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.

May’s Fabulous Pastels

May's Fabulous pastels: Becky Harblin, "Morning Marsh," plein air pastel on sanded paper, 16 x 20 in
Becky Harblin, “Morning Marsh,” plein air pastel on sanded paper, 16 x 20 in

I kept returning to this pastel again and again. There is something in its bold simplicity and directness that speaks to me. I feel the heaviness of the air, full of the dampness of the marsh and the morning. The darkness brings with it an ominous quality. There are so many greens here to deal with and I love the many levels and differences that Becky makes. I also feel the clouds – I’ve seen them like that when they don’t come in a neat ‘cloud package’. I was unable to find a website for Becky (who apparently is a poet as well) but you can link here to her Facebook page.


May's Fabulous pastels: Nancie King Mertz, "Hooper-esk," plein air pastel on textured panel, 12 x 17 in
Nancie King Mertz, “Hooper-esk,” plein air pastel on textured panel, 12 x 17 in

From the dark of the marsh we come into a bright day on Florida’s Forgotten Coast. I love the way Nancie manages to make a beautiful painting out of something many of us might not look at twice. She uses the design of the whole operation to the composition’s benefit (we travel the triangular track easily through the painting) and works wonders of colour in all those areas of whites and grays. The whole is backed by a lovey pattern of greens as a foil. I’ve wanted to include one of Nancie’s pieces for sometime and so I’m happy to include this one here! Go check out more of Nancie’s work here.


May's Fabulous Pastels: Laurent Chantraine, "Nereus Beauchemin - Hardelot After Rain," pastel, 60 x 60 cm
Laurent Chantraine, “Nereus Beauchemin – Hardelot After Rain,” pastel, 60 x 60 cm (23 5/8 x 23 5/8 in)

I love the broad expanse of Laurent’s pastel. I can sense the sea as the light glints off the water. The rain has passed and the skies begin to clear. I feel as if I’ve been in this place and am now standing there again. I’m filled with the joy of nature as I look at this piece. Although pretty much monochromatic, the piece gives off the feeling of colour. You can feel the warmth of the day beginning to return through the coolness. And how incredible that it was done in pastel. Go see more of Laurent’s work on his website.


May's Fabulous Pastels: Opedun Damilola, "Harmattan," pastel, 39.5 x 60 cm (16 x 23 5/8 in)
Damilola Opendun, “Harmattan,” pastel, 39.5 x 60 cm (16 x 23 5/8 in)

I found this pastel full of mystery. It appears to be that time of day when it’s neither light nor dark, when you can still see colour but the warmth of the light spilling out is made more apparent by the cool time of day. I love the way Damilola’s has treated the repetitive roof tops – enough to be different but not so much that they don’t hang together as a single value entity (except for the one in the foreground that stops our eye going straight to the red roof in the distance). He’s taken a complicated scene and simplified it into its essentials. There’s also the fabulous use of negative space to carve out the windows on the right side. Damilola has created three versions of this piece. You can see them on his Facebook page (I was unable to find a website.) Damilola is another of those artists who has come so close to making the ten cut that it’s a pleasure to include him here.


May's Fabulous Pastels: Mate Sandor, "Hugging Trees," pastel, 50 x 70 cm (19 3/4 x 27 1/2 in)
Mate Sandor, “Hugging Trees,” pastel, 50 x 70 cm (19 3/4 x 27 1/2 in)

From the repetition of rooftops we go to the repetition of trees. Mate’s treatment of the many tree trunks into a unified mass is masterly. We see the mass but also feel the trees as individuals not just a bunch of tree trunks repeated in a formulaic manner. There is much movement – you can almost hear the wind blowing through the tree branches. You feel as if the trees themselves are vibrating with life. There’s a wonderful feeling of perspective as we are drawn into the woods, up the path that appears. I love the bold and direct pastel marks. And I smiled at the title! Go see more of Mate’s work here.


May's Fabulous Pastels: Mary Ellen Bitner, "Mardi Gras and Me," pastel, 20 x 16 in
Mary Ellen Bitner, “Mardi Gras and Me,” pastel, 20 x 16 in

I’ve enjoyed many of Mary Ellen’s abstract pastels over the past months. I’m a lover of Joan Mitchell’s work and I’m often reminded of her when I see Mary Ellen’s vibrant and exuberant work. In this piece I got sucked in not only by the saturated rich colours but also by the marks in black. They’re like some sort of coded message for us from an earlier time, another dimension, or even a far-off civilization. What does it all mean? For me, this gives a deeper element to the painting that keeps me coming back for more. The primary place I found Mary Ellen’s work is here but unfortunately, it doesn’t show her abstract explorations.


May's Fabulous Pastels: Marla Baggetta, "Closing Time," pastel, 12 x 9 in
Marla Baggetta, “Closing Time,” pastel, 12 x 9 in

I’ve always been a huge fan of Marla’s work and am delighted finally to include her pastel in my monthly choices. I love this piece. I’m always drawn to figures and this one certainly hooks me. The way Marla handles the light and colour in this pastel is fabulous – bright highlights (as a result of the overhead lighting) balanced by a mass of colourful darks. Everything that needs to be indicated to give us context is there but with just enough detail to make it readable, no more. There is a story here but it’s Marla’s capturing of this figure under these lighting conditions that holds me fast! Have a look at more of Marla’s work on her website.


May's Fabulous Pastels: Vianna Szabo, "Pause," Terry Ludwig pastels on UArt paper, 20 x 16 in
Vianna Szabo, “Pause,” Terry Ludwig pastels on UArt paper, 20 x 16 in

Vianna is another artist whose work I’ve admired for some time and so I’m thrilled to include this beautiful pastel of a man who pauses in his book looking, distracted by something beyond the picture. What has happened? The tension in his body is evident and I can’t help wondering what is bothering him. I’m also curious to know what book he is perusing – an art book perhaps? The hands, notoriously difficult to render, are exquisitely done. The planes of the face are so solid, the shape of the facial forms so sensitive, and all created in such a small space. You can have a look at more of Vianna’s work here.


May's Fabulous Pastels: Carol Muro, "Daughter," pastel, 12 x 8 in
Carol Muro, “Daughter,” pastel, 12 x 8 in

Speaking of sensitive, look at this beautifully painted face. Carol has captured a dreamy and thoughtful look on a young girl’s countenance. Although this may be a portrait (Carol’s daughter?), it stands for so much more for me. It’s as if it’s a symbol for young people as they look towards the future, full of possibilities. There’s a sense of calm yet unease at what it may bring. And specifically, I can’t help but wonder about what will this young person be and do as she grows to maturity? See more of Carol’s work here.


May's Fabulous Pastels: Rosemay Dahan, "Simone My Mother," pastel, 65 x 50 cm (25 1/2 x 19 3/4 in)
Rosemay Dahan, “Simone My Mother,” pastel, 65 x 50 cm (25 1/2 x 19 3/4 in)

When I first saw this pastel, I was immediately drawn to it by the intensity of the eyes. What is going on behind them? And what’s the story of this woman’s life? Rosemay’s use of green throughout (the eyes and surrounding areas, the earrings, the collar) give it a haunting quality. This woman is not just a pretty thing, nope, she has a powerful personality yet with eyes like green pools that you can sink into, there also feels like a world of compassion here too. This is a striking piece with no need to be a perfect copy of reality. The directness tells us much not only about the subject but the painter herself. Have a look at more of Rosemay’s pastels here.


And that’s the 10 fabulous pastels for this month!! I’d love to hear which is your favourite and why. Did you learn anything from this month’s blog? Do leave me a comment below!



I am off to Albuquerque and IAPS (the International Association of Pastel Societies) on Tuesday to help out at the Holbein booth, demo at the Schminke booth (Friday 9-12 and Saturday 2-5), hug and catch-up with old friends, make new friends, create interview videos, connect and network, and generally have a darn good time!

This is your last chance to tell me what’s the one question you want me to ask the artists there in my upcoming video interviews. (For example: What’s the first thing you do when you enter your studio? Or what about, How does the way you set up your studio affect the way you work? Or How do you work, on an easel or flat, and why?).

Leave them in the comment box below or send me an email at pastelandpaint@gmail.com (my travelling email address).


Thanks for joining me in this world of pastel!

~ Gail


PS. If you are interested in seeing more of my choices from the past few months, just click on “Today’s Artists” under Categories.

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4 thoughts on “May’s Fabulous Pastels”

  1. I love finding these monthly posts from you ,but am finding the buttons for FB, pinterest, etc crowding out your wonderful commentary and images. Is there any way for me to disable these guys?

    1. Hi Susan, Thanks for letting me know. I think the disabling/change has to be on my side. I found I could put them on the lower portion of the image. Hoping that works out better. Let me know! Glad you are enjoying the posts 🙂

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Gail Sibley

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My love of pastel and the enjoyment I receive from teaching about pastel inspired the creation of this blog. It has tips, reviews, some opinions:), and all manner of information regarding their use through the years – old and new. Please enjoy!

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