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A bouquet of flowers – they lift us up and bring us joy. Which was one of the reasons I was taken by the work of this month’s guest blogger Steph Mouw – it goes beyond that happy emotional feeling.

I’ve featured Steph’s pastel work twice in the roundups – the first was a still life (click here to see it) and the second was a vase of flowers. What caught my attention on the second was the combination of beauty (expected) and the dramatic setting with some menacing eeriness (most unexpected!). You can see it here.

Since then, I’ve been following her work closely. Since it seemed perfect for a guest blog, I asked and yay! here she is!

But first, in case you don’t know her work, here’s a teaser!

Steph Mouw, "Crowd in a Square," assorted pastels on UART 600 paper, 11 x 8. 1/2 in. I enjoyed the energy and vibrancy of this bunch, and the square vase was fun to work with.
Steph Mouw, “Crowd in a Square,” assorted pastels on UART 600 paper, 11 x 8. 1/2 in. I enjoyed the energy and vibrancy of this bunch, and the square vase was fun to work with.

And quickly, a wee bit about Steph Mouw.

Steph Mouw Bio

Steph Mouw only began painting with pastels in 2015. She attended the Cleveland Institute of Art, where she majored in Medical Illustration. Steph’s work has been juried into national and international shows, such as the Pastel Society of America’s Annual Exhibition and the International Association of Pastel Societies Exhibition. Her work has received numerous awards, including, most recently, a fifth place in the Still+Floral category of the 20th Annual Pastel 100 Competition. She is an Associate Member of the Pastel Society of America, the Connecticut Pastel Society, and the Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club.  Check out her website here.

And now, heeeeere’s Steph!

~~~~~

A bit about my journey

I became serious about art at 15 as a student in the vocational commercial art program at my high school. The program was 3 hours a day, 5 days a week. My teen years were quite emotionally turbulent and art proved to be my life preserver. I was blessed to have a wonderful instructor, Bob Takatch, who fostered my growing passion for art. I then matriculated to the Cleveland Institute of Art where I was awarded a prestigious Honorary Scholarship. My paintings from that time are filled with color and reflected light.

Steph Mouw, "Self Portrait," 1979, oil on canvas, 21x15 in, private collection. One of my brooding self portraits as an art student of 19 years old.
Steph Mouw, “Self Portrait,” 1979, oil on canvas, 21×15 in, private collection. One of my brooding self portraits as an art student of 19 years old.

In my spare time I filled sketchbooks with what I termed “hallway drawings”, arrangements of strong value contrasts, cast shadows, and reflected light.

Steph Mouw, "Hallway #2," 1980, graphite on paper, 8 1/2 x 5 in. A favorite pastime of mine in art school at end of day when most everyone had gone home. I loved to peer down darkened hallways with open doors that let in bits of light. Even then I loved reflections, (here onto the polished floors) and long cast shadows. I filled small sketchbooks with these drawings done from a seated position on the floor.
Steph Mouw, “Hallway #2,” 1980, graphite on paper, 8 1/2 x 5 in. A favorite pastime of mine in art school at end of day when most everyone had gone home. I loved to peer down darkened hallways with open doors that let in bits of light. Even then I loved reflections, (here onto the polished floors) and long cast shadows. I filled small sketchbooks with these drawings done from a seated position on the floor.

Although I didn’t pursue a career in art it has remained a lifelong passion. I’ve always known that I’d come back to a regular practice of drawing and painting when the time was right.

Discovering pastel and finding florals

In 2008, I began taking drawing classes at our local community college, and then a few years later at a local atelier-type art school. Early in 2015, I came down with a rheumatic illness which caused me to be severely photosensitive. I’ve always been an active outdoorsy person. Now I had to avoid any exposure to sunlight or suffer pretty miserable consequences. After spending 2 weeks in my darkened bedroom, I decided I needed to “retool my life”. Yet again art saved me. 

I threw myself into painting and drawing, and that’s when I discovered pastels. At the suggestion of a fellow artist and friend, I signed up for a pastel class given by a wonderful pastel artist, Jane McGraw-Teubner (MP-PSA). I immediately loved the vibrancy and freedom that these little sticks of color afforded me! I’d always enjoyed loose gestural drawing, which I referred to as my scribbles, and now with pastels I could dance around the page, scribbling with color!

Steph Mouw, "Yellow Roses with Red," assorted pastels on Pastelboard, 11 1/2 x 8 1/2 in. I wanted to capture all the energy and color I felt emanating from these flowers and this light.
Steph Mouw, “Yellow Roses with Red,” assorted pastels on Pastelboard, 11 1/2 x 8 1/2 in. I wanted to capture all the energy and color I felt emanating from these flowers and this light.

I began to fill small sketchbooks with people, places, and things I observed. In doctors waiting rooms, on the Long Island Railroad, in Starbucks, and on the beach, I drew. Art increasingly tugged at my heartstrings. I’ve only ever been interested in painting and drawing from direct observation, from life. 

In need of simple subject matter for my pastel paintings, and not wanting to reinvent the wheel every time I approached the easel, I chose to paint mainly fruits and vegetables. Lots and lots of them! So much so that my dear husband finally said  (with a smile) “I’m tired of fruit”!

In early March 2017, my husband arrived home with a lovely bouquet of flowers for our 10-year wedding anniversary. I loved how they looked in a vase on our kitchen table. My gift to him in return was to paint them. 

Steph Mouw, "Last of the Anniversary Flowers," assorted pastels on UART paper, 10 1/2 x 6 in. My husband gave me a bouquet for our anniversary, these were still viable 10 days later!
Steph Mouw, “Last of the Anniversary Flowers,” assorted pastels on UART paper, 10 1/2 x 6 in. My husband gave me a bouquet for our anniversary, these were still viable 10 days later!

Just as I’d been doing previously with my fruit and veggie still lifes, I set up my floral subject on a shelf which I then lit using a gooseneck clamp-on lamp. I was immediately drawn to the dramatic lighting and exciting shadow shapes that this type of direct artificial light created. 

My initial floral paintings were a bit clumsy but full of color and strong value patterns. I found that I loved rendering the organic nature of the arching tendrils, twisting leaves, and the little buds and red berries peeking out from behind a crowd of colorful flora.

Light falling on and defining form, creating dramatic shadows and colors – to me that’s thrilling! The assortment of greens serving as a perfect foil for the bright reds, pinks, oranges, and yellows in the florals. 

Initially, the glass vase didn’t figure prominently in the early compositions but as I continued to work with the florals, I found myself increasingly seduced by those little reflective vessels.

Steph Mouw, "Bruce’s Bouquet," assorted pastels on Pastelmat, 10 x 8 in. I loved the lower left lighting, giving this a stage-lit effect.
Steph Mouw, “Bruce’s Bouquet,” assorted pastels on Pastelmat, 10 x 8 in. I loved the lower left lighting, giving this a stage-lit effect.

My studio happens to be next door to The Little Flower House, a family-owned gem of a florist and also my landlord. So in addition to my husband’s largesse, I have constant access to floral inspiration. Many of the flowers I paint have been gifted to me, thus the titles, “Isabel’s Gift” and “Bruce’s Bouquet”. 

Steph Mouw, "Isabel’s Gift," assorted pastels on Canson Mi-Teintes, 10 1/2 x 8 1/2 in. I wandered into the florist next-door to my studio looking for inspiration when I spotted these babies in a jelly jar on the sill. Isabel was kind enough to offer them up and I used them for a number of successful paintings.
Steph Mouw, “Isabel’s Gift,” assorted pastels on Canson Mi-Teintes, 10 1/2 x 8 1/2 in. I wandered into the florist next-door to my studio looking for inspiration when I spotted these babies in a jelly jar on the sill. Isabel was kind enough to offer them up and I used them for a number of successful paintings.

Having been painting florals for a few years, I now have quite the collection of glass containers from which to choose. I have mason and jelly jars, vases square and round, squat and tall. Once I’ve obtained the flowers I then chose the vase. I may try out a few shapes before settling on just the right one. 

Working setup and process

I find a spot to place and light them. In still life painting, I have total control over my set up, and for someone with “control issues” that works for me! I play around with lots of lighting angles, looking for exciting shadows on a back wall or those falling across petals and leaves. Using the clamp-on light affords me plenty of lighting options. I’m apt to jest that I prefer drama in my paintings, just not in my personal life!

Steph Mouw, "Sweet Pea," assorted pastels on Pastel Premiere, 11 1/2 x 8 1/2 in. These cuttings come courtesy of Peter, the  florist next-door, who was kind enough to let me choose these  Plumbago, Perennial Sweet Pea, and Angelonia.
Steph Mouw, “Sweet Pea,” assorted pastels on Pastel Premiere, 11 1/2 x 8 1/2 in. These cuttings come courtesy of Peter, the florist next-door, who was kind enough to let me choose these Plumbago, Perennial Sweet Pea, and Angelonia.

I also may sit on a chair or a high stool, or I may stand depending on the view I prefer. Next, I look at the composition through my little grey adjustable viewfinder to visualize various dimensions and formats.

In my toned grey sketchbook, I make a few thumbnail sketches. I use the grey page along with black and white pens or pastel pencils in order to work out the main values. Of late I’m partial to Faber Castell’s white Pitt Pen paired with a black marker like Sharpie or a Micron pen). The Pitt pen uses white India ink and I so enjoy using it that I sometimes have to force myself to put it down to move on to the actual business of painting! 

Steph Mouw, page of thumbnails, black Micron and white Pitt pen on toned grey paper, 6 1/2 x 5 in. A typical page from my small toned grey sketchbook.
Steph Mouw, page of thumbnails, black Micron and white Pitt pen on toned grey paper, 6 1/2 x 5 in. A typical page from my small toned grey sketchbook.

I usually do one, two, or three thumbnails. I may also do a color study if I have the time. Time being a limiting factor in that I have a “day job” running my personal training business. As well, I devote one or two half days each week to painting from the live model, and this year I’ve helped to organize a small group of mostly pastel artists that meet once a week to paint. I also take about three workshops a year.

Steph Mouw, "Sue’s Bunch," thumbnails and color study, Micron and white Pitt pens and assorted pastels on toned grey paper (left) and Canson Mi-Teintes (right). I was visiting family in Ohio and had only enough time to complete a few thumbnails and a small color study of my Aunt Susan’s lovely bouquet. I really liked this composition and although I wasn’t able to create a full painting it got me to try out different background settings and shapes in my future paintings.
Steph Mouw, “Sue’s Bunch,” thumbnails and color study, Micron and white Pitt pens and assorted pastels on toned grey paper (left) and Canson Mi-Teintes (right). I was visiting family in Ohio and had only enough time to complete a few thumbnails and a small color study of my Aunt Susan’s lovely bouquet. I really liked this composition and although I wasn’t able to create a full painting it got me to try out different background settings and shapes in my future paintings.

Importantly and most essential for my sanity, endurance at the easel, and general comfort in my skin, is daily physical exercise. This includes kayaking with my husband three to four times a week, three seasons a year.

So balance is key! I can usually carve out a chunk of three or four hours at a time in which to paint and since I like to work alla prima, that’s enough time to complete a small painting.

I prefer to complete a painting in a single sitting. I liken the experience of creating a painting to a gym workout: first I warmup with the thumbnails and begin to move into the workout with the block-in; then by the time I’m applying color, the process seems to gather momentum and begins to feel intuitive. I’m in the groove, time flies by and the painting seems almost to paint itself! 

Steph Mouw, "Yellow on Blue," assorted pastels on Pastelboard, 10 x 8 in. I was in a quiet, more somber mood, with this one.
Steph Mouw, “Yellow on Blue,” assorted pastels on Pastelboard, 10 x 8 in. I was in a quiet, more somber mood, with this one.

To date, I haven’t had good results when I’ve returned to complete an unfinished floral painting a day or two later. It seems I lose that initial momentum which is so critical to my process. So if I happen to run out of time, that usually signals the end of that painting. Often I’ll paint the same bouquet the following day or later in the week, maybe trying it using a different setup.

Steph Mouw, "Pink Roses," assorted pastels on Pastelmat, 10 x 8 in. Here’s an example of “less is more”, simple strokes of color suggesting rather than defining.
Steph Mouw, “Pink Roses,” assorted pastels on Pastelmat, 10 x 8 in. Here’s an example of “less is more”, simple strokes of color suggesting rather than defining.
Steph Mouw, "Pink Roses on White," assorted pastels on Pastel Premier, 10 x 8 in. I used the same bouquet a few days previously (“Pink Roses” above). Changing the day and setting gets very different results. I like the icy coolness of this one.
Steph Mouw, “Pink Roses on White,” assorted pastels on Pastel Premier, 10 x 8 in. I used the same bouquet a few days previously (“Pink Roses” above). Changing the day and setting gets very different results. I like the icy coolness of this one.

Some of my favorite pastel brands include Sennelier  (I love their vibrant colors and somewhat soft texture), NuPastel (great for fine lines and edges), Unison Colour, Terry Ludwig, and Jack Richeson. I prefer to work on paper which I either tone myself or I purchase pre-toned paper.

My current favorite papers are Pastelmat and Pastel Premier. I also like working on UART, which I’ll tone myself because I don’t like to see the white paper peeking through. I don’t work very large – 12 x 9 in and often smaller. Usually I’ll work smaller than my paper size so I can test out colors in the margins. 

Steph Mouw, "Emily’s Bouquet," assorted pastels on Pastelmat,10 x 8 in. I did a first version of this but wasn’t happy with it, I later went back into it with more color and determination to be bold and confident in application. I included the margins here to show my method of working.
Steph Mouw, “Emily’s Bouquet,” assorted pastels on Pastelmat,10 x 8 in. I did a first version of this but wasn’t happy with it, I later went back into it with more color and determination to be bold and confident in application. I included the margins here to show my method of working.

Two demo examples

For the block-in, I use a piece of vine charcoal or a dark NuPastel. I value solid draftsmanship so I’ll spend the time to get the drawing right at this stage. I think of this as the scaffold upon which I’ll construct the painting.

Steph Mouw, block in drawing and set-up  of "Amaryllis and Anemones," dark NuPastel on Pastel Premier, 12 x 9 in. I liked the looseness of the block-in drawing and wanted to preserve that spontaneity throughout the process.
Steph Mouw, block in drawing and set-up of “Amaryllis and Anemones,” dark NuPastel on Pastel Premier, 12 x 9 in. I liked the looseness of the block-in drawing and wanted to preserve that spontaneity throughout the process.
Steph Mouw, block-in for "Yellow Mums." Here’s my set-up on the kitchen counter. I began the drawing using a NuPastel. I was also trying out a new paper, Jack Richeson Pastel Surface. I really liked the shadow shape on the wall!
Steph Mouw, block-in for “Yellow Mums.” Here’s my set-up on the kitchen counter. I began the drawing using a NuPastel. I was also trying out a new paper, Jack Richeson Pastel Surface. I really liked the shadow shape on the wall!

Then I often lay in the areas of shadow using large broad strokes of local color or a single overall dark value. At this point, having laid in large areas of value and color I can either go over it with a wash of water, alcohol or mineral spirits (depending on the paper and how well it takes the type of liquid), or simply leave the under painting as is without a wash. 

Steph Mouw, keying painting "Amaryllis and Anemones," assorted pastels on Pastel Premier, 12 x 9 in. Here I chose to key the painting first using my darkest dark and lightest lights. Then I spent some time bringing up the red Anemone.
Steph Mouw, keying painting “Amaryllis and Anemones,” assorted pastels on Pastel Premier, 12 x 9 in. Here I chose to key the painting first using my darkest dark and lightest lights. Then I spent some time bringing up the red Anemone.
Steph Mouw, block-in phase 2, dark NuPastel on Jack Richeson Pastel Surface, 12 1/4 x 9 1/4 in.  Here we get into the ugly middle phase, yuck! I decided to lay in all the dark values.
Steph Mouw, block-in phase 2, dark NuPastel on Jack Richeson Pastel Surface, 12 1/4 x 9 1/4 in. Here we get into the ugly middle phase, yuck! I decided to lay in all the dark values.

To key the painting I determine the darkest dark and lightest light. Then I’ll rough in more of the middle value colors. I may spend some time on the center of interest area at this point. I do try to bring the painting along fairly evenly, moving around to different areas to bring these up to speed as I work. Occasionally I’ll lose myself in one area, often a flower or leaf that’s in half-shadow and dappled with light, or maybe in the glass, which I love to paint. 

Steph Mouw, full color block-in for "Amaryllis and Anemones," assorted pastels on Pastel Premier, 12 x 9 in. I’m trying to keep it loose while beginning to work in the background.
Steph Mouw, full color block-in for “Amaryllis and Anemones,” assorted pastels on Pastel Premier, 12 x 9 in. I’m trying to keep it loose while beginning to work in the background.

Looking through the glass I’m able to see the color shapes a bit more easily, I see what’s within the vase more abstractly likely because I’m not thinking “leaf” or “stem” or “flower”, but rather seeing shapes of color. A helpful tip came in one of Jane McGraw-Teubner’s class demonstrations on painting glass, rather than paint the glass itself she painted what was behind it. I love the way glass and water bend the light, resulting in stems that don’t match up but rather zig and zag, and colors that are slightly altered in value, temperature, and chroma. For the glass, I tend to use NuPastels, which I can better control. 

Steph Mouw, laying the background for "Amaryllis and Anemones," assorted pastels on Pastel Premier, 12 x 9 in. I liked how the middle-dark value background grey pops the greens and florals forward and creates space around them.
Steph Mouw, laying the background for “Amaryllis and Anemones,” assorted pastels on Pastel Premier, 12 x 9 in. I liked how the middle-dark value background grey pops the greens and florals forward and creates space around them.
Steph Mouw, full color block-in of "Yellow Mums," assorted pastels on Jack Richeson Surface, 12 1/4 x 9 1/4 in. Still in the ugly phase. At this point I thought I’d never pull this one out of the muck and mire. I really wrestled with the pebbly surface texture.
Steph Mouw, full color block-in of “Yellow Mums,” assorted pastels on Jack Richeson Surface, 12 1/4 x 9 1/4 in. Still in the ugly phase. At this point I thought I’d never pull this one out of the muck and mire. I really wrestled with the pebbly surface texture.

I’ll also slow down at this point, applying a softer, more careful touch to get edges and some of the reflections. I favor a very light blue and/or yellow NuPastel to capture some of the reflections. I save the brightest (white) reflections on the glass for the very end, like dessert, I save the best for last! For these I use my little shards of very soft creamy white Sennelier pastels.

Steph Mouw, "Amaryllis and Anemones," assorted pastels on Pastel Premier, 12 x 9 in. In the end I decided to blend the surrounding space, adding warm touches to contrast with the cool greens and Amaryllises. I also liked the full page composition but chose to leave some of my process marks exposed.
Steph Mouw, “Amaryllis and Anemones,” assorted pastels on Pastel Premier, 12 x 9 in. In the end I decided to blend the surrounding space, adding warm touches to contrast with the cool greens and Amaryllises. I also liked the full page composition but chose to leave some of my process marks exposed.
Steph Mouw, "Yellow Mums," assorted pastels on Jack Richeson pastel surface, 12 1/4 x 9 1/4 in. In the end I was moderately happy with the way I resolved the background and countertop, but felt the flowers somewhat of a disaster.
Steph Mouw, “Yellow Mums,” assorted pastels on Jack Richeson pastel surface, 12 1/4 x 9 1/4 in. In the end I was moderately happy with the way I resolved the background and countertop, but felt the flowers somewhat of a disaster.

Finishing up and going forward

In my more successful paintings, I’m able to keep the marks loose and gestural yet remain true to my subject. I greatly admire the works of realist artists John Singer Sargent and Richard Schmid. In addition to being imbued with mood, their works exhibit a bravura, a virtuosity of execution, and a loose impressionistic accuracy. 

In viewing a painting, I want to experience the hand of the artist that created it, the marks made. Schmid, in his wonderful book, Alla Prima, says that he has at times wished he would have stopped a painting sooner, just past the full color block-in, in order to retain more of the initial impression and spontaneity. Sometimes less really is more. I try to keep this in mind when finishing a painting so as not to venture into that dreaded realm of the overworked. 

Steph Mouw, "With Bubba’s Blessing," assorted pastels on Pastelmat (Anthracite), 10 1/2 x 8 1/2 in. In search of floral inspiration I was invited to wander my client’s lovely backyard garden to gather these beauties. Thank you John and Hope!
Steph Mouw, “With Bubba’s Blessing,” assorted pastels on Pastelmat (Anthracite), 10 1/2 x 8 1/2 in. In search of floral inspiration I was invited to wander my client’s lovely backyard garden to gather these beauties. Thank you John and Hope!

Sometimes a painting will fight me tooth and nail and others seem more like smooth sailing. Some paintings turn out surprisingly well, most not so much. The process of painting can be quite difficult at times (complete with my inner critic bellowing comments!) but those small moments of “getting it right” feel oh-so-good as to make the pains worthwhile. 

My work as an artist is to continue on, no matter what, to see the painting through to the best of my ability on that given day. My hope is to continue to learn, to grow, and to always marvel at our awe-inspiring visual world!

Steph Mouw, "Roses in a Square," assorted pastel on Pastel Premier, 11 x 8.5 in. Bruce brought home white flowers to challenge his wife!
Steph Mouw, “Roses in a Square,” assorted pastel on Pastel Premier, 11 x 8 1/2 in. Bruce brought home white flowers to challenge his wife!

~~~~~

My oh my oh my!! Who knew flowers could be painted with such drama?! Thank you for sharing your work and process Steph 😀

Now it’s your turn! Steph Mouw and I would LOVE to hear from you! Do you have any questions about Steph’s process? Are you inspired to go paint a vase of flowers? Were you surprised to see flowers painted this way? Do let us know your thoughts!

Until next time,

~ Gail


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Comments

69 thoughts on “Steph Mouw – Flower Power!”

  1. How I envy the looseness of your paintings…yet so real, so wonderful and fresh, cannot stop looking at the glass either. Thank you so much for sharing, will save so I can refer back.

  2. Steph’s paintings are terrific. Who could imagine that florals could be so alive. I especially appreciated her comments on how she works. They were very clear and useful. And motivating! I’m off to a flower shop tomorrow morning!

    1. Hah hah Betsey – love that you are off to the flower shop. Steph’s work has that effect, doesn’t it?! Thanks for such positive comments about Steph’s info.

  3. Thank you for this. Beautiful art and wonderful examples of backgrounds as well as those gorgeous bouquets. My favourite line was “Some paintings turn out surprisingly well, most not so much. The process of painting can be quite difficult at times (complete with my inner critic bellowing comments!) but those small moments of “getting it right” feel oh-so-good as to make the pains worthwhile.“ It’s so good to hear such an accomplished artist say this!

    1. Thanks Helen, for appreciating both my work and that particular line. It really is those little snippets of joy that keep me coming back for more. So much about the process of painting that’s hard to put words to or convey, but I think is universal to those of us who paint.

  4. I really love the boldness and light in these flower paintings. I just completed a pastel of hellebores from life but now realise I should have been really bold with my strokes and mark making instead of trying to find the softness of the petals as I do in watercolour.

    1. I love hearing you’re looking at your own work with different eyes Sue after seeing what Steph does with flowers! Interesting that your background in watercolour has influenced the way you work in pastels.

    2. Thanks Sue for commenting. I appreciate that we can learn from one another. I paint with a small group on Tuesdays and there’s an artist who paints these wonderful, soft, sensitive florals in pastel (reminiscent of Redon), they’re so beautiful. I really think all of our work is self portrait in a sense.

  5. I enjoy painting floral work, but usually in watercolour. I have recently started using pastels and so far am trying to paint a tiger. I look forward to seeing pastel paintings of animals.

  6. Thank you for introducing me to this wonderful artist! Reading her blog inspires me to get cracking and keep moving. What a nice way to start this day…

  7. I love Steph’s description of ‘dancing around the paper’ and the all too familiar voice of our own inner critic ‘bellowing’ at ourselves. Spot on. Her paintings are lovely, she handles the glass superbly. Painting flowers is my least favorite subject, but she makes me want to take a second look.

    1. Loved that you picked out that phrase Phyllis. And yes, we ALL hear that inner critic “bellowing”!
      I know what you mean about painting flowers but a few years ago, I found I really wanted to paint them although not sure why. I hope you do take a second look with the inspiration of Steph’s work behind you!

  8. I so enjoyed reading this blog which I’ll save as I learned a lot from it. Her writing is so descriptive and honest. Very much appreciated Gail.

    1. You are so right Nancy – both about Steph’s discipline, and also the idea that if you stick with it, you will grow and be more able to reveal your own unique vision!

  9. Steph….loved reading about everything from your background to your artistic process. It was a very inspiring read. Your work is just lovely and I totally get the feeling you put into it.

  10. I love that she mentions how she integrates physical exercise into her artistic (and working) life! One of my worries about painting more, as I head into retirement, is that it’s a very sedentary avocation. I understand about “getting lost” with the time, when the painting is going well. But it will be critical for me to organize my time so that artistic endeavor gets equal billing with physical activity.

    1. Yes, I liked that about Steph’s blog too Pam. One way to not be sedentary while painting is to stand at an easel to work. You can have a high stool nearby to take a break (or an easy chair like me!). The thing about standing is that you are always shifting weight, moving back and forth from the easel, and if the mood strikes you, you can dance in between pastel strokes!
      The other thing to do is to set a timer. This reminds you to take a physical break away from painting. This could include a walk around the block or down the road – just something to introduce some movement into your day.

    2. Pam thanks for sharing. It’s taken me a number of years to strike a healthy balance between the sedentary nature of my work and an active lifestyle. In fact I stopped making art for years because I couldn’t reconcile the two. I really like Gail’s comments too about standing and setting a timer. I usually make a cup of tea about an hour and a half into a painting just to take a little break and walk around.

  11. Why, oh why, did I pay for a trip to England (to learn how to paint flowers) when all I had to do was read Stephanie Mouw’s blog! This was awesome and inspiring, Gail! She makes it look so easy; and, although I know it’s not as easy as Stephanie makes it sound, it’s given me the courage to give flowers a try. Thanks to both of you!

    1. Hah hah Elaine, I thought you might enjoy this guest blog! Do give flowers a try. That way, you’ll be all prepared for your class in England (which I am sure you will love!).
      And yes, Steph does make it sound easy!

    2. My pleasure Elaine. I’m glad I could help inspire you because you’ve been inspiration to me! Your work is great and I appreciate your commitment to the HTP FB group and to your own growth as an artist. Thanks.

  12. Great examples of how to make an exciting picture from what is, in essence, an uncluttered still life. I’m always interested in how other people deal with those awkward empty spaces that you get on both sides of a vase…especially tall ones! I’ve never really tried doing flowers under artificial lighting; the shadows really add character. I also think clear jars are more interesting to put with flowers; there’s something extra fascinating about a glass jar. Must mention the white Pitt pen….never seen one, so must do some searching here in England, I like drawing with pens. Thank you Steph for sharing your work and processes with us(including the “ugly phases”…it gives comfort to know we’re not alone!).

    1. Chris, yes I agree, Steph deals so well with those “awkward spaces” by setting up interesting shadow play. And you are spot on about clear glass jars – so much more interesting!
      By the way, the Pitt pen is by Faber Castell – there is a link to Amazon in the post.

    2. Thanks Chris, you’re definitely not alone! That’s one of the reasons that I so appreciate all the work that Gail does to connect us pastelists together. As you can tell I love painting glass. As for the white Pitt Pen the thick nib seems to work the best for me and it’s much easier to find. It’s a big nib which can get a bit clumsy, I use the black pen first then I often go back in with the black again after using the white Pitt pen. Hope that helps.

  13. Thank you Gail and Steph, for showing us the lovely colours and work on these lovely images. Your work, Steph, is truly beautiful and very realistic. I especially love the vases as well. Congratulations on your work Steph and may you continue to grow and enjoy your pastels.

  14. Thank you Steph for making flowers inspiring to me in a way they have never been before–I may give them a try. Such beautiful work, I love the way your backgrounds and shadows create interesting compositions. And the depth and edges…sigh. And a SPECIAL thanks for that fabulous tip about the white pen. I also do thumbnails on toned paper with black and white, but I’ve always used charcoal because although I love pens, I didn’t know you could get a white one. Just ordered it (thanks for the convenient link!) .

    1. Jeanne, I know exactly what you mean! When I look at Steph’s work, I too get excited about painting flowers.Thanks for pointing out all the wonderful features of Steph’s paintings. Sigh.
      And yeah! I’ve begun using toned paper but with pencil or charcoal pencil with a white charcoal pencil. VERY EXCITED to try that pen!! I think Steph has started a new craze 😀

    2. Thanks Jeanne for your comments. I love that my work can help inspire, we really do that for one another. I’m so glad the Pitt Pen idea has caught on, and truth be told I got the idea from an artist that I’ve followed by the name of Sarah Sedwick. She does these gorgeous thumbnails on brown craft paper in preparation for her paintings. I do hope you give the florals a try.

  15. So much energy in your paintings! Very exciting. Great advice-to balance exercise with painting. I plan to incorporate more time for exercise although weather at this time of year here in Nova Scotia requires extra incentive which you have so generously provided. Thank you, both.

    1. That’s fantastic to hear Carol. I agree about the importance of taking care of our physical body so it can stand up to the long hours of painting! Going for a walk is the easiest thing (other than piling on sweaters and coats for those living in cold climes!). Perhaps we need to set up some walking accountability partners in the HTP FB group!

    2. Carol thanks for your comments, particularly in mentioning the balance of exercise and art making. I wasn’t sure about including that in my blog, and not sure others could relate, but it’s so important to me and part of who I am that I needed to share about it. I love Gail’s previous suggestions to stand and paint and to set a timer to take movement breaks, I plan to incorporate both!

  16. Well since it is -12 outside, I have now been inspired to go out and bring some hothouse flowers back to the studio so I can work on something live vs a reference, and colorful vs snow trees and low skies (though that is fascinating in its own way).

    I find it worth pointing out that Steph and the majority of the artists in the recent advice blog recently talked about the value of the thumbnail. Once a student said she just wanted to get to the fun part when instructed about thumbnails. My response is, It’s all fun, every part of the process. The value of thumbnail is missed by beginners and cannot be lauded enough.

    Thanks for the flowers Steph!

    1. Love that you were inspired to go get some hothouse (colourful!!) flowers to paint Diane!

      Thanks for pointing out the reference to thumbnails made by so many artists. (Students of mine know all about the importance of thumbnails as I’m adamant about them!) As you say, the whole process is part of being an artist. And the thumbnail so sets you up for success and who wouldn’t want that??

      Here’s a post I wrote about preparing for the ICAN Paint-Around. Much of it involves thumbnails!

    2. Your welcome Diane, and thank you for sharing about the importance of thumbnail sketches. I too noted that most of the artists in Gail’s wonderful recent advice blog shared about the importance of drawing and making thumbnails. I hope you bring in some hothouse flowers and have fun!

  17. It amazes me how timely your blogs are to what I’m doing as an artist or thinking about doing. I go back to your blog about making time for painting and giving it priority; followed by the sage advice from your 20 artists about what they feel is most important to ongoing growth as an artist; to now this wonderful blog on Steph’s dramatic and vibrantly painted florals. I love her examples of thumbnails on gray paper for studying values and composition. Her lighting and contrasting dark, neutralized backgrounds with strong, pure color in her flowers is mesmerizing.

    I’ve wanted to do daily paintings for some time and began my journey as a daily painter this year after taking a workshop with Lisa Daria Kennedy. Her motto is, “Just show up.” She paints a small (6”x6”) floral painting every day at 5am. She completed her 3,535th one today. I completed my 26th painting this morning. I am scheduling each day when I will paint—usually for about two hours max. I am also mostly painting small floral still lifes.

    My goal is to work at painting more loosely and I’m finding Steph’s paintings to be wonderful examples of painting shapes not flowers. I’m also doing a thumbnail using my viewfinder but I’m going to start doing the values as she does on grey paper—just need to get one of those white pens. It was your workshop this past fall that made such an impression on me of the importance of doing thumbnails. I saw first hand that you practice what you preach.

    Sorry for this long response, but I wanted to show the personal connections for me with these three blogs and how they have been so helpful in motivating me as a new daily painter. I am loving it and look forward to that scheduled time every day. As Lisa Daria Kennedy says about being a daily painter, “It’s both grounding and freeing.” Thank you Gail and Steph!

    1. Salli thanks for your WONDERFUL comment! I love that you are now adding your voice here.

      I’m glad my blogs seem so timely. Funny you should write about showing up – my next blog is all about that!! Sooooo true! Love that you are making the daily commitment. Some days will test you but stick with it and the reward will be HUGE!! Lisa Daria Kennedy’s commitment is awe inspiring. And getting up at 5am. All I can say is WOW.

      Love that you can see the value of thumbnails and doing them. I like using the grey paper too but I’m very used to using the regular sketchbook paper. I am doing more on grey and have now ordered a white gel pen like Steph’s. Can’t wait!

      Thank you for your long reply. Look forward to more when the feeling arises 🙂

    2. Sally thank you for your very thoughtful comments. I admire your commitment to a regular painting practice. I’m so glad that you picked up on and wrote about painting shapes rather than flowers, it’s not easy to do but makes all the difference both in the process and in the results. I also appreciated Gail’s blog gathering painting advice from 20 Master Pastelists. It further reinforced for me the importance of thumbnails, in particular, and drawing in general.

  18. I love these floral paintings. There is a watercolor artists – Joseph Raffael who leaves an edge around his floral paintings and uses it to test his colors and then he must fill in with more marks. This becomes part of the paintings. Check him out, his work is gorgeous .

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Gail Sibley

Artist. Blogger. Teacher.

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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