Bernadette deCesare, "Roll Over," pastels over watercolour underpainting, 18x24 in.

Bernadette deCesare: Eyes of Realism, Heart of Abstraction

I came across the work of Bernadette deCesare a couple of years ago and have featured her pieces twice in my Monthly RoundUp blogs – in Feb 2015 and then a year later. I’m fascinated by every piece I see of hers and so it made complete sense to invite her to guest blog. And here she is!!

If you’re unfamiliar with her work, here’s a taster:

Bernadette deCesare, "Falling Leaves," pastel, 30 x 20 in
Bernadette deCesare, “Falling Leaves,” pastel, 30 x 20 in


Before handing over the blog to Bernadette deCesare, first a bit about her.


Bernadette deCesare Bio

A self-taught artist working first in oils and acrylics, a pastel class in 2009 changed everything for Bernadette deCesare. Since then she has gone on to win awards in the Pastel Journal’s 100 Competition, first an honourable mention and then in 2016, 2nd place in the Abstract and Non objective category. Her work was accepted into the 28th IAPS Exhibition in 2016 hosted at the Salmagundi Club in NYC. She lives in Wharton NJ where she is a signature member in the Pastel Society of New Jersey. She is also an Associate Member of the Pastel Society of America. You can see more of her work here.

So now, let me hand you over to Bernadette deCesare!


Bernadette deCesare – Visionary Artist

“There are women who were born on the easel…” and I believe I am one of them. My passion for creating has never waivered. I like to call myself a Visionary Artist.


Bernadette deCesare, "My Left Foot," 2012, pastel, 20 x 16 in.
Bernadette deCesare, “My Left Foot,” 2012, pastel, 20 x 16 in. My intent was to evolve and explore my pastel techniques. I enjoy the simplistic geometric shapes when I look to unclutter my mind. Unfortunately my right foot appears to be featured.


I graduated from Parsons School of Design in New York City. I continued to learn and improve my skills at the Arts Students League, School of Visual Arts and was fortunate to be mentored by many wonderful people in the Arts. My career began in fashion illustration, but I found my success in graphic design and publishing. Then in the 70s and early 80s I traveled around Europe and Mexico and moved quite often.



Bernadette deCesare, "Tea Time," 2011, pastel on Wallis paper, approx 18x24 in.
Bernadette deCesare, “Tea Time,” 2011, pastel on Wallis paper, approx 18×24 in. I found the power of the color blue in the pastel medium with this painting. The intense shades are exciting and the blues glide sweetly on the paper. The Willow set is part of my family’s story, a wedding gift given to my Great Aunt and Uncle in the 1920’s.


My husband and I opened our own art studio, Griffin Graphics, in NYC and we started our family. In the mid-nineties I turned to freelance, which allowed me to stay home with our sons. My personal interest, the Tarot, blossomed into an exciting business at this time. Teaching, giving workshops, and restoring an 18th-century home that includes a fantastic studio in Port Jefferson, N.Y., holds loving memories. I was able to return to my painting and discovered storytelling and sharing ideas through my art.



Bernadette deCesare, "Looking Forward," 2015 pastels, pastels on UART paper, 16x20 in
Bernadette deCesare, “Looking Forward,” 2015 pastels, pastels on UART paper, 16×20 in. In 2015, this painting was accepted into the UART Online Pastel Exhibition. I remember someone saying this painting combines a still life and a landscape with a unique style. My reference came from my backyard seen through my window. I call it plein air. Gazing out the window is clearly meditative and healing for me. The image developed as I painted. “Looking Forward” shows our sweet poodle, Cassie Girl, at the end of her life. I painted her image appearing like a cat, so death could not take her. I wanted her to feel comfortable in her dream state. The red flowers represent her passion for life, the broken pot is life’s sorrows. The setting sun offers her a place to rest. My heart was saddened and my pastel strokes represent these feelings. It shows endings without anger.


I am basically a self-taught painter and focused in the beginning on the oil and acrylic, which I still love. Around 2009 I took a pastel class at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden in New York and something clicked. I had used oil pastels before, but that is a very different world. Soft pastels were challenging and they felt right. I continued to experiment and explore my possibilities and I fell in love with the pastel medium. I followed up with weekly classes at the Pastel Society of America in New York City and slowly discovered how much I loved this medium.



Bernadette deCesare, "Finding Our Way," 2015, pastel on paper, 20x30 in, SOLD.
Bernadette deCesare, “Finding Our Way,” 2015, pastel on paper, 20×30 in, SOLD. I believe trees hold the mysteries of life. They also have helped me learn to paint nature. My little bird-like creatures are seen walking in the forest and they continue to appear in my paintings. They show up when change is in my future.


For years I have called myself a Visionary Artist for my subject matter or style. I have found that the pastel medium allows me to pursue my goals as an artist. I can work fast, revise quickly, enjoy the assortment of textures and the color range is enormous. I enjoy this freedom. My process in working with soft pastel has become a journey of exploration.



Bernadette deCesare, "A Journey into Jazz," pastel on UART paper, 20x30 in.
Bernadette deCesare, “A Journey into Jazz,” pastel on UART paper, 20×30 in.
John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” is my muse. I love Jazz and this is where I traveled. I hope more images will be as honest as this is to me.


My process at times can be unpredictable for many reasons: some papers can not handle wet, some have zero tooth, the grit can be too strong or too smooth, a brand of paper is discontinued unexpectedly, and the costs are challenging. The pastels are soft, hard, smooth or greasy depending on the binder and process. To be honest, it can be confusing until you find the right combinations that work with your painting style.



Bernadette deCesare, "Mardi," pastel on Fisher paper, 20x16 in.
Bernadette deCesare, “Mardi,” pastel on Fisher paper, 20×16 in. The pastels glided and created a smooth glow over this wonderful paper. This is my favorite pitcher to paint. I wish I could remember what made me happy.


I have developed a variety of techniques with the pastels, but I believe my artistic signature is clearly present. I have painted almost everyday for many years, with my hands, my heart, or in my planning. My art appears to have a will of its own, but each painting carries her own story.



Bernadette deCesare, "Oblio and Dreams," 2017, pastel Canson Mi-Teintes, 30x20in.
Bernadette deCesare, “Oblio and Dreams,” 2017, pastel Canson Mi-Teintes, 30x20in. My inspiration came from wanting to escape from unsolved issues. But Oblio, my old friend, keeps me here and safe. There is a part of me that knows how to leave and I do travel in my dreams.


When the story stops or is weak, I tend to overwork the painting into the garbage. I work intuitively for the most part, which feels like a waking trance. Even if I am working from a photograph, a still life, or the outdoors, I am excited when I see a story emerge. I rarely sketch out my ideas, but I do carry a sketchbook to improve my drawing skills. When I am inspired, I will paint until it is completed. But the paintings stay around the studio so I can evaluate them and do revisions as needed.



Bernadette deCesare, "Blue Moon," 2016, pastels on UART paper, 30x20 in.
Bernadette deCesare, “Blue Moon,” 2016, pastels on UART paper, 30×20 in.
When I gaze intuitively into this painting, I see beyond my strokes. I see the past, the future and my dreams. I did not plan it. I rarely plan the direction my paintings take and the reference point was surprising. I was keenly aware that I started this painting on the Blue Moon. It carries a powerful energy that is called the Winds of Change. And change is beautiful, when you are capable of letting go. But this painting kept calling me back. I thought I finished it many times. It wanted to glow and shine even after she was framed. We were not friends for a long time. But I am glad I listened. And yes we are finally happy.


I find myself working on several paintings at the same time, which is an old habit. It does get a bit crowded since my studio is usually covered with living and falling flowers. I do enjoy painting flowers and my collection is growing.



Bernadette deCesare, "Yellow Splash," 2017, pastel on UART paper, 30x20 in.
Bernadette deCesare, “Yellow Splash,” 2017, pastel on UART paper, 30×20 in. This painting was inspired by a project called “OPTIMISM”. Its goal is to bring awareness to depression and loss. This event is being held in the month of March, in Madison NJ. The color yellow holds a key to joy and happiness. My studio filled up with this delightful energy.


My techniques have evolved and changed over the years. I approach my art with this idea: “The Eyes of Realism, but with an Abstract Expressive Heart.”

I like to start from a realistic place and then break it down. I see patterns, shapes, and markings that repeat in many of my paintings. The edges are very important with pastels. Certain color combinations that share edges can create the magic of luminosity.



Bernadette deCesare, "Dawn at Cedar Lake," pastel on Richeson Premium paper, 16x20 in.
Bernadette deCesare, “Dawn at Cedar Lake,” pastel on Richeson Premium paper, 16×20 in.
Living on a lake and experiencing the morning light is Goddess Territory. I painted this with love.


My strokes are not organized because I tend to be more playful in my approach. And I love the shiny stuff: mica, gold leaf, and iridescent pastels. Texture allows the pastel to grip the surface giving it a strong solid area, which I like to see in my abstracts. Layering creates depth and/or transparency. And “grit is great!”



Bernadette deCesare, "Gathering Peace," 2017, pastel on Fisher paper 20x30 in.
Bernadette deCesare, “Gathering Peace,” 2017, pastel on Fisher paper 20×30 in.
The painting holds a spiritual energy. My inspiration came from a watercolor I did in 1978. I saved this simple watercolor because I had recently begun to appreciate the power of color. I played with the underpainting, golden sheets glued to sparkle under the pastel, the journey evolved. I believed the universal Mother Earth is showing herself as a turtle and evolved in front of me. My husband sees a horse. Expressive-Abstract Art offers the viewer one’s personal vision and story. I painted a loving mood, a kindness I felt so long ago. The imperfections are key here. The energy flowed listening to Baroque music, which softened the gritty sounds of the pastels.


Pastels are pure color pigments with a binder (the same in any medium.) They offer us such beautiful colors that I find myself exploring unique color combinations. Liquid gesso and pumice really come in handy when my surface weakens, or they are used in creating my own painting surface.



Bernadette deCesare, "Heads Up," 2016, pastel on printer's paper with gesso, 22x30 in.
Bernadette deCesare, “Heads Up,” 2016, pastel on printer’s paper with gesso, 22×30 in.
I have always been drawn to fantasy and this was inspired by one of my older drawings. She appears conflicted here. Her helmet carries the intent of destruction, but she filters her desires through calmness and a strong intellect. On a technical note my colors were not second-guessed. So the colors held their purity and clarity. But the next time I will use black paper.


Underpainting is fairly new in my work. I am experimenting with watercolor and acrylic but at this time I have no favorites. Here’s a demonstration:



Bernadette deCesare, Start of “Roll Over.”
Start of “Roll Over.”
This painting is one of three paintings that I did for a demonstration recently. This one represents an experimental process. I painted with a brilliant watercolor liquid by dripping the colors with droppers and then adding water onto the paper. Then I used a small printer roller, which gave me the square motif. I added white thick watercolor and moved it around with a sponge brush.


Bernadette deCesare, Middle Stage of “Roll Over.”
Middle Stage of “Roll Over.” To be a soft pastel painting, 80% must be covered in pastel. This was my focus and motivation, while moving the shapes and colors around. Some of the pastels I enjoy using is the Great American luminous pastels.


Bernadette deCesare, "Roll Over," pastels over watercolour underpainting, 18x24 in.
Bernadette deCesare, “Roll Over,” pastels over watercolour underpainting, 18×24 in. My emotional response guided me to stop, but this might be a start of a new series. I would like to keep it non objective…but I never know until I am in process.


Keeping my supplies up to date can be annoying and challenging. When I run out of certain colors, tracking the brands can be tricky. Remembering what works is difficult, since I experiment with different paper surfaces and pastel products. My advice: take notes and mark the colors you favor!


“The more I work, the longer the channel stays open, and I do have fun”.

You can contact me at:


Bernadette deCesare, "Pastels Going Wild," 2017, pastel on UART paper, 20x30 in.
Bernadette deCesare, “Pastels Going Wild,” 2017, pastel on UART paper, 20×30 in.
The language of Freedom, for me, is expressed through doing abstracts. My colors are stronger lately and are competing for attention. This is a direction that has my attention.




WOW!! Hope you enjoyed that ride as much as I did. Bernadette deCesare is one of those artists whose work I know will always wake some emotional response in me, whether to the colour, the design, or/and the story revealed. You never know what’s coming and it’s always an enchanting surprise!


We’d love to hear from you!!! So please leave a comment telling us your favourite piece here. Also feel free to ask Bernadette deCesare questions about her work and process.

Until next time,

~ Gail



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21 thoughts on “Bernadette deCesare: Eyes of Realism, Heart of Abstraction”

  1. Wow—I loved learning about Bernadette and her work. The pictures shown are really spectacular— I especially loved Yellow Splash and Looking Forward… I love the use of bright colors and how each picture draws us in and challenges us to appreciate all the different aspects of the picture.

    1. Wow Eileen, I barely published the blog when your comment came in! Beautifully described – how Bernadette’s work pulls us in. And yes, aren’t the pieces wonderful?!

  2. Thanks for featuring Bernadette deCesare; I’ve been viewing her work for several years and I find it fascinating. Her unique vision is entrancing.

  3. I really love Bernadettes work. They all inspire me in many ways. Her colors & patterns are luscious!!!! She says she loves flowers but these are no ordinary flowers. All of her paintings leave me both excited and pensive. In many ways they are very mystical and dramatic! ” Pastels Going Wild ” is a favorite of mine in this group.

  4. Oh, Gail, thank you for sharing this! I discovered Bernadette through my artist friend Loretta Louviere and then I got interested in pastels…then I found you and your work through FB. So glad for this community!

    1. Genie thanks for sharing your connection journey. It’s funny how we find our way isn’t it? I’m so glad you are enjoying the HTP community!

  5. Bravo Bernadette, well done! You already know how I feel about your work. When I joined FB about a year ago, your work stopped me and I felt an immediate pull, a kindred spirit speaking just to me. Your paintings are you, your past, present, future and dreams and the uniqueness of each is an inspiration to me. Thank you.

  6. I love Bernadette’s work! It is so unique & elicits such a strong emotional response. The Colors knock me out- and the creativity is beyond belief. I wish I could channel my feelings & thoughts half so well. Each new piece is a step deeper into Bernadette’s psyche. In person, her work has even more impact (if possible). She truly inspires me! Keep up the GREAT work.

    1. Thanks Laurie for your oh-so-enthusiastic response to Bernadette’s work!!! And thanks for the reminder that seeing work in person is always the best way to feel the impact of artwork. One of these days I hope to see Bernadette’s in the ‘real’!

  7. Bernadette deCesare

    “Thank you, Thank You, THANK YOU ” feels so common, but it is the truest comment I can say to everyone. who took the time to respond to my work. The art work can be intense and playful. I never know if it is worth keeping, until my hand stops in frustration and boredom, like tonight. So never ever give up. Tomorrow is another day and a new palette.

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Gail Sibley

Artist. Blogger. Teacher.

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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