Rita Kirkman, "Counting Sheep," 2015, pastel, 32 x 32 in - sold

Rita Kirkman Has This To Say- It’s Not About The Animals!

I’ve known about Rita Kirkman’s work for a few years now. I can’t remember when I first came across it but I do know she’s been an active blogger for some time. I featured one of Rita’s pieces in my monthly round-up (click here to see it) and finally met her at IAPS last year. It was pretty funny because I kept being mistaken for her and so we had our photos taken together to clear up the confusion (does it??).

Rita Kirkman and Gail Sibley at IAPS Convention 2015
Rita and Gail at IAPS Convention 2015

Rita always seems to be posting another painting of a bunny, or sheep, or cows, and more. I wondered how in the world she kept doing these without getting bored. So I asked her if she’d write a blog about that very topic and, luckily for us, she said yes!

First, a wee bit of background on Rita.

Rita Kirkman Bio

As Rita likes to say, “I was born an artist, and have been using pastel since I was 11 years old.” Since 2003, she has consistently won major awards in national and international competitions. Her work has been featured in the Pastel Journal, the Pratique des Arts Spécial Pastel, and many other magazines. She is a Signature member of the Pastel Society of America and a recipient of the Master Circle Award from the International Association of Pastel Societies.

Her work is in public and private collections all over the world, including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Europe, Japan, Africa and Australia.

Following a Carol Marine workshop in 2011, Kirkman has been striving, with some success, to become a daily painter. You can see her daily paintings on her blog at ritakirkman.blogspot.com Her award winning pastel paintings and more can be seen on her website RitaKirkman.com Pencil portraits, quick-sketch portraits and caricatures are at RitaKirkmanDrawings.com

Here’s a pastel to introduce you to Rita’s work if you haven’t encountered it before:

Rita Kirkman, "Dawn of a Texan Dynasty," 2015, pastel, 36 x 36 in
Rita Kirkman, “Dawn of a Texan Dynasty,” 2015 pastel, 36 x 36 in – available

Alright Rita, the stage is yours!


I’m honored to be the guest writer this month for my friend Gail, who asked me “How in the world do you keep interested and passionate about creating those animal pastels?” To someone who’s done more than 500 animal paintings in the past five years (2011-2015) that’s a very good question!

How do I do it?

I have tons of photos (over 350GB and growing!)

I enjoy painting almost anything, and I’m enough of a businessperson to be ok with “painting what sells”… most of the time…

If I get tired of cows, I paint something else. (Also, I have several other avenues of art business that keep me busy and balanced.)

But most importantly – it’s not about the animals!


Rita Kirkman, "BFF," 2015, pastel, 16 x 16 in - sold
Rita Kirkman, “BFF,” 2015, pastel, 16 x 16 in – sold


“What?” you say, “But you paint such lovely animals!”

Yes, that’s what most viewers see as my subject matter. After all, most of my subjects stare you right in the eye and that makes them hard to miss. But I’m ok with that because it adds another layer of temptation for the buyer who loves cows, or sheep, or bunnies, or whatever.


Rita Kirman, "Is This Seat Taken?" 2014, pastel, 10 x 10 in - sold
Rita Kirman, “Is This Seat Taken?” 2014, pastel, 10 x 10 in – sold


To me, my paintings have evolved over the past few years into an observation of sunlight and shadow and finding adventurous ways to portray light with color, value and temperature within a strong and pleasing composition.

This visual journey just happens to be traveled using great numbers of ranch animals and a few squirrels and ducks.


Rita Kirkman, "Duke," 2015, pastel, 7 x 5 in - available
Rita Kirkman, “Duke,” 2015, pastel, 7 x 5 in – available


How did I get to this point, you wonder?

The artist Sara Eyestone gives the advice in a “Business of Art” workshop: To work in a series. She says pick a subject/genre and a consistent dimensional size (ie: 2/3 ratio rectangle, or a square, etc.) and create at least 20 paintings in this similar theme. This way, when you have an exhibit, it will all look great hung in the same room of a gallery, or at an art fair. And since the dimensions are the same, you can choose the best 12 and print a calendar. (Lol, I chuckle at that now, after my series of hundreds…)

Then, in 2011, I took a workshop with prominent Daily Painter Carol Marine, who instructed us all on the value of painting daily and posting our paintings online for all to see! So that’s when I started doing many more small paintings and posting them one at a time on my blog and other social media.


Rita Kirkman, Various 5 x 7 in pastels
Rita Kirkman, Various 5 x 7 in pastels


(Being a practical sort of businessperson as well as an artist, I do find that my subject matter is usually driven by what sells, but I do believe that choosing a specific subject or genre and creating a unified body of work creates an appeal with clients, looks much better at shows and fairs, and also indicates a seriousness of purpose as a dedicated artist that more serious collectors will appreciate.)

How do I keep at it?

Well, interesting things happen when one paints a particular subject over and over again. First, one becomes so familiar with that subject that it takes less of an effort to render it, leaving more creative ‘room’ to concentrate on other less physical aspects such as composition and color. When this begins to happen, an almost tangible shift is felt, where the subject itself becomes secondary (or even, in some cases, completely unimportant!) to the intrinsic elements and principles of art that are at the heart of every painting: line, form, texture, color, value, design, etc.


Rita Kirkman, "Cottony," 2015, pastel, 8 x 8 in - sold
Rita Kirkman, “Cottony,” 2015, pastel, 8 x 8 in – sold


THIS is what makes (the act of) painting so very exciting and why it doesn’t matter what ‘thing’ is being painted (…most of the time.)

If I do happen to get tired of a particular subject, I just paint a little series of something else. For example, when I developed a (temporary) aversion to cows a couple of summers ago, I did a little series of “road sketches” from photos taken out the windshield on vacations.


Rita Kirkman, "Road Sketch #30," 2015, pastel, 5 x 7 in - available
Rita Kirkman, “Road Sketch #30,” 2015, pastel, 5 x 7 in – available


I’ve also done some little mini-series of frogs:

Rita Kirkman, "Frog #7," 2012, pastel,  6 x 6 in - sold
Rita Kirkman, “Frog #7,” 2012, pastel, 6 x 6 in – sold


And of seagulls:

Rita Kirkman, "Chillin' Out," 2010, pastel, 6 x 6 in - sold
Rita Kirkman, “Chillin’ Out,” 2010, pastel, 6 x 6 in – sold


And, among others, an ongoing series of Renaissance portraits, with which I compete in art exhibitions:

Rita Kirkman, "Aileen In Blue," 2015, pastel, 8 x 6 in - available
Rita Kirkman, “Aileen In Blue,” 2015, pastel, 8 x 6 in – available


My cure for painter’s block – set a posting goal!

My real secret is that I’m competitive and I love to show off, so the posting on social media has become a major motivating factor. It really gets addictive! When I’m actually able to post an image on my blog and Facebook for a week or two of consecutive days, I almost physically miss it when I have to skip a day for whatever reason, I get quite disappointed in myself, and it’s mostly about breaking that good ‘run’ of posts. The posting almost becomes the end goal, and the painting enough to create 7 things per week to post just becomes the ‘assignment’ I give myself so that I can do the posting!

In a strange way, this attitude makes the painting easier because instead of getting to the studio and moaning about “what do I want to paint today?” it’s more like “it doesn’t matter what I paint, I just need seven things to post this week, and If I can get 3 done today, and 4 done tomorrow, I’ll have the rest of the week free!” (Ha, it doesn’t always go that smoothly, but it really does help relieve painter’s block!)


Rita Kirkman, fresh minis in the studio in 2014
Rita Kirkman, fresh minis in the studio in 2014


Great feedback is the other thing about posting that keeps me excited about painting. Let’s face it, there’s something inside every artist that craves approval. We get devastated when someone doesn’t like our painting (unless one is a seasoned professional with thick skin, and even then, it stings a little.) And we get warm fuzzies when people like our work and tell us so. Most of us love being complimented! And when the compliments coincide with a painting that we especially enjoyed creating, it spurs us on to create more in a similar vein.


Rita Kirkman, "Counting Sheep," 2015, pastel, 32 x 32 in - sold
Rita Kirkman, “Counting Sheep,” 2015, pastel, 32 x 32 in – sold. Accepted into the IAPS Web Show 2015


When you think about it, ranch animals are a perfect ‘model’ to show off my true subject, light! After all, where are they all day? Outdoors! Texas is blessed with a plethora of sunny days, and I’m lucky to be driving around during many of them, with my camera in hand.

I’d like to conclude with a favorite quote from my favorite artist.

“And what, sir, is the subject matter of that painting?” (Critic)

“The subject matter, my dear good fellow, is the light.” (Claude Monet)


Rita Kirkman, "Dodge," 2015, pastel, 15-inch circle - sold. Best of show at the Arkansas Pastel Society National Exhibition 2015. And one of my circle profiles series of animals, which was a fun departure from the usual…
Rita Kirkman, “Dodge,” 2015, pastel, 15-inch circle – sold. Best of show at the Arkansas Pastel Society National Exhibition 2015. And one of my circle profiles series of animals, which was a fun departure from the usual…


Wow – thanks Rita!!

If you have any questions for Rita or comments about her work or process, do leave a comment. We’d love to know what you think!

Interested in Rita’s process and materials? Click here to read a blog that shows all!

Also, if you’re interested in any of the available work, please contact Rita through her website ritakirkman.com

Until next time,

~ Gail


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24 thoughts on “Rita Kirkman Has This To Say- It’s Not About The Animals!”

  1. Hi Gail and Rita,

    What a great and encouraging post! I have been toying with the idea of painting a series of animals. I’ll need to start collecting some photos, but having been a wildlife biologist in my “other” life, it seems like a no brainer!

    I’ll be signing onto your blog, Rita, thanks to Gail.

    Thanks to both of you for sharing!


  2. Hi,
    So glad to meet Rita.I’ve seen her work and love it.I can recognise it without seeing her name.
    The colours are so brilliant and the blues are shocking but fun!
    Yes she looks like your sister !
    I have not read everything here (I will ) but felt I must dash of a note of appreciation to both of you for your friendliness.

  3. Hi Gail and Rita,
    This was a treat! Rita, you have captured the light (beautiful color choices) and I love your mark making.
    I went to your blog and I’m very curious about your underpainting technique using buildup of pastel primers. This is the first time I have seen an underpainting other than watercolor, acrylic or washed in pastel. Did you find your method by trial an error or by experimenting to find a heavier buildup?
    Thank you for your art journal with step by step pictures of the demos by Barbara Jaenicke and Marla Baggetta. I felt like I was there watching the demos.
    Thank you Gail for bringing the fabulous work and generous artist Rita Kirkman to your blog.

  4. I love the light and the colours Rita uses. I have admired her work for a while now. Such sunny images with depth of Shadow. Beautiful examples of pastels.

    1. Cathyann, thank you for such an enthusiastic response to the howtopastel blog!! I’m glad you are enjoying it and this one in particular.
      I’m also glad you love the videos. Time to make another one!

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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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