We are well into the New Year but we’re still at the start with these picks from January. Many pieces have a subdued feeling. I don’t know if this is a result of the number of subdued paintings I saw and collected over the month or due to my own recent subdued feeling (see last blog). Whatever the reason, enjoy this collection of ten striking pastels!


January's Striking Pastels: Desmond O'Hagan, "Urban Lights, Parisian Bridge," pastel, 16 x 20 in
Desmond O’Hagan, “Urban Lights, Parisian Bridge,” pastel, 16 x 20 in

Ahhh Paris at twilight, the perfect time between day and night when it’s still light enough to see the blue of the sky and make out shapes but dark enough that inside and outside lights are being switched on and warming the scene. We see the attractive contours of European buildings as backdrop to the movement of people across one of Paris’s many bridges. A luscious saturated blue/orange complementary colour scheme delights our eyes. Blues run the gamut from warm turquoises all the way to cooler blue into warm mauves. Green blue sky reflects off the road and bridge railing while cooler blues fill the pavement. The warm colours of whites, yellows and oranges jump off the paper.

Desmond O’Hagen is a master of edges –  for instance, the one person who stands still is defined by a hard edge while the rest of the people, shown with soft edges, make their way to wherever they are going. Soft edges dominate where buildings meet the sky suggesting distance and damp air. The other places of stillness – pavement, road, railing – are also rendered with a hard edge. Slashes of pastel strokes suggest windows and details on buildings and delineate roof lines but notice that no edge remains hard for its whole length.

One man stands starring out over the river. His head seems to turn towards the building – is he thinking of someone in the far off window? We follow his glance and encounter the chaos of colour and light around the buildings. We move right to explore further, forgetting about the man and his thoughts. We encounter more lights, and more people and move forward with them as the move towards us. They will pass us in a second so we look left and see the railings of the bridge with the river lit behind, and again, we see the standing man.

See more of Desmond O’Hagen’s work on his website.


January's Striking Pastels: Natasha Isenhour, "Stealing Light," pastel on board, 12 x 24 in
Natasha Isenhour, “Stealing Light,” pastel on board, 12 x 24 in

We move to another scene suspended in a moment between darkness and light. There’s little brightness left in the overcast sky to illuminate the landscape so colours are muted. And yet slashes of warm reds of what may be sumac trees allow some variety and relief in the unrelenting greyness. Yet look closely and you will find much subtle colour here. Soft mauves speak of dirt and leaves while greyed ochres and small splashes of soft reds create clumps of grasses. Look at the clouds hanging overhead full of warm browns, turquoise, and yellow. Pink and pale blue colour the distant point of light.

This one-point perspective – of road tracks with trees and shrubbery on either side – leads us from where we stand looking at the landscape into the far distance. The track, wet with water after the passing rains, reflects the now breaking up clouds. It’s this sharply indicated road that punches up this landscape. and we are inexorably drawn to follow it. Where does it go? Evidently this route zigzags somewhere but we have to follow it to find out where it goes. The path is bright, the way is clear. Are we brave enough to take the journey though the way may be rough and uneven? The lightening sky ahead offers hope so why not take this path less travelled?

Click here to see more of Natasha Isenhour’s work.


January's Striking Pastels: Marie-Pierre Le Sellin, "White Light on the Aiguillon's Bay, France," pastel on Pastelcard (LaCarte), 40 x 60 cm
Marie-Pierre Le Sellin, “White Light on the Aiguillon’s Bay, France,” pastel on Pastelcard (LaCarte), 40 x 60 cm

A very similar composition to the two pieces above, here a road leads to open water, a river perhaps. Marie-Pierre Le Sellin shows us the beauty in this stark unpeopled marsh. Water and ice spar with each other as temperatures transition between frozen and melting. A simple colour scheme of blues and ochres puts all our attention on the details of the place – the crusty edges of the tyre tracks partly frozen, the strange forms of frozen marsh land, the irregular scattering of poles.

A high horizon gives plenty of opportunity to examine the cracks and rolls of the stark landscape. In the distance, a thin line of ruffled water is edged by a strip of flat land beyond, land with a few scrubby plants. The sky has that whited-out midday winter feeling, a time of day that creates only the slightest of shadows but enough to define the forms of this landscape. The road itself takes up a good third of the painting. As we make our way away from the water, the road swoops to the left and the land shapes angle diagonally away from it and we are led to the water beyond. The seemingly random placement of poles along the road and in the water itself somehow adds to the lonely aspect here. Where are we and what is this road with no destination used for?

Snow drifts on the other side of the track is almost melted and even in this lonely place we can be glad that the temperatures are rising and we can be hopeful for the coming warmth of spring.

See more of Marie-Pierre Le Sellin’s work here.


January's Striking Pastels: Donna McDonnell, "Wags," pastel, 9 x 12 in
Donna McDonnell, “Wags,” pastel, 9 x 12 in

Speaking of quiet, a dog (a lab?) leans his head on the arm of furniture and stares out the window. Is it waiting for its human to appear? Grey around the muzzle suggests aging and maybe this spot is where this dog spends much of its time resting. This might explain the blanket thrown over the furniture with allowance, and encouragement perhaps, for the dog to spend time there.

Greys and blacks and whites of the dog and the white of the window are set against the green/red combo of curtain and blanket. A simple colour scheme that keeps us focused on the subject at the heart of this painting. Still with time, we discover subtle detail in all the parts – the soft fuzziness of the pink blanket, the swirls in the tapestry-like fabric of the curtains, the softness and coarseness of the dog’s hair, the dampness of nose, and the glassiness of the eye.

The composition too is a simple one, almost abstracted, with various rectangular shapes as the stage for the dog’s head. Interestingly, the dog’s eye is almost dead centre and lined up with the window frame but we don’t stay there. Instead we follow the direction of its gaze to end up at its nose. We follow the contour of its muzzle – mouth to jaw – and then move quietly over the blanket where we discover the turquoise in the canine’s collar. The vertical lines of the curtain lead us upward while the swirls show us the way back down to the dog’s head which, by the way, I want to reach out a stroke…

To see more of Donna McDonnell’s work, click here.


January's Striking Pastels: Julie Freeman, "Nestled," Unison pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes Touch, 8 1/4 x 11 3/4 in
Julie Freeman, “Nestled,” Unison pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes Touch, 8 1/4 x 11 3/4 in

From old age we come to to the possibility of new life. A nest of blue eggs sits tucked into the corner of a windowsill. The parents are away at the moment leaving the eggs unprotected and available for our inspection. Here’s another very simple colour scheme, this time of blues and warm browns. The blues of the eggs are picked up in the weathered blue paint of the window frame, and the ghostly blue objects on the other side of the glass. Various browns are found in the nest itself, and also the window frame and the sill. There are also hints of it in the objects inside.

The detail and textures of this painting keep the viewer mesmerized – the different nest materials of branches and reeds and the downy lining, the smooth matte surface of the eggs, the splitting wood beneath the nest, and the peeling paint on the frame behind it. The glass, divided into panes by black metal, has a frostiness to it that makes it difficult to discern what we’re looking at beyond.

We notice the nest first and then we see more as we move around the painting. The external features in the painting are illuminated and we make them out easily. Not so the interior. The barely defined objects leave us wondering what they are – I have a nagging feeling I should recognize them. And we then discover the skull lurking in the background. I enjoy the contrast between the brightness of an exterior existence and the possibilities of new life, and the dark of the unknown, barely seen, with death inevitably around the corner.

See more of Julie Freeman’s work on her website.


January's Striking Pastels: Marie Tippets, "The White Bowl," pastel on LaCarte paper, 12 x 9 in
Marie Tippets, “The White Bowl,” pastel on LaCarte paper, 12 x 9 in

From the cool mostly exterior painting above, we come to this painting soaked in warmth and abundance. The white bowl of the title is filled with freshly picked tangerines, complete with leaves. The bowl sits on melon-coloured damask cloth the design of which echoes the cut shapes in the bowl and the leaves of the fruit.

Once again we have a simple colour scheme  – almost monochromatic except for the accents of green in the leaves and the white of the bowl. The orange colour is found not only in saturated form in the tangerines and in quieter tones in the cloth but also faintly in the reflected colour on the white bowl. Look with artist eyes and you will see a myriad of subtle colours in the bowl – blue, yellow, and green accompany the orange colour. You’ll also see it in the hint of wood furniture on which this still life sits.

The entire arrangement forms a diamond shape with the horizontal line of the furniture cutting it in half. The bowl and fruit take up the top half while the cloth fills the lower part. You might think that all the detail above would keep our attention stuck there but the way the artist has rendered the pattern and sheen on the fabric calls to us to examine it carefully. The artist has strategically placed items to give us a path around the piece. The leaves, seemingly random, create the upper edges of the diamond while the leaf on the right points us down and attaches us to the rising design of leaves on the cloth. We see the lower edges of the diamond formed by the edge of cloth, fraying slightly on one border. The hint of furniture pulls us up to the left and there another leaf meets us to lead us though the painting again. The whole sits against a densely dark background which highlights the softly lit subject.

You can see more of Marie Tippets work here.


January's Striking Pastels: Emil Fu, "Portrait of the painting master Ren-ding Fang," Marie pastel on Chinese made sanded paper, 76 x 57 cm
Emil Fu, “Portrait of the painting master Ren-ding Fang,” Marie pastel on Chinese made sanded paper, 76 x 57 cm

From the clearly defined subject above we come to this ethereal portrait that honours a master painter. The man stands in front of his painting surface ready to make his mark. A master he may be but the portrait suggests a man of gentleness and wisdom with no airs or expectation of reverence from us. The muted colours chosen enhance this reading as does the softness of edge and the slight vignetting. The slight smile, the brow creased between eyebrows in concentration, the light reflected off the corner of his glasses, all add to our interpretation of the type of character this man has. The softness of the portrait also has us asking: is this person still in this reality or has he passed on?

The hands, such an important part of an artist’s being, are depicted with sensitivity. Within the tender rendering also comes power that comes with mastery. The hand on the left holds the artist’s tool with intention, making a mark. The other hand rests against the table and is indicated with just enough line for us to understand the pose. The white shirt and the white paper are designated with swipes of pastel and some linear strokes to illustrate fabric texture on the shirt. These are not what’s important – it’s the head and hands that we are guided to examine. The eyes of the painter take us to the left hand, poised. We drop to the paper and immediately make our way to the hand on the right where we are taken back to the head completing the triangle. The darkness of hair, eyes, brush, and small areas of shadow act as accents in the mostly middle and light value painting.

I couldn’t find a website for Emil Fu but you can check his Facebook Page to see more.


January's Striking Pastels: Michele Asby, "Jamel," Unison and Faber Castell pastels on Pastelmat Anthracite, 24 x 16 in
Michele Ashby, “Jamel,” Unison and Faber Castell pastels on Pastelmat Anthracite, 24 x 16 in

In strong contrast to the previous portrait, this one shows us an example of today’s youth. When I look at this portrait, I see young man with all his dreams and possibilities before him. His glasses tend to give an air of intellect while his clothing reveals somewhat of a rebellion against the establishment (as is part of the scheme of things for young people!).

As in previous paintings above, we encounter a simple colour scheme, this time based on the complements of purple and yellow balanced with black and white. The figure stands dark against an almost whited-out background where the light is too bright for us to make out much. The opposite is true of the figure where we see the textures of skin, and hair, fabric and glass. Details are precisely captured in facial features and clothing.

The painting has little middle value and instead is composed of darks and lights. Interestingly, youth often view the world in black and white without experience and time to see things more in the grey range. Socially, black and white also stands in for rules, beliefs, standards, expectations. This young man looks out into the world, clear-eyed and statuesque, with confidence and hope. Yet too there is a sense of worry, of apprehension even. Facing to the left as he is, we can imagine looking back at the past, a past in which only two hundred years ago slavery was the norm. I can’t help but think of that history when I look at this man with chest revealed and neck surrounded by white collar. As if to confirm my feelings, his eyes squint slightly. A black man stands against a white world and all that represents. Circles of light distort what we see in the distance. These circles are echoed in the shape of the glasses, an aid that we hope will allow him to see deeply and with compassion and understanding.

Check Michele Ashby’s website for more of her work.


January's Striking Pastels: Sharon Pomales Tousey, "Agnus Dei Omnes," pastel on Pastelboard, 36 x 24 in
Sharon Pomales Tousey, “Agnus Dei Omnes,” pastel on Pastelboard, 36 x 24 in

And here’s another portrait that gives us pause. A young girl stands in white dress with grey roses. She stands against a landscape of jungle and river, of mountains and sky. And also, she is surrounded by butterflies. There is no denying the statement made here by this unsettling image.

The girl is dressed in what might be a confirmation dress. This religious event partly marks the transition from childhood to adult – from the age of innocence to one of knowledge. She grasps roses the colour of which suggests a funeral rather than a confirmation. Her hair seems to be greying too, worried as she is at the state of the world, grown adult way too soon. Monarch butterflies fill the sky above her and a paradise-like landscape is her background. She pierces us with her gaze, questioning, defiant, adamant. There seems little doubt what she is thinking: You have brought us to this time when the environment is in in crisis. How will we change things? When will that happen? What will my life be like if we don’t act now? Do not sacrifice my existence and the earth for your comfort. Two butterflies flutter on either side of her. They appear to be asking her to be their mouthpiece, to tell us, her audience, about their destruction and slow disappearance.

Sharon Pomales Tousey has injected this painting with magic realism. With a meticulously realistic style she paints the richness of reality coupled with the fantastic elements of an unnatural reality of whispering butterflies and the plethora off others that fill the sky.

To see more of Sharon Pomales Tousey’s work, click here.


January's Striking Pastels: Mike Etie, "Selfie," pastel, 10 x 8 in
Mike Etie, “Selfie,” pastel, 10 x 8 in

Finally, we come to Mike Etie’s “Selfie.” This painting has the slight distortion that comes from working from a photo. And it absolutely works here! The exaggeration, along with other details (such as the jaunty angle of the cap and the trendy glass frames), tells us something of this man’s character – a person who is self-confident and uncaring of the opinion of others about him who lives life fully and with optimism.

The image gives the effect of fast work, of a direct approach. He gets down the outline first then adds colour in gestural strokes. He has an understanding of values and uses this opportunity to play with colour. Look at the way he uses various purples on cheek, on ear, below chin, and on his shirt. All these purples are balanced out by the bright yellow on the baseball cap. Although this is the only place in the piece where we find this pure yellow, it doesn’t dominate. We are too invested in the face to have our attention detoured by the colour splash. The cheek and nose are flooded with warm pinks, peaches, and a spike of orange. A zing of blue completes the cap. White and what looks like a very dark blue, along with the warm grey of the paper, complete the colour palette.

Etie looks upward and because he doesn’t look out at us, we can take all the time to gaze at him without embarrassment or timidity. The unusual and uncomplimentary angle has us looking up at his nose that rams forward as if pressed up against glass. We see his glasses (note there is no need to show the arms of the frame) and the pondering eyes. We notice the slightly scraggly beard of short pastel strokes with quick jottings of white to denote an unshaven jaw. With a few marks, Etie has given us all the information necessary.

Check out more of Mike Etie’s work on his website.


So that’s it for this month’s collection. You KNOW I love to hear from you so please feel free to let me know your favourites from these ten striking pastels, what you found unusual or surprising, or even if you disagree with what I have to say!


Until next time,

~ Gail


PS. I’m writing this from Martin’s Restaurant in La Manzanilla, Mexico watching the sunset!! Cheers to happy warm days!

(Click the link above to see some wonderful photos of the restaurant. If you are in La Manzanilla, be sure to eat here!)

Sunset from Martin’s Restaurant


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18 thoughts on “January’s Striking Pastels”

  1. What a fabulous collection. Love reading your descriptions. My favourite is Urban Lights Parisian Bridge. Your observations are ‘illuminating’. Thank s

  2. I am always amazed by the artists who can get such a precise sense of texture, such as in Marie Tippet’s piece as well as the incredible smooth surfaces of skin in several of the other pieces. I work in such a different manner and I think that’s why this approach just dumbfounds me.

    1. I know exactly what you mean Denise!! It’s quite extraordinary how they do it. Like you, I work quite differently. I am constantly amazed at the variety of artwork created with sticks of pigment!

  3. They are all great paintings, and in such different styles, but I must say that Desmond O’Hagan’s “Urban Lights, Parisian Bridge” was so evocative that I nearly booked a fight to Paris, my favorite city.

  4. Now that I’m catching up, I feel better 😉 . These are marvelous pastels. I love studying the paintings you feature here. They are always amazing to me.

  5. All excellent – but Urban Lights Parisian Bridge’s intense color is stunningly beautiful. It seeps into my soul like a precious dye that will never fade. My most sincere thanks – to Desmond O’Hagan and to you for providing access.

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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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