogging etc takes, particularly this monthly round-up which sometimes seems to take forever hence the rather late publication!! And yes, we are all so busy (I refer everyone back to your guest post!! Today the sun is out and the snow melted, or should I say, washed away by the rain yesterday. And there’s nothing like sunshine to lift ones spirits very high! Your support out there means a lot to me and on those days when things seem particularly hard-going, I think of your words and encouragement and those of others, and then I press on.
      Happy holidays dear friend, Gail xo

  3. Kerry

    I just love that horse image! I like the space and don’t think it out of place as the horse needs a space to move forward into: one of the rules that is taught in animal photography. The first thing that I spotted were the sinews in the neck and the sense of depth behind the jaw. I felt I could rub my hand along under the jaw in the space that has been so perfectly portrayed between the jaw and the main part of the neck. Absolutely fabulous and makes me think of Stubb’s paintings of horses.

    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Kerry yes, I think the space is fantastic too. The horse as you say moves forward into it. What I found fascinating was that, unlike other painters might perhaps choose to do, there is no context in that space – it’s just wide open and flat. Love that the artist took that risk! And yes, you definitely can reach a hand up and feel that hollow. This is part of the artist’s choice of viewpoint as well as her talent for recreating a horse on paper for us to want to touch.

  4. Lana Ballot

    Wow, Gail, what a wonderful surprise to see my work here in your November selection!! So honored to have it included here! I also enjoyed so much to read your take on the painting, great commentary, thank you very much!

    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      I LOVE surprising people 🙂
      This is a terrific piece that just stayed with me Lana so I was delighted when it rose to the top and became one of my monthly ten. Glad you enjoyed the commentary!!

  5. Gailen lovett

    Thank you Gail, wonderful choices to study and enjoy. Two of my long time favorites are here too: Margaret Larlham and Mathieu Weemaels whose work I find endlessly inspiring. So happy to see Lana ballot’s soft and lovely work here too. You pay each artist such tribute in your commentary while making us take a deeper look – doesn’t get much better than that!

    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Thanks so much Gailen. I agree with you about Weemaels’ and Larlham’s work and have wanted to include them. This was the month for both of them! And I’ve loved much of Lana’s work and again, this month, this was piece spoke strongly to be included!

  6. Natalie

    Gail- as a beginner painter I am so happy to have discovered you and your blog, site, demos etc. I am so enjoying these paintings-and your descriptions about them. It’s so important to stand back and take a deep meditative breath and experience what these wonderfully talented people have created. I don’t know how you manage to do all this – wonder woman!!! Have a joyful holiday season! and again a huge thank you.

    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Natalie, thanks for your warm words – they encourage me to keep goooooiiiinnnnnng!! And yes, it’s good to take time and understand why we like the work we do. Everything moves so quickly these days. As you say, take a deep meditative breathe….and look. Happy holidays to you too!

  7. Cathyann Burgess

    Hello, Gail!
    I wanted to write it thank you for choosing my work, Long Division, as one of your ten terrific pastels in November. Nice thing to see on a cold December morning as I sat checking my email, FB and had my coffee, before heading down to my studio to review last night’s efforts!

    I have never felt as grateful for an analysis of my work, especially yours which is thoughtful, serious and generous in spirit. That you began with the statement that it made you smile is a delight and a reward in itself.
    Truth be told, I was tickled that you gave me thumbs up on FB just after I posted it.
    I am honored to be included with the others herein whose work you chose to highlight.
    Best regards,Cathyann

    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Cathyann, thank you for your very lovely note of thanks. It warms my heart when others are made happy – truly a gift to me. And I also LOVE surprising people!! Glad to hear you were on your way to the studio to work as you came across my email 🙂
      And by the way, can you fill us in on your title?

  8. ChrisD

    Another fascinating set of pastels. My tendency is to be drawn towards pictures with more tonal qualities, so the horse painting and the black-sky seascape particularly caught my attention. It’s nice to see pastel being used in such a bold manner, re the black sky….(at least I’m assuming the pastellist actually used black pastel and it isn’t black paper….but whatever…); just goes to show that pastel isn’t merely for pretty portraits and cuddly kittens! It’s still so under-rated as a medium here in Britain.

    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Thanks for commenting Chris! It’s strange to hear pastels are so underrated in Britain when you have such fine pastel artists there. And YES, pastels go way beyond pretty and cuddly – just take for instance the work of Paula Rego!! One day I’ll get to a blog post on her pastels…..

    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Thanks so much Kathy. It takes time to understand why I am drawn to a piece and then to come up with the words to express that understanding.
      And thank you too for your appreciation of my pastels. Sometimes I get so caught up in writing that my art-making gets pushed aside, so your words remind me where this whole thing stems from and gets me back to the studio!

  9. Pingback: My painting made a Gail Sibley’s “November’s Terrific Pastels!” | Lana Ballot Fine Art

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