When I first saw the Wave series, I was blown away! (You can read what I had to say in one of my round-ups.) Who was the artist I wondered? Turns out it’s Jessica Masters. This year, I met Jessica at the ICAN Conference and was delighted by her warm personality, her work, and her generous nature. I decided then and there that I wanted her as a guest on HowToPastel. I’m delighted to present this artist to you!
Don’t know Jessica’s work? Here’s a teaser!
Before I hand the blog over to Jessica, here’s a wee bit about her.
Jessica Masters Bio
Jessica Masters lives in Guelph, Ontario, Canada with her husband and two children. Jessica is represented by several galleries in Ontario and shows her work regularly in solo and group exhibitions. In 2016 and 2018 she was a presenter at the ICAN pastel conference, and she has won several awards for her pastel work including two from the Pastel Artists of Canada. Jessica teaches workshops in pastel and oil paint. Check out her website to see more.
Now hereeeee’s Jessica!
Throughout my Fine
I had a print professor named Walter Bachinski who was also a pastel artist. His work was colourful, inventive, and Matisse-like. I was intrigued. At the time, it didn’t occur to me that my love of the greys in charcoal would have a connection to the colours in pastel.
Then one day I was with my mother looking at art supplies, and I found a box of neutral coloured Yarka pastels. There were 8 sticks in a range of greys, blues, browns, black and white. I loved the delicate colours, but I didn’t buy them. Later that day my mother presented me with the pastels, saying she clearly saw the connection I had to them. She was right. It was an instant click with exactly the right type of pastel – hard sticks with subtle colours.
The colour palette and hard form of my first box of pastels was just a small shift from the monochromatic world of charcoal and printmaking, but this experiment into pastels would prove to be a defining moment, one that would shape the next 20 years of my art making. Like many pastel artists that I’ve connected with over the years, this medium has a spell over me, and that first moment of discovery will never be forgotten.
My early work had no rules or restrictions. I didn’t know any existed. I didn’t know about sanded papers or other brands of pastel. I simply drew from my experience with charcoal and printmaking and used my favourite heavy rag paper called BFK Rives as my substrate. My subject was simple; just forms of colour with mark-making throughout. These early images were about atmosphere and impressions and I see now, in reflection, that I was feeling my way through this new medium.
Finding Colour and Inspiration
When I started adding more colour to my small box of greys, I was introduced to softer pastels, primarily Schmincke. The softer pastels took some getting used to, they seemed to move more quickly on the paper than the harder pastels, but using them added a lot to my work. The wider selection of colours and the purer pigments gave me more accurate rendering. I was able to move the colour around more easily, layer colours, and work bigger.
My work has always reflected what is going on around me; it’s how I process life. In my early days, I stayed home with my kids. The activities of parenting influenced my work. Being outside regularly to play in parks and fields, long drives to get the kids to nap, and reading children’s books exposed me to colours and landscapes that began appearing in my work. I started to see colours for what they were instead of painting what I thought I saw. This was a breakthrough moment that allowed me to take more risks. Skies became yellow and purple instead of just blue or grey.
As I began to understand how to use colour, my subject started to change. What were abstracted landscapes started to take on a more rendered
I studied Albert Handell’s book carefully. I was inspired by his uses of colour for skies and shadows, and how he used broken colour and light. Handell used primarily Schmincke pastels in his book. I found that I could purchase the same brand locally, and this was how I began to slowly build my collection.
From the time that I began really introducing colour, I have been working consistently to develop my skills for drawing, colour use, and technique. I have taken workshops in painting with Ian Roberts and Tony Bianco. Both instructors (and their information) came at exactly the right time in my career. These two workshops helped move things forward for me, not just as an artist, but also for my own teaching career.
Over the years, I have taken on my many subjects, including landscapes, water and figurative work. I’ve been inspired by the coastal landscape in Maine, where we have spent several summer vacations. In my earlier work, I was trying to master the landscape in its colour, form, and complexity, whereas now I work to evoke a sense of nostalgia and memory in my viewer. I focus largely on the quality of the light in a scene because as I feel that the light creates an atmosphere and feeling that connects us to our memories.
In many ways, it’s been a full-circle return to my starting efforts with pastels. Then, I was working to create an atmosphere, only now I understand form and colour to express it a new way. I still value the greys. I think colour needs the contrast of grey to reach its full expression. My pastel collection is now much bigger than before and though I do have a lot of colour, I still put significant effort into building the atmospheric colours of blues and greys.
The Wave Series
Most recently I have been painting large-scale waves with dramatic black backgrounds. This body of work started in 2016 after I taught a workshop on How to Paint Wavesat the 2016 ICAN Conference. The research to present at the conference coupled with an invitation to participate in an exhibition at the Art Gallery of Guelph (AGG) in a show titled, ‘When We Were’, furthered my confidence in painting water.
The AGG show ran alongside another exhibition titled, ‘Landmade,’ which featured works by Lawren Harris and Tom Thompson. Running these exhibitions in parallel showed how contemporary painters are handling landscape as compared to the styles and approaches used in the past.
For me this was a moment to push my subject and my medium. I wanted large and impactful images that were in contrast to the ‘delicate’ nature of pastel as a medium. I wanted to show how pastel could be handled on a large scale with a contemporary subject. The three pieces shown here are 40 x 60 in.
Process in the Wave Series
My goal is to paint the atmosphere and capture the feeling of the
I have chosen a black background to create contrast in the piece. My goal was to make the work all about the wave and how it made the viewer feel – so the horizon and sky needed to disappear.
I start by coating my paper with Golden pastel ground. The Golden ground surface is really toothy and I rely on this to hold all of my layers. I then put in the black background so that I understand the darkest value and have something to measure my lightest values against.
From here I use the pastel in washes, blocking in my big shapes that will hold the smaller details and building up the layers of colours that I see. I am loose and painterly here because I know how flexible and forgiving pastel is. There are many colours used at this point and I view this as a crucial stage for how the rest of the piece will turn out. If I get this part wrong I will wash things out and start again.
I use lots of different pastel brands and favour Diane Townsend, Terry Ludwig, and Schmincke. As I work, I am thinking about form, value, and colour temperature the most. These are the painting tools that can give the most impact in a piece.
I make sure from the start that I have identified my darkest and lightest points and I work within those boundaries. I want my work to be painterly and loose while still being recognizable. As I come close to the end of a piece I gravitate to Girault and Roche pastels for finishing touches. These pastels help me tip colours warmer or cooler. This is very important for achieving the level of rendering and visual impact that I want.
I work full time as an artist and have taught workshops in oil painting and pastel for the past five years. I love teaching because I am always surrounded by people who love what they are doing and who want to learn. One of the most important messages I tell my students is that when you are learning to use pastel there are no real rules, just options.
I preface each demonstration with, “this is how I use them, but it’s not the only way.” My goal is to provide a starting point and show the possibilities of this medium from which they will develop their own style. Everything we do in pastel is about a response to something: subject, paper surface, type of pastel etc. There are so many variables. Learning that you can make choices and make mistakes will give you the freedom to explore and develop your own working methods without fear.
Wow. I mean WOW!! Aren’t those powerful paintings?! And imagine seeing the large pieces in the real!
We want to hear from you! Do you have any comments or questions for Jessica Masters? Do you have a favourite? Let us know by leaving a comment 🙂
Until next time!