May's Impressive Pastels collage of eight

May’s Impressive Pastels

It’s June!! The months fly by don’t they? So let’s have a look at my picks for May. As always, I collected a number of impressive pastels through the month, anything and everything that appealed to me. Then I whittled it down to ten (this is NOT easy!). Part of the selection process as I get closer to the allotted ten is to make sure I have something to say about the pieces. “Wow” just doesn’t cut it! And so, I came to these choices. Let’s have a look!


May's impressive pastels: Gina Carstens, "In the Mirror," pastel on paper, (11 1/2 x 9 in (29 x 23 cm)

Gina Carstens, “In the Mirror,” pastel on paper, (11 1/2 x 9 in (29 x 23 cm)

Ahhh the intense gaze of self-scrutiny, that look an artist has when doing a self-portrait. There’s a force, a severity even, that comes with the deep looking one can do of the self. It’s a very look of someone having their portrait painted. An artist creating a painting of self looks long and hard, and you can see this all-consuming concentration here. We paint and reveal ourselves in an honest way that sometimes belies the lighter side of our characters.

In this portrait, the artist takes a slightly unusual angle. As we look up and gaze upon her, she doesn’t look down at us – her stare is given to her reflection. I like the feeling of movement that comes from the strokes – her hair moves as she swings from paper to mirror to take another look. The simple complementary colour scheme of greens and reds keep us focused on the subject. Subtle value changes through the skin reveal its softness and curves. This plays off against the frame of dark background and dress. Lit from the right, the face that would be completely illuminated as she works, is sidelit as she turns to glance into the mirror.

I couldn’t find a website for Gina Carsten’s so for now, you can connect with her on Facebook.



May's impressive pastels: Jane Radstrom, "Girl in Blue," 2012, pastel on paper, 38 x 26 in

Jane Radstrom, “Girl in Blue,” 2012, pastel on paper, 38 x 26 in

This time, the face is turned away from our gaze, with the model in her own private world. Although we see a woman’s half clad body and she is seemingly unaware of us, we don’t feel like voyeurs. There’s no attempt to eroticize this body. Instead it’s a careful and exquisite depiction of a woman immersed in an activity, perhaps intent on the undoing of a knot. The figure is placed on white paper without context other than she sits on something soft – the edge of a bed? a chair with a pillow? By not setting up a surrounding for the figure, the artist dissuades us from creating a narrative. The form of the woman and her activity is what’s important here. The artist’s ability to render the human form with soft colours of blues and yellows, of edges soft and hard, of proportion, of texture of skin and cloth and hair, is what’s on display. The piece is mostly a very light value yet notched to the top and bottom by the darkness of hair and the designs on the knee-high stockings. Quick dashes of red pastel here and there remind us that this is pastel on paper not actually a woman. They are the marks of an artist at work, modelling form in pastel. There’s a sense of the continuum of art history here, of realists then impressionists who recorded the mundanity and ordinariness of daily life.

Check Jane Radstom’s website for more of her work.



May's Impressive pastels: Valerie Wilson, "August," pastel on watercolour paper, 24 x 36 in

Valerie Wilson, “August,” pastel on watercolour paper, 24 x 36 in

Here we’re thrown into the chaos of nature! Tiny leaves, round orange berries, a plethora of small branches greet our gaze. This profusion of plant could confuse us but somehow it doesn’t. Valerie Wilson has set up an underlying structure of values and design that holds our attention. She’s divided the composition into thirds both vertically and horizontally. It’s subtle but it’s there. The artist focuses on the whole as well as the smallest individual element. In fact you don’t initially see each component, you instead see the larger pattern of darks and lights. Look more closely and you then see lines and small shapes against the light on the right, and then moving left, lighter pieces against darker areas. We move from the community to the individual and then back to the larger grouping. Wilson manages to do this by alternating soft and crisp edges, pushing and pulling us through the thicket.

I find myself memorized by this piece, wanting to explore all the nooks and crannies, searching for what I might have missed. The month of August suggests the use of a warm and somewhat neutral and limited palette where the dryness of late summer is taking hold and fruit is borne. And the cycle of life continues. At this time, I have no where to send you to see more of Valerie Wilson’s work.



May's impressive pastels: Pierre Meurice, "Color Composition," pastel on watercolour, 23 1/4 x 21 in (59 x 53 cm)

Pierre Meurice, “Color Composition,” pastel on watercolour, 23 1/4 x 21 in (59 x 53 cm)

Here is colour – the seduction of it, the saturation of it, the emotional response to it – that’s what this piece is about. It’s amazing how something so simple – patches of colour – can stop a person in their tracks. At first it’s the intensity of colour that’s the initiator of our looking. Stay longer and it’s the subtle transitions through the analagous hues of blues and purples, and the bold yet tender strokes of pastel that keep us enthralled. Noticing the marks forces me to attend to the physicality of the piece but then once again, I fall and am bathed in luscious velvety colour.

Becoming intentional about examining the piece, you can see how the dark shape below the horizon line is counterbalanced by the light strip above and also, to some extent, the lighter marks in the right foreground. The division of the painting into a third and two thirds can’t help but make me relate it to a landscape. The piece sways between something hinting at abstracted representation – trees lining a field, or thunderclouds and rain patches in the distance – and objective colour fields which is all about painting and the formal elements of art-making. Which is it for you?

See more of Pierre Meurice’s work here >>>



May's impressive pastels: Jeanne Tangney, "Allium," pastel, 9 x 12 in

Jeanne Tangney, “Allium,” pastel, 9 x 12 in

A simple still life of two objects – a garlic shedding skin and a bowl. And yet, in the end, the main subject seems to be light – the way it falls on and defines objects, the way it changes colour depending on where it lands, the way it is revealed by the accompanying darkness. The large shape of dark is neither flat nor dead. It’s dense and rich and pulls us in. It sets up the light event – white of the garlic, the tiny spot of highlight on the rim of the bowl, the streak of orange between wall and cast shadow. As we’re drawn in, we observe the papery skin fallen to the side of the garlic and catching the light beyond the shadow. We notice the design on the bowl and ponder its meaning and provenance. We become aware of the warm purple at the far right. We see the difference between the smooth perfect lines of a manufactured object and the uneven lines and textures created by nature.

The two articles are centred in the painting yet the line of cast shadows, the subtle shifts of colour and value on the table, the contrast between extreme darks and lights – all keep our eyes moving through the painting. Even as there is stillness. Tangney creates a meditation and shows us that even the simplest things offer a reason to look deeply. See more of Jeanne Tanguey’s on her website.



May's Impressive Pastels: Lynda Robinson, "Bush Colours," pastel on Colourfix paper, 15 3/4 x 23 5/8 in (40 x 60 cm)

Lynda Robinson, “Bush Colours,” pastel on Colourfix paper, 15 3/4 x 23 5/8 in (40 x 60 cm)

When I saw this painting I thought, ‘sacred clearing’, a place to be still and reflect, and also be moved by and connected to the riot and glory that is nature. We stand within a glade bathed both in warmth where the sun manages to pierce the canopy, and cool shadow. Around us, trees reach skyward and in front of us, mist rises, veiling the trees beyond. A tricky subject to paint but Lynda Robinson seems completely comfortable dealing with the disarray of this environment. She divides the painting vertically into thirds in a pattern of dark, light, dark. Within those areas she carves out the forms with middle values, and plays with the possibilities of making a profusion of greens both warm and cool. Her palette runs the gamut of purple reds and yellowy greens to dusky oranges and shades of blue. Light filters through the backlit foliage, creating subtle shadows that come towards us. They in turn, invite us to step into this landscape.

See more of Lynda Robinson’s work here.



May's Impressive pastels: Les Darlow, "Silver Lining," Unison pastel on ink underpainting on Canson Mi-Teintes Touch, 11 7/8 x 17 3/4 in (30 x 45 cm)

Les Darlow, “Silver Lining,” Unison pastel on ink underpainting on Canson Mi-Teintes Touch, 11 7/8 x 17 3/4 in (30 x 45 cm)

This painting of a dramatic sky over a boundless landscape has an immensity that belies its not-so-large size. Les Darlow lays on the pastel in various muted colours to describe the clouds shredded by a passing storm. We are awed by the contrast between the turmoil left by the storm and the calm that follows as evident in the quiet waters. All lines (clouds, boats, coast line, road) move us into the painting, leading us to the trees that are the darkest point in the picture. This grove acts as a backdrop to the buildings barely lit by the disappearing light. The foreground grass too is briefly illuminated by the sun and we know that any minute this flash of colour will vanish as the clouds move to secure the gap. We are headed to the quiet and tranquility of the night and although this painting is painted with a mostly neutral palette, for some reason I think of it as colourful. Part of this comes as much from the artist’s use of the full value range of dark to light as it does from the actual pigments used. The marks are energetically applied with a feeling of confidence and also a sensitivity to the fleeting light.

Check Les Darlow’s website for more of his work.



Moira Huntley, "Towards Keld, Yorkshire," pastel on board, 22 x 24 in

Moira Huntley, “Towards Keld, Yorkshire,” pastel on board, 22 x 24 in

Moira Huntley takes the landscape as her subject but rather than copying it, she abstracts what she sees into a pattern. You can see how she links shapes by type – horizontal curve of hills, straight lines of dwellings, vertical branching shapes of trees. Each field has a specific shape as does each building but the larger shape of each category ties them together. An overcast day means the pattern is dictated by shapes and colours rather than light and shadows. Without a strong light source, the colours are rich rather than washed out. The palette is limited ranging from greens through yellows. This is a wonderful study in greens, a colour notoriously difficult to convey convincingly. The striations of horizontal bands of colour and value can either be taken on the surface as a design, or can be seen more representationally of depth, moving us into the picture. The light vertical line standing in for path or road leads us in or up (depending on which way you view the piece). I find myself meandering among the shapes be they window, walls, the village tree, or the fields divided by stone walls or living hedges. The title of the painting names the place so this is a depiction of a specific community and yet in its abstraction, we can also read it as a general example of a Yorkshire village. Such an evocation of place!

See more of Moira Huntley’s on her website.



May's Impressive Pastels: Molly Jackson White, "Friends," pastel on UART 500, 12 x 12 in

Molly Jackson White, “Friends,” pastel on UART 500, 12 x 12 in

And now for some fun! I was delighted when I came across this pastel. I couldn’t decide whether the title, “Friends” was being truthful or sarcastic! A cat dozes and is flanked by two different birds. The one on the chair handle seems to be strutting and perhaps about to pounce while the rooster looks on, perhaps deciding whether or not to let loose with a mighty cock-a-doodle-do!! In either the case, the action will scare the cat out of its skin. Or maybe not. Maybe they have come to a tolerating agreement and are gathered together as friends with the cat feeling perfectly safe taking a snooze. We will never know as the painting catches this one moment, not before or after. I love the bold loose marks  – the indication of chair and pillow, and shutters, the animals – all related in colour and stripes. The warm colour scheme of reds is balanced nicely by the complementary green which in turn emphasizes the power of the red to jump out at us and get our attention.

The image is slightly skewed. This is due partly to the photographing of the work  but also the work itself is tilted on the paper. This gives me the feeling that life isn’t as calm as it may seem! The canister (milk?) weights the right side of the painting down, countering the diagonal line formed by the three animals. That line is also balanced by a more subtle diagonal from chair foot at bottom left  to chair arm and point of shutter and on through the top right corner.

See more of Molly Jackson White’s work on her Facebook Page.



May's Impressive Pastels: Randall A. Kronblad, "Phase Dance," pastel on Arches watercolour paper over gouache underpainting, 18 x 18 in

Randall A. Kronblad, “Phase Dance,” pastel on Arches watercolour paper over gouache underpainting, 18 x 18 in

Speaking of fun, check out this piece. It’s an abstract in which our imagination can take flight – are these figures? Or is it a plan of fields and waterways? Or is it clothes hanging? Or do we accept it as pure design and revel in the saturated colour and lively mark-making? Whatever you choose, know that I have an emotional response to this colourful pastel – it makes me want to dance!

The mostly complementary palette of blues and oranges is tweaked by the addition of white, black, and a favourite colour of mine, fuchsia. The T-composition is filled with varying sizes of rectangular-ish shapes – large colourful ones are interspersed with a rhythm of small dark ones. Line also plays an substantial part both dividing the shapes, and also creating parallel lines in places. The marks of pastel are playful and striking, fluctuating between soft painterly swipes and coarser linear hatching. The whole thing is grounded by the set of blue shapes that run across near the top and dips vertically, nailing the piece to the base.

You can see more of Randall A. Kronblad’s work on his website.



And that’s it for another month! I’d love to hear which of these impressive pastels inspire you or elevate your curiosity to look further so please do leave a comment. (Comments tell me I’m reaching you!)


Tomorrow I head off to Albuquerque for the 12th IAPS (International Association of Pastel Societies) Convention. There I’ll reconnect with old friends, meet a number of HowToPastel subscribers, create interview videos, drool over and be tempted by the pastels and all the materials in the ‘candy store’, see the impressive pastels at the IAPS exhibition, and take in a couple of demos.

Mario from Pastel Workshops will be there too so, with him, hope to fill up my September workshop in Croatia cos yes, there’s still space! There’ll be other things too but mainly I’ll be networking and have a grand time!! Imagine being with a whole heap of people who are completely delighted to talk about anything and everything pastels! Perfect.

I’ll be home next Monday (12th June) so will have something IAPS-related for you next time.

Happy pastelling!




12 thoughts on “May’s Impressive Pastels


    You have a wonderful blog! I have dabbled in pastel, I am now primarily a printmaker. Your posts inspire me to put some pastel on top of those prints that are just not quite right.
    Thank you,

    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Hi Celeste,
      Thank you! I’m glad my posts inspire you to add some pastels to your printmaking not-so-greats. Hoping they will eventually persuade you dive deeper with them!

  2. Molly White

    Thank you so much for the detailed critique of my painting, “Friends”. I am so honored and was surprised beyond belief! I love the other paintings and such wonderful diversity and technique between them all! Have a wonderful time at the convention and thanks again!

  3. Genie Geer

    Another diverse selection! I was happy to find Moira Huntley in the mix; I didn’t know she worked in pastels – I have her “Sketchbook Secrets” book which features watercolors and I just love her style overall. Have a great time in NM and I will be looking forward to what ideas you come home with for us. Cheers!

  4. Julie Greig

    I LOVED Pierre Maurice’s painting, it is just glorious! I’ve been gently exploring blocks of luscious colour, and how to bring that interpretation to the landscape, seeing this has given me more confidence with that exploration, thanks Gail!

  5. Cliff Riviere

    A wonderful selection as usual. I particularly liked Jeanne Tangney’s garlic still life; simple composition, good use of colour. Checking out her web site, I was blown over by the plein air pastel entitled Azalea Garden. What a beautiful composition. Me? I’m still “struggling” with my back yard plein air series. Ah well, practice, practice, practice!

    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Ah Cliff, always good to hear from you. Glad you liked Jeanne Tangney’s simple yet oh-so-effective piece. And happy you went exploring her website making favbulous discoveries. As to your painting? You go Cliff!!


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