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Laura Mocnik, Hand of an Artist, pastels on Sennelier La Carte paper, 11 1/2 x 12 1/2 in. Sold.

Laura Mocnik – Intuitive Colour, Precise Draughtsmanship

For quite some time now, every time a new figurative piece by artist Laura Mocnik appeared, I would sigh in admiration. And then, one day, I had the brilliant (hah hah) idea to ask if she would contribute an article to HowToPastel. And her positive answer brings you this guest post. Yay!!

If you don’t know Laura’s work, then I’m delighted to be the one to introduce it to you!

Here’s a teaser…

Laura Mocnik, Morning Memories, pastels on Canson Ingres paper, 13 1/2 x 18 in.
Laura Mocnik, Morning Memories, pastels on Canson Ingres paper, 13 1/2 x 18 in. Available. My First Award – Marks of Distinction 2020 – Richardson Award #1 – I used the kneaded eraser quite a bit on this one. I think that drawing is not only what you put down but what you take away also. For me, the kneaded eraser is as important as using the pastel pencil. It doesn’t matter what you use. It could be a razor blade or paper towel to take the colour off as long as you get the effect you want. That is the important thing. And the grey of the paper allowed me to establish my light and my dark, judging my values accordingly.

Before I hand you over, here’s a wee bit about Laura Mocnick.

Bio for Laura Mocnik

Laura Mocnik is an award-winning pastel artist living in Michigan, USA. She studied art at a few different colleges. She loves to draw! A Signature Member of the Pastel Society of America, she also obtained the IAPS Master Circle in 2022. Her inspiration comes from studying the Masters, particularly Toulouse-Lautrec, van Gogh, Degas, and Richard Schmid. For more info, visit her website

Now here’s Laura! 

~~~~~

John Singer Sargent commented that Monet had astigmatism and his colours were the way he saw them. Astigmatism causes light to focus unevenly on the retina. Sargent also had astigmatism so maybe his colours were also the way he saw them. I think most people would agree that both these artists’ use of colour was beautiful. 

All of us have our favourite colours which then show up continually in our work. And certain colours can trigger an emotional response too. 

Why do children see colour differently? 

I read the following: A child told his father that she wanted to go to the blue building again. He knew the building was white, but she saw it blue. Maybe because of the reflection of the sky? But the combination of colour and emotion is especially strong in children up to seven years old. In this group, blue is strongly connected to happiness. 

It seems that in adults, happiness is mainly connected to the colours green and yellow. However, I’m not crazy about the use of green. That’s probably why I don’t paint landscapes. Yet I’m still a happy person. For children, the colour white is associated with anxiety and grief. In adults, it’s black. But I love the use of white and black and it’s not because of anxiety or grief. Renoir thought that black was the queen of colours.  

Laura Mocnik, His World, pastels on Canson Ingres paper, 11 x 15 in. Sold.
Laura Mocnik, His World, pastels on Canson Ingres paper, 11 x 15 in. Sold. My photo reference was from my neighbour’s children swimming in the creek that runs along our property up in northern Michigan.

So, children have a strong connection between emotion and colour, and this is much less shown in adults. We all know how colourful paintings by children are. Maybe if we connected more with our emotions, we might see colour again as a child. But maybe you might want to see it in a different way because, after all, colour is in the eye of the beholder.

My use of colour and the way I see it depends on how I’m feeling at the time. First and foremost, I strive to paint “light.” I never lay out specific colours for a palette when I’m beginning a portrait, except for my standard use of grey, black, and white pastel pencils.  

When I start connecting with my drawing and it starts speaking to me, I find some colours that seem to work and then I continue with those specific colours. I use colour intuitively, maybe grabbing a few more as I go along. 

My palette is usually very limited. However, sometimes I surprise myself and find that the portrait I’m working on needs lots of colour so then I use more soft pastels. But it is never planned in advance. It’s a spontaneous expression. When the work starts speaking for itself, I don’t interrupt.

Laura Mocnik, Repose, pastels on Toned paper, 9 1/2 x 14 in. Available.
Laura Mocnik, Repose, pastels on toned paper, 9 1/2 x 14 in. Available.

I tend to use mostly medium grey and tanned toned paper compared to my use of colourful grounds as I find the grey of the paper allows me to get a better sense of value when I’m starting a portrait. I also never start with an underpainting of watercolour or anything else. All my drawings start with charcoal pencil. Then I switch to pastel pencils.  I simplify and omit all but the most essential elements in my work.

Swimming in the Creek was done on grey Canson Ingres paper. I dry-mount most of my work as it gives me a more stable surface to work on. 

I was inspired to do this one from some photos I took of my neighbour’s children swimming on a very hot day in the creek that runs through our property at our cabin in northern Michigan. The photo just spoke to me and I knew I had to draw it.

Laura Mocnik, Swimming in the Creek, pastels on Canson Ingres paper, 11 x 15 in. 2019 35th Juried Exhibition IAPS - progress #1
Laura Mocnik, Swimming in the Creek, – progress #1
Laura Mocnik, Swimming in the Creek, pastels on Canson Ingres paper, 11 x 15 in. 2019 35th Juried Exhibition IAPS - drawing with reference on computer
Laura Mocnik, Swimming in the Creek – progress #2 with reference on computer

I started with charcoal pencil and then quickly changed to black pastel to get the value correct. I like using paper that is smooth rather than sanded. I also make good use of the kneaded eraser on both papers. Done in 2019, the progress shot is almost like a finished drawing in black pastel, which I do not do as much anymore. Now I tend to just put in the basics of the drawing and value and then switch to pastel pencils. 

Laura Mocnik, Swimming in the Creek, pastels on Canson Ingres paper, 11 x 15 in. Available. Progress
Laura Mocnik, Swimming in the Creek – progress #3

Sometimes I feel like I’m working on the beginning of an oil painting where I can push the drawing around, erase, wipe out, and change it if I don’t like what’s happening. I want to make sure I have a strong drawing. 

Laura Mocnik, Swimming in the Creek, pastels on Canson Ingres paper, 11 x 15 in. 2019 35th Juried Exhibition IAPS
Laura Mocnik, Swimming in the Creek, pastels on Canson Ingres paper, 11 x 15 in. Available.

I like what Richard Schmid said in a video I have of some of his portraits. I’m somewhat paraphrasing but he said that carved in stone above the French Academy in Rome are some words written in French, which he couldn’t pronounce. 

“What it translates to is…well drawn is well painted. What that means is if something is strong as a drawing, it doesn’t matter how you paint it, it will hold its own. Just, for example, the music of Bach kind of holds up no matter who plays it or how they translate it into digital music or jazz. There is something about that underlying strength of Bach that comes through no matter what.” 

I’ve always believed that good drawing is the foundation of good art. I’m drawn to draughtsmanship. It may surprise people that drawing is not easy for me. It’s something that I really work hard at.

Laura Mocnik, Far Away, pastels on toned Strathmore paper, 11 x 8 1/2 in. Available.
Laura Mocnik, Far Away, 2024, pastels on toned Strathmore paper, 11 x 8 1/2 in. Available. I don’t know how long I will continue to draw faces. There are things that people get excited about and do over and over again for years. And then you’ve done it! And then it doesn’t excite you anymore and you go onto something else.

Dare to be Different, which won the Art Collector Award in the 50th Enduring Brilliance show, was done on watercolour paper toned with coffee. The progress of this one is more the way I work now. 

I do not attempt to do a complete value drawing. I mostly just draw it out and then start right in with the pastel. However, I do lay down my darkest darks and my lightest lights and judge the values accordingly. 

Laura Mocnik, Dare to be Different, pastels on watercolour paper toned with coffee, 13 1/2 x 11 1/2 in. Available. Progress #1
Laura Mocnik, Dare to be Different, working on watercolour paper toned with coffee – progress #1
Laura Mocnik, Dare to be Different, pastels on watercolour paper toned with coffee, 13 1/2 x 11 1/2 in. Available. Progress #2
Laura Mocnik, Dare to be Different – progress #2

I saw this woman on the beach in Florida. She was dancing to music and in her own little world. I loved her hair and her attitude. I told her I was an artist and asked if I could please take her picture. Turned out that she was also an artist. She was more than willing to pose for me. I have several photos of her that I plan to use sometime in the future.

Laura Mocnik, Dare to be Different, pastels on watercolour paper toned with coffee, 13 1/2 x 11 1/2 in. Available. Progress #3
Laura Mocnik, Dare to be Different – progress #3
Laura Mocnik, Dare to be Different, pastels on watercolour paper toned with coffee, 13 1/2 x 11 1/2 in. Available.
Laura Mocnik, Dare to be Different, pastels on watercolour paper toned with coffee, 13 1/2 x 11 1/2 in. Available. 50TH 2022 Enduring Brilliance – Art Collector Award. Drawing is the basis for everything. And it is always changing. Otherwise, if you get the drawing right, then you are just filling in with color. I need to be questioning everything as I go along. The main thing is that nothing becomes a manner. That is why I change the grounds I work on and approach each drawing as if it were my first one.

I made my first pastel by accident in 1999. I was working on a large watercolour using 300 lb. watercolour paper. It was from a photo I took of my niece’s jazz teacher. The painting ended up completely overworked. I washed it off in the sink, but the drawing was still there. 

I had a box of Rembrandt pastels I’d bought that I had never used plus some NuPastels that were given to me and I decided to see if I could turn the piece into a pastel painting. Taking out one of my Degas books, I saw how he layered colour on top of colour and that is what I proceeded to do. I found that the cold-pressed watercolor paper really held the application of layering the pastel. Surprisingly, I liked how it turned out, so I titled it Jazz Dancer. I entered it into a well-known local art show. It took 3rd Place and was purchased by the artist who won 1st Place. It was also the first painting I ever sold!  

Laura Mocnik, Jazz Dancer, pastels on watercolour paper, 22 x 30 in. Available.
Laura Mocnik, Jazz Dancer, pastels on watercolour paper, 22 x 30 in. Available. 3rd Place – Fall Festival of the Arts 1999

My goal was then to win 1st Place which I did in 2000 at the next show with my pastel The Final Bow, also created on 300 lb watercolour paper. 

I read that Degas would sometimes use gouache with his pastels. So, I toned the paper with a brown gouache and used NuPastel and Rembrandt again. This was my last pastel and, I thought, the last time I did any artwork. I had decided to continue only with my piano playing.

Laura Mocnik, The Final Bow, pastels on watercolour paper, 22 x 30 in. Available.
Laura Mocnik, The Final Bow, pastels on watercolour paper, 22 x 30 in. Available. 1st Place – Fall Festival of the Arts 2000.

My whole world turned upside down when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006.  After chemo, I turned to my art again. But this time I used it as my therapy. I felt the need to draw again so I bought more pastel pencils and more Rembrandt pastels, and I started entering more local art shows.

There is nothing special about how I create my portraits. For me, it is still my therapy. It is about the peace I find when I am drawing.

Laura Mocnik, Woman and Leaves, pastels on cardboard paper, 17 x 22 in. Available.
Laura Mocnik, Woman and Leaves, 2022, pastels on cardboard paper, 17 x 22 in. Available. Appeared in the Pastel USA 99 Voices and Strokes of Genius – The Best of Drawing. I did this on cardboard because I liked the tone and colour.

Painting and drawing figures and portraits is something I love far above any other subject matter. I work from photos that I put onto a larger screen. All my drawings are freehand and site-size drawings. I used to draw from life with other artists, but my eyesight isn’t as good as it used to be. I need to be up close to the model, which is hard to do with a group of artists. 

I take photos of my family and friends. I ask to take photos of people I see walking or sitting on the beach in Florida, and most of the time they say yes. I look for an expression, something that connects with me, something that tells a story. My work begins in my imagination and spirit where I strive to blend technique with emotions. I try to convey not only the image but the mood and atmosphere as well.  

Laura Mocnik, Refreshing, pastels on Pastel Premier paper toned with brown gouache, 11 x 15 in. Available.
Laura Mocnik, Refreshing, 2021, pastels on Pastel Premier paper toned with brown gouache, 11 x 15 in. Available. This received a 3rd Place and also a 1st place in Marks of Distinction. I only use photo references that inspire me. And this one just spoke to me. It was something different for me also other than just drawing portraits. I think it was Matisse who said painting is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. But without the 1% inspiration, the 99% perspiration is finally wasted.

One thing that is consistent when I begin a portrait is that I draw first using Derwent light, medium, and dark charcoal pencils, then black pastel, and sometimes grey pastel. When the drawing and value are correct, then I use Stabilo CarbOthello and Derwent pastel pencils. 

I like a long sharp point on the pencil. It enables me to be freer and not hold the pencil so close to the paper that everything becomes so closed up. I bought the Afmat charcoal pencil sharpener which gives me that long sharp point that I like. I sometimes use it to sharpen my pastel pencils too. But I usually sharpen them with the Derwent pencil sharpener. If I am using a black conté pencil, I use a regular old Boston pencil sharpener where I can adjust the width to fit the fatter conté pencil. 

Laura Mocnik, Girl Reading, pastels, 12 x 16 in. Sold.
Laura Mocnik, Girl Reading, 2023, pastels, 12 x 16 in. Sold. I used a photo I took of my niece when she was around 12 years old. She is now 40, I think. I have so many photos I’ve taken over the years that I had planned on using. I’m slowly turning my family into “art”.

I probably have five different brands of soft pastels. The brands I like the best are Sennelier, Terry Ludwig’s Greys, and Unison Colour. I really don’t have a great deal of soft pastels as I work with a limited palette. I find I can mix a lot of greys with the black, grey, and white pastels along with the soft pastel colours. But I sometimes need those intense colours. I recently found some intense, smooth and high adhesion soft pastels by Maimoufin that I really like. And I especially love the Terry Ludwig soft pastels for that intense colour I need.  

At this point in time, I feel I’m not at the same place I was 10 years ago. I continue to experiment and expand on what I know already, which doesn’t seem much to me and that’s why I keep searching.  

Laura Mocnik, The Color Purple, pastels on Strathmore paper, 23 x 16 in. Available.
Laura Mocnik, The Color Purple, pastels on Strathmore paper, 23 x 16 in. Available. My latest pastel. This one was a challenge in so much as purple is not my favourite colour, but I was still trying to make it work for me.
Laura Mocnik, The Color Purple, pastels on Strathmore paper, 23 x 16 in. Available. Close-up.
Laura Mocnik, The Color Purple, pastels on Strathmore paper, 23 x 16 in. Available. Close-up.

“You must aim high not in what you are going to do at some future date but in what you are going to make yourself do today. Otherwise, working is just a waste of time.”

Edgar Degas 
Laura Mocnik, Girl with Pierced Earring, pastels on Sennelier La Carte paper, 18 x 15 1/2 in. Sold.
Laura Mocnik, Girl with Pierced Earring, pastels on Sennelier La Carte paper, 18 x 15 1/2 in. Sold. Show Submit Award. I asked this girl I saw on the beach if I could take her picture because I liked her hair pulled up and her clean fresh face. Turned out that she was the granddaughter of one of our friends who owns a condo in our complex in Florida. Small world.

~~~~~~

Wow! Such draughtsmanship. Such beauty. Such capturing of light. Such sensitivity. All with a limited palette and intuitive use of colour.

I hope you’re as enthralled as I am!

Laura Mocnik and I would now love to hear from YOU! Do you have any thoughts or questions for Laura? If so, please leave a comment below!

Until next time!

~ Gail

PS. Here’s the image used as the feature Image. Laura included some interesting info about it so read on!

Laura Mocnik, Hand of an Artist, pastels on Sennelier La Carte paper, 11 1/2 x 12 1/2 in. Sold.
Laura Mocnik, Hand of an Artist, pastels on Sennelier La Carte paper, 11 1/2 x 12 1/2 in. Sold. I don’t consider myself a colourist. I am more of a tonal artist. More of a draftsman. One of my favourite artists believes that one is born a colourist. He said that you can learn to draw and learn tones. Pierre Bonnard had a gift for colour. You could give him 20 or 30 colours and tell him not to mix them and he could place them side by side and it would work because colour is affected by what is placed next to it. If you don’t have that gift, then I think you can learn to use colour effectively which is what I tried to do with Hand of an Artist.

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Comments

21 thoughts on “Laura Mocnik – Intuitive Colour, Precise Draughtsmanship”

  1. Is there a way to save this blog to read again and again? I’ve admired her portraits and the way she leaves parts unfinished. I started out doing that long ago, but changed. It is still my favorite way to do one. I found this blog very inspiring.

    1. How lovely to hear that Joanna!!
      You can always save this post by Copying the url fo rthe post and pasting it in some note/document on your computer. Alternatively, you can also come back to HowToPastel.com anytime and search for Laura Mocnik

  2. Thank you Gail, This is so inspiring for me – and freeing. I respond to portraits in very much the way Laura describes but I am alone in this amongst my group of art friends who favour landscapes, and a more “robust” approach to the application of pastel. I have felt “apologetic” and “lesser than” in their company (my doing, not theirs), but I think I may have found my place ❤️

    1. This is soooooooo great to hear Kerrie!! Thank you so much for sharing your experience feeling “lesser than” and how Laura’s post has helped you feel stronger in what you do. I’m sure other readers will relate!

    2. Thank you Kerrie. I am happy my blog can be an inspiration for you. I too felt out of sorts among the more colorful pastel artists. But I think there is room for all of us.

  3. Wow! What beautiful work Laura does and how interesting is her process!
    I’ve always loved the style of using black and white and grey, but never pursued it. I must try to do some.
    Laura’s drawings are so real and lifelike. Wonderful capture of light, which is always a beautiful thing to see I think.
    I could never imagine setting out to start a portrait, without laying out all of my colours first. I think it is pretty amazing how Laura chooses her colours as she progresses and as the drawing speaks to her!
    Thank you Gail and Laura, for such a wonderful article and an insight to Laura Mocnik’s journey as a wonderful Artist.

    1. Ed, thank you for sharing your response to Laura’s work and process in such detail!!
      It thrills me whenever a guest awakens something in other artists, to see things in a different way, to try things in a different way. Can’t wait to see what comes from this in your own work Ed!

    2. Thank you Edward for your beautiful compliment on my work. So very kind of you. I’ve always tried to capture “light”. I hope you try using those 3 colors and see if you like it.

  4. All I can say is that for me this was your best blog ever thank you very much!!

    As a colorblind person, I NEVER do my work in public or attend classes of any kind. I always feel like an outsider and an “odd ball” so to speak. I am a very good draughtsman and charcoal artist and very rarely work in color with pastels.

    Yearning to work in color, I developed my own technique starting with black, white and gray and as I go along sprinkle in some color based on value. People never guess that I am color blind and are employing me to “show” my work. Now I find that a very accomplished and beautiful artist works in a very similar manner!!!!!!

    All true artists have to find their own way and it took me 80 years in my retirement to find mine. Thank you and Laura again so very very much!!!

    1. Wow Joseph! That’s quite the compliment. Thank you!!!
      And thank you for sharing your own personal experience with painting and colour. How wonderful you’ve found your way.

      1. Thank you Jenny! My pastel on watercolor was an accident as I was really trying to do a watercolor but it failed immensely. That’s when I decided to experiment and try to turn it into a pastel. I did use 300 lb Cold Pressed watercolor paper for this. 2 years ago, I did some pastels on Hot and Cold pressed watercolor blocks. The blocks are nice if you want to use a watercolor underpainting or tint it with any water based medium as the block won’t buckle. It is surprisingly interesting that watercolor holds the pastel very well. I seldom use any fixative. I hope you will try it.

    2. This is a wonderful compliment! Thank you, Joseph! I do hope you show your work and you should. Degas did many tonal pastels, I believe. Embrace that black, white and gray. They are my favorite colors as I can use them to gray down some of the bold colors of pastel. Thank you for sharing what you do. Happy drawing!

  5. I just love the way Laura creates these pieces. I’m no portrait artist, they scare me, but I’d love to be able to create this beautiful type of work. I have only done a little bit of pastel and it fascinated me to read that she uses watercolour paper. I’m curious if it’s cold pressed or rough. I always thought you needed proper pastel paper, but perhaps that’s not necessary when doing it the way Laura does.

    How do you frame something or post something like this. I’m told a fixative shouldn’t be used.

    Thankyou for sharing your brilliant work Laura and thankyou Gail for asking her. 🙏

    1. Jenny, I do hope Laura’s post and work inspires you to challenge yourself to try a portrait using Laura’s method. I’ll let Laura answer your questions.
      I’m so happy this postresonated with you!!

      1. Hi Gail, a brilliant article and introduction to Laura, whose work I didn’t know but am very inspired by. Just love her “Hand of the Artist” …the colours are exquisite! I’ll certainly keep this article in my Notes.
        I thoroughly enjoy your articles, Gail and hope one day when commitments permit to join you somewhere….in Australia perhaps!

        1. Lovely to hear you’re inspired by Laura’s work Gaye 😁 And oh my gosh, YES to your comment about the colours in that piece!

          And I can’t wait to meet you on one of my art retreats!

        2. Thank you Gaye for your awesome compliment. And a Big Thank You to Gail for inviting me to write a Blog, my first. No matter how old we get, there is always a first for everything, I think.

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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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