June’s Unique Pastels – All Manner Of Subjects And Styles In Pastel

Can someone please tell me how in the world we’re already halfway through the year?! I mean really! Okay so it’s July which means it’s time fooooorrrr (drum roll) June’s unique pastels! Here are the ten I’ve chosen from the many pastel paintings collected over the month of June. As always, I’ve tried to cover different genres and styles. And as always they are a very personal choice. I look forward to hearing your response!

June’s Unique Pastels!

June's Unique Pastels: Elaine Despins, Madeline, pastel on UART paper,
Elaine Despins, “Madeline,” pastel on UART paper, 12 x 16 in
A woman sits quietly, eyes downcast, and although this description may invite the idea of stillness, the painting itself suggests something different. First off, there’s a sense of movement. This is seen in the edgy and elongated vertical strokes and also the overlap of background colours along the edge of the shirt. There’s also a sense of the passage of time in the shift from green to blue in the background – the model sits and the painter paints, and time goes by.

Elaine Despins creates the face from warm and cool neutrals that subtly shift in planes across the face. The small proportion of muted colours are surrounded by bright ones in the background and shirt. One might think they would overwhelm the face yet it’s because there is a face that we look at it first. It’s a face clearly formed and although the subject’s eyes don’t connect with the viewer’s, we are drawn in nonetheless. Who is this woman? What is she thinking about? A hint of a smile suggests happy imaginings or reflections.

Elaine’s experiment of pushing colour and neutrals is enhanced by the confident application of pastel. Look for instance at the hair. Pastel is swiped on and then left alone. In one stroke we see where the hair emerges from the skin or the swirl of hair that escapes the neatness of the rest.

To see more of Elaine Despin’s work, check out her website.



June’s Unique Pastels: Michele M. Mozzone, "Imagine," pastel, 12 x 12 in
Michele M. Mozzone, “Imagine,” pastel, 12 x 12 in
A young woman hangs in the water. She’s captured in a moment of different possibilities – has she just swum into the frame and popped her head above the surface or has she been in place all this time treading water? She moves diagonally into the picture, suggesting motion of some sort. Her left arm is awkwardly positioned, caught in a motion of either about to pull down as she propels herself further out the water or pumping forward and back to keep her afloat. The body forms an S-shaped passage through the centre of the picture that’s held in place by the line of the arms.

The colours of this piece are similar to the one above by Despins – a variation of a complementary combo of various greens punctuated by the red bathing suit. The warm oranges of the skin complement any visible blues (including the shadowed areas of the skin itself). The subtle shadings and shifts of value, colour, and temperature in the skin, contrast with the boldness of colour that swirls around her.

Mozzone has perfectly caught the effect of light piecing the water and catching the girl’s arms, leg, and torso. I can feel the warmth of sunlight, hear the gurgles in the water as the girl moves in it, sense the water moving against my skin. What the girl observes above the water’s surface is hidden from us – all we can see is her reflection on the undersurface. There’s a sense in this painting of reality and abstraction both in the content and pastel application. The body of the girl is designed to look real with volumetric shading and outline; the surrounding water is given much more leeway and becomes real only in the context of the body moving within it. The swirls of movement on the water’s surface mean we cannot decipher what is going on above – the story possibilities there are endless!

See more of Michele M. Mozzone’s work on her website.



June’s Unique Pastels: Janet Schwartz, "Night Lights," pastel on UART paper, 8 x 18 in
Janet Schwartz, “Night Lights,” pastel on UART paper, 8 x 18 in
Speaking of reality versus abstraction, Janet Schwartz’s distortion of reality appears almost macabre emphasized as it is by the many crosses scattered about (yes, the telephone poles!). Driving in wet conditions at night does conjure up the dance of death in this abstracted view through the windshield, moisture-laden before the next swipe of a wiper. The various greys and blacks are enlivened by the slashes and swirls of saturated oranges and yellows. Schwartz describes the time between daylight and light when the sky and its reflection on the wet road are still visible. Cars swish and swerve along side us, and there’s a sense of hurrying to get out of these conditions into the warmth and safety of home. The horizontal composition underlines the sense of viewing the painting through the windshield.

This painting also seems to be an allegory about truth and our often distorted perception of it. We see the world through a lens of distortion which never quite reveals everything and often we don’t even know this is happening. As much as we look, we can’t see the absolute truth of things (if indeed that exists). Something always remains hidden. We get glances of a truer reality as the wiper moves across our vision but it doesn’t last long!

Schwartz keeps her statement simple – there are no details to distract us from colour and texture and the story we tell ourselves. To see more of her work, click here.




June’s Unique Pastels: Albert Handell, "Dihedral Patterns," pastel, 16 x 17 in
Albert Handell, “Dihedral Patterns,” pastel, 16 x 17 in
While looking for images for the previous blog of IAPS interviews, I encountered this one by Albert Handell. At first glance it appeared like an abstract until I stopped and looked and could then see it was his interpretation of rocks. One doesn’t think of rocks in their age and solidity to be moving objects yet Handell has managed to convey movement. Part of how he does this is dividing the picture plane into unequal thirds with the middle third given over to much of the detail. The divisions of space move diagonally across the rectangle – this in itself suggests movement. The whole thing appears to be moving outward from and around a central point (at the bottom right corner). This circular moment is enhanced by the addition of pastel lines and marks that are rounded, for instance the line and pastel strokes on the far left. It’s as if we are viewing the track of a propeller. And that’s interesting because the title includes the word ‘dihedral’ (which I had to look up!) which means “having or formed by two planes”. Certainly rocks can be described that way. It’s also a word associated with aeronautics (to do with intersecting planes) so the propeller analogy seems to be fitting. You could also consider the idea of the earth moving around a central axis with the rocks a small part of the puzzle echoing that movement.

As always, Handell’s colour use is inspiring. The rocks are muted yet appear colourful in a combination of mauves, blues, and reds, with nicks of turquoise and olive green and cream. It’s a work where light mid-values dominate with a few dark lines and shapes of cracks and crevices that accent the whole.

Handell’s painting is a reminder that beauty is everywhere when one takes the time to look closely at the world. The two planes of the title could also refer to a worldly plane and a spiritual one because in nature we certainly are close to the sacred.

See more of Handell’s work here.


June’s Unique Pastels: Virginia Unseld, "Radiance," pastel on UART paper, size unknown
Virginia Unseld, “Radiance,” pastel on UART paper, size unknown
From the pattern of rocks, we go to the pattern of trees. Virginia Unseld has taken what seems like an ordinary scene and given it a place of memory and importance. The painting is also a study of the cools and warms of winter whites. It’s a snowy picture and yet I feel more the warmth of life in the sun drenched trees than the cold of the temperatures. Unseld has simplified the view of nature into vertical lines against a space divided horizontally into three unequal areas – snow, trees, sky. The pattern of trees appears random, just as they would be in nature. And yet their placement is intentional with one group taking up two thirds of the space, thickly clustered, while the remaining third is a stand of three unevenly spaced trees and the space around them. The cast shadows of the group on the right retain the vertical movement of the trees while the ones on the left are diagonal, providing some respite from the many verticals and helping us move into the picture.

This is a high key painting where only small flecks on bark and thinly scratched lines of the occasional small branch provide any real darks. The only other dark (and you can hardly call it that) is the wave of background deciduous trees that are barely darker than the birch trees in the foreground – just that bit darker to set off the whites of the trunks in front.

Human presence is noticeably absent – no structures, no footsteps, no smoke in the distance. Instead we just have a glorious abstraction of nature. I would love to know what this view looks like at other times of the year. To see more of Unseld’s work, check her website.



June’s Unique Pastels: Mark Fitzgerald, "North Norfolk, North Walsham," pastel, 11 7/8 x 15 3/4 in (30 x 40 cm)
Mark Fitzgerald, “North Norfolk, North Walsham,” pastel, 11 7/8 x 15 3/4 in (30 x 40 cm)
I love this simple view. The paper is divided in two between land and sky with a division between the two expanses marked by the line of faraway dark trees. Unlike the piece above, here the hand of humankind is evident – farmland plowed and planted and indications of buildings in the distance.

The large spaces are marked with activity – the diagonal furrow lines move us quickly into the painting while the sky is active with clouds that furl and unfurl. The piece is light yet full of colour with pastel strokes of greens, yellows, blues and reds all applied briskly and with energy. In the foreground, scrubby pieces of grasses are indicated, the kind you find at the edge of agricultural fields.

This painting feels like a single moment in time and yet it has the feeling of a scene spied from a moving car as it speeds by the landscape. It recalls that feeling of spotting a view that I thought would make a good painting yet when I stop to set up, the view I saw isn’t there. That’s because what I’d seen was actually a composite of many views perceived from a moving vehicle. And so there’s no way of recreating what I’d observed in a moving car by standing still to paint it. This painting feels like that composite view from a car.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a website for Mark Fitzgerald.


June’s Unique Pastels: Sandra Burshell, "What Could Have Been," pastel on UART paper,
Sandra Burshell, “What Could Have Been,” pastel on UART paper,
I love the dichotomy of this piece by Sandra Burshell where the spirited mark-making contradicts the wistful scene. A woman sits on her own starring out the window. She appears to be deep in her own thoughts perhaps pondering a past or a future. And what about the present? Although the barely sketched in chair offers the possibility of a second person, there’s only a place laid for one. The woman sips from a glass of water rather than drinking wine or a cocktail. Has she been stood up? Does she have regrets (as suggested by the title)? There are many story possibilities.

The composition is divided in half vertically marked along the way by the red points of shoe, skirt, cheek, and a object hanging on the wall. Although the woman’s head is slap bang in the centre of the painting and might threaten to keep us locked there, our eyes travel around the piece for clues as to what this picture has to tell us.

Burshell has described the woman’s expression and posture with brilliant economy. The same goes for the room which is given just enough delineation for us to put the bits together. Vigorous marks are scribbled and hatched across the paper surface and one might wonder how they resolve into a painting. And yet they do! Half close your eyes and the underlying value structure is plainly revealed. At the same time, notice the delicate shifts between areas where the light streams in and the dark corners. There’s a dreamy shimmering quality of light and colours – pale greens and blues and yellows and pinks all lightened with overlays of light creams. Immerse yourself in this painting – enjoy the pastel marks, textures, and colours and, at the same time, ponder the narrative.

See more of Burshell’s work here.


June’s Unique Pastels: Sharon Wilson, "Monochromatic Women on the Beach," pastel, 19 x 25 in
Sharon Wilson, “Monochromatic Women on the Beach,” pastel, 19 x 25 in
I kept coming back to this painting as I selected my ten choices. It appears to be a contemporary take on the idea of the three graces (think Raphael, Botticelli, and Rubens). Rather than the beauty, youth, and charm of three (white) women, we see three middle-aged, worn, awkwardly posed (black) women. They stand in sand by the sea dressed in plain white shifts, shapeless coverings that negate their femininity. Yet a breeze blows, and the fabric moves and fits itself over the bulging curves of womanly breasts, stomach, and buttocks.

One woman seems to hang laundry on the line yet it’s only a small white object – a handkerchief or perhaps a baby’s diaper or even a flag of surrender. Another woman bends over. At first glance we may think she reaches for more laundry to hang but there’s no basket in front of her. Instead, she reveals and offers herself in an inelegantly erotic way – woman for sex. Her face is hidden – anonymous – and with that comes a feeling of resignation and submission. The third woman looks on, dress bunched up against her body. She could be looking at the white object being hung on the line but at closer inspection, she seems to be looking out beyond this scene. Is this all there is she seems to ask. Is there hope on the horizon? Water symbolizing life renewed as well as reflection and introspection seems an applicable reading here.

The simple complementary palette of orange browns and blues completed with blacks and whites, puts our attention on the content rather than the form. The painting is primarily light except for the punctuation of the women’s legs, arms, and heads. There’s a contemporary feel to the work in its starkness. These women aren’t individuals but instead represent all women and their state of life in the world. Certainly there are no signs of men except as viewers of the painting.

See more of Sharon Wilson’s work on her website.



June’s Unique Pastels: Aurelio Rodríguez López, "Figs," pastel on board, 13 3/4 x 13 3/4 in (35 x 35 cm)
Aurelio Rodríguez López, “Figs,” pastel on board, 13 3/4 x 13 3/4 in (35 x 35 cm)
If you’ve ever tasted a fig, you can taste it looking at this painting! Various varieties of figs sit on a stark white platform and in front of an unembellished backdrop of warm beige. The sharpness of the table edge and the flat smoothness of the wall set off the curves and glow of nature’s bounty. Everything is painted in perfect detail. There’s something about it that reminds me of Renaissance paintings of still life. Certainly there are no Baroque qualities visible especially those of 17th century Dutch paintings with their added objects marking mortality or the passage of time (e.g. smoke, hourglass, rotting fruit, insects, skulls, musical instruments, water droplets or bubbles, burning candles, books). The setting reminds me of Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit but again, with none of the Baroque characteristics of that painting. Instead we have just figs.

So is this painting purely about figs? Figs have the blatant symbolism of abundance and sexuality. Frequently the sliced-in-half fig by the design of seed arrangement and lush redness is compared to female genitalia. But in this painting, López turns the seedy inside away from us as if to nullify the erotic connotation (this despite the rather phallic protrusion of the fig stem behind).

A different interpretation could be the concept of outsider and difference. Most of the figs are of the green variety. There are only two dark figs – one that stands alone, the other cut open to reveal the fruit’s delicious inside. Those that are different from us may be the same on the inside or may offer us goodness if we take the time to look below the surface.

Or perhaps this is a beautiful painting of figs. Full stop.

To see more of Aurelio Rodríguez López’s work, click here.



June’s Unique Pastels: Katherine Irish, "Floating on Air," pastel on UART paper, size unknown
Katherine Irish, “Floating on Air,” pastel on UART paper, size unknown
At first glance, I thought this was an abstract painting. It wasn’t until I looked closer and saw the strip of land below that all of a sudden the context of landscape was apparent. It’s that barest amount of land that anchors us and permits us to understand the enormity of the view. Darkness moves from top left diagonally across the paper in the form of roiling clouds. The diagonal is completed by the falling rain which touches the dark strip of land at the base of the painting. Such a simple composition but an anything but simple painting. The values range from the darkest darks to the glowing light where the sun has set. Violet blacks and warm greys supply the foil for the intensity of yellows and reds.

Our eyes move into the picture over the undulating curves of the rough-edged storm clouds saturated with the colours of the setting sun. We end in the darkness of a rain-filled cloud that then gives up its load as indicated by the vertical lines of precipitation that move us earthward. We take in the varying greys of receding clouds until we detect distant hills and finally encounter the dark silhouette of a nearer hillside which leads us left along the tiny bit of land we can see. Above us the sky glows with what seems like an inner light. And this luminous atmosphere guides us upward back to the red ripples of clouds.

This painting is obviously about the glory of nature and how it’s there for us everyday if only we take a moment to stop and be still with it. See more of Katherine Irish’s work on her website.


And there you have June’s unique pastels!

I’d love to know what you think of the paintings and what I wrote about each. Am I way off base or can you agree with some of what I said? Do tell me what you think of June’s unique pastels by leaving a comment.



Drawing class for Absolute Beginners

I’m delighted to be offering a one-day drawing class for absolute beginners at the Peninsula Gallery in Sidney BC on Sunday 23 July. There’s only room for eight participants so if you know anyone who may be interested in learning to draw, please forward the info to them. Click here for more info and to register.


Croatia in September!

If you haven’t made holiday plans for the fall why not join me for a pastel workshop on the beautiful Istrian Peninsula the first week in September? It’s gonna be FANTASTIC!! Click here for all the details.




And that’s it for this blog. Don’t forget to leave a comment about June’s unique pastels!


Until next time,

~ Gail



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36 thoughts on “June’s Unique Pastels – All Manner Of Subjects And Styles In Pastel”

  1. I know, how can it be July already?! And, once again I am stunned with the beauty and skill of the blog entries. Oh myyy. Also your commetary is educational and helps me learn how to read a painting. Thanks.

    1. Glad you enjoyed going through this month’s selections Carol. I find images all over the web – mostly on Facebook but sometimes through referrals that get me to websites, sometimes just cruising about. I usually collect between 50 and 80 pieces and then have the tough job of whittling down to ten choices and then saying something about them!

  2. Lopéz is incredible. I think they did a piece about him in Pratique des Arts? Those figs! It’s the kind of painting, like Van Gogh’s sunflowers, when you see a fig or a sunflower, you never will see it the same way again. I guess that’s what art is about–revelation.
    Thanks you!

  3. There were so many I liked in this selection, and I’ll study them again. Sandra Burshell always inspires and that is a particularly nice piece. I’ve learned of some new artists through these pics, so thanks for that! And I appreciated your insights; always great to hear. Thank you for your work.

  4. Again, we have been taken on a thoroughly enjoyable journey through the eyes of some great pastel artists. Love your critique of each work Gail. Congratulations to the artists whose work has been selected for the month of June.

  5. Enjoyed the diversity and the commentary. Know 2 of the artists personally, that makes it even more special. Thanks for your support of the pastel medium. Liked viewing your IAPS videos last month too.

    1. That’s great to hear Karole! I do try hard to include not only work that moves me but also work that covers a range of styles and subjects. Glad you enjoyed the IAPS videos too 😀

  6. I am so flattered that one of my images was selected for this post! Thanks very much, Gail, for including my painting in this impressive line-up. I always enjoy enjoy reading your comments and interpretations on a painting. You have a lovely, articulate way of leading us in to explore!! Keep up the great work.

      1. I love Michele’s underwater paintings, especially the one that was recently at the FPO show at PPSCC on Cape Cod. I would have chosen it “Best of Show.” (Though the judge had quite a job choosing the prizewinners.) Thanks for including Michele’s painting in your choices for June.

  7. As usual, you’ve led me to yet another artists’s blog to admire and learn from through your decision to highlight them in your blog! And I’m always enlightened by your interpretations and descriptions of works. It’s nice to know that everyone has a unique voice, or I should say, can feel free to express themselves within their chosen medium(s).

        1. Sandra that is soooo wonderful to hear! I always hope to bring the viewer in, to look more closely at a piece. Love that you think my writing adds to the piece!

        2. One of the things I love about pastels is the way you can layer the colors and create a gemlike impression. Sandra’s work took my breath away. Thanks for including this beautiful piece.

        3. Dana isn’t it something when, as you say, a piece takes your breath away? So many of these pieces do that for me.

      1. OK, talked me into it! Sharon Wilson, in Bermuda. Hers is an inspiring story. To be fair, everyone has that to some degree; it’s just that her painting jumped out at me and I was eager to learn more about the maker.

    1. You are so welcome Aurelio! I am very glad that the words of analysis resonated with you. Your work is stunning and it was a choice between this and a figure painting. But somehow “Figs” spoke to me as a piece to talk about.

  8. Dear Gail,
    Thank you very much for including me in your June post. I appreciate your comments. One of the reasons why I love to paint the sky is because of the abstractions. Your comments are right on target!
    Katherine Irish

    1. Katherine, it’s a treat to know that what I’ve said about your piece was on the right track and pleased you. It’s a powerful piece!!

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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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