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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 – email@example.com.
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,