I’ve been enjoying portraits by Carol Peebles for some time now. You’ll find one of her pastels features in October’s monthly round-up. Her demos are extraordinary. I’d be pleased to create any of them in the quiet of my studio never mind under the intense gaze of students!
The other thing I love is that Carol uses fabulous and pertinent quotes for the titles of her pieces. They make you think about each piece at a deeper level.
One of the requests in my end-of-year survey was to see more portraits in the guest blogging category. (You can see some of the general results of the survey here.) Carol Peebles came to mind immediately and happily, she agreed to guest blog.
Don’t know her work? Have a look:
A Bit About Carol Peebles
A signature member of the Pastel Society of America, Carol Peebles teaches year-round classes and weekend workshops at BlueEaselClub.com, the drawing atelier that she founded. Go ahead and Like their Facebook Page. Carol will be teaching a Pastel Portrait Workshop in New York City with the Pastel Society of America at the National Arts Club 27-28 October 2018. Plan ahead and join her. You can read more about Carol on her website.
So now let me hand you over to Carol Peebles!
I’m so happy to share my experience with pastels, because I have fallen head over heals in love with the medium. I’ve been doing complete pastel portrait paintings for about three years now, but there was much endeavor that went before that. Let’s start at the beginning.
Master painter Auseklis Ozols trained me in oil painting, in the classical realist tradition at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts. He is a brilliant man who emphasized the importance of working from life, and fostered my interest in figure drawing. I learned classical technique in drawing and painting and was hooked.
Once I married and became pregnant with my first child, I decided not to use oils and turpentine during the pregnancy, so I drew with charcoal instead. Later, I found that a full palette of oil paints with a toddler in a small apartment can be even more challenging, so I just continued to draw.
Close to a decade later I was still mostly drawing, and loving every minute of it! On top of that, when I would teach oil painting or life drawing, I often found that students had very little background in observational drawing methods, so I became more and more committed to only teach drawing.
I founded my drawing Atelier – BlueEaselClub.com – in April of 2009 with a belief that drawing is the cornerstone of all artistic endeavors, and drawing from life in the classical realist tradition was our base. We only use dry media, at first exclusively charcoal, so the next step was naturally a colored conté or pastel pencil.
I drew only in monochromatic pastel, both in portrait commissions and in teaching, for many years until I had a life changing experience – I saw the work of artist Sandra Burshell, pastelliste extraordinaire!
When I first walked into Ms. Burshell’s solo exhibit of pastel paintings at the Carol Robinson Gallery in New Orleans, I felt like I was walking into a church. Everything went quiet in my head. Then, I felt her work speaking to me, waking me to a new level of art. The colored papers, the layered pastel painting method, the size, everything was calling to me. I invited her to be a guest speaker at my Atelier, and found her to be the most personable, talented, informative and insightful artist. Then I found myself diving head first into full on pastel painting. Thank you Sandra!
My first pastels, Pitt & Conte pastel pencils, were on basic pastel paper like Canson Mi-Teintes, and I soon came to realize that I needed more grit in the paper to do detailed layering. Colourfix paper was my answer because of its delicate grit and variety of colors. After doing many (many!) practice portraits, and eventually expanding to Nupastel hard sticks, I realized why the old masters of oil painting first laid in a grisaille (a monochromatic base to later develop with color).
I now draw the entire portrait in one dark umber color in hard pastel (Nupastel or Cretacolor) for the grisaille, focusing on value, proportion, and likeness to the model. Only when it looks like a finished monochromatic piece do I start to layer colors, working dark to light. This method helped immensely to orchestrate value with color, which is the biggest challenge if your goal is classical realism.
I love that pastel makes it possible to see the element of drawing, with mark-making in dry media being a delight. When I work, I try to develop layers with hatching techniques (still using hard pastels) over the grisaille. This way the feeling of a drawing is still present, even in my most detailed pastel painting. Eventually, I add soft pastels, but not until the piece has arrived at a place that feels close to finish. Soft pastels are for me like icing on a cake that is already well baked. I love all brands of soft pastel and add them for texture and a greater color range.
My dear friend and artist, Carol Fors, explained to me that each stroke of pastel could be like a piece of hay stacked together where you can see the air in between. This mental image keeps me from smearing the medium, and also helps me to retain the feeling of a drawing. My goal has never been photorealism, and this method also helps it to not look very photographic. I do smear sometimes, though. I think of smearing like a shot of whiskey. One shot is great, two shots, maybe, depending on the situation, but drink the whole bottle and all will be shot to hell. So, I smear in moderation.
My goal, and deepest love in art history, is the genre of Academic realism leading to the Impressionists: American or European artists from the 1850’s to 1910’s, the 1880’s being a hot spot for me.
When I want inspiration, I study any artist of this time period, specifically on Facebook through the virtual curators Christa Zaat and Linda Crank. They post artwork each day by artists from the varying genres in and around this time period, with wonderful snippets of history. Every morning, usually after carpool and before I start teaching class, I have my ‘coffee and Christa’ to get inspired and to educate myself on new artists. Through these two glorious art historians I have learned more than I did even in graduate school (at least in this particular area of history!).
Contemporary artists who inspire me in portraiture (also on Facebook) are: Jeremy Lipking, Ronald Sherr, Julio Reyes, Osamu Obi, Michelle Kondos and of course my mentor Auseklis Ozols. Yes, all these painters happen to work in oil rather than pastel, but I don’t see much difference between the two as far as study goes. To be inspired in purely pastel, every morning I then go the Facebook page of the Pastel Society of America. PSA members have shown me a remarkable variety in technique, as well as helped me to see I have so much to learn!
This is what makes pastel painting so exciting for me: every time I finish a piece I see so much room for improvement in my work. I imagine new ways to work the medium or see how I can experiment, and I just can’t wait to get back to my easel. So much to learn! I feel greatly indebted to PSA for this venue to study pastel, and also for the support and contacts it has brought me in the art world. Of course, Ms. Sibley’s blogs have been so interesting as well, and have shown me much about the medium.
I draw portraits because I love studying people and thinking about their life. Everyone is interesting to me and has some beauty to offer the world. When a model sits for me, I usually am drawing them for a while before I realize the message they are giving to me or exactly what it is about them I find special. When I am done with the piece, then I think of a quote or inspirational text that aligns with what I felt about them. Usually, my mood for that day or some hot topic in our news will govern the choices I have made for a quote, which becomes the title of the piece. I also like connecting great thinkers, poets, writers, to my work because it makes me think larger than myself. It inspires me to get away from my cell phone and read a book, too.
Most of my portraits are just demonstration drawings for my classes because I teach full time and have little time to hire my own model or deal with the cost of live models. I often work in open life studios as well.
I like to draw just a simple head study and see how much emotion, information, or interest I can spark from that. Sometimes I play with the background, but, in general, the classic academic head study is my passion.
My drawings/paintings are 95% done in class; then, sometimes I will take them to my studio and detail them with a photo reference. I make a point to not work from photos too much, because they then start to look like photos, which I avoid. But, a photo does help me when I, for instance, cannot see the placement of an iris in an eye, or the exact shape of a nostril.
It also helps, because when I draw I am usually also teaching a full class which breaks my concentration and does not leave me much time for my own contemplation.
Sometimes after class I will put a photo next to the demo to see what I could have accomplished better in terms of a likeness or proportion, but I will just study it and not work from it. This discipline helps a lot to see areas I need to improve in, and helps me better focus for my next class demo.
As an artist, it is very important to constantly take notes on your own development and work, rather than to just enjoy painting. Studying the evolution of your work, and making progress a priority will push you to heights you may have never expected. I encourage all my students to have a notebook, and after every class write down just one struggle they had that day with their drawing, and exactly what they did to rectify it. Not all my students do this, but it is always the ones that bother whose work progresses. The rest just have fun, but that can be ok, too!
Drawing from life humbles us to the world around us. There is a synergy created between you and a live model, which awakens our spirit and keeps us connected to the wonderful, beautiful, natural world we live in. Even if your goal is not to mainly work from life, I encourage you to just have a sketchbook and do practice studies of anything in the natural world: people, landscapes, flowers, etc. This humbling observation of nature connects us to our immediate environment and brings great happiness.
Wow!! I still can’t get over the fact that so much of Carol’s work is done as a demonstration!! Doesn’t this post make you want to get out your pastels and get yourself to life drawing??
Carol and I would LOVE to hear from you. Please leave a comment with your thoughts and questions.
Thanks for joining me on this pastel exploration!!
Until next time,
The book Carol recommends to her students: