November's Singular pastels

November’s Singular Pastels – Inspiration For Uninspired Days

As we swing down to the end of the year – yes we are in December! – it’s time for another monthly round-up of singular pastels. For some reason, choosing only 10 was particularly difficult this month, and I was tempted to exceed the limit! I stuck to my commitment, however, of selecting only 10 singular pastels and here they are!

November’s Singular Pastels

November's Singular Pastels: Bienvenido M. Sibug, "Anton," pastel, 12 x 9 in

Bienvenido M. Sibug, “Anton,” pastel, 12 x 9 in

Every time I came across this face in my pre-selection of images, I stopped. Evidently it had to be in this collection. I think the reason was partly the gentleness expressed about this man, and partly the beautiful rendering of the face with such a limited palette. Without every detail being annunciated, we have fleshy folds over the eyes; the stretched lips as they smile and resist opening; the full evidence of eyebrows that sit within the face and don’t appear pasted on. And then there’s the hair – a few lines, a few smudges, and we have the whole revealed. I also love the bare hint of a fold in the cloth of the shirt at the neckline.

The artist utilizes all aspects of the pastel stick, using the tip for delicate hatching and the side of the pastel to portray large areas of shadow. He also uses the paper itself to full advantage as a part of the colouring and value scheme of the portrait. The warmth of the paper along with the pastels used to describe the flesh, balance out the coolness of the white hair. Sibug describes the left edge of the face with the densest white of the hair. But he retains his darkest darks for the side on the right and is careful not to highlight the white of the hair there (which would then bring our awareness too strongly to that side of the face). Along with this use of varying value, he also alternates between hard and soft edges to create just the right amount of attention. His use of pastel shows tremendous sensitivity to line and pressure.

We cannot help but wonder who this man is, whose eyes are full of compassion and understanding. The head tilts slightly in a questioning and empathetic manner. A person of good nature and service I think.

You can see more of Bienvenido Sibug’s work here.



November's Singular Pastels: Laura Mocnik, Drawing of a Woman, pastel and charcoal on toned paper, 10 x 8 in

Laura Mocnik, Drawing of a Woman, pastel and charcoal on toned paper, 10 x 8 in

Here’s another portrait using a limited palette – only a few reds, black, and white over warm grey paper. The restricted palette puts more emphasis on values and drawing than the emotional impact of colour. The top of the woman’s head tilts toward us. A difficult and awkward position to draw correctly and with not a lot of features showing. And yet we can nonetheless see that the eye is open and looking off to the side.

On initial encounter with the piece, we spy the flower as it sits as a circle of light against the shadows and highlights of her hair. Even so, our gaze moves to the face, slightly hidden and on the dark side, but emphasized by the use of white pastel in the background. The light of the pastel accentuates and clarifies the woman’s silhouette. We follow the chin line as it curves up to her red-tinged ear. From there we drop to her delicate shoulders with their pale opalescent skin untouched, it seems, by the tanning effects of the sun. Both shoulders are pushed forward by the background – the light showing up the darker one on the right, the lighter shoulder revealed against the slight dark (mostly of the paper) on the left. An adept use of the push and pull of light and shade.

The colouring, pose, and limited palette of this portrait as well as how it’s positioned in an oval frame, remind me of drawings by French artists from the Rococo period for example Watteau.

You can see more of Laura Mocnik’s work on her website.



Marvin Steel, "Gitano," pastel on grey paper, 12 x 18 in

Marvin Steel, “Gitano,” pastel on grey paper, 12 x 18 in

From portraits we go to the figure of a man immersed in the playing of his guitar. There’s such an intensity of focus, emotionally immersed as he is in the playing of the music as seen in his crinkled brow and closed eyes. The fingers of his right hand pluck the strings while the other hand picks out notes on the guitar’s neck. This could be one of the guitarists for the flamenco dancer in Sargent’s painting, “El Jaleo“!

Marvin Steel captures the moment with bold audacious strokes. The mark-making is as entrancing as the subject itself. Seemingly random hatchings are then understood to have a purpose – for instance the white marks behind the man’s head bring our attention to his face and also lock the figure to the background. It also gives it dynamism. (Take your fingers and remove the white lines and see what happens.) The same thing occurs with the lighter yellow marks situated on the guitar by the strumming hand. Even though far from photo realism, small details like the man’s bracelet and loose-fitting shirt, the man’s expression, and the position of his fingers as he plays, are perfectly captured.

Once again, we have a limited palette. This time the colours are black, greys, and white which together make the yellow of the guitar (and bracelet) all the more startling and prominent.

Calligraphic curlicues of the untied strings take our eyes away from the player’s face to the far end of the guitar. We slide down the instrument’s neck, pausing briefly to admire the hands as they play, and then up to the shoulder on the left. There we encounter the background which takes its own place of influence in the painting, and also reminds us that the whole is created with marks of pastel alone.

Check Marvin Steel’s website for more of his work.



November's Singular Pastels: Casey Klahn, "Le Rêve," pastel, dry ground and vine charcoal on paper, 12 x 19 in

Casey Klahn, “Le Rêve,” pastel, dry ground and vine charcoal on paper, 12 x 19 in

We go from the three muted pieces above to this blast of colour by Casey Klahn! A naked woman lies diagonally across the painting. We could be looking down on her from above as she lies on a bed but her head seems to have fallen too far back, as if she’s sliding off the edge of the furniture. Tension is created by this feeling of falling – the woman’s head slips off the border of the painting but at the same time, one of her legs disappears off the other side of the canvas, each part pulling in the opposite direction. Thus she’s locked in place with no possibility of continuing to move.

The movement of her body towards the bottom right corner could have had the outcome of sliding us, the viewer, off the canvas too. But you’ll see that we don’t. Part of the reason is the arm leading us to the large wedge of saturated red and green that takes up most of the bottom portion of the painting. We’re also drawn to the heavy black lines of the legs above as well as the vigorous vertical hatching which counteracts any sideways movement. The swirls of colour above the woman’s body echo its curves but also pull us towards the painting’s upper edge. But the upper right corner is blocked and our view once more settles on the model’s face. All this movement – diagonal, vertical, horizontal – and the enticement of colour and line, shift our eyes away from and around the triangle at the painting’s centre. So here, the content of the painting is perhaps less important or at least less captivating than the process and physical attributes of painting itself.

The colourfully patterned design and dark outlines, remind me of Matisse, for instance his, ‘Reclining Nude with Blue Eyes’. Continuing the connection to art of the past, I can’t help but be reminded of the theme of reclining female nudes especially of women who don’t engage with the viewer. Two come to mind: Courbet’s ‘Woman With A Parrot’ and the rather scarier ‘The Nightmare’ by Henry Fuseli. I also thought of the last because of the title of this painting – ‘Le Rêve’. It’s interesting to note that in a way, Klahn follows the tradition of painting nudes (from the Renaissance to the 19th century) that cloaks them in myth, allegory, and dreaming rather than being directly and openly erotic. And is this woman having the title’s dream or are we viewing the artist’s dream?

See more of Casey Klahn’s work here.



November's Singular Pastels: Pirkko Mäkelä-Haapalinna, "Untitled," pastel on Pastelmat light grey, 39 1/4 x 27 1/2 in (100 x 70 cm)

Pirkko Mäkelä-Haapalinna, “Untitled,” pastel on Pastelmat light grey, 39 1/4 x 27 1/2 in (100 x 70 cm)

We go from one dream to this dreaming-looking painting. A man sits atop of a very slim ladder, his head enveloped in a swirling mass of clouds. He holds his hands clenched between his knees; his toes are turned in. His face holds no joy. All these aspects point to an unhappiness and unease.

The painting is composed of three horizontal shapes of different colour and value. The lowest shape, dark and dense, rises to an area of grey lined with blue, and finally ends in a mass of whites. It’s a simple piece filled with areas of mostly muted colour and broken vertically by the man on a ladder. Simple it may be yet the narrative interpretations are endless! Do you want to shout at him, ‘There is hope!’ or perhaps ‘I get your feeling – I’m there too’?

I think we can agree on the dismay of the man. But why is he on this ladder? Has he climbed it to escape something below or does he know (or hope) that this lofty point is where his salvation will arrive? He sits high above the earth, above the darkness of unseen terrors or merely the darkness of the unknown. Does the light represent hope and possibility, or does it show a mind still caught in a murk of fog? The rise to light (and hope) seems less the case as it’s confounded by the tension in the figure. Does he fear what’s below even though potential and possibility may greet him there? Can he open up and be vulnerable and face his fears by descending?

There’s a sense of waiting – for a sign, for a decision to be made, or for help to come. The man looks out at us and how do we read his look – as a plea, as a warning, as resignation? Is he looking for courage to take a final leap of faith into the light (or darkness?).

The whole piece seems to represent loss and despair and also the possibility of change and moving beyond the pain. The saturated blue holds out the possibility of calm and opportunity, of wisdom and trust.

See more of Pirkko Mäkelä-Haapalinna’s work on her website.



November's Singular Pastels: Stephanie Cohen Mouw, "Rowie's Towel," pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes, 8 x 12 in

Stephanie Cohen Mouw, “Rowie’s Towel,” pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes, 8 x 12 in

From metaphor we come to the solidity of a still life. It’s simple – two bowls and a spoon on a piece of striped cloth. And yet if any of you have painted white and stripes and tried to achieve the differing texture of ceramic and cloth, you know it’s not that simple to portray!

The inclusion of a spoon (beyond its use as a pictorial device) in an empty bowl suggests the end of eating, perhaps at a picnic. And yet the title – Rowie’s Towel – brings to mind a cat or a dog rather than a person. So already the painting intrigues us beyond the appreciation of the representation of the subject matter.

The painting is primarily made up of blues and whites with varying values and slight colour variations. Look closely and you’ll also discover hints of light green, pinks, and purples. These colours compensate for the overall coolness of the piece.

Pastel is applied with direct marks without a need to be perfect or stay within the lines. There’s a spontaneous feeling that suggests the feeling of a moment about to change – a bowl will be picked up, a foot or an animal’s nose will appear, the spoon will be grabbed.

There’s a pleasant tension created between the two bowls, different as they are, by the dividing fold in the cloth. This fold also acts as one of the lines in the ‘X’ shaped composition – the other line being created by the line up of bowls and the direction of the spoon. This pull between the two sides also acts as reinforcement of the notion of movement and things about to happen.

See more of Stephanie Cohen Mouw’s work on her Facebook profile.




November's Singular Pastels: Gareth Jones, "Dark Waters 1," Unison pastels on Sennelier Pastelcard, 10 x 10 in (25 x 25 cm)

Gareth Jones, “Dark Waters 1,” Unison pastels on Sennelier Pastelcard, 10 x 10 in (25 x 25 cm)

More blue! This painting is basically an ode to the colour blue with blues ranging from blue green to blue violet. We are presented with the sea at that time of day when the sun has already set but there’s still light in the sky. It’s a time of day when the warm glow of the sun’s rays disappears to be replaced by the cool light of approaching dusk.

Light reflects off the expanse of water furthest from us and skims the edge of waves. Rivulets of foam can be seen on the water’s surface but the rest of the sea is now dark with no light to illuminate the colours or reveal its transparency. The water appears opaque and hides what lurks beneath.

A wave rolls towards us and the foam of the breaking surf bubbles in the shadow of the wave itself. Unlike the grey green blue above, here the colour is a most glorious saturated blue violet, a colour we can sink into and celebrate. This contrasts with the darkness of the water which is a bit scary as we can no longer see what’s beneath the surface of the water. We can let our imaginations take hold and create monsters and strange sea creatures skulking and sliding below. At the same time we can be mesmerized by the absolute blueness and beauty of the surf of the breaking wave as it pounds the sand and rolls in chaos over our feet.

The piece sways between being a painting of reality – a small square of sea with its behaviour and look at this time of day recorded – and one verging on abstraction in its design and focus on shapes, marks, colour, movement, and texture. This also speaks to the physicality of painting itself.

Go to Gareth Jones’s website to see more of his work.



November's Singular Pastels: Nathalie NaTalou, "La petite fille aux oiseaux," pastel, 23 3/4 x 18 1/2 in (60 x 47 cm)

Nathalie NaTalou, “La petite fille aux oiseaux,” pastel, 23 3/4 x 18 1/2 in (60 x 47 cm)

This piece totally charmed me! There’s something about its subject and its rough simplicity combined with a rather strange colouring that totally enchanted me. We seem to be looking at sculpture, perhaps part of a fountain. A young girl holds a bowl of water aloft where birds take full advantage of the opportunity, fluttering and ducking in the water like mad. As we explore the picture, we are delighted to discover another bird sitting on the girl’s arm. The girl appears to be watching this creature. Strangely, this bird has the same unusual colouring of the girl. So is the bird part of the sculpture? Another bird in red sits on the bowl – is it part of the sculpture or is it real and awaiting its turn? I love this engaging play between the real birds and the sculpted one(s).

The peculiar colouring of the piece – the combination of lime green and cooler green punctuated by shakes of pink – both entices and repels. The thalo green appears to be the verdigris colouring of aging copper or bronze, or the moss-colouring of a statue uncared for. Some of the green colouring could also be from greens being reflected back on her, possibly from surrounding grass. The strange colours make for a strange feeling – almost like we are in some weird science fiction feature – and yet there’s such sweetness in the girl’s glance that all seems to be well with the world. Innocence reigns here despite the impression of unease.

The girl does not stand in direct sunlight which means there are no harsh shadows. The painting sits mostly in middle value yet there are subtle changes from light to dark which gives us volume and depth. We feel as if we are cooling off in the shade on a hot sunny day. The feeling of splashing water made me smile, and it contrasts with the slight edginess produced by the curious colour.

I couldn’t find a website for Nathalie NaTalou but you can connect with her on Facebook.



November's Singular Pastels: Béla Tarcsay, "George," pastel on paper, 13 3/4 x 19 3/4 in (35 x 50 cm)

Béla Tarcsay, “George,” pastel on paper, 13 3/4 x 19 3/4 in (35 x 50 cm)

Here we have what I feel is essence of cat! We see both the hunter and the silky softness of animal we want to cuddle with. A black cat, blue eyes riveted on its prey, sits patiently, the tip of its tail flicking once in awhile perhaps in anticipation of the snack to come. It’s ready to pounce when it deems the moment right.

It’s the eyes that draw is in, those pale blue blazes of light and colour. We take in the alert ears twitching at any sound, follow the bumpy curve of its back touched with light, and down to the tail. From there we move to the front paws and leap into the open space before us where the cat will eventually do the same. But in this taut quiet, we return to the eyes, drawn there by the lines of whiskers.

Here’s another painting with a very limited palette – perhaps two pastels (black and blue) plus the mid-tone warm coloured paper. This is another example where the paper colour itself becomes a necessary part of the painting. It stands in for much of the cat’s body and also the undefined space – where and when are we? Obviously this information is of no consequence here.

This piece straddles the line between drawing and painting. It definitely has massed areas of ‘colour’ as in a painting but also scribbles of interpretive line. It has soft and transparent areas balanced by opaque dense areas. There’s so much said with so little application.

See more of Béla Tarcsay’s work on his Facebook Page.



November's Singular Pastels: Becky Harblin, "Who Slept?" (#1 in series Loving and Living with Animals), pastel, 23 x 19 in

Becky Harblin, “Who Slept?” (#1 in series Loving and Living with Animals), pastel, 23 x 19 in

And speaking of animals, here’s a bed overrun by animals! It’s animal takeover!!  Like small children in the parental bed, they sleep, move, and make themselves comfortable between their humans who cling to their own piece of the bed. The couple cling to their side of the bed, claiming their territory, threatened as they are of being shoved off the edge!

We arrive top left, pulled in by the warm bright colours and energetic pastel marks. We come across a grey form that leads us to a dog and immediately we see a human head. And then a cat and we zigzag our way down until we see the paws of another dog, and by taking in this animal, we discover a cat and another human form, this time female. We follow the figure to her head and at this point realize that the initial grey form is another cat! And so we circle around, identifying a whole family.

The two people are covered by a green sheet which envelopes them, giving them their form. The large green shape acts like a field on which the various members of the menagerie make themselves known. Because of all the activity in the upper part of the painting (subject and marks), it is possible that we would remain caught there but the journey our eyes take as described above is certain because of the contrasting orange against the green in the lower half. Also, the gesture of paws against leg has us imagining the movement and we can feel the pressure against our own legs. And so in this moment we become emotionally seized by the painting as a whole. But we don’t stop there, moving as we do through the curves and valleys of the left figure. We can envision too that the whole scene will change in a moment as the animals rearrange themselves and the couple tries to sleep through the rambunctious movement of furry friends/family!

This painting like others above gives us a story but is also about the act and joy of painting itself. It explodes with bright unapologetic colours and revels in exuberant mark-making.

Connect with Becky Harblin on her Facebook profile.




And that’s it for this month’s singular pastels!!

As always I would love to hear from you. What are your thoughts about this month’s singular pastels? Please leave me a comment below.


A gift idea!

The holiday season is upon us and you may be getting the question, “What you’d like for Christmas?” Why not let them know you’d like a video critique from me? Or what about a coaching session?

Or why not ask them to give you a gift certificate towards one of my paintings?

Click here to find out more!


Until next time!

~ Gail


13 thoughts on “November’s Singular Pastels – Inspiration For Uninspired Days

  1. Bernadette

    You found paintings I never saw… love the colors and story of Becky Harblin, Casey klahn’s style and colors whooaaa !!! There are so much to see here. More coffee first!

  2. Lisa Esmer

    Wow, what a great and varied roundup! Besides a wonderful array of styles and beautiful works, what I really like is the commentary. It’s like visiting a museum with an enthusiastic and knowledgeable art buddy.

  3. Connie Burkhardt

    Gail, you always have great pastels in your monthly inspirations but this month you did exceptionally well in your selection of Bela Tarcsay. I checked out his FB page and he is an incredible impressionist painter. I wish I could paint that loosely. I have watched your “Finding Your Style” video and will watch it again hoping to develop the loose style I so love but don’t have!!!

    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Connie, I’m delighted to have introduced to Béla Tarcsay. I have featured him work before – once was an interior, another time a landscape (you can search his name on my website). When I saw the cat, I HAD to include it this time!!
      Glad the “Finding Your Style” video resonated so much with you. Perhaps I will consider creating a course around the idea:-) Keep painting!

  4. Mary-Anne Boudreau

    Thank you for introducing me to Béla Tarcsay’s work – his paintings and drawings are so bright and so much fun. The cat’s eyes are mesmerising, he has the personality of the animal in every mark.

    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      You are welcome Mary-Anne! Béla Tarcsay is a fabulous artist and as I mentioned above, I have featured him twice before in these round-ups.
      And you are so right about the cat. I couldn’t not include this painting!

    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Thanks Sandra! I know what you mean about Pirkko’s work. The more I sat with it, the more questions emerged, and the deeper I sank into it!


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