Carol Strock Wasson. She’s an artist I’ve watched for a number of years, marvelling at her close-in-value landscapes that always grab my attention. I’d written about her work twice in my monthly roundups. (You can see and read them here and here.) Intrigued as I am with her work, I knew it was about time that I invited her to be a guest on HowToPastel! I was delighted when she said yes, and even more delighted when I read her submission. You are in for a visual and learning treat. Get your pen and notebook out!
Don’t know her work? Here’s a piece that blew me away at the last IAPS show in Albuquerque in 2022. Be sure to note the size!
Before I hand over the blog, here’s a wee bit about Carol Strock Wasson!
BIO for Carol Strock Wasson
Carol Strock Wasson is a signature and master member of many well-known pastel organizations. She is focused on painting with spontaneity and freshness using the pastel medium. Her paintings are deeply rooted in the rural area she lives in. You can find more of her work here on her website.
And now, here is Carol Strock Wasson to share her wisdom!
I never intended to be an artist. After all, as my parents said, “How can you support yourself?” I was happily attending college on my career path in Chemical Engineering when I suddenly became very ill and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. With that twist in the road, my life changed dramatically and my artistic self took over. I feel fortunate to still be alive and painting after 47 years of the disease.
I first started painting en plein air before it was popular. I would often be out by myself along the side of the road. The experience taught me about colour, value, shape, design, and most of all, the light and capturing the feel of the light. Being out in the open air, seeing, hearing, and painting the colour of the light made me feel a part of the landscape as if I belonged in this world. Because my paintings are so deeply rooted in the environment, they often reflect the rural area I live in.
Over the years. I have experimented with many different mediums but I keep returning to pastel. Other mediums become unworkable over time, but pastels can be picked up and restarted with ease even years later. I love the vibrancy and simplicity of pastels. They are applied directly to the surface of the painting and mixing is done there, not on the palette. Results and corrections can be made immediately. Pastels are also so versatile. You can underpaint or overpaint with just about any other medium and continue to apply pastel.
New Ideas On Seeing Value
For the last several years I have been incorporating the idea of limited, controlled value as an essential tool of my painting. Most artists know and use the colour wheel and it is an important tool. Understanding the value (lightness and darkness) of a colour and how it affects the painting to give the mood and atmosphere is a greater tool. We all know the quote, “Value does the work, but colour gets the glory.” I like to work with that thought, exploring how value works. Through colour theory books and other artists, I learned the power of controlling and limiting the values in my paintings.
Another quote that goes along with limitations is, “Creativity thrives within constraints.“ We would not use every colour in the colour wheel and the same goes for value. Learn to limit your values!
One of the best tools I use to control my value is a Gray Scale and Value Finder, available at any art store or online. If you don’t have a Grayscale and Value Finder, it’s easy to make one. I’ve made many over the years in oil and pastel.
To find the value of any colour, hold the value scale over the colour and squint. If the value is not correct, you will see a noticeable difference between the two. If the value and colour are correct, the two will almost read as one.
I sort my pastels by value, very light, light, medium, dark and very dark, I learned this from Susan Kuznitsky. This helps me since I paint by value not color. I used to keep them in Tupperware bins but recently I built my own value box with the 5 values. Each bin measures 18×28 in and is filled with cornmeal to keep them separated. Cornmeal also cleans the pastels. I purchased a 50lb bag through Amazon.
1. What is the Big Idea
My larger studio paintings start with what I call “The Big Idea.” This is an idea that excites me. Sometimes it begins with a dream or by looking at another artist’s work or even observation while painting en plein air. The big idea will usually humble me in my realization of my poor attempts to paint.
2. Work, Work, Work
Next comes all the work. The grey scale value finder and the colour wheel are important parts of this process.
I make multiple thumbnails to define the composition, value notes to find my value harmony, colour notes and colour experiments to figure out what colour harmony is best. Sometimes just a few will do. Other times, it takes many dozens before I feel ready to tackle the idea in a large format. I am always asking: What if I do this? What if I tweaked it just a little more? How far can I push my values?
3. Destroy and Recreate
After I decide I’m ready to start a painting, I sketch in the shapes lightly and gently apply colour of the appropriate value and colour harmony. A light gentle touch to start.
It’s important to remember not to fall in love with your painting during the process. Always be ready to destroy and recreate, destroy and recreate, until the painting is complete.
“Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may be a valuable delusion.”~ Richard Diebenkorn
4. Pastels are not Delicate.
Many people think that pastel is delicate and dainty but not in my world. I use many tools when painting – brayers, squeegees, clear gesso, big brushes, clear gesso, sprays, sticks, stones, etc. All the different tools help to add the layers of pastel that I need to destroy and recreate to create the atmosphere I strive for. I use these tools in underpainting and overpainting, sometimes all over, sometimes only in certain areas.
Here are some tips I follow
1. Change Your Photos To Greyscale.
When I am painting in the studio from photos, I always change my photos to grayscale. Photos will lie to you about colour and value and you must be aware of what those lies are and how to avoid them. I pick my colour harmony and value harmony based on observation made en plein air, on imagination, and on knowledge of colour theory learned over the years. I use photos mainly for detail interpretation.
2. The Power of Value
The power of understanding the value of a colour comes when working when you use two or three colours of the same or close in value, side by side or dragged over each other within a shape. I love moving up close to a painting I’m working on and seeing the interaction of all the colours.
I have a love of close-value paintings and the idea of things seen and not seen until closer examination. This is one of the beauties of working close in value. I love to slip in small value changes to create illusions of something there.
I always ask myself how close I can go in value and still interpret the landscape – what surprises can be revealed upon closer examination? The viewer can look at some of my hazier paintings and perhaps see more using their own imagination.
3. Create Historical Files On Artists
Knowledge of historical artists is an important aspect of painting. History is the base upon which we paint. We should know how masters of the past thought and worked and solved problems. We deal with the same problems they did.
Over the years I have collected many great books. (See the list of some at the end of this post.). On my computer, I collect files of master artists that I refer back to constantly. These are artists who are deceased and whose work has stood the test of time.
Looking up artists and reading about their techniques has improved and inspired my own work. One of the things I have discovered in looking at historical artists is that women were just as good as men, but we rarely hear who those women were.
Whenever I am in an I-don’t-feel-like-painting mood, I will copy a master painting. Doing this serves two purposes: it keeps me thinking about art and it keeps me pushing my technical skills.
4. Habits of Effective Artists
I work at painting or looking at art every day.
I always do my daily work.
I don’t let anyone or anything get in the way of doing my painting. I consider painting my work. It’s a job that I must show up for, it’s never a hobby.
Developing a schedule for creativity is important. The brain likes habits. So develop a painting habit. Every day at the same time every morning is my most creative time.
“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.”~ Chuck Close
5. Find Your Tribe
I am from a small rural town where it’s hard to find people who are as passionate about art as I am. One of my past mentors, Robert Farlow, once told me that we need to find our community, our tribe to grow as artists. When I became a member of Indiana Plein air Painters, I became part of a tribe, something bigger than myself. Now, thanks to Zoom and the internet, I have many other connections – PSA, PSWC, IAPS, CPP – where I am part of an even larger community, where ideas are shared and connections are made.
6. Find Your Own Space
Have your own area to paint, something that gives ample space to spread out and grow. Have an area that you can keep as clean or as messy as you want.
7. There’s An App For Everything
Some days, due to travel or sitting in an office waiting, you just can’t paint. For those days, I still exercise my artistic brain with this game that hones my colour skills: Blendoku. I even wrote a blog post, “Command of Color,” on how I use Blendoku in painting. There’s also an online game at samesame od different.
Here are a few images showing some of my process – value and colour studies.
Value studies 1 and 2 are starts of studies to develop a painting idea. I use the grey scale to make the values come closer together. I am no longer referring back to the photo but looking at the value scale to make changes, concentrating on keeping the values close. At this point its debatable whether it will develop further.
Value Study for barn 1: Using a wider range of values I can achieve the contrast to create a sunny day.
Colour Note Study for Barn 1, Complement blue/orange: Staying with the values picked out in the value study, colour is added in the blue and orange colour harmony of complement.
Value Study for barn 2 dark values: If I stay in the darker areas of the value scale I can get achieve the feel of a moonlit night
Colour Note Study for Barn 2 Analogous cool: I used the analogous colours of blue, green, violet in the darker values to get the cool feel of the night
Value study for barn 3 light values: I think this is one of the hardest value study, I am trying to get the feel of a foggy morning, all values become lighter. It’s difficult to stay in that range.
Colour Note Study for Barn 3 Triad: Colours tend to lose their identity when the values are so light. Any colours could be used. I decided to use the colour harmony of orange, green, violet Triad.
Here’s a list of recommended books from Carol Strock Wasson:
The Elements of Color by Johannes Itten
Now it’s time for you to let us know what you think! We’d love to hear your thoughts and questions!
A HUGE thank you to Carol Strock Wasson for all these beautiful images and nuggets of wisdom. Pay attention. Lots to learn from here!!
Until next time,