Login

When I first saw pastel artwork by Jeanne Tangney, I had to slow down and really look. I was mesmerized by the quality of light, by the mood, by the solidity of objects taking up three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface, by the quality of edge work, by the subtlety of colour and value transitions. Check out what I wrote about one of her pieces in my pastel round-up.

And so it is with great pleasure that I welcome Jeanne Tangney as a guest blogger!

If you don’t know her work, here’s a teaser!

Jeanne Tangney, "Buddha with Begonias," 2016, pastel on UART, 16 x 16in. The concept of this painting evolved from a small jade statue that belonged to my Grandmother. I added a printed scarf to unite the colors and objects.
Jeanne Tangney, “Buddha with Begonias,” 2016, pastel on UART, 16 x 16in. The concept of this painting evolved from a small jade statue that belonged to my Grandmother. I added a printed scarf to unite the colors and objects.

Before I hand the blog over to Jeanne Tangney, here’s a wee bit about this artist…

Jeanne Tangney Bio

Jeanne Tangney graduated from Rhode Island College with a BA in Painting and BS in Art Education. She has exhibited her pastel paintings throughout the United States and has won numerous national awards. Her work has been recognized in the Pastel Journal Magazine’s Top 100 and was featured in the American Art Review. 

Jeanne has earned the distinction of Master Pastelist with the Pastel Society of America (PSA MP) and is a Master Circle member of the International Association of Pastel Societies (IAPS MC). She also belongs to the Pastel Painters Society of Cape Cod, the Connecticut Pastel Society, the Portrait Society of America, and the Art League of Rhode Island. Jeanne is a faculty member of the Newport Art Museum and the Wickford Art Association, teaching classes and workshops in the New England area.

Find out more on her website.

And now, here’s Jeanne!

~~~

As an art major in college, I was primarily focused on the study of portraiture and figurative work. Many years later, I discovered a love of landscape painting. But throughout my career, the still life genre has been a constant. The models were always available, I could control the lighting, and I couldn’t beat the convenience of painting from life in my home studio after work. 

Pastel has always been my medium – the connection I first felt was immediate and has never diminished. As a student, I started out with a set of NuPastels and Rembrandts, working on rolls of brown craft paper and sheets of Canson Mi-Teintes. I used fixative to create more tooth and darken colors. My methods have changed significantly throughout the years with the availability of archival sanded papers and the ever increasing varieties of pastels.

Jeanne Tangney, "Untitled," circa 1978, pastel on paper, 10 x 18 in. This early portrait shows how I used fixative to darken the shadow areas. It was painted with NuPastels and Rembrandts when I was a college student.
Jeanne Tangney, “Untitled,” circa 1978, pastel on paper, 10 x 18 in. This early portrait shows how I used fixative to darken the shadow areas. It was painted with NuPastels and Rembrandts when I was a college student.

Since my work is representational, it is important that the shapes, values, and colors in my final painting are accurate. This is especially true with symmetrical objects. Well over a decade ago, I worked almost exclusively on Sennelier LaCarte. Because this paper’s surface cannot take excessive rework, I would carefully draw my still lifes with measured precision on tracing paper, then transfer them, ready to lay in color. 

Now, my process is exactly the opposite. 

I do very little drawing preparation at all, preferring to make gestural marks with vine charcoal to establish the composition and identify major shapes. I then dive in with pastel and begin to coax the image to emerge.  As I work, I go from the general to the specific, suggesting detail without excessive rendering. I don’t use pastel pencils or blend with my fingers. Instead, I create multiple layers of soft pastel, sometimes using the side of a hard pastel to push the pigment into place to create the lost and found edges that are a critical aspect of my style.

Here’s an example of one of my vine charcoal drawings – I use gestural marks to get a feel for my subject, but prefer to let the image evolve as I work.

An example of one of my vine charcoal drawings – I use gestural marks to get a feel for my subject, but prefer to let the image evolve as I work.
An example of one of my vine charcoal drawings – I use gestural marks to get a feel for my subject, but prefer to let the image evolve as I work.

I must confess a weakness for acquiring more pastels than I need! But that has enabled me to try almost every brand ever made, from NuPastels to Henri Roches. I probably use more Terry Ludwigs than anything else, especially the darks, and have developed quite a fondness for the buttery texture of Blue Earth pastels. I have full sets of Great Americans and Schminckes, and several auxiliary sets of Giraults, Diane Townsends and Unisons. There is a uniqueness and strength in every brand that I try to utilize when I paint. My favorite papers are UART 400 and Pastel Premier Italian Clay, but I have other supports on hand that I plant to experiment with at some point.

Jeanne Tangney, "The Last Tomato," 2017, soft pastel on UART, 9 x 12 in. Private Collection. I wanted to paint this remaining tomato, and what better to go with it than a bottle of olive oil!
Jeanne Tangney, “The Last Tomato,” 2017, soft pastel on UART, 9 x 12 in. Private Collection. I wanted to paint this remaining tomato, and what better to go with it than a bottle of olive oil!

There are certain objects that occur frequently in my work. Pinecones and shells are two of them, representing my love of land and sea. I often include manmade objects to create a balance – a silver vase, a piece of pottery, a marble I played with as a child. Almost all my props have some personal or symbolic significance. I enjoy the contrast of natural and manufactured objects, the contrast of past and present, of darkness and light. These elements of meaning and symbolism enhance my immersion into the painting process.

A view of my studio showing the various items from my still life collection - dark, light, shiny, matte, tall, short, simple, complex.
A view of my studio showing favourite objects from my still life collection – dark, light, shiny, matte, tall, short, simple, complex, natural, manmade.

I have an extensive inventory of props throughout my home and studio. Some are items that have been handed down, others are found on walks or come from trips to antique fairs and shops.  Sometimes a friend will notice me admiring an object on their shelf until I hear them say “Go ahead, I know you want to paint it!” That was the case with Cordial Relationship – I couldn’t take my eyes off the small uranium glass cordial and was eager to build a still life around it. I even purchased some Diane Townsend fluorescent pastels to better capture its highlights!

Jeanne Tangney, "Cordial Relationship," 2017, soft pastel, 12 x 12 in. Private Collection.
Jeanne Tangney, “Cordial Relationship,” 2017, soft pastel, 12 x 12 in. Private Collection.

But still lifes are much more than a collection of things. They can be intimate portraits of cherished objects. A story can be told by the subjects and the space they occupy. Establishing a mood can support this narrative. 

Once I establish the concept of my painting, I go about selecting and placing my objects. I put a lot of thought into staging my work, arranging and adjusting, adding and subtracting until I am satisfied. This process can take hours or even days. I often use dramatic values to create mood, and have always embraced the concept of elements emerging from darkness. Color plays another key part in my paintings – I sometimes create a setup based on the hue of a particular object.

Jeanne Tangney, "Black Vase," pastel, 2017, 12 x 12in. This painting was awarded the American Artists Professional League Award in the 2017 PSA Enduring Brilliance Exhibit.
Jeanne Tangney, “Black Vase,” pastel, 2017, 12 x 12in. This painting was awarded the American Artists Professional League Award in the 2017 PSA Enduring Brilliance Exhibit.

Opposites is a painting I recently completed. I had my eye on the small porcelain vase in a local antique shop, and couldn’t resist taking it home. I knew it was going to be a main character on this stage. I wanted the theme of this piece to be about contrast, with as many iterations as I could manage in a rather small painting. I immediately looked for something taller, narrower and blue to complement the shape and color of the vessel. 

I wanted an odd number of items on the left to balance the even number on the right. I chose a solid pewter vase as a counterpoint to the glass items, and two natural objects to contrast with those that are manmade.  Although there is a subtle divide between the objects on either side, both the reflection of the shell and blue bottle on the pewter vase create unity. The cast shadows further reinforce this concept.

Jeanne Tangney, "Opposites," 2019, pastel on UART, 12 x 12 in.
Jeanne Tangney, “Opposites,” 2019, pastel on UART, 12 x 12 in.

I carefully consider the placement of reflections, highlights, and shadows to tie everything together.  The direction and effect of lighting is almost as important as the objects themselves. I want the light to flow around the stage, creating highlights and shadows in just the right places to contribute to a strong composition and to move the eye around the painting. 

Although I would love to experiment more with natural light, I usually use artificial light in my studio. Perhaps this stems from my habit of painting at night when I used to work full-time, and my current preference for working later in the day into the evening.  

Jeanne Tangney, "Bougainvillea in a Glass," 2018, soft pastel on Pastel Premier, 12 x 12 in. Private Collection.
Jeanne Tangney, “Bougainvillea in a Glass,” 2018, soft pastel on Pastel Premier, 12 x 12 in. Private Collection.

Sometimes it is a phrase or potential title that inspires a painting. I picked up this incised ceramic vase at an artisan market in Costa Rica. I was attracted to the shape and color, but smiled when I saw the subtle image of a fish carved into the design. I immediately came up with the title Thinking of the Sea and when I returned back to the States, I set up a still life with two shells, adding an antique silver overlay bottle to capture some reflections and complete the arrangement.

Jeanne Tangney, "Thinking of the Sea," 2015, pastel, 12 x 12 in. Private Collection. This painting was honored with the National Arts Club Award at the 2015 Pastel Society of America’s Enduring Brilliance exhibit.
Jeanne Tangney, “Thinking of the Sea,” 2015, pastel, 12 x 12 in. Private Collection. This painting was honored with the National Arts Club Award at the 2015 Pastel Society of America’s Enduring Brilliance exhibit.

For a number of years, I have been renting a studio in Costa Rica during the month of January.  The still lifes I paint there are often studies of the native fruits and flowers that I pick around the property. Influenced by the organic nature of my subjects and a limited selection of pastels on hand, my work tends to be looser, having a more impressionistic feel. As I don’t work from photos, I try to complete these paintings in a day or two, before the flowers and leaves start to wilt in the heat. 

Cinco Manadarinas is one such painting. I picked these mandarin oranges from a nearby tree. Bringing them back to my casita, I constructed a makeshift lightbox from an old carton and directed a lamp to best describe the forms and create interesting shadows. This painting is on Pastel Premier – the Italian Clay color is a favorite of mine.  I painted directly on this paper without an underpainting and very little drawing, just enough to establish the boundaries of the composition.

My still life setup and the initial block-in for "Cinco Mandarinas" using a variety of soft pastels.
My still life setup and the initial block-in for “Cinco Mandarinas” using a variety of soft pastels.
eanne Tangney, "Cinco Mandarinas," 2018, pastel on Pastel Premier, 12 x 12 in. This painting was honored with the Show Submit Award in the 2018 Pastel Society of America’s Enduring Brilliance exhibit. It subsequently traveled to the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio.
Jeanne Tangney, “Cinco Mandarinas,” 2018, pastel on Pastel Premier, 12 x 12 in. This painting was honored with the Show Submit Award in the 2018 Pastel Society of America’s Enduring Brilliance exhibit. It subsequently traveled to the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio.

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow is another painting done in Costa Rica. I have always been fascinated by this lovely shrub. The flowers last three days and are at first purple, then change to a lighter lavender the second day, then finally, end up almost white. Each flower goes through this colorful transformation – it is so beautiful to see all three shades at once! 

"Yesterday Today And Tomorrow" - Step 1. After making a few marks with vine charcoal on UART paper, I immediately laid in some local color to suggest the major shapes.
“Yesterday Today And Tomorrow” – Step 1. After making a few marks with vine charcoal on UART paper, I immediately laid in some local color to suggest the major shapes.
"Yesterday Today And Tomorrow" - Step 2. I begin to refine the shapes and colors after completing the alcohol underpainting.
“Yesterday Today And Tomorrow” – Step 2. I begin to refine the shapes and colors after completing the alcohol underpainting.
"Yesterday Today And Tomorrow" - Step 3. Working in subtle layers over the entire surface, I continue to develop the painting, always on the lookout for interesting negative shapes.
“Yesterday Today And Tomorrow” – Step 3. Working in subtle layers over the entire surface, I continue to develop the painting, always on the lookout for interesting negative shapes.
Jeanne Tangney, "Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow," 2018, pastel on UART paper, 12 x 12 in. This piece was recently included in the Masters Circle Exhibition at the 2019 IAPS Convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Jeanne Tangney, “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow,” 2018, pastel on UART paper, 12 x 12 in. This piece was recently included in the Masters Circle Exhibition at the 2019 IAPS Convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Although I usually have a plan when I begin a painting, sometimes a situation presents itself unexpectedly.  When the model didn’t show up for a scheduled portrait session several months ago, my friends and I decided to stay and paint some geraniums in the artist’s studio. I happened to take some progress shots that show the steps I take when painting almost any subject.

Using UART 400 sanded paper, I first roughly outline the major shapes with vine charcoal. I then block in these general shapes with color, being careful not to lose the tooth of the paper. In this case, I used local color, knowing that I had a limited amount of time to complete the piece.  Under other circumstances, I may do a monochromatic, complementary, or even random hued underpainting, or sometimes a combination of all three depending on the size and complexity of the painting. 

"Geraniums" - Step1. The rough block-in.
“Geraniums” – Step1. The rough block-in.

In the next step, I apply an alcohol wash to dilute the pastel block-in.  I use a soft 1” flat watercolor brush and start to pay closer attention to what I want the painting to look like. I carve and refine the shapes and follow the form of my subject with the brushstrokes, keeping it loose but being mindful of the positive and negative shapes. This is one of my favorite parts of the painting process!

"Geraniums" - Step 2. The alcohol wash.
“Geraniums” – Step 2. The alcohol wash.

I then start applying more color in subtle increments with a variety of soft pastels, using the side of the sticks to work from dark to light. I maintain angular shapes and edges – I find it much easier to make corrections along the way by avoiding curved lines.

"Geraniums" - Step 3. Layering with soft pastels.
“Geraniums” – Step 3. Layering with soft pastels.

At this point, the painting is getting close to completion. I apply black tape around the perimeter of the paper, making it easier to evaluate by giving it a more finished appearance.

"Geraniums" - Step 4. Nearing completion.
“Geraniums” – Step 4. Nearing completion.
Jeanne Tangney, "Geraniums," 2019, soft pastel on UART paper, 12 x 12 in. Private Collection. I loved how the natural light hit the edges of the backlit petals and leaves.
Jeanne Tangney, “Geraniums,” 2019, soft pastel on UART paper, 12 x 12 in. Private Collection. I loved how the natural light hit the edges of the backlit petals and leaves.

Lately I have found myself revisiting portraiture in oil and pastel, mostly from life and occasionally from photos. For the past year or so, some artist friends and I have hired a model once a week to sharpen our observational and painting skills. I have also gone back to drawing portraits and figures in charcoal at local life drawing sessions.

It is fascinating to circle back to the subjects that I started out with in college, but adding all the years of life experience and time spent at the easel to the equation. Whether I am painting portraits, landscapes, or still lifes, my interest is to paint beyond what I see and create a story worth telling. 

*****

Ahhhhhhh. I love the deceptive simplicity of these still life pieces. Look closely, spend time with each of them, and you will begin to understand the care with which Jeanne has chosen and arranged the objects. Look at the way she directs you through the painting. Observe the feelings that emerge when you look deeply at a piece.

Jeanne Tangney and I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on her post and on her artwork. So please do leave a comment!!

Until next time,

~ Gail

PS. I couldn’t help but notice Jeanne’s use of black tape near the end of working on Geraniums. This is something I only just learnt about in a Richard McKinley workshop! You can read my blog about that experience here.

UPDATE!!

Because a few people have commented here and also written directly to me to ask about the black tape, here’s a link to some black tape to surround your artwork with near the end. This method works extraordinarily well!!!. I’ve also added the white tape as well.

Related Posts

Subscribe to the HowtoPastel Blog today!

Take a course

Like my Blogs?

Do you like the blog?

Support HowToPastel and help me to keep creating content to instruct, inspire, and motivate you with your pastel painting. Although I’ve been asked, “How much does it cost to subscribe?” HowToPastel will always be free. Your financial support is completely optional but does go a long way in helping with the cost of running this blog. Thank you!

Comments

20 thoughts on “Jeanne Tangney – Luminous Stillness”

    1. Hi Carol. Thank you so much for letting me know that. As much as I loved doing them, the monthly roundups took a full three to four days to put together. I may restart them in a membership I hope to start soon!

    1. Maureen, so glad you enjoyed Jeanne’s post. So much to learn by studying her work!

      You are so sweet to say you’re wishing to take another workshop with me 😀 I will look forward to that!

  1. Jeanne’s work is so lovely. She leaves enough for the viewer to explore and finish in their mind. Her colors are exquisite and harmonious. It was interesting to hear about how she worked in the past to the present. Thank you for hosting her!

    1. Gosh you are so welcome Christine!
      I love that you pointed out how Jeanne leaves space for the viewer to bring their own perception and experience to the piece. And yes to her colours!! Thanks for sharing your thoughts 🙂

  2. Lovely luminous paintings. It’s so interesting to see the work in progress and realize that it’s exactly the way I start painting. Thank you Jeanne for the insights into your painting life and I love the tip about the black tape border.

    1. Hi Val, good to hear from you! It’s always nice to have a confirmation about the way one works and I like that you’ve shared that with us 🙂
      And yes! the black tape! Like I said at the end of the blog, I just learnt this tip in a recent workshop with Richard McKinley. And you can see in Jeanne’s photo what a difference it makes to the work!!

  3. Hi Gail, and thank you so much for taking time to go around and discover–and then share–your treasures. In French, what we call “still life” is named “nature morte” which literally translated, means “dead nature”. I would say, Jeanne’s work is “silent nature”. Anything but dead! Life vibrates all through these exquisite paintings. Just wonderful.
    Nancy Malard

    1. C’est mon plaisir Nancy!
      And thank you for sharing your thoughts about the words ‘still life’ and their translation in french (which is a rather unfortunate literal translation!). I like your version better! And yes, Jeanne’s paintings bring a vibrant life back to ‘nature morte’ 🙂

  4. Gorgeous work!!! Some paintings are done so loosely, while others have enormous detail. Love both styles. Her initial marks and block-ins remind me of yours, Gail!! Thanks for inviting Jeanne. I very much enjoyed reading about her process.

    1. Agreed Ruth!!
      As you point out, it’s interesting to see the degree of finish in Jeanne’s work. I love that she can trust her intuition to take the painting as far as it needs to go.
      Thanks for pointing out a similarity between my work and Jeanne’s in the initial stages of a piece. That put a smile on my face this morning!!

    1. Kat, I’m so happy to hear you got so much out of Jeanne’s post! I too loved reading about Jeanne’s process and the care that goes into her object choice and arrangement.

  5. I really enjoyed Jeanne’s descriptions of how she chooses objects and composes a still life. How the colours, reflections and positioning of the objects works together to create unity. Also the alcohol wash and black tape are new ideas I will definitely try! Thanks. Lovely work!

    1. So good to hear Janet! I was delighted that Jeanne went into her process of selection and arrangement in-depth, and as you point out, shows how she considers not only the spatial relationship between the objects themselves but also their colour relationship through local and reflective colour.
      I too was recently introduced to alcohol washes and black tape in a McKinley workshop! The black tape works extraordinarily well!!

  6. I have repeatedly looked for advice for choosing items for still life paintings, with very little result. This is the first article that directly addresses ideas for choosing items! Thank you, thank you. I’m saving it for sure, to refer back to many times.

  7. Great! It’s very interesting to see how loosely and simply these underpaintings begin. Even in the final details of the finished paintings there is that bit of mystery for the viewer to explore and fill in. Thanks again for these!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Other Related Posts

Headshot of Gail Sibley

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!

Join the mailing list today to receive exclusive tips, resources and inspiration directly from Gail:

Scroll to Top

Welcome Artists!

Online Courses

Pastels 101

Use this link if you bought the course AFTER Sept 2022

Use this link if you bought the course BEFORE Sept 2022

Pastel Painting En Plein Air

Art Membership

IGNITE! Art Making Members

Love soft pastels??
Then join 7000+ other subscribers and get my tips, reviews, and resources all about pastels... it's FREE! Just enter your name and email address below.

Your information will never be shared or sold to a 3rd party. Privacy Policy