Gareth Jones was one of those artists whose pastels snuck up on me – one day I noticed that they were there! Little did I know that he hadn’t been using pastels for all that long. Certainly, you can’t tell this from his work which feels as if it’s produced by someone comfortable with using pastels for many years.
I’ve featured Gareth’s work twice in my top ten roundups – once in December 2017 with Dark Waters 1 and again in April 2018 with The Coast is Clear. Evidently, with two pieces featured so closely one after the other, I was enamoured with this Welsh artist’s work. So you can imagine my delight when he agreed to guest post!
Don’t know Gareth Jones’s work? Have a peek.
Before handing over the blog to Gareth Jones, first a wee bit about him.
Gareth Jones Bio
Formerly a graphic designer and illustrator, Gareth Jones is now enjoying a growing reputation as a pastel artist. His work features in many galleries across the UK and in private collections overseas. He has exhibited in The Royal Society of Marine Artists exhibition in The Mall Galleries, London, and is a member of the East Anglian Group of Marine Artists. Winner of the North Wales Open Art Competition in 2020, Gareth has recently become an Associate Artist with Unison Colour pastels. He is also a popular tutor, conveying his passion for pastels through demonstrations and workshops. You can learn more on his website.
And now here’s Gareth Jones to share his journey…
Firstly, what an honour…. to receive a request from Gail Sibley to be the guest blogger this month was definitely a ‘pinch me’ moment. I have been a keen reader of these blogs from a stream of wonderful artists, imparting their wisdom and extensive knowledge – and all accompanied by astounding works of art created in this wonderful medium – it’s a tough act to follow!
So, why me? Someone who first held a pastel a little over five years ago, someone who switched from the fast lane of graphics and design to belatedly explore the more scenic route of fine art? What pearls of wisdom could I possibly share with such an enlightened audience? I can only recount the events that have led me to me writing these words. Hopefully, it may provide inspiration to some and prove that it’s never too late to release your potential. I’ll trust Gail’s judgement that I must be doing something right.
FROM THE BEGINNING
To suggest that I was a complete novice at painting would be misleading. Art was the (only) subject I excelled at throughout school, always top of the class. It just flowed and luckily, it came easily to me. My art teacher insisted that I attend art college but coming from a working-class background in North Wales, a career in the arts was deemed fanciful by my disapproving, steelworker father. Thanks to the belief and encouragement of my mother, I went anyway.
After training in Graphics and Illustration at Flintshire and Loughborough Colleges of Art, I left Wales at the age of 19 and embarked on what became a long and very successful career running my own design agency for over 30 years. I had been a painter of sorts, a pretty competent and versatile illustrator until photography became more fashionable. Gouache, acrylics, and markers were my tools of trade – the fastest drying media possible. Time was always of the essence and deadlines were ever-present.
Life became a constant conveyor belt of pressures, deadlines, and management, which left zero time for creating art for myself. The advent of computers only distanced me further from the tactile pleasure and thrill of putting paint or pencil to paper. I was a workaholic for decades, in which time I neglected many things in life, including the process of creating purely for pleasure.
The pressure built. The yearning to return to a more personal way of being creative became stronger. I was always a collector of other peoples’ art and I would often stand in a gallery with my arms folded thinking, “I wonder if I have it inside me to produce something as good as that.” I finally hit life’s buffers at full speed in my mid-fifties – an incredibly difficult personal time – but the opportunity to do something about those private thoughts had inadvertently presented itself.
In 2009 I returned to Wales in a state of mental turmoil. I was fortunate to live right on the coast. Expansive dunes, vast empty beaches, and moody crashing waves suddenly filled my life and began to shape my future. Daily dog walks exposed me to the elements, usually rain, and I fell in love with the sea in all its wonderful guises. I would stare at the waves for hours, mesmerised by their infinite moods, their energy and their beauty. The opportunity to answer the creative call had arisen and the sea provided the perfect inspiration.
So I dug out some old art materials, took a deep breath and plunged in. Some early sketches and watercolours were hardly inspiring. Wasn’t this supposed to be like riding a bike? It turns out this wasn’t going to be as easy as I had thought. Self-confidence has never been my strongest attribute, but I do possess a quiet determination to succeed in all I do.
Working in acrylics, I began to improve and signs were encouraging. In 2010, I produced Sea Holly, my first non-commercial painting in over 30 years. It was a turning point and through an artist friend, I was introduced to a gallery in Tenby, South Wales. One of the four paintings they took, Green Window, sold the very next day. It was a thrilling moment and just the spur I needed.
I experimented with various subjects – a still life, and my first ever portrait, Alex – but the sea was always calling and I produced Green Wave, a piece that proved to be a turning point. I had surprised even myself by visualising the connection that I felt with the sea. It had captured the movement, the play of light on water, and the translucency that initially drew my eye. Within two years of picking up my brushes, I was exhibiting two acrylic seascapes at the Mall Galleries, London, with the Royal Society of Marine Artists (RSMA).
It wasn’t until 2014, after a move back to the North Norfolk Coast in England necessitated by my wife’s career, that I began to experiment a little with different mediums. Soft Pastel? It was a medium that I had only encountered through art college in learnings of the masters such as Degas, Lautrec, etc. However, I then saw a contemporary soft pastel up close in a local gallery and was amazed by the intensity of colour and the freedom of strokes. This aroused my curiosity and I researched further.
I began to open a door into the most incredible world of pastels. I was (and continue to be) astonished by the diversity and brilliance achieved in this medium by artists who I regarded as idols, many of whom have subsequently become friends through social media.
By chance, I discovered the work of Tony Allain online and, through a cancellation, I found myself attending his workshop in Broadway, England, armed with a handful of cheap pastels and a sheet or two of Canson Mi-Teintes paper. My attempts were frustratingly feeble but Tony was an inspiration… the speed in which he produced several masterpieces was quite astonishing. As someone who is always short on time and starting a new ‘career’ so late in life, this was a revelation. It had fired my imagination!
My wife Annette bought me my first ‘proper’ set of pastels that year as a Christmas present – the Heather Harman half-stick stick set from Unison. I opened the box and stroked them lovingly for several weeks not daring to disturb these sleeping beauties. Having read about the benefits of a sanded surface, I also bought myself a sheet of Sennelier LaCarte pastelcard from my local art supplier.
It was a Eureka moment – electrifying in its intensity. I felt the direct connection with the pastel and the surface, it all suddenly felt so natural. I created my first pastel, On Reflection, and realised that I had found my true medium. It was (on reflection) too heavily blended but it was a promising start and it sold immediately. I had started down the road of discovery.
There was so much to take in and I preferred to experiment at my own pace, learning from my own inevitable mistakes, but it wasn’t long before I was working exclusively in pastel, still with seascapes as my main inspiration. I began to understand how these incredible sticks of colour worked, the unique qualities they had over all the other mediums that I had tried.
In 2015, I was invited to become a member of the East Anglian Group of Marine Artists, (EAGMA), a highly regarded group of very talented artists who covered all aspects of marine subjects. It furthered my connections and I began to show my work more widely in a growing list of galleries.
Pastels liberated my sense of colour and my work gradually became bolder and looser as in ‘White Spirit’. I felt I had captured the essence of the sea that I had achieved with acrylics but now in a looser, more natural style.
My work may be too representational for some – working in a photorealistic way as an illustrator had come relatively easy to me – but whilst I still aspire to retain the accuracy and believability of my subject, I also attempt to convey a deep emotional connection. My aim is to transport the viewer to the precise moment that the subject revealed itself to me, to see what drove me to capture it forever and to share the thrill that I felt at that time.
I’m an outdoors person and nature does a pretty good job in providing inspiration. Portraying water and light in those moments that catch ones’ breath is what I love to paint. Two such pastel paintings were selected for my second visit to the RSMA in late 2017 – Heaven Sent (above) and As Day Begins (below). Both were from reference photographs taken whilst on holiday in Malaysia. I had a feeling of inner peace and a growing confidence that I believe shone through in these works. I was finding my own voice.
The North Norfolk Coast is my favourite part of England by far. With its glorious beaches, quaint old fishing villages, sand dunes, marshes, and a wonderful clarity of light, it is an artist’s dream. Many works were inspired by my time living there such as Blue Dune Shadows, The Ebbing Light, and Dark Waters 1. The latter was selected by Gail for her Pick of the Month in December 2017 which was a huge shot in the arm. I began to really believe in myself for the first time.
Despite being a learner myself, I was holding workshops weekly and I became a pastel evangelist. People were inspired by my new found passion for the medium and the energy that I poured into my demonstrations.
All was going so well….. but then a heart attack, out of the blue, in February 2018, changed things dramatically. After a period of recovery, I followed a strong calling to return to live in my native North Wales. A long break ensued before I picked up the reins again in the Summer of 2019 when I painted Alight. It encapsulates not only the force and vitality of the sea but all of the passion I feel for it. This painting remains a personal favourite.
Imbued with a new sense of contentment, I began to paint my local surroundings that I had never had opportunity to do previously. Living in the beautiful Welsh hills but still only 20 minutes from the sea, I have a wide range of subject matter to paint. A local beach at Gronant and a spectacular sky inspired Blue Sky Thinking which won first prize in the prestigious North Wales Open 2019.
Landscapes are appealing to me more and more and I flit from coast to countryside as the mood takes me. ‘Kissed by Winter’ is an example of one of these landscapes.
I was very fortunate to travel to Pangkor Lau in Malaysia this year, weeks before the pandemic, where warm translucent waters provided the inspiration for recent work. Wall of Light and A Ray of Hope were both voted into the top 15% of entries in the FASO Boldbrush online competition in successive months.
In recent weeks I have been made an Associate Artist of Unison Colour Pastels which is a massive personal honour. To join the ranks of so many dazzling stars of the international pastel community (including Gail of course!) is both humbling and exhilarating. It also shows that with a modicum of talent, a little luck, and finding the right medium – it’s never too late!
I am primarily a studio artist, which is driven partly by the time constraints of being a house husband. I had only just begun to paint en plein air prior to falling ill. I now frequently sketch outside. The ability to draw is essential in my opinion. I like to complete pencil or pen studies and thumbnails of options for composition. I also do colour studies with NuPastel and wash.
I also believe the years of working with the basic principles of colour, layout, balance, and emphasis have given me a significant advantage in the ability to identify what would make a good painting and to quickly realise its potential. I take photographs with my iPhone constantly wherever I go and I only ever work from my own reference images. It is a key part of my creative process. I have usually earmarked a location in several conditions of light previously, and I sense instantly what will translate into a successful painting.
I don’t slavishly copy photographs but I love the detail and the fleeting, subtle shifts of light that often set a subject apart. Direct observation, sketches, and stored mental images all combine and filter through to the final piece. I see potential wherever I go, but the need to be emotionally connected to the subject – whether it’s the bond I formed with the sea or places that I love – is essential.
My preferred combination of materials remains Unison Colour pastels on Sennelier LaCarte pastelcard. Unison pastels have the perfect degree of firmness for me. I love Terry Ludwigs and Mount Vision too, and I have tried various combinations of substrates, UART400, Pastelmat etc. I have recently added a set of the Girault greys which I’m really enjoying. It’s fascinating to uncover the unique characteristics of different brands. From lessons learned, I encourage my workshop students to invest in the finest materials that their budgets permit.
Working on La Carte prohibits underpainting and was a factor in not rushing into painting en plein air. I have barely explored the advantages of underpainting and have recently started to experiment on UART again.
I select a surface colour to reflect the overall mood of the intended subject. I sketch in a rough outline or use anchor points and, working with the flat edge of the pastels, block in a rough of the entire image to establish the composition and overall values. I will then do a second pass, usually working from dark to light to refine the image. A third or fourth pass usually results in being satisfied with the final piece.
I apply the same process to seascapes, blocking in the whole image to achieve the essence of the piece, composition, and values, before refining the image in stages.
I rarely blend and prefer to layer in stages. I never use fixative at any point in my process. I work very quickly and mostly on one painting at a time although I pin up several works around the studio and live with them for a spell before calling them finished. I will often return to a painting that I had dismissed and see that all it needed was a fresh set of eyes and a few tweaks. This is what happened in ‘The Promise Ahead’.
I would say in truth, that I think I am writing this article a little prematurely, as I still feel very much the novice in the world of pastel painting. There is so much to learn but I am very content with the progress made to date and, health permitting, I feel there is so much more to come.
So I guess the question I posed to myself the day I stood in that gallery all those years ago ‘Could I ever produce something like that?’ has finally been answered, and without doubt soft pastel was the key to unlocking that potential.
Well! Are you as impressed as I am at how far in pastels Gareth Jones has come from his first-ever pastel in 2014??
Let us know what you think about Gareth’s journey – can you relate or are you gobsmacked?? Or how about sharing your favourite piece? We look forward to your comments and any questions you may have.
Thanks for being here!
Until next time,