Whaaaaaaat? Another month gone by and that must mean it’s time for another round-up of remarkable pastels! Interestingly, most of these artists are from Britain – just the way things worked out this month. Also, I want you to note the size of the paintings – you may be surprised!

So let’s crack on with this month’s remarkable pastels!

Remarkable Pastels: Bob Last, "Liz on Eames Chair," pastel, 37 1/2 x 27 1/2 in (95 x 70 cm)
Bob Last, “Liz on Eames Chair,” pastel, 37 1/2 x 27 1/2 in (95 x 70 cm)

This large painting is tightly cropped. We are standing just beyond the ottoman looking at this nude woman who seems completely unaware of us. She sits happily in an iconic Eames chair. The comfort of the chair is read in her face and yet she doesn’t seem connected to the reality of the chair. She is beautifully observed and painted but without naturalistic colour. The chair we read as a realistic interpretation of this luxury furniture yet the figure, with its unnatural colouring, doesn’t appear to sit in the same dimension. I love this mysterious tension! 

There’s something about the piece that reminds me of women selling cars: beautiful but really, what do they have to do with cars? In the same way a woman selling cars is somehow unconnected to the cars, so too is this woman, beautifully drawn yet artificial, unconnected to this chair, as beautifully rendered and realistic looking as it is. She’s coquettish in the way of a pin-up (and reminiscent of the car-selling women) but also smiling inwardly as if she has some secret she isn’t about to share.

The anatomy of the woman is beautifully rendered. There’s something reminiscent of the figure work of Philip Pearlstein with its clinical clarity. The skills of this draftsman come through loud and clear: the complexity of knees, the muscle and bone in the legs tied together by stretched skin, the intertwined fingers, the perspective of the cocked head, the compression of her shoulders as she hunches them toward her ears. Her pose and smile are expressive of her feeling of confidence in herself and delight in the moment. This, in a way, nicely contradicts the reference to her as a pin-up model. 

See more of Bob Last’s work on his website.


Remarkable Pastels: Deb LaFogg, "Cara Cara," pastel, 12 x 9 in
Deb LaFogg, “Cara Cara,” pastel, 12 x 9 in

Here we have a majestic bird, a proud predator (and sometimes scavenger). I’ve seen these magnificent birds on the uninhabited wild beaches of Mexico. The artist depicts the Caracara from below putting it in a regal position above us, head held high. The piece is tightly cropped so all our attention immediately rises to the head, the eye, and the hooked bill. We feel as if the bird is aware of us, the viewer, yet it’s not agitated enough to take flight. But it’s watching and alert.

The slightly ruffled breast feathers and the wispy covering on the neck – where you can see the skin of the throat peeking through – make us want to reach out and touch their softness. In contrast is the coarse rubbery quality of the skin on the cere, and the solidity of the bill built to tear into the flesh of the bird’s prey. 

The bird appears illuminated from above as if a spotlight shines on it. This appearance is particularly supported by the choice of a dark background. The blackness enhances the small lit areas on the head (in the same way Rembrandt worked his later portraits). The dense background gives no context about the bird’s life or home. Nothing detracts from our focus on the splendour of this bird. 

You can see more of Deb LaFogg’s work here.


Remarkable Pastels: Jason Bowyer, "In the Studio," pastel and ink, 39 1/2 x 27 1/2 in (100 x 70 cm)
Jason Bowyer, “In the Studio,” pastel and ink, 39 1/2 x 27 1/2 in (100 x 70 cm)

We are all (I think!) intrigued by and curious about an artist’s studio. As artists we know the energy of work that can go on there, or the stillness and deserted feeling when we aren’t working. This painting combines both. In its frenzied mark-making we feel the manic energy of a well-used studio. There’s a feeling of movement as in a time lapse where I think I can see a figure but then no, it’s gone. Is there an easel or not? Canvases are lined up against the wall but again, there’s an impression of them not remaining static but being moved (say back to the easel) or removed (to go to a gallery). Even the flowers have the sense of progress from newly fresh to old and decaying. 

The sense of stillness comes from the stationary and substantial beams. These never move. They contrast, in their solidity, with the constant motion below of the artist as he moves about his studio. This isn’t a clean studio but one that’s full of the life of an artist uncaring about pastel and paint on floor and walls. Light floods in from a skylight which relieves the heavy darkness of an attic loft. The size (it’s large!) and composition, cropped as it is and only giving us a partial view of the studio, has us standing still, watching the frenetic activity of artistic life. 

Another painting of neutral colours, it reveals both the look of the studio itself but also the palette of the artist. Greys, blacks, and browns dominate and are accented by the warmth of yellow and a hint of orange. Despite the heaviness of the beams (in colour and in physical weight) and the idea of a dark attic, the painting is mostly a light value. 

Check out Jason Bowyer’s website to see more of his work.


Remarkable Pastels: Jenny Halstead, "Clouds Above Valletta," pastel, 27 1/2 x 26 3/4 in (70 x 68 cm)
Jenny Halstead, “Clouds Above Valletta,” pastel, 27 1/2 x 26 3/4 in (70 x 68 cm)

At first view, this painting is an abstract pattern of shapes – large ones and tiny ones, fat ones and thin ones. And then we discover that what we’ve been looking at are boats – on land and in the water. Even though the painting resolves itself into a scene of boats, it still retains other qualities of an abstract structure. Squint and you’ll see three main bands: from the bottom, a light band, followed by a dark band, and then a middle-value band at the top. Each is punctuated by opposing values – dark against the light(the boats against the sea), light against the dark (the sea beyond the boat hulls), and dark against middle-value (the boat masts). The bands hold the painting horizontally while the keels and masts provide vertically. 

The painting is predominantly a purplish grey with delicious slashes of colour – red, green, turquoise, and blue. It appears that there’s an underpainting of grey-purple which the artist has judiciously left showing in the city beyond and in areas of the elevated boats. She has added swaths of pastel in water and sky and then accented small areas in bright colours. Note that this painting is larger than you might think; its sensitivity suggests a smaller work. 

We survey the raised boats then the line of floating buoys takes us to the foremost boat. The post at its bow sends us up upward and we discover the skyline of distant Valletta, Malta’s capital city, and glimpse what looks like the towers and domes of St Joseph’s Church in the distance. As we scan right, we bump into a cropping of land where boats without masts abut the dark land mass. And so we again arrive at the boats in drydock. 

It’s a cloudy day and so most of the scene is washed in a muted mauve-grey. But suddenly the sun blasts a streak of light through the cloud cover and light suddenly reflects off the quiet sea. I love that the sea is so light that it’s almost too bright to look at! We look across the water at a boatyard where sailboats are out for repairs or cleaning. This suggests we are in the cool winter period, a time when sailing isn’t perhaps the most pleasant, a time to maintain and attend to the boats.

See more of Jenny Halstead’s work here.


Remarkable Pastels: June Arnold, "Shoe Maker in Orissa," pastel, size unknown :-(
June Arnold, “Shoe Maker in Orissa,” pastel, size unknown

A man sits, head down; he looks barefooted. He appears to be holding a cloth in his hands. Intrigued, we look more closely and in so doing, we see that he’s surrounded by shoes – mostly some form of sandal. Of course the title gives away his profession but in our looking, we may have arrived at the answer ourselves. But not without close observation. 

June Arnold’s drawing skills are evident and yet they are in a way obscured by the application of pastel in swaths of colours roughly depicting this figure and his surroundings. These are then enhanced by the odd gestural line to define some part. 

The painting may appear loose but look at the perfectly described knuckles of the more visible hand (which then has us looking for the hidden other) and the light coloured pastel marks indicating the ends of his toes. There’s little to describe his face – just enough for us to realise eyebrows, nose, moustache, and beard – and the rest we intuitively add – eyes, cheeks, mouth. 

This mostly middle-value painting moves from a darker side (in the upper background and the man’s chest and area below his left leg on the right side of the painting) to the lighter notes on his sleeve, hand, beard, and near foreground. The complementary colours of purples and yellows are the central colour scheme but accents of turquoise, red-violets, and oranges, subtly enliven the scene.

The piece is tightly cropped – all the attention is on this man and his activity. He is intent on his work, unaware of us, of being captured for us viewers. His humble location on the edge of some street in India has been elevated. The artist does this in the same way that 19th Century Realists painted the working man, raising the stature of this level of society to something to be admired and noted. 

I couldn’t find a website for June Arnold but you can check here and here for more of her work. 


Remarkable Pastels:Alexander Prowse, "Dusk on the Chitravathi River, India," pastel, 22 3/4 x 24 in (58 x 61 cm)
Alexander Prowse, “Dusk on the Chitravathi River, India,” pastel, 22 3/4 x 24 in (58 x 61 cm)

Here’s another painting that is larger than it may appear at first glance. It shows us that transition between day and night when the sky still has light in it but the sun has gone and with it, the bright saturated colours of the daytime. Now the land is bathed in muted colours. The river appears flooded – is this monsoon season? The land seems lush, the scene languid, soaked in humidity and heat. The air feels dense and unmoving. Yet the sounds of animals begin to be heard and the night comes alive with quivering vibrations and high pitched notes, with low moans and the indistinct chatter of night creatures. 

We have yet another painting of muted colours. Faint hints of blues and greens brighten the painting. The sky, pale orange clouds lit by the disappearing sunlight, warms the cool colours of the land. The cycle of life continues to turn in its unhurried daily rhythm. 

Vertical markings of pastel reinforce the heaviness and downward movement of the air, saturated as it is by moisture. The linear marks also suggest the underlying liveliness of the Indian landscape and could even reflect the vibrancy of the culture. It may be nightfall but things still pulsate with life. 

I was unable to locate a website for Alexander Prowse but you can see his work here.


Remarkable Pastels: Sarah Bee, "Beyond the Red Cliff, North Cornwall," pastel, 29 1/2 x 29 1/2 in (75 x 75 cm)
Sarah Bee, “Beyond the Red Cliff, North Cornwall,” pastel, 29 1/2 x 29 1/2 in (75 x 75 cm)

A large painting (are you surprised by the size?) of a closely cropped view overlooking a section of the Cornwall coast, we see land and sea and the way they interact with each other along the coastline. A couple of rocks emerge from the water at top left and red cliffs stand up on the right. The remaining landforms in the painting are the shapes of darker rocky terrain as they fall toward the sea.

But really, let’s be honest, here the landscape is an excuse to explore the elements of art-making – shapes, colour, values, line, texture, edges, and space. So lets take a closer look. 

The painting is comprised of interlocking shapes – dark ones, a red one, a larger blue one. This last shape transitions in colour from dark through mid-value blue to almost white. This shape connects with all the other shapes, holding them together with the bounds and spaces of the painting. The values run the gamut from light to dark. The light and dark play off each other in the upper left, attracting our attention, but the light value of the red rock, as well its colour and verticality, pull us back into the painting. Edges sometimes appear to be hard but come closer to the painting and you’ll see that the edges are blurred with an overlay of searching marks. 

As to line and texture, the painting abounds in the visceral physicality of mark-making. The pastel almost looks scratched on in places, in others, it dances across the surface in a calligraphic line, and in others, it’s pushed onto the paper, rubbed and overlaid with more pastel. The picture has the feeling of an oil painting – of oils washed on with gamsol or turps, with drier paint scumbled over the surface in some areas. I love this crossover look of the piece where the surface scarcely reveals the medium used and we the audience can be fooled.

You can see more of Sarah Bee’s work on her website.


Remarkable Pastels: Malcolm Taylor, "Blue Bottom Blues," pastel, size unknown
Malcolm Taylor, “Blue Bottom Blues,” pastel, size unknown

An abstracted landscape that still retains aspects of representation – of sea, of boats, of docks, of buildings – it is structured around three horizontal bands. Value-wise, in a general way, we go from dark to light and back again to dark through those uneven divisions. The dominant colour is blue, all sorts of blues! There’s the blue of water, the muted and darker blues of the cool shadows of what could be buildings, the blue/grey weathering of wooden docks, and the grey blue of rocks at low tide. The blues are interspersed with slices of reds and pinks and sparks of saturated bright blue.

To understand the full character of the scene we are presented with a changing perspective, one that goes from a bird’s eye view looking down on a channel of shallow turquoise water between two pieces of land to a viewpoint where we see boats shown in elevation. The symbolic notation of boat recalls the simple shapes of St Ives artists Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson. The artist here refines objects to their most elementary forms. 

In the painting, I have the sense of the artist feeling his way, reacting to what the painting presents as he progresses. Perhaps with certain imagery in mind (boats docked in a channel of water feeding a safe harbour?), there’s a coalescing of ideas – in forms, and line, and colour. Larger areas of colour are broken up by shapes within shapes. The odd line spontaneously makes its way across the surface or is scribbled over a shape. The composition is balanced and adjusted as it advances. Energetic marks are contained.   

This is a painting that insists that you slow down and look with intention. Do so and you’ll be rewarded as you discover things initially unseen, for instance, the multiple boat shapes.

Check out more of Malcolm Taylor’s work on his website.


Remarkable Pastels: Sarah Blumenschein, "Sunflowers and Morning Glories," pastel over toned purple UART 320 paper, 30 x 24 in
Sarah Blumenschein, “Sunflowers and Morning Glories,” pastel over toned purple UART 320 paper, 30 x 24 in

A tangle of flowers towers over us. Morning glories cling to and clamber over sunflowers that despite their gangly and teetering stance, are sturdy enough to support the vines. While sunflower heads look around or down at us, morning glories reach for the sky. The chaos of vines acts like a net to unite the individual sunflowers. This coming together of two flower species supplies the artist (and us) with a riot of colour. Blues, greens, and purples are complemented by yellow/oranges. 

The vertical line of sunflower stems on the right lead us down into the darker and shadowed density of leaves. A horizontal line of yellow flower heads and back-lit electric green leaves carry us left where we encounter more vertical sunflowers behind which we discover the distant (and cooler green) trees. Above that, the jagged line and perspective of sunflowers as they near us create, with the help of a sky-reaching vine, a diagonal line up to the far right. From there we explore again, this time more slowly, taking in the buds and the details of the vine, the various shapes of the petals against the sunflower centres, the similarities and differences in the shapes of the two flowering plants.

The vertical format of this large painting accentuates the height of the sunflowers as they soar above us. I’m filled with joy, looking up, into this riot of nature and colour. I laugh at the dance of lines as the morning glories mess with the verticality of the sunflowers. Such controlled chaos despite the gardeners best intentions. The mostly light painting is grounded by a base of darker colours which also provides us with cool shade and a bit of mystery. 

You can check out Sarah Blumenschein’s work here.


Remarkable Pastels: Libby January, "Seduced By Colour," pastel, 8 3/4 x 6 1/4 in (22 x 16 cm)
Libby January, “Seduced By Colour,” pastel, 8 3/4 x 6 1/4 in (22 x 16 cm)

This vibrant exuberant monochromatic pastel is aaaalll about the act of pastelling. We see colour and line and texture. It reveals a love of fuchsia colours with a pickling of orange (a favourite combo of mine). The painting, called “Seduced by Colour,” certainly seduced me! You can feel the artist dancing these pastels over the paper in a frenzy of energy! 

The saturated mass is centred, rising from darker opaque colours to lighter, more transparent ones. The pastel is rubbed, spattered, scratched, layered, drawn with vigorous and intuitive marks, with undulating and varying pressure. Lines skid off the edges unable to be contained. It’s as if this swirling mass spins so fast that bits fly out from the central dynamic mass. I feel the dance, the music, the joy in the application of pastel and that riotous colour! The artist has painted without thought, without a plan, with total freedom to express her feelings as they come with total abandon. There’s an intense feeling of immediacy as if this painting has just been created, the artist has just stepped away. 

This non-objective adventure into process and marks and colour can’t help but recall the gestural abstractions of Joan Mitchell. Yet much of Mitchell’s work is large. This, however, is a tiny painting that explodes off the paper! I was shocked when I realised that this painting is small – a mere 9 x 6 in, the size of a regular hardcover book! 

You can see more of Libby January’s work on her website.



Wow!! So there you have August’s remarkable pastels!

I’d love to know your thoughts. Please tell me your favourites of these remarkable pastels and why. The why is really important! That’s what these monthly round-ups are all about – to encourage you to look more closely and to put into words your reaction to a painting.


Until next time,

~ Gail


PS. Need some help with a piece you’re working on? Then why not consider a video critique or a one-on-one coaching session.

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26 thoughts on “Remarkable Pastels From August”

  1. Thank you so much for introducing me to the work of Sarah Bee. Love her work – atmosphere, colour and adventure in unexpected places! She’s my pick of this month.
    Such a good blog Gail, thank you!

    1. Love the variety of approaches here. I have to admit, the sunflower montage delighted me. Sometimes art is there to make you feel gooood. There is much to study here. Many thanks.

  2. All these paintings are outstanding!! I’m especially spellbound by Sarah’s painting of sunflowers and morning glories. I normally don’t gravitate towards flowers as a subject, but her perspective is riveting and creative. Her skill with composition and color is astonishing!

  3. So many styles, so much talent!! Seeing these paintings inspires me to throw away all the rules and just paint!! I might use the October challenge to do just that and loosen up as much as I can…. Thanks always for your inspiring blogs!

  4. I am particularly drawn to the figurative pieces. I’m at a place in my art where I just pass over beautiful, interesting scenes and stop to find the story in the figures, animal or human, in a painting. I do like Seduced by Color. the title says it all…. those beautiful, rich, intense hues of blood and sun and roses, and bird breasts…..

    1. Carol thanks so much for speaking about Seduced by Colour and adding your own interpretation! Like you, I am drawn to figurative pieces and happy to hear when someone else feels the same way 🙃

  5. First of all; I really love the variation within the selection of works you have chosen! Thank you!
    I like Jason Bowyer‘s way of capturing light and life with a rather muted palett. I love the way in which he has placed his studio on the edge of absraction.
    And I love the funny black line crossing Taylor’s blues!
    Libby January’s Seduction makes me think of Cy Twombly – and thinking of Twombly is always a good thing to do.

    1. Glad you liked the variety Sigrun! Thanks for your choices and reasons why. Love that you have added to the conversation about these paintings. And yes, I agree, thinking of Cy Twombly is always a good thing 🙂

  6. Great blog Gail! Thank you for introducing me to such incredible artists. I love your writing as well, very informative and honest. Can’t wait for the next one!
    Claudia Ryan

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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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