Ahhhhh…we are already at the end of May and it’s time for another monthly round-up of ten fabulous pastels I’ve encountered through the month. I started with 52 choices this time. I thought, by now I should be able to make the cut to ten pretty quickly. But it’s when I get to 19, then 15, then 13 and I go over and over and over and I think, I can’t cut anymore! But in the end I do and here they are. Once again, there’s a mix of more well known artists and not so well known.
Back in April, a pastel was posted by Don Gardi on the Pastel Society of America Facebook page. It was by an artist that was unknown to me – Frantisek Kupka. Once I started to dig a bit, I realized I had seen his work but it was his more abstract paintings that I was familiar with whereas what had been posted was a figure done in pastels. After commenting on the post, I received an email from artist Duane Wakeham who shared an extraordinary pastel by Kupka with me. And from these two beautiful pieces, this blog was born.
Initially I had a hard time finding pastel images online. I borrowed a book, Frantisek Kupka 1871-1957: A Retrospective published by The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 1975 (which I later discovered online – click here to see it). Inside, I found a number of pastels but they were mostly black and white reproductions. With that information, however, I was then able to track down many of the images online and in colour as posted by the various museums where they reside. (The Musee National d’Art Modern – Centre Pompidou has a large collection of work by Frantisek Kupka primarily due to a gift by his wife Eugenie.)
I have done a few pastel demo videos now, all of them on toned Wallis paper. A question I’ve been asked is, Why don’t you use white paper? and What would the pastel painting look like on white paper?
I have taken these questions to heart and decided to do a demo on white paper even though it’s not my usual surface colour. In the demo, I use, for the first time, Terry Ludwig’s set of 14 Best Loved Basics – the company’s uber starter kit. When I first looked at these, I was surprised and a little bit anxious, if I’m truthful, because there wasn’t the usual saturated colour selection I’m used to, for instance, no bright yellow, orange, or green. But I was up for a challenge! Here’s the result.
So let’s have a closer look. First the set-up:
Next the thumbnail.
So let’s look at a few progression pieces:
The combination of the softness of the Terry Ludwig pastels and the sanded texture of the Wallis paper allowed layers to be built up thus eliminating most of the white specks of paper showing through. Where you can see them, I rather like the sparkle that the white paper brings, for instance in the shadow side of the bowl.
Here are the photos of the Terry Ludwig set:
I love the name of this set of pastels – Best Loved. It doesn’t have the name “starter box/kit” or anything like that. Instead, it appeals to our emotions. And this is typical of the way Terry works. For instance, while at IAPS conferences, I have received free samples. (You can see a whole piece I did from this selection of IAPS samples by clicking here.) Terry (and team) also posts artwork by others created with his pastels on the company’s Facebook Page. It’s through this generosity that we not only come to love his pastels but also the man himself.
I was curious as to how this selection of pastels came about – how were the colours chosen? I put the question to Marie Ludwig, President of the Terry Ludwig Pastels. Here’s what she had to say: “The Maggie Price Best Loved Basics, a set of 60 pastels, is the set we most often suggest to new pastel artists just getting started with the medium. We became aware this set would be a price stretch for those new artists and decided to create a small set geared toward them. Terry selected the 14 pastel colors and values he believed would be most useful for the new pastelist.” So there you have it! A fabulous beginner set for sure.
Limitations, counter-intuitively perhaps, enable you to grow as an artist. A limited colour selection, working with colours not usually in your palette, these things will lead to creativity and progress. I leave you with this quote (substitute the word ‘artist’ for ‘writer’):
That’s it folks! Tell me, do you use white paper? If so, why? I’d love to know how you use the white paper. Let’s get a discussion going!
Until next time,
PS. I recently did a pastel self-portrait using the same set of 14 Best Loved Basics. Watch for that coming soon!!
Oh. My. Gosh. It’s the end of yet another month and once again I’ve faced the terrible and delectable task of picking my pastel favourites from the many I encountered over the month. This time I started with 60 to choose from and once I had whittled it down to 18, my, what a time I had making my final selection. But 10 is the self-imposed limit and by golly I’m going to stick to it! And so I struggled and pondered and finally made my decisions. I hated eliminating those that I had chosen throughout the month – they were all wonderful!
Lesson Learnt at Opus Demo
Last month, I was invited to do a pastel demo and chat at Opus Downtown Vancouver on Sunday afternoon. I went over to the mainland and spent the weekend with my brother and his family. On Saturday, I went out and bought a selection of vegetables. I thought it might be a good idea to try a set up and then make a small thumbnail so I could have some sort of plan the next day. Good idea yes? I thought so. So I excused myself from family fun and went to work. Here’s the thumbnail sketch I did:
I was all set. Or so I thought. The next afternoon, I set up the vegetables at Opus, turned on my flood light, and…..all the values were different. For instance, where the shadows had been the darkest value, now they were a middle value. It didn’t matter that the set up was the same including the same temperature bulb shining from the same direction. The ambient light was different and that seemed to make all the difference.
Conundrum – should I stick with the old plan even though I don’t see that, or take the time and effort to create a new one? I decided I couldn’t just make it up and so created a new one:
Subtle difference in the thumbnails but a big difference when it came to pastelling. Just goes to show, even though you prepare, you need to be flexible and be able to change at a moment’s notice! The plans of mice and men….. Still, I’m glad I did do the veg set up and selection beforehand.
Here’s the pastel that emerged from the demo. I didn’t get nearly as far as I had planned (it always takes way longer to answer all the questions before getting going and also along the way) and I added things like highlights long before I normally would but I wanted to show how I would finish. All in all, it gave a good taste of layering and how you can make do with a limited palette.
As you probably know by now, I’ll be on my way to the International Association of Pastel Societies (IAPS) Convention at the beginning of June. As I did last time and the time before, I’ll be helping out at the Holbein booth. This year for the first time, I’ll also be demoing…at the Schminke booth. I’ll be there Friday 5 June 9am-12pm and Saturday 2-5pm. In between, I hope to shoot a LOT of short videos like I did two years ago.
What I want to know is, if I asked one question to a number of the artists, what would it be?
I’m looking for input, what do you want to know? If it’s a question for a specific artist, let me know. Please leave your questions as a comment so we can all see them.
To get an idea of who is teaching, go to the IAPS website here. Remember too that there will be a lot of amazing artists attending and I hope to ask them questions as well!
To give you inspiration, here’s a few of the videos I shot last time. Click on the image to watch. To see all the interviews, go to my Channel and check under “Interviews”.
So, what’s your burning question?! Tell me so I can ask it when I go to IAPS!!!
Next time, I’ll have my pastel choices for April. Wait for it!!!
Thanks for being here,
PS. Your burning question is???
PPS. If you are coming to IAPS, please come find me at either Holbein or Schminke booths!
I’ve been following the work of Arlene Richman for sometime now. I remember when I first came across her work – it was a pastel of abstracted chair patterns.
Recently she’s been doing abstracts full of colour and varied lines. I sigh with joy at the appearance of each new piece. Like this one:
It’s been awhile since I really got into pastel work and rather than jump into a serious piece, I thought, Hmmmm, good idea to PLAY first. Since I’ve been itching to try out Canson Touch and since I now had a sheet of it – colour ‘Sand’ – I thought I’d play on that. I decided to go BIG and left it uncut.
This particular sheet was used by participants at my Opus demo (29th March) to test soft pastels. You’ll see their marks in the corner. I figured if the paper worked well that would be terrific as it’s available pretty much worldwide unlike much of the other sanded paper out there (e.g. like the Wallis Paper I primarily use).
Okay, I had the paper, now what?
I’d been listening to the radio about how musicians will take a piece of music by someone else and write ‘variations’ on it e.g. Brahms’ – Variations on a Theme of Paganini. Ahhhhhhh. An idea arose. I had been perusing a book of Richard Diebenkorn’s work and among the many pieces I admired, there was one abstract, Untitled ‘M’, that I was particularly drawn to. I decided to use it (instead of a blank canvas!) as the inspiration for my playing, a Variation on a Theme by Diebenkorn!
So let’s have a look at the original painting:
Using Diebenkorn’s painting as inspiration meant I wasn’t going to copy it exactly. To begin with, you’ll notice that the proportions of my paper are certainly not the same as the painting. Also, I’m working in pastel, he worked in paint.
I was mainly intrigued by the seemingly random black shapes, many of which are at the edge of the canvas. Also, Diebenkorn’s painting is pretty monochromatic except for some colour seen beneath the white/grey paint and the colour along the bottom edge. In the last year or so, I’ve strangely found myself pulled towards doing more work in subdued and greyed colours rather than the bright, saturated and pure chroma I’m known for.
The thing I realized once I was well into the piece was, where do I go from here? The master’s painting is done and I have essentially made my own variation of it but how in the world can I take it another step? Diebenkorn’s painting is finished and who am I to tinker with it?? I’d painted myself into a corner!
I was curious to compare my pastel with Diebenkorn’s oil painting as seen in black and white. Obviously the light areas on his work are way lighter than mine! And this lightness keeps you coming back to the centre of the picture. So I went back to mine, found a white pastel (Great American) softer than the one I had been using (Sennelier) and added more lights. And I think I can still add more. The trick will be to retain some of the marks and colouring below.
Here are a couple of close-ups so you can see the colour layering:
And here are the pastels used:
So, what did I learn? First, about the Canson Touch paper:
I wouldn’t call Canson Touch the ‘ultimate’ sanded paper as they say on their website but it’s certainly fine. It’s a smooth sanded surface that won’t eat up your fingers or paper towel. I would say I put on about 3-4 layers in some areas (the first layer being a harder pastel) and it held up pretty well. I think if I was going to add more layers I would need to consider spraying it lightly with fixative (something I rarely do). In another blog post I’ll do a more comprehensive review. (Please let me know if this is something that would be helpful for you.)
And what did I learn about using Diebenkorn’s painting as inspiration?
I’ve always loved seeing the hand of the artist, much of which can be seen by visible pentimenti. Diebenkorn was adamant about leaving changes visible, he never covered up everything so as you go closer to the painting, you can see the changes he made. I don’t know what the original layers looked like but I can get a sense of them from what’s visible beneath the final paint surface (in person, I’m sure much more would be visible) and so I tried to include them in my version. Still, so much is unknown and I was just guessing.
I went from thinking solely about a main figure/subject with its background (even in a non-objective painting like this) to really thinking about the expanse of the whole canvas, thinking about all parts of it, back and forth, negative/positive negative/positive. In Diebenkorn’s ‘M’, there’s much focus on the forms near and on the edge. And so I learnt how useful and relevant these shapes can be. I was surprised by their importance. I became more conscious of what was going on over the whole piece.
Also I learnt to love working with subtle monochromatics – using colour underneath to enliven it. I could do more work like this. I love the way the slash of red makes a statement yet doesn’t dominate. The whole is balanced. How does that work? Much to study!
The thing about copying is that you’re following someone else’s process and art experience rather than having your own. It’s a bit like the way I remember colouring books – it was fun while it lasted but the end feeling was one more of emptiness than the exhilaration that comes from creating your own response to inner or outer impressions. While creating this pastel, I could respond to the formal elements of Diebenkorn’s painting but because I was following a prescription, a template, rather than letting the work itself lead the way as it evolved, it began to feel lifeless with no emotional history of ups and downs that go with art making. That was an unexpected outcome.
Mind you, this piece was done with much less fear than doing my own work – fear of what to do next i.e. what colour to choose, what mark to make, where to make the mark etc – yet there was still some fear around ‘getting it right’.
As I mentioned above, another thing I didn’t realize would happen was the dilemma of how to move on from the original. What else could I add? subtract? What other marks could I make? Sure mine is different from Diebenkorn’s ‘M’ – different medium, different format – but still, it’s an impression of the original and I have a hard time trusting myself to take it elsewhere.
In the end, I found through doing this work that I now want to explore shape and mark making even more. It was a learning experience and I appreciate and like the outcome.
Try copying a piece you like by a master – it’ll open your eyes to new possibilities! Let me know how it goes.
Whew, this was a long one. Are you still here? Well THANK YOU for being such a committed reader and participant. Let me know your thoughts by commenting on the blog or simply reply to this email and I’ll post your comment for you.
~ Until next time,
PS. Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993) was born in Portland, Oregon, went to Stanford (the family had relocated to San Francisco) and then completed military service 1943-1945. After the war, he studied at the California School of Fine Arts and soon became a faculty member. In 1950 Diebenkorn enrolled at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. This new environment affected him and resulted in paintings from the Albuquerque Period, his first mature statement.
During the Albuquerque years, Diebenkorn saw the retrospective exhibition of Arshile Gorky at the San Francisco Museum of Art. The impact of this show on him along with his experience viewing the landscape from the perspective of a low-flying plane seems evident in his painting, Untitled ‘M’, which makes me think of an aerial view of a strange landscape.
PPS. Here’s the book I looked through on Richard Diebenkorn (borrowed from the library but just purchased):
For Canadian buyers
For US and International Buyers.
Yes, I get a small commission if you purchase through my link, maybe enough for a cup of coffee. Maybe 🙂
Once again it’s the end of the month and so it’s time for my personal and totally subjective selection of 10 pastel marvels for March. I’ve chosen these 10 from the many I have come across over the last 31 days. As always, I’ve had a difficult time choosing my self-imposed 10 choices. I started with 53 pastels, made a fairly easy whittle down to 27, and then the work began! Once I got it down to 13, I flipped through the images over and over, took a break, and did the same thing again. I had to make the cuts though and now have 10. There’s so much fabulous work out there and that makes it ever so difficult to choose!
One of the most common questions I receive about plein air painting is, “How do you decide what to paint when there is so much to choose from?” My answer? Using a viewfinder can help enormously! The landscape can be so overwhelming and using a viewfinder will help you isolate the part that appeals to you the most.
I recently made a video about using a viewfinder. Have a look at it below.
When using a viewfinder, you will need to close one eye otherwise you’ll see crazy double vision! If you can’t close one eye, then squinting will help but it’s definitely not as useful or satisfying as the one-eyed look.
Using a viewfinder to help you design your thumbnails
The viewfinder I show in the video is one called ViewCatcher. It’s the one I use myself. You can try out all sorts of formats with this viewfinder – just remember to use the same proportions on your paper. For example if you decide on a square opening, make sure your paper is square. If the format of your paper is pretty much decided, for example you have a piece of 9 x 12 in Wallis paper mounted on foamcore, then create a 9 x 12 in window in your viewfinder. The ability to change from one format to another is one of the main reasons I like ViewCatcher!
Create your own viewfinder
You can of course create your own viewfinder by cutting out a rectangular hole in cardboard. If you regularly work on a 9 x 12 in paper which is a 3:4 ratio, then go ahead and cut out a hole measuring 3 x 4 in or if smaller, then 1.5 x 2 in – anything that retains that 3:4 ratio. If you always work square, then cut out a square opening.
Make sure you leave enough cardboard around the hole (like that shown below) to block out the rest of the view. That way you can concentrate on what’s happening in the opening as you move it slowly over your subject. A large surround also helps the viewfinder retain its shape while traveling in your art bag.
Having said all that, I think that the ability to switch easily between formats in the Viewcatcher makes it worth the money. Also, it won’t get bent in your art bag like a piece of cardboard might.
Using a viewfinder to crop a landscape
Let’s have a look at what I mean by using a viewfinder to help you compose your painting. I’ll take an uncropped photo and then crop it in various ways to show you what can happen.
First let’s try out two square crops:
Next let’s look at the same areas but in a vertical rectangular crop:
Now let’s try horizontal crops:
Although I’m cropping a photo, I’m sure you can imagine how this would work on location. Which crop of those above is your favourite? What other ways would you crop the original?
Remember that using a viewfinder will help you not only with choosing what to paint in a landscape. It can help with any subject be it figure, still life, portrait, urban view. Anything!!
Using a viewfinder to help with your drawing
Not only does a viewfinder help you compose your painting, it also helps with the creation of your drawing. Find where lines intersect the edges of the viewfinder and note their position related to the whole ie. a third from the bottom, a quarter from the top. You can also relate the angle a line makes as it moves across the space to the vertical and horizontal lines of the viewfinder itself, for example the line and angle of the rose’s stem.
Here’s the image of the rose with the marks I mention in the video.
Using a viewfinder to help with values
The other thing the ViewCatcher has going for it that I didn’t mention in the video are the two small holes. The colour of the ViewCatcher is 50% grey on the value scale of 1-10. This makes it ever so easy to check the value of a colour against the grey. Look at a spot through one of the holes – is what you are looking at darker or lighter than the grey of the ViewCatcher?
You can then move the ViewCatcher hole over your painting and check how the value there relates to the value of the viewfinder itself. You can also check how accurately you have captured the value of the colour you saw ‘out there’.
Check the image below – look at the top hole and see how light the background is especially when you compare it with the other hole that shows the colour of my hair.
Using a viewfinder to help with colour
These small holes in ViewCatcher can also help you determine the saturation of a colour – how much colour do you see compared to the grey of the viewfinder – is it greyer or more saturated with colour than you think? And what about temperature? Is it warmer or cooler than you think? Run the viewfinder over different areas to compare them one to the other. This is hugely helpful when you are unsure of colour saturation or temperature.
Viewfinder as gift
The other thing is, a viewfinder is a wonderful gift to give to non-artists as it will help them ‘see’ the world in a way they don’t now. I love hearing the ahhs and oohs as they move a viewfinder over whatever is in front of them.
This blog has turned out to be a review of the ViewCatcher as I like it so much!! You can pick one up in many art stores or order it from Amazon here:
Viewcatcher from Amazon.com
I’d love to hear if you use a viewfinder. How helpful is one to your work? Do you use a handmade viewfinder or something like the ViewCatcher? Do you use one all the time or rarely? Let me know by posting a comment on the blog.
I look forward to hearing from you!
Oh my gosh, how did it become the end of the month so quickly? Perhaps having a couple less days has something to do with it 🙂
Right, here’s the line-up for February. I think you’ll agree there are some pastel wonders here.
Without further ado……