Hey hey, we’re already well into the New Year and happily, I now have December’s pastel treasures ready for your enjoyment.
As always, I’ve selected ten pastel paintings from the many I collected throughout the previous month. I look at all the technical aspects but foremost, I make my selections based on a certain something that comes through. I try to understand and then share what that certain something is in my analysis of each painting. Often it takes time to sit and be with the painting before I truly see why it appeals to me. I also try to curate a selection that covers different styles and genres to inspire you with the magical potential of pastels!
Let’s take a look….
December’s Pastel Treasures
It’s winter here in the Northern hemisphere so I thought we’d have a look at two very different winter scenes. First, let’s go to this piece by Aline Ordman. Mid-winter sunlight streams in at us just over the tops of the trees on the left. The sky is light as is the snow-covered ground where the sun glints off it. Yet the painting has a dark quality, dominated as it is by the main stand of trees in front of us. Squint and it’s almost as if we’re looking at a black and white painting, one with a full range of values. The only immediately apparent colour comes from the golden glow illuminating the treetops. Yet look again: although the darks are deep and dense, they’re full of colour with flashes of reds and greens and blue greys. And look at all the different colours in the snow. There’s a rainbow of colour here – blues, pinks, greens, yellows, mauves, oranges. Much of the colour is less saturated but surprise accents of intense pinks and turquoises, reds and blues, make us smile with delight!
It’s such a simple scene – various groupings of trees emerge from a snow-covered land. There’s no detail in the trees per se yet still we feel the foliage and tangle of tree branches as they collide together in growth. It’s warm enough that snow no longer clings to the trees and so it appears to be the perfect day to go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. With this painting, Ordman seems to say it’s something worth celebrating. It’s the kind of day that you know the joy of being alive.
See more of Aline Ordman’s work on her website.
Here we have a completely different landscape, one that intrigues me with its move towards abstraction. The land is blanketed in white. Other than some trees and poles there’s very little form or structure remaining.
The painting is high key with a few squiggles of dark tree trunks and the small mass of dark on the right side of the picture. Much of the painting’s interest is focused on the upper right side and I wonder how the artist has managed to make this painting work. And yet she has. The small details in the upper band of the painting are somehow balanced by the large expanse of shifting whites and greys. The different areas of warm white alternating with cool white is enough to ask us to explore this part of the landscape before moving back to the trees in the upper right. Within the large mass of white is the hint of reflections of tree trunks which suggests a frozen body of water. At the very left corner there’s a smudge of slightly darker colour. We’ve been taken there by the curve of grey that seems to be a frozen waterway emerging from the main dark mass in the painting – perhaps a culvert beneath a road. Though it’s a winter day and sunlight’s not to be seen, the scene feels warm somehow with the artist’s use of warm whites, and strokes of warm greys and browns and also the smallest smudge of orange.
With imagination and élan, the artist takes a small insignificant patch of land and raises it into something we the viewer want to explore. There’s little detail but it’s a scene that captures our attention. See more of Maxene Garfinkel Raymond’s work here.
Quite the opposite in crispness, detail, and season is this landscape by Kay Brathol-Hostvet. It’s an idyllic scene – agricultural land complete with barn and silos. Fields of grain are bathed in the light of the late afternoon sun – it’s the perfect golden time of day. The painting is mostly a green one with punctuations of the complementary red seen in the buildings and the stop sign.
We are reminded of the changing seasons, of the times of growth and harvest before winter sets in. A farm is a place of routine and structure, where those in the farming life are more aware of the cycle of life than perhaps city dwellers. All appears so perfect – even the boulevards on the side of the road have been mowed. Yet is it? It’s as if we are waiting for something to happen. The unevenness of the cast shadows along the road is surprising – they tell a story of distortion beyond the picture edge – it’s not a perfect world after all.
Nothing moves. We look down the road to where a stop sign stands alone at the centre of the painting. The road continues on the other side, shooting into the unknown distance. We are at a crossroads literally and perhaps figuratively – do we go straight ahead or do we change direction? Our lives move so quickly and sometimes it’s difficult to know which way we should go. The sign is unequivocal – STOP! Breathe and then make a choice. And then continue to travel your chosen road.
Check Kay Brathol-Hostvet’s website for more work.
This painting speaks to me of freedom and also something else. There’s tension of a sort (is she – the driver looks like a ‘she’ – going too fast?), of expectation (a destination in mind?), of mystery (who is this person? why is she in this car? where is she going and where is she?). The car with its passenger of driver and us, the viewer, speeds along a straight road bounded on both sides by trees dressed in autumn garb. Fallen leaves swirl behind us as we fly by in our open-air Cobra. We can’t read the speedometer but in a sports car with perfect weather and top down, we must be whipping along at quite a clip. There’s no sense of the destination. We could be on driving simply for the sake of feeling the wind in our hair, and the unfettered freedom that being on the road brings.
The painting is primarily created from shades of yellow. A horizontal band of the colour is bordered on both sides by the curved lines of the car’s structure but hardly contained by them. Front and centre are both the light point to which the road takes us and the rearview mirror. There we spy a face yet it doesn’t hold us and our eyes slip to the right as we spy circles of dials and the curve of a steering wheel. Flashes of light on the windshield above make sure we look towards the sun visor which appears to be translucent rather than opaque. We skim the top to the other shade and are pulled down both by the darkness below the trees and the deep blue car trim. We arrive once more at the face in the mirror and the far destination above it.
See more of Judith McKenna’s work on her website.
Moving from the open road we come to the end of the road in a parking lot that kinda looks like it’s in some grubby back alley. Bob Richey has chosen what may, on first view (in the real world), be the last thing you might wish to paint. He has found the beauty, yes the beauty, in this locality stuck between buildings and home for dumpsters. He’s made this a special place that we can enjoy from the safety and comfort of where we are this moment.
Richey uses saturated colour, so pure we can barely look at it! Most of the action takes place in the upper third – cars, walls, bins. But the foreground is also full of colour and marks that dance over the surface giving the painting energy, so much so that we are drawn inevitably to this space. Though it’s nighttime, exterior lights illuminate the cars and bins and all the walls while water on the ground offers opportunity for pulsating refections. The excitement of the city at night is in full view here! Pastel is applied with vigorously, and imperfect strokes giving the whole thing a sense of life!
Check out Bob Richey’s work here.
We go inside to this mass of gorgeously coloured peonies barely contained within the glass jar. They also break through the painting’s boundaries pushing out from the central point of the painting. Stalks are crammed into the jar making their own pinwheel of a design below the flowers. Although the vase sits dead centre and is anchored there by the two vertical lines of light reflecting on the glass, the horizontal line created by the blossoms makes sure our eyes travel the painting’s surface. The contours of pointed leaves ensure we connect with the fallen petals lower down. A small slash of orange on the table catches our attention and we make our way to the left side, over the pink and greens of the background and up to the pastel strokes of petals.
Surprisingly, the entire picture is low key with much of the colour in the lower end of the value scale. I say surprisingly because so much colour can deceive us into thinking this a bright (read: light) painting. Squint and you’ll find otherwise. This darkness gives the painting a feeling of quiet and calm despite the agitated scribbles on the peony petals that beautifully describe their frothy sumptuousness! Half the painting sleeps in soft shadow while the other reflects light, possibly from a window. The painting’s main colour scheme is a variety of complementary reds and greens. The peonies have passed their point of perfection and the first petals drop. But these flowers are not ready to give up yet and call out to us to pay attention to their beauty.
You can see more of Jude Tolar’s work here.
And now, to a study of a piece of blue cloth. Not only is this a practice piece, it also raises this rather unassuming fabric to the importance of a painting. It reminds me of Albrecht Durer’s work where he examined various objects closely, and also how each of these paintings gave the object attention it may not otherwise have had. For example his examination of a bird’s wing or his many drawings of fabric or his painting of a primula plant. Here the artist’s close examination is about understanding how folds of fabric work and look – cast shadows and deep shadows, highlights and middle ground. In a sense too, the artist’s use of intense blue elevates the fabric to symbolic status: of religion (blue the colour of the Virgin), of nature (blue the colour of sky and water), and of economic prestige (blue representing the expense of lapis lazuli used in previous centuries as pigment for painting).
The piece of material sits in the centre of the piece breaking its boundary on the right. Our eyes follow the pattern of the folds moving left to right and circling down into the chaos of rumples, then make their way along the cloth’s border with its unravelled edges and back around the outer contour to the top. There’s no real ground for the fabric to sit on. Three-dimensional illusion is broken slightly by the advancing background of muted primary colours of red and green. A pulsating tension therefore exists between the subject and the space behind it. All of which reminds us that this illusion is just that, an illusion of 3D on 2D surface.
Check out Sophie Ploeg’s work on her website!
From the solidity of cloth, here revel in a mass of marks. These aren’t strokes applied slowly and with care. Instead, they are layered and layered in frantic motion, creating a ball of energy. The edges of the paper can barely contain these improvisational lines. The epicentre of this assemblage is off-centre leaving places of almost untouched paper, a whiteness that reminds us of the paper’s two-dimensional surface and contrasts with the sphere-like mass. The whole painting is built up with scribbles of gesture over dark smudges of pastel. Blues, mauves and white lines intermingle over oranges and blacks.
The blue coolness of the painting brings a sense of calm despite the collection of vibrating lines. There’s a sense of a nest being created – it’s like watching nest-building on fast forward, seeing the comings and goings of the gatherers as lines as they dash in and out of their creation.
Don Gardi’s calligraphic line can’t help but remind me of some of the work by Joan Mitchell, both her oils and pastels. (I wrote a blog about Joan Mitchell in 2013 shortly after discovering her work. One of these days, I’ll do a blog on her pastels!) The title of the work is ‘Blue Song’ – is it inspired and birthed by music?
See more of Don Gardi’s work here.
A woman sits quietly, caught in her own thoughts. Eyes cast down she seems unaware of those who look at her – both the artist and us. The face, the centre of attention, sits surrounded by an impression of blouse and background. All are shapes of either dark or light. Although the woman looks down to the left, we don’t follow the direction of her look; we remain enamoured by her face, in awe of how the artist created this illusion of flesh with pastel strokes. We can feel the tenderness and care with which the artist translates what he sees in the front of him to paper. In contrast, the pastel marks in the background appear to be haphazardly laid down but look closely for example at where her neck encounters the background – the artist has gone in with a slightly lighter colour to carve out the negative space that defines the shape of her hair, ear, neck, and shoulder. Look too at the deep turquoise strokes over the black underpainting of the blouse. They’re hardly there but be with the painting long enough and you’ll discover them!
Can you see the remnants of the bigger shape that was used to block-in her shirt and background and where more pastel was introduced as the piece progressed? I like seeing the story of an artist’s process, where the trail is not completely hidden with an ever-increasing build-up of detail. We can see the adjustments to the sleeve on the left side. For me, this brings another layer of interest beyond the beautiful model.
You can see more of Anatoly Dverin’s work on his website.
And finally, we come to this delightful conglomerate of objects by Rainie Crawford. This is a perfect example of how to play with lost and found edges. The stem of the flower disappears and reappears as it joins the blossom; the floral vase of blue and orange melts into the whitish pot behind it as its cast shadow creates a transition area between the two; pink fabric moves into the metal bowl as it reflects off the polished surface; the doll’s back disappears into the background as does part of her hair. All this keeps us looking as we locate information that will help us put the whole puzzle together.
The triangular composition is created by the doll that leans slightly forward and the opposing line of the flower rising to meet her. The various containers fill and anchor the base of the triangle. Everything is strategically positioned to make sure we move around the composition. Take for example the flower that lies across the metal bowl, pointing us toward the small yellow pots on the left which in turn connect us with the yellow of the doll’s dress. The doll herself looks as if she will come alive at any minute to voice her opinion or make some observation perhaps to her pictorial companions. Crawford uses primary and secondary colours in her painting but by playing with different intensities, increases the push/pull of the picture plane.
Unfortunately, I was unable to find a website for Rainie Crawford.
And that’s all the pastel treasures I have for you this time. You know how I LOVE to hear from you so please leave a comment. Which of these pastel treasures inspire you? Which one surprised you? Share anything you’d like about the images and my thoughts about each of these pastel treasures!
Until next time,