Awesome pastels for April and May

Awesome Pastels From April And May

Oh. My. Gosh. What a crazy wonderful few weeks of travel and teaching in Spain then Ontario! I’m back home but it’s taken me a few days to get back into the swing of things. And now it’s time for another monthly round-up of awesome pastels. And yes I did gather images even while I was away having a heavenly time with students – couldn’t help myself. Once again though, selecting only 10 awesome pastels proved a challenge but I did it. And here they are!


Awesome pastels: Benjamin Hope, "New Mediums," pastel, 21 x 17 in (53 x 43 cm)
Benjamin Hope, “New Mediums,” pastel, 21 x 17 in (53 x 43 cm)

Benjamin Hope has taken the most ordinary of bottles and cans – glass, metal, reflections, labels – and seen the beauty that lies there. He’s taken this mundane collection and reflected its previously unseen beauty back to us the viewer. Through the vision and technique of the artist, now these objects are eye-stopping and mesmerizing.

A painting of primarily greys and browns, these neutral colours are sparked by the light coming through amber liquids. (Greys and browns are made exciting by this artist!) There’s a warm feeling despite the coolness of metal and the clear uncoloured liquids. The varying heights and widths of bottles along with the various colours of contents from clear to amber to a glowing red-brown, create a traditional triangular composition. The white lid at the tip of the triangle pulls us in while the black lids and lower white one, lead us around the painting. The inclusion of a can and also what looks like a plastic container of brush restorer break up the repetition of bottles.

There is detail and yet not. Ridges on the bottle caps are revealed for instance as is the faintest logo indicating the Gamblin brand but only if you know it. White labels don’t tell us much but do contrast with the dark glow of the table and the middle-value neutral background. The artist manipulates the edges of everything, pushing and pulling us through the painting, while at the same time reminding us that this is a painting. Although this is a picture of something (bottles and a can), on closer inspection, Hope’s mark-making becomes evident. He uses colours in close values to layer and agitate the surface. You can see an example of this in the background and also the table’s surface. Grey circular lines denote old bottle stains on the table. 

You can see more of Benjamin Hope’s work on his website.



Awesome pastels: Michael Norman, "On the Beach," pastel, size unknown
Michael Norman, “On the Beach,” pastel, size unknown

This painting is a rectangle of colour that transitions from blue through to its complement orange. These colours are muted for the most part. The transition between the two is gentle and runs diagonally across the piece, just as the water does as it meets the land. The scattering of figures throughout the piece sticks to this colour scheme of various blues and oranges.

Much of the painting is open space taken up by water and sand. The whole area is littered with small marks which turn out to be people scattered across the beach – families with kids, solo walkers, friends. There are also marks in the sand itself – words carved out, sandcastles built, the remains of footsteps sunk in the sand. The muted nature of the piece reveals a bright overcast day, with light that creates distinct shadows yet doesn’t blow-out all the colour.

There is much reason to linger here: to watch the water as it rolls across the sand in an uneven and random pattern (but intentionally composed by the artist); to create stories for each of the groups of figures; to hear the cries of delight as kids explore, discover, build, dig and run; to lounge in its dreaminess. The whole painting harks back to times past, of perfect times remembered from our childhood.

Check out more of Michael Norman’s work here.



Awesome pastels: Denise Presnell, "Watermarks with Leaves," pastel on paper, 35 x 23 1/2 in
Denise Presnell, “Watermarks with Leaves,” pastel on paper, 35 x 23 1/2 in

From the calm of the previous painting, we come to this one by Denise Presnell. Here we encounter the simplicity and also the complexity of reflections on a ruffled patch of water. It’s all complicated by the scattering of leaves on the water’s surface, leaves that blend and become one and yet not quite one with the reflections. The leaves swirl about on top of the water over the larger shapes of the reflections that reveal the water’s surface.

The painting is comprised of greens, blues, and the warmth of orange-red browns. The leaves are light against the dense dark blue in the lower third of the painting. What appears to be a white stick floats diagonally across the painting. At first not noticed, once it is, you realize that without it, the painting loses some of its vitality. (Cover it with your finger and see what happens.)

This painting is obviously about mark-making. Short staccato lines vibrate against a deep red paper. Light green marks move us by their diagonal direction down the right side of the painting. We circle around to the leaves, helped by the diagonal line of the stick. The fluttering vertical tracings of the leaves lead us upward and we are caught then by the swirls of warm brown moving with and around the blue of reflected sky. We are then swallowed into the mass of lines and shapes and colours that describe the larger parts of the tree and bush reflections in this merging of the natural and abstract.

You can see more of the artist’s work on her website.



Awesome pastels: Isabelle Lim, "Discovery #12," pastel on paper, 22 1/2 x 31 in
Isabelle Lim, “Discovery #12,” pastel on paper, 22 1/2 x 31 in

Again we have the story of a reflection. This time we enter a fairytale dimension of reds and blues, where the edges between solid matter and reflections are difficult to determine. There’s a mystical, dreamlike feeling to the painting. Dark colours frame the light in the centre – a place to ponder hope.

The large circular composition moves us around. Along the way, we encounter the slightly curving verticals of reflected tree trunks and the small delineations of sky shapes between the chaos of small branches. Bright pink on the upper right is balanced by the deep blues below, the strong verticals of reflected tree trunks, and also the darkness on the left of the painting. The day comes to an end and the setting sun illuminates a couple of branches and glints off the water. A feeling of peace and quiet settles. We are guided away from the negative impulses and events of our day. This place offers solitude and a place to mediate.

Mark-making is kept to a minimum so we can surrender to the illusion. Are we standing over the pond, or perhaps, in a dreamlike state, do we float above it like some figure from a Chagall painting? The illusion here is one created from dreams or a semi-awake state. The title relates to discovery. Is this a discovery of the artist and her process and technique? Or is the discovery left up to us?

Check out more of Isabelle Lim’s work here.



Awesome pastels: David Brammeld, "Three Winter Trees," pastel with graphite, 31 1/2 x 41 3/4 in (80 x 106 cm)
David Brammeld, “Three Winter Trees,” pastel with graphite, 31 1/2 x 41 3/4 in (80 x 106 cm)

Here we have a craggy crawling creepiness of tree branches against a sky. They recall for me the illustrations in a Hans Christian Anderson book of my childhood in which trees with their tentacle-like branches set the scariest of forest scenes. (After a bit of research, I believe the illustrations were by Jiří Trnka. Look at this frightening one he did for The Nightingale. I remember it!)

Yet there is beauty in these dancing extensions. Three naked trees show off their individual patterns in dark silhouette against a pale winter sky. They show their true structure and selves, bare now of their colourful garment of leaves. Beyond them lies the only colour in the painting – pale grey greens and warm yellows of dried grasses. The closest tree, in the curve of its trunk, swoops us around to the others. The artist has inserted a bush on the right side of the painting and it’s the thin upward branches that call us back to the right side of the painting. We slow down to take in the whole image. Remove the bush and we have no reason to linger.

The simple scene reminds us that views surround us and painting possibilities are everywhere. David Brammeld has focused on the goal of showing us these three trees and their place along a roadside that borders open fields. He has deliberately left out anything in the distance that would distract us from this intention. Notice though that we have a hint of humanity revealed in the barely indicated fence posts. These add a grounding and story to the picture helping us place it in context.

See Brammeld’s website for more of his work.



Awesome pastels: Janine Baldwin, "Grasslands," pastel, charcoal, and graphite on paper, 13 1/2 x 22 in (34 x 56 cm)
Janine Baldwin, “Grasslands,” pastel, charcoal, and graphite on paper, 13 1/2 x 22 in (34 x 56 cm)

Another vista, this time unblocked by trees. We move into a vast landscape of field and grass. In the distance a dark line reveals something but it’s too far to tell what that is. The enormity of the sky and land are the tale told here. And the simplicity of the landscape Janine Baldwin expresses allows for, indeed engenders, a feeling to mark and express it. So the painting also becomes about that process of expression, about the textures of what is seen. Look at the variety of marks – scribbles and vigorous lines, soft blended areas scored by thin swooping white lines created by erasing, layers of textural exploratory hatching.

The overhead lines in the sky keep us contained in the painting and move us to the right side where the agitation of vertical marks brings us forward to the front. There we can look closely at the various swathes and tufts of grasses, moving every which way. And is that a path running diagonally through the painting? Horizontal strokes created by erasing imagine farrowed fields. And then we discover the dark, broken marks in the distance accentuated by the light that surrounds them. What are we looking at? Distant copses of trees? Low dwellings? rolling hills? Craggy boundary walls? In the end, it doesn’t matter. For of importance is the how of the painting (the pieces that make it up – line, shape, texture, value) rather than what. The landscape acts as a platform on which to perform artistic expression.

You can see more of Baldwin’s work here.



Awesome pastels: Mark Price, "Farm Garden," Terry Ludwig pastels on textured paper, 11 x 14 in
Mark Price, “Farm Garden,” Terry Ludwig pastels on Thai Gossamer Mulberry paper, 11 x 14 in

When I first encountered pastel pieces by Mark Price, I knew that one of these days, a painting of his would end up in the monthly round-up. And today is the day! Here Mark is painting the reality of landscape but the texture of the paper he uses distorts that reality into a series of spaces within a grid. All that we have is the reality of the painting itself – small squares of colour that, put together, coalesce into an image that reads ‘landscape with sky and land’. It’s a bit like looking through a window on which rest droplets of water. Do we look at the droplets, or do we look at the scene beyond?

I find myself moving back and forth between the illusion of space and the painting’s surface, that is, between the illusion of a 3D reality of landscape and the physical 2D reality of pastel on paper. When I surrender to the illusion, I enjoy the landscape of sky, dark tree shapes, a field filled with the colours of various plants, and a shadow that runs across the forward plane. Once I become aware of the surface texture, I then enjoy the nubs of colour and the strokes within each part of the grid – a patchwork of colours that are an abstract delight all on their own without the fallback of a landscape subject. The colours run through a gamut of greens and reds tempered by blues and blue greys. The abstract nature of the piece is also seen in the vertical bands of different values – light/dark/light/dark – and the large colourful shapes created by them.

This is an unusual and innovative take on pastel painting and I look forward to seeing where Mark Price takes this experimentation!

Sadly, I could find no website for this artist. [Edited 15 June 18 – here is Mark’s website.]



Awesome pastels: Bess Avery, "Tropical Garden," pastel, 25 x 31 in (63.5 x 79 cm)
Bess Avery, “Tropical Garden,” pastel, 25 x 31 in (63.5 x 79 cm)

Ahhhh the joy that flowers bring! This playful painting is colourful and full of movement, describing the exuberence of plants one would see in the tropics. Rather than collect them in a vase, Bess Avery takes the plants and lines them up so we can enjoy each on its own as well as their part in the collective. She gives us the essence of each plant rather than its photographic nature. It’s as if she is creating botanical drawings but has taken a swerving left turn towards abstraction.

The flowers appear almost in a random pattern and yet there is a plan. The orange of various flower heads leaps us across the top of the painting, then bright yellow leaves backed by a complementary purple, yank us downward. Quickly though, circular lines swoop us over to the pops of red beads and the blades of light coloured leaves that shoot us upward to the echoing ones behind the orange bloom. There’s no sitting passively here!

Shapes and lines inspired by the leaves and blossoms of plant life create a wild and animated pattern dominated by oranges and blue-greens. I can hear the sound of pastel worked over the surface, can feel the scratchiness as the medium is applied to the paper. The initial feeling is one of flat expanses of colour but look more closely and you’ll see the subtle variations of shades and marks, of crisp and soft edges. Note too that this isn’t a small painting but one that will take up a nice chunk of wall space.

In this painting, I find fun and laughter and a love of life as well as an underlining love of nature.

I could find no website for this artist and sadly, in my research, I did find that the artist had died earlier this year.


Awesome pastels: Lisa Gleim, "Onward and Upward: The Artist's Daughter," pastel, 18 x 12 in
Lisa Gleim, “Onward and Upward: The Artist’s Daughter,” pastel, 18 x 12 in

Pure joy! This portrait takes an unusual perspective: an upward view of a girl with all the possibilities open to her. She’s not yet old enough to realize the dangers of life but old enough to be ready to explore her world. She stands in or by water, at the beach, pretty happy about something. She doesn’t look at us but turns to look outward. Is she looking at a parent perhaps? Or is she looking confidently and innocently into her future?

The artist has used a palette of mostly cool greens, blues, and red-purples. We cannot help but look at her face and head with its dark hair standing out against the light sky. We might never leave it except for two things: the wee dark bands of water at lower right and the sleeve of the dress, both of which pull us away from her face. The lime green colour of the backlit sleeve illuminates the whole painting. Remove that and also the highlighted orange of her hair, and suddenly the painting deadens.

This young girl is at a beach. The sand dunes behind her anchor the figure as well as give us a framework and context. From these horizontal shapes, we can move upward to explore the nuances of colour and shading in the dress. We then slip up to the embroidered collar and back to the girl’s gleeful face, a face from which shines the enchanting innocence of youth.

Much of the figure is in shadow but Lisa Gleim has given us colour rather than darkness, given us a metaphor for the exhilaration and pluckiness of youth rather than the greyed, tarnished, and worn look of adulthood.

Check Lisa Gleim’s website for more of her work.



Awesome pastels: Tom Coates, "Model in the Studio," pastel, 28 1/4 x 41 in (72 x 104 cm)
Tom Coates, “Model in the Studio,” pastel, 28 1/4 x 41 in (72 x 104 cm)

A woman sits and looks out at us, her expression relaxed and what else? Knowing? Wistful? Resigned? Bored? Questioning? Behind her stands a man. At first glance, I thought it might be the artist who has painted himself standing behind her. But the perspective didn’t make sense. And then there’s the less distinct and more gestural quality of the figure. To the far left, the outline of a young girl has been drawn on a painting surface. So does this mean the man too is a painting that stands behind the woman? Is he on a separate ground or are he and the young girl linked in the same painting? The carryover of red suggests this may be the case.

On the right side of the pastel, we see a framed work that hangs over a desk. The illusion of reality makes more sense here. But then there’s that dark rectangle taking up the lower right of the painting. It doesn’t make sense until we move our eyes left and it becomes part of the settee on which the woman sits. And still the mystery unfolds. Look more closely and we see a white rectangle under the painting. Are we in a gallery then, where paintings are exhibited and sold? And yet, we have unfinished work to the left of the painting. The alternative is that we are seeing a view of the artist’s studio where his work, in various stages, is on display.

The woman divides the piece in half, an interesting compositional device. We look at her looking at us and then slide to either side, exploring each of the areas, areas that in some ways don’t connect easily. This painting delights us by the subject and marks as well as by the questions it engenders. The figure of the woman is beautifully described – the position of her hands, the slight slump of her body, the subtle tilt of her head. Then look at the confident and varied marks that create this figure – hatching, cross-hatching, side strokes, squiggles – all of them somehow working together in a painting that fascinates and calls for longer viewing.

I couldn’t find a website for this artist but you can see more of his work here.



Awesome pastels yes? Which one’s your favourite and why? Did any of these surprise you? I’d love to hear from you so please leave a comment about these awesome pastels!

Until next time (when I have a super guest for you!)

~ Gail



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14 thoughts on “Awesome Pastels From April And May”

  1. Love when you do a round up pastel paintings for your blog. You always pick out a great selection of different pieces to make me see how I can stretch as an artist. Thank you!

    1. That’s so wonderful to hear Anne! And yes, I try to collect a number of different paintings that show a variety of ways of working to, as you say, stretch your ideas of being an artist. Thanks!

    1. Thanks so much Sari! It’s always challenging to whittle down the pieces I’ve collected to only ten. It often comes down to having something revealing to say about them.

  2. My favorites are the ones by Denise Presnell and Mark Price simply because of the different techniques used. I enjoyed them all though! Thanks Gail.

  3. Yay!! You’re back!! Four of these paintings really stood out to me…. New Mediums, so skillfully done, which is greatly enhanced by your analysis. Then, On the Beach because I’m really loving figures these days. He even got in some sand writing in the lower right hand corner. Next is Three Winter Trees, with their amazing detail and the palette perfectly describing a winter day. And lastly, I absolutely love Onward and Upward. That one just makes me feel good, and with your description, I was able to appreciate it even more. Thanks for everything as always!!

    1. Hah hah thanks Ruth! And thanks so much for sharing your favs and why. I agree, Benjamin Hope’s piece is mesmerizing. I keep being drawn back to it, how those bottles sit there in space and make me believe I could pick one of them up. And Michael Norman’s piece is so soft and telling. And yes, love that sand writing in the corner! Glad you also like David Brammeld’s pastel of those trees. I do like the crisp quality that lends itself to a winter’s day. And then there’s Lisa Gleim’s portrait of her daughter, that as you say, just makes you feel good!!

  4. Really appreciate your generosity of time and spirit in not only doing the research to find these artists, but then to write such thoughtful and illuminating commentaries! Really look forward to these every month-thank you!

    1. Thank you so much Melissa!! I keep saying it but it’s true: hearing your reaction really does keep me going and producing these 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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