Okay, this is a wee bit different from what I expected to be publishing. Aaron Schuerr, our guest this month, is renowned for his plein air work. In fact, he just won the Best Pastel award at the recent Plein Air Convention in Santa Fe! And what he’s really known for is extreme plein air meaning he paints in all seasons – rain, snow, or shine – and he also goes deep into the landscape to paint.

I admit it, I’m a fairweather, take-the-easy-route kinda gal so I’m intrigued by the determination, commitment and fortitude it takes to do what Aaron does. So I asked him if he’d like to write a guest post around that topic. He said sure (in spite of being swamped with building and painting projects!). Yay!

And then this arrived. He prefaced it by saying: “It’s a little short and slightly off topic, but it’s what’s been on my mind.” Hmmmm I thought…. And then I read what he’d sent and I was yes, yes, YES!!

I’m delighted to present this gift to you from Aaron Schuerr!

Don’t know Aaron’s work? Here’s a teaser:

Aaron Schuerr, "Armstrong Spring Creek, "pastel, 16x20in. Private collection
Aaron Schuerr, “Armstrong Spring Creek, “pastel, 16x20in. Private collection

And before we get going, here’s a wee bit about Aaron.

Aaron Schuerr Bio

From remote villages in Morocco to the high mountains of Montana, Aaron Schuerr has ranged far and wide to satisfy his artistic wanderlust. He has embarked on solo painting treks across the Grand Canyon and deep into the wilderness of his home state of Montana. In 2020 he was a guest on The Kelly Clarkson Show, interviewed about his plein air paintings. His work has been featured in publications as diverse as The Times of London, Bored Panda, My Modern Met, Southwest Art, and Plein Air Magazine. Schuerr is a frequent contributing writer to The Pastel Journal and The Artist Magazine and has penned a cover article for Plein Air Magazine. He just returned from the 2022 Plein Air Convention where he won “Best Pastel” for this year’s Plein Air Salon. (See his winning painting at the end!) You can see more of his work here.

And now here’s Aaron to share his thoughts on art and struggle.


Art is steeped in failure. It never comes out the way I imagined it. In my worst moments, I feel like every painting should come with a disclaimer: This is the best I could do. I’m sorry it’s not any better.

Sometimes painting feels like telling a girl you love her with a mouthful of marbles. I shoot for poetry, and it comes out prose. I stumble somewhere between execution and aspiration. My hand gets in the way. It just won’t listen to my brain.

After every painting, I dust myself off and try again. This time it’ll be different, I think.  And, you know what? It is different.

Today is a new day.

Like a child, I am growing. I just cannot see it or feel it. Remember when that aunt or uncle you hadn’t seen in a long time came to visit, and exclaimed how much you’ve grown? That’s us. If we’re persistent we will grow, sometimes in spurts, other times by degrees.

Aaron Schuerr, "Winter Gold," pastel, 24x18 in. Private collection
Aaron Schuerr, “Winter Gold,” pastel, 24×18 in. Private collection

It’s easy to assume that the artists we look up to are all grace while we are all struggle. In my worst moments, I am jealous of greater talents. Grace isn’t in a deft hand; it is in the recognition that you are exactly who you should be. We can be jealous, or we can be inspired.

While visiting The Metropolitan Museum of Art a few years ago, I walked into a room of Degas pastels. I could barely breathe. I started crying right there in the museum. A grown man, crying and thinking, “Degas was half-blind when he painted these.” 

Imagine his frustration. He never got to see his best work, not clearly.

So, I’m feeling embarrassed by this show of emotion, and I’m thanking him for not giving up, even when his best tool, his eyesight, was failing him. He had moved from struggle to a place of grace because he continued to struggle. He painted what he saw and, with failing eyesight, he saw the essence of the figure.

Degas didn’t soften any edges, didn’t blend the pastel. Look at the late paintings and you see layer upon layer. You can almost work backwards, from finish to start, layer by layer. You can feel the pastel scrape against the paper, see color vibrate against color.

What a gift.

Here’s the point – I will never paint with the deft hand of Degas. It’s just not in the cards for me. 

Aaron Schuerr, "San Juan Gold," pastel, 24x24in. Private collection
Aaron Schuerr, “San Juan Gold,” pastel, 24x24in. Private collection

But, because I paint, I can understand the pastels of Degas in a way that no layman can. He persisted, and I too can persist.

Wherever you are in your journey, you are a step ahead of where you were.

Because you paint, you see the world in a way that few others do. You see art with an understanding that few others have.

What a gift. 

It’s important to occasionally step back from “How to Pastel” and remember why we pastel. It’s not only to communicate but also to understand.

Aaron Schuerr, "Yellowstone Sunset Study," 9x12in. Private collection
Aaron Schuerr, “Yellowstone Sunset Study,” 9x12in. Private collection

All we can do is step up to the easel and tell the truth as best as we can. Painting is a way of saying “I love you.” It can feel awkward. It can feel exposed. You might not be where you want to be. You might feel inadequate. But maybe, just maybe, the recipient will look back and say, “I love you too.”

Aaron Schuerr, "Afternoon Glare," pastel, 11 x 18 in. Winner of Best Pastel in 2022 Plein Air Salon at the annual Plein Air Convention
Aaron Schuerr, “Afternoon Glare,” pastel, 10 x 18 in. Winner of the Best Pastel award in the 2022 Plein Air Salon Awards at the 9th annual Plein Air Convention


Tissue alert!

Honestly, when I read Aaron’s words, I was and am moved to tears. Why? Because they go so deeply to the heart of who we are as artists. Aaron writes so openly about our struggles to do the best we can in spite of feeling inadequate and awkward and less-than. A gift indeed!

We’d love to hear your reaction to Aaron’s post so please do leave a comment!

And that’s it for now.

Until next time,

~ Gail

PS. If you want to read something about Aaron’s extreme plein air experience, click here.

PPS. If you’d like Aaron to write a post about working en plein air, please leave that in the blog comments too!!

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85 thoughts on “Aaron Schuerr – Art And Struggle”

    1. Annie I’m gratified that you have been so moved by Aaron’s post. I’m with you in your motion. Thank you for sharing so vulnerably.

    2. That is one of things I love about art…we understand each other in the sense of frustration, love, dedication and trials. I love to read artist biographies and every one I’ve read has felt the way that I feel in the goal of improving and putting something down that we are proud of and emotionally connected to.

    3. Both Aaron’s poetic paintings and his gentle reminder move me to the core. Thank you, Gail, for inviting him -and the other wonderful pastelists you’ve invited- to share his thoughts.

    4. thank you for posting this. I’m a bit late in seeing it, and then again I found it just at the right time. I’m here in the middle of hurricane Ian devastation, wondering why I bother making art (after 50 -some years of painting). That’s it in a nut shell though. You fall in love, and want to share it. The morning light on the toothpick remains of trees was so beautiful yesterday, I had to paint it. sad and beautiful at the same time.

  1. Aaron’s honesty and his accurate vulnerable description of our internal and external challenges brought me to tears. His sharing these soul experiences calls me to continued courage, commitment and love.
    Thank you.

    1. Ahhhh Betty. And thank you for sharing your own vulnerable response to Aaron’s words. I’m glad they move you to continued courage and commitment to your art. Yeah.

  2. That was so powerful! I am going to put it in a file and reread anytime I get frustrated. Thank Aaron so much for being an inspiring artist and writer . Thanks Gail for introducing your readers to so many great artists . I always enjoy your newsletter and your art. Best wishes and thanks!!!

    1. Yeah!! That’s such a great plan Melissa. It’s definitely one to come back to again and again.
      And thank you for your kind words!! They keep me going 😁

  3. Beautifully said! Our best painting is always the one we are about to do and after we do it we know the next one will be the really good one. Continued growth and continued struggle are about all we can ask for. Thank you both for sharing these profound thoughts.

  4. Love every single phrase. The best words about an artist’s journey in my opinion. Saved it, so when the time comes and I need “dust myself off and try again”, I can read and reread his inspiring and reinsuring post.
    I’ve never heard Aaron Schuerr’s name before, but now it is on my list of favourite artists. Thank you

    1. That is marvellous to hear Olga. It really is a keeper…and one to pull out when we need a pick-me-up and dust-ourselves-off as you describe it.

      And ohhh I’m so glad to be able to introduce you to this fine artist and human being!!

  5. WOW! I am moved to tears. I am starting to understand myself more. I want to see more, understand the layers and yes another blog on his Plein air painting please. I love the vibrancy of his work. But also I want to rush out and look at Degas paintings to see the delicacy of pastel layers. I need to quieten my brain now. Focus and paint. Love your blogs Gail.

    1. Lynn, I love your rush of words and feelings! Thank you. I was actually going to include a couple of pieces by Degas but I decided against it as I thought they would distract us from the depth and power of Aaron’s words. (But there is a link to a Degas painting!)

      Focus and paint. That’s the ticket!

      And thanks for the vote on a plein air article from Aaron! (And I’m so glad you love the blogs 😊)

  6. Oh Gail, this is a keeper. Such love. Such humility in face the impossible quest for perfection, being at last able to say, “This is it. This is what I intended.” Even though we build on experience, each painting is the first one, in a certain sense. We do a tightwire act: past success is no guarantee of future ones. Much gratitude to this generous soul who has shared his beautiful message for all to cherish.
    And thanks to you for bringing it to us.

  7. I just want to thank Aaron for being so open and honest – it takes a courage that I lack but inspires me, nonetheless. (I love your work too x)

  8. It amazes me that someone of Aaron’s caliber and talent can still feel at times like he is failing. Now I’m also amazed at his honesty. Wow. In some ways it gives one hope — and in others, it’s like, gee, if HE feels like a failure sometimes, then how can I ever feel like a success?? LOL Great piece — and I would STILL love to hear about Aaron’s plein air experiences. Thanks so much, Gail, for bringing us such amazing essays on pastel from such a wide array of talents.

    1. Ohhh Paula, I hadn’t thought of that other way of looking at things! I think the main thing though is that we all feel that way sometimes. We are a community of artists with so much in common and it’s good to know we aren’t alone in having these kinds of thoughts.

      And you are so welcome!

  9. This is a prayer to the art goddesses. Seriously I think I will post it in the studio to remind me that whatever I do that day is the best I can. Tomorrow will be different but I will always strive for the best of the day. Thank you Aaron

  10. Wow, Aaron Schuerr’s words are as encouraging as his work is bright and beautiful.
    I have found myself using that disclaimer with every painting I have done for a gift. Promising a redo when I have improved.
    This post helped me to see that I should focus on how much I have grown instead on waiting to be more accomplished.

  11. Thank you Aaron for expressing what so many of us feel. It’s so easy to get caught up in all the who, what where and when of shows, galleries, timelines, etc that we lose sight of the why.

    Great article.

  12. It often amazes me that great artists like Aaron suffer from the same frustration as us duffers. I’m sure that the artists from history whom we now revere at the auction block, also had their doubts and failures. As we struggle to improve, this is a good thing to remember.

    1. Indeed Andi, I am sure that ALL artists go or have gone through these various doubts and frustrations. I think that’s just part of being an artist!

  13. Thank you Aaron!! I’ve been feeling very “less than” lately, and I so needed to “hear” your sensitive, insightful words. I will keep this in a prominent place where I can visit it and revisit it. Thank you Gail for sharing his beautiful gift.

  14. I do have tears in my eyes from reading Aaron’s beautiful words. This really hit the spot…made me appreciate so much of what this experience of being an artist entails. He expresses so well the experience of being an ever-struggling artist. His use of color is amazing. This post was a gift. Many thanks to Aaron for his sensitive words and thank you, Gail, for inviting him.
    I would love to see an article about his plein air experiences.

    1. Wendy, it is my deep pleasure to bring Aaron’s words to HowtoPastel and have them affect others as I was affected when I first read them.
      Thanks for a thumbs up to hearing about his plein air work.

  15. I am overwhelmed and will read his post again and again. His exquisite paintings are matched by his deeply moving words that gave me what feels like a declaration of love. He touched me as Degas
    touched him.

    THANK YOU, Gail, for this gift.

    1. How beautifully said Anita! Thank you!
      And you are so welcome – I do get so much pleasure from the giving and seeing how this piece from Aaron has resonated so deeply with many.

  16. How true Aaron’s words are. As I was reading this I thought this is the perfect message to give my pastel class. Some of them are very shy and insecure in their painting – they tend to want to give up too easily. I tell them that paintings often have an ugly stage and if they just keep trying it can work out. Maybe if they realize someone as talented as Aaron feels inadequate too they will persist a little longer and see that they really are making progress.

    1. Anne I think that’s a really fantastic idea. All of us, no matter what stage we’re at, need to hear and understand this message so vulnerably stated by Aaron!

      1. Encouraging message. We need to be kind to ourselves and realize it is all a work in progress. I will keep making my small steps and find the good in each piece.

  17. Honest, gut wrenching truth. The humility in this man is a beautiful thing. His words got into my heart and soul, and made me tear up too, Gail. Because it’s all so true about almost all of us painters. We’re all just walking the same road, and thank God we have eachother to share our feelings about who we are and honestly about how we feel about what we do.
    Thank you Gail and thank you Aaron for your honesty.

    1. Maureen, thank you for your own soul truth! And yes, it’s indeed wonderful to have each other and to be able to share honestly about how we feel.

  18. Aaron’s words, just like his incredible paintings, resonate with us because what he says is the truth that many of us want to understand, but just can’t yet connect on the same level he can. We can all get there if we keep up the struggle!

  19. Time and time again, I feel so grateful that you artists make my life happier. Gail, sharing and explaining your work, and other people’s works, is like opening the door to a secret garden. You make us feel so privileged. I’ve never read anything like Aaron’s post.
    So deep and yet humble. Today I really feel at a disadvantage not being a native speaker. I don’t think I can find the adequate words . Maybe just thank you?

  20. I’m always encouraged each time I read an article by Aaron S. I too can “see it” in my mind and it makes perfect sense, my preliminary drawing tell me I’m on the right track, but then I pick up the pastels…..
    I have many starts and stops, but keep going. I too can say, I did the best I can, knowing each time it gets better and better. Thanks for a great article! I’d also enjoy reading about some of Aaron’s outdoor painting adventures. Thanks.

    1. Ahhh Lori, we do, we grow…no matter the outcome. Glad you enjoyed Aaron’s article.
      And hopefully Aaron will be kind enough to share a plein air article in the future!

  21. You have had some wonderful artists on your blogs, but this one takes the cake. He writes beautifully and paints brilliantly. Have been following him for a while now and after reading this blog, understand why his paintings capture so much feeling. Yes please to further articles.

  22. Thank you, you two! This is so timely as it relates to a conversation I just had with a friend about Rollo May’s book, The Courage to Create and the importance of doubt and its encouraging us to persevere and grow. Aaron’s words are so humble, yet powerful in letting us know that we all feel this at times. Every artist needs to read this and feel empowered.

  23. This post truly shook me. It felt like a personal message from the other side. Like many people and many artists the pandemic dropped me in my tracks. I wanted to paint but just starting was all I do. I had an unfinished painting on my easel for a year in my studio. All I could was look at it. I was told my image was not going to make a good painting. I brushed it out a couple of times, reselected pastel sticks and sprayed it with fixative. Finally after the year I started in earnest and finished it. That felt so good! It was inspiring. The painting isn’t great but had captured the morning light that I had seen. Thank you Gail and Aaron Schuerr helping me understand my own struggle.

    1. Marie, thanks so much for sharing your own struggle AND your success in moving forward with the act of painting. It’s so easy to get bogged down in the inertia of not doing. Good for you pulling yourself out of it!

  24. Aaron’s first paragraph really hit home. I have had artist’s block for the last 2 months since I did a painting for a very special friend’s special birthday and it did not come out at all as I wanted. I showed it to him and apologised for it being so mediocre and refused to actually give it to him that day promising I would try again even though he said he loved it. Since then I have been afraid to try and disappointed in myself but now that I understand that ALL artists feel like that, even someone who produces such beautiful work as Aaron it has given me the confidence to move on. Thank you Aaron and thank you Gail for introducing us to his work!

    1. First Krysia, I’m sorry to hear you’ve been experiencing an interruption in your art-making due to heavy-duty self-criticism. AND, I’m glad that Aaron’s post has helped you understand how we ALL do that and that you can now move on.

      Thanks for popping up here and sharing what’s been up with you. We miss you in IGNITE! Come and say hi when you can! We want to help!!

  25. Great job, Aaron! You capture the essence of artist pursuit perfectly. It is truly all about growth. As I often say, art takes more than a lifetime to master. Sometimes I’m patient, and most times, I’m not! Thank you for being so vulnerable and for sharing your wisdom!

  26. Aaron is authentic in his view toward evaluating himself and then he beautifully gives hope to himself and the rest of us. It’s a matter of loving what you are doing, working at stretching to improve, and in the end being gentle with oneself. Loving what you are doing and the process is the gift we give ourselves.

  27. As you said, Gail…yes, yes, and YES! Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I put artists like Aaron S. (and you too) on a pedestal, but perhaps this magnificent work comes from a human that is like the rest of us? I’m so grateful that he has the humility to let us know.

  28. Thank you a million times for your words as well as the gift of your paintings that you share with us. It boggles the mind that painters we look up to can say they still struggle and feel inadequate. Somehow we always compare ourselves outwardly instead of looking for inward validation. It’s hard not to do that while we enter shows and hope for awards, but in reality it is our soul that we are putting on the paper/canvas. I was interviewed recently and found myself saying “yes i am a wife and mother, but the title i gave myself was artist, and it was hard earned.” Aaron reminds us of the humanity and humility of being an artist, we are gifted and grateful.

    1. Jeri thank you for your warm and amazed response. And thank you for sharing your insightful thoughts regarding outward and inward validation. We are gifted indeed to be artists!

  29. Aaron’s words are so moving and so very humble considering the talent that his works of art display. I really appreciate the feelings that he expressed in his post.

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Gail Sibley

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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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