I’m delighted to bring Lynn Howarth to the HowToPastel blog! I’ve been following Lynn’s work for years now. I’ve always admired her portraits and it’s these that are the focus of her guest post here today.
I also appreciate the way Lynn manages to push her work, exploring new territory. An example of this was a surprising and luscious landscape which I talked about in one of my monthly roundups. Have a look here. You’ll also see some explorations in this post so keep an eye out as you read through!
Don’t know Lynn’s work? Have a look at this!
And before I hand you over to Lynn to share her story, here’s a wee bit about her.
Lynn Howarth Bio
Lynn Howarth is an award-winning Scottish artist who specialises in the medium of soft pastel for her figurative, portrait and landscape work. She graduated from Grays School of Art, Aberdeen in 1979. After a long career in Graphic Design she returned to her roots in 2012 and started drawing and painting once more. She now works from her home studio in Stepps, Glasgow. Lynn also teaches art part-time at Strathclyde University, runs her own online Purely Pastels classes via Zoom, and teaches pastel workshops abroad. Lynn is an elected artist member of Glasgow Art Club, Paisley Art Institute and Glasgow Society of Women Artists and is a Signature Member of the Pastel Guild of Europe and Associate Member of the Pastel Society of America. See more of her work on her website!
And now, here’s Lynn!
Gosh – what a wonderful surprise to receive an email from one of my pastel heroes Gail Sibley saying “Hi Lynn I’d like to invite you to be my guest blogger!” What a huge honour!
Over the years I have always enjoyed a peek into the lives and work of the incredible pastel artists Gail has invited as her guest bloggers. Every blog imparts something new to me so it’s a must-read for any aspiring pastel artist! Gail’s passion for the beautiful medium of pastel is infectious and she features work by artists who create abstract, impressionist, realist, and photorealist pastel paintings in all genres. I look forward to each blog and sit myself down with a cup of tea to savour the beautiful works on show. I love how she gets the artist to reveal themselves not only through their works but through their words!
As an artist who picked up my first pastel just 10 years ago after a career in Graphic Design spanning three decades, it’s been an incredible journey. Giving up my Graphic Design business was a pretty scary thing to do but I was lucky enough to have an amazingly supportive husband who encouraged me every step of the way!
I’d had enough of design and wanted to pursue a career in fine art – despite being in my mid-50s – I reckoned it was better late than never! It actually all came about by chance really.
I had been invited by a friend to visit Wasps Studios Open Weekend which is only a few miles away from my home and while browsing the work of all the artists there, I spotted a huge oil painting by Glasgow artist Ronnie Heeps. I bought it there and then as I knew I just couldn’t live without it! At the time I had been feeling disenchanted with Graphic Design and was looking for a new way to live and enjoy my creative life. Meeting Ronnie and seeing how happy he was living the life of a full-time artist, I just knew I’d have to give it a go!
As luck would have it, six weeks later in February 2012 I happened across a Facebook group called 28 Drawings Later. Talk about serendipity! Every year in February you post a drawing a day on the group page. I only had a set of coloured pencils and some Ingres pastel paper that I’d used for some illustration work. On checking out the previous year’s work, I saw some lovely works in soft pastel which instantly appealed to me.
I bought myself a wee set of second hand Rembrandt pastels I found going cheap on eBay and it was such a eureka moment. I knew immediately that I’d fallen hook, line and sinker for the beautiful medium of pastel. The feeling of the pastel going directly from my hand to the paper was truly addictive. The fact that I went on to sell one of my first pastels to an art collector in London was truly the icing on the cake!
I started drawing as soon as I was old enough to hold a crayon! My maternal grandmother always encouraged me to be creative. Looking back, I can now see the creativity that she suppressed in order to work hard to provide for her family. That creativity had a great outlet in her home though which was always stylish and colourful and full of beautiful art and objects d’art.
She sat me at her kitchen table and provided me with all sorts of art materials and told me to draw whatever I wanted. Once I was old enough, she got me to do oil painting by numbers to decorate her home!
Art was the subject I really excelled at throughout school. Winning art prizes was a constant through primary and high school so it came as no surprise that I’d go to Art School. I got a much-coveted place at Gray’s School of Art in my home town of Aberdeen, Scotland and have to say it was the best four years of my education. I loved every minute of it, especially the life drawing class. In four years, I never missed a class. I do believe that life drawing is the absolute best way to improve your drawing skills. Graduating in Graphic Design and Printmaking in 1979 was one of my proudest moments.
Various jobs with design companies over the next 20 years along with raising my three children meant I rarely had time to draw other than occasional portraits of my family and friends.
I started my own design business in 1999 and ran it until 2012 working with some incredible companies – Linn Products being one of my favourite clients. They are a Scottish audio design company that creates world-class audio equipment. Working to tight deadlines on big projects helped me develop great focus and excellent time management skills. My keen eye for precision and understanding of good composition I hope is still evident today in my pastel paintings. So I guess you could say my 33 years as a Graphic Designer were the best grounding for my second career in fine art!
I have always gravitated towards portraiture. Even as a youngster my paternal grandmother would take me to Aberdeen Art Gallery and every time I went, I just had to stop at Titian Preparing to Make his First Essay in Colouring by William Dyce. It’s of a young boy in a garden staring into space, deep in thought. He’s surrounded by a beautiful statue and trees, colourful flowers strewn at his feet. I was only seven years old when I first saw it and I realised then and there that I wanted to be an artist! So I think my love of portraiture started right there.
I remember even at such a tender age I could capture a likeness that amazed my family and friends. At school, I developed a penchant for drawing caricatures of my friends and teachers and was always being asked to draw people. I don’t know what happened to all my paintings and drawings from that time but I do remember them fondly!
I’ve always been an admirer of portraiture in particular as I feel it’s a genre that’s extremely challenging. My view is not only to capture an excellent likeness which to me is paramount but to also encompass the sitter’s personality and state of mind in that moment in time.
What we are doing as portraitists is pinning down a fragment of time in that person’s life. In a way, it’s saying: This person mattered.
Emotion always plays a big part for me when it comes to painting people – I always hope to feel a strong emotional connection to my sitter.
One portrait I did many years ago was of a lovely lady member of our local tennis club. I spent the day with Jane just chatting with her about her life. I found out so much about her 90 years on this earth that I felt it would help me capture her very essence.
I felt the dozens of sketches I did of her informed the final piece as I thought back to what we had been talking about at that moment. She had lived through WWII and had some hair-raising stories to tell about being shipped off to Australia out of Singapore just as the Japanese were about to invade! You can see the sparkle in her eyes even at the grand age of 90!
On starting a new portrait I always do several quick sketches before setting up the final painting especially if I’m working from life. Working from photos is a bit quicker as I can set up my composition directly through my camera lens.
I always start with a mid-toned pastel pencil to sketch it out on my prepared drawing board with PastelMat (my favourite surface!) taped around all sides to keep it secure. Working on a 40x30cm head study generally gives life-sized portrait.
I’ll then block in my darks using an Inscribe Charcoal Pastel to create my design of darks. Then I’ll go in with bigger swathes of colour, building up my layers very lightly.
I’m often told I whisper the pastel onto the surface during live portrait demos so I know I definitely have a very light touch.
When I started out using pastel I was a serial blender but over the years I have learned to love my mark-making and now very rarely find I need to blend. Now I prefer to see my marks as it’s my personal mark-making that defines my style and my work.
On brands that I favour I’d say Caran D’Ache Pastel Pencils are my favourites as they have a huge range of skin tone colours that I use again and again. There is one pencil I’d never be without and that’s the Violet Grey – it’s an incredible colour to use on shadows in skin.
My favourite brand of pastels is Unison Colour – I love them for their rich buttery dense pigment and how they glide onto the PastelMat effortlessly.
Becoming a Unison Colour Associate Artist in 2017 was a huge honour and I ran a workshop with them last summer on life drawing for which I created my own personal set of pastels. I loved creating that set and use it a lot!
Another brand I like is NuPastels for their size and range of 96 colours which covers everything from portraits to landscape. They are a very useful set to have to hand.
For the darkest dark ever, you cannot beat Terry Ludwig’s incredible V100 aka Eggplant. It’s the most velvety dark ever!
Once I’m finished a piece, I wrap it in glassine to protect it and never ever use fixative. It’s just a personal preference. I’ve found that a sharp tap on the long edge on a solid surface will dislodge any tiny particles prior to framing.
Hopefully, this blog might just inspire others to go for it and take that leap of faith. You’ll never know unless you try and as you can see from my story – it’s never too late!
I’ll end with this quote:
“The sacred space, for the artist, is within the creative flow, at the crucial and fiery point of artistic intention, where time suddenly contracts and the work finds its power and its groove.”~ Nick Cave
Oh my! Were you as blown away as I was? What a treat to meet all these people…because really, don’t you feel like you’ve just made their acquaintance?
Lynn and I would love to hear your response to her post. Do you have questions, thoughts, reactions, favs? Let us know by leaving a comment on the blog!
Thanks so much for joining us here today.
Until next time,
PS. Here is the info about the image that starts the blog:
Lynn Howarth, ‘Her Coat of Many Colours,’ 2019, soft pastel on PastelMat, 50×70 cm. NFS.
Winner of the Paisley Art Institute’s Annual Exhibition Piazza Paisley Award. This portrait was inspired by a desire to challenge myself to do not one but two portraits of my daughter. I’d watched her standing at our fireplace mantle piece and saw her reflection in the big mirror above it and thought how it would make a really lovely painting. To make it that bit more complex I got her to put on my paisley patterned silk kimono which is brightly coloured and very intricate. I set the whole scene up in our sitting room to sketch her to get the best pose then took many photos to try and capture the feeling I wanted to convey.
She’s a very beautiful young woman inside and out as she works as a mental health nurse and is truly committed to helping people at their lowest and most vulnerable. She is an inspiration to all who meet her and this was my tribute to a much beloved daughter. I hope the love and admiration I have for her shines through in this painting!