Category Archives: Creative Process

Start/Finish of “Sacrificial,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58” x 38”

Start
Finish

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Pearls from artists* # 543

With “Impresario,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 70” x 50” framed
With “Impresario,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 70” x 50” framed

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

Although the struggles that I faced involved me as an individual, I didn’t feel alone. I was forbidden to travel, but this forced immobility didn’t adversely affect my work; instead it gave me sustenance. For me, inspiration comes from resistance – without that, my efforts would be fruitless. Having a real – and powerful – adversary was my good fortune, making freedom all the more tangible – freedom comes from all the sacrifices you make to achieve it. Limitations come only from a fear inside the heart, and art is the antidote to fear. I did not need sympathy, for courage itself is an aesthetic feeling, and it’s only when true feeling is transformed into something broadly understood that art can avoid drying up.

Ai Weiwei in 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows

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Q: Can you explain how you choose colors? (Question from Maria Cox via Instagram)

“Overlord,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58” x 38”

A: I am wild about color! As I work to create a pastel painting, I apply a color, back up from my easel to see how it interacts with and affects the rest of the painting, and then I make revisions. This process necessitates countless color changes and hundreds of hours during months of work. I apply pastel using a meticulous layering process. Were you to x-ray one of them, the earlier, discarded versions of a pastel painting would be visible. All the while I carefully fine-tune and refine how the colors and shapes interact with each other.

The goal is to make an exciting painting that no one, especially me as the maker, has ever seen before. I have no desire to repeat myself, to make art that resembles work by any other artist, or to be forced into a niche.

I try to select intense, vibrant colors that are exciting to look at, that work well in relationship to each other, and that will grab the viewer. Sometimes I deliberately choose colors for their symbolic meanings. For example, I selected a dark purple for the alternating triangles (the ones with the pink dots above) in “Overlord” because purple denotes royalty.

I have been working with soft pastel for 37 years so I have a fairly intricate science of color at my disposal. No doubt, many unconscious factors are at play, too. More on that in future posts.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 542

Barbara’s Studio

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

Observing these objects and imagining their history broadened my perspective. In China, we were still living in a culturally impoverished era, but art had not abandoned us – its roots were deeply planted in the weathered soil. The stubborn survival of this indigenous artistic tradition demonstrated that our narrow-minded authoritarian state would never be able to remake our culture in its own image. From then on, when I wasn’t spending time with my parents, I was immersing myself in the world of antiques. The dealers found me perplexing, for I followed no prevailing tastes or conventional wisdom. Instead I was taken with obscure objects, and made a point of buying things that seemed to have little or no value; my hungry spirit was nourished as I imagined the stories lurking behind each piece. The observations and insights that came to me from the distant past spurred me on to make art of my own.

– Ai Weiwei in 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows

This is exactly my experience with the folk art I collect!

Comments are welcome!

Q: Tell us about any other interests you may have besides your art practice. Does it get reflected in your art? (Question from artamour)

Negombo, Sri Lanka

A: Travel is arguably the best education there is.  My travels around the world, supplemented with lots of research once I return home, are an important part of my creative process.  This is how I develop ideas to forge a way ahead.  It is difficult and solitary work.

Even though I became an artist later in life, travel as a source of inspiration found ME.  And it has been a blessing!  People around the world have become fans.  Many send messages of thanks saying they are proud that some aspect of their country’s culture has inspired my work.  I am always grateful and touched to know this.

I love old movies, especially early silent films, classic noir and horror films from the 1930s and 1940s, and anything by Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Wells. Probably this interest is most evident in the way I composed and designed pastel paintings in my early “Domestic Threats” series.  I’m not sure it’s discernible in subsequent work.

Another passion is swimming.  Four times a week I swim at a local pool.  I love it!  In my view swimming laps is the best exercise to help maintain fitness and to prepare for the focus and physicality I need in the studio.

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Q: What does it feel like when you dop off a pastel painting at your Virginia framer’s shop? Are you sorry to see it go? (Question from Caroline Golden)

Framing “Impresario,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58” x 38” image, 70” x 50” framed

A: Actually, just the opposite since I have been looking at it on my easel for more than three months. Typically, I’m glad to say goodbye – temporarily – because I know when I pick it up in a month, I will have gained some distance and can begin to see and think about it more objectively. I can start reflecting on how this pastel painting relates to my overall body of work.

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

A. I continue refining and adding more details to “Disruptor,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 26” x 20.”

Comments are welcome!

Q: There are so many instances in the art world where paintings are discovered to be fakes. Do you think this is a potential problem where your work is concerned? Can your pastel paintings be forged?

Start
Start of “Acolytes,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38″ x 58″
Finish
“Acolytes” finished

A: For the record, a little-appreciated fact about my pastel-on-sandpaper paintings is that they can never be forged. To detect a fake, you would only need to x-ray them. If dozens of layers of revisions are not visible under the final pastel painting, you are not looking at an original Rachko, period.

My completed paintings are the results of thousands of decisions. They are the product of an extremely meticulous, labor-intensive, and self-invented process. This is the difference between spending months thinking about and creating a painting, as I do, or a single day. It’s highly doubtful that my rigorous creative process can EVER be duplicated.

Comments are welcome!

Start/Finish of ”The Mentalist,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 26” x 20” image, 35” x 28.5” framed

Start
Finish

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Q: What makes you feel most alive?

Morning in Udaipur, India

A: Making art makes me feel alive, using all my gifts, my brain, my heart, and my hands to create something that never existed before and that can never be duplicated; knowing I’m the only person, ever, who could or would make this particular thing, as I strive to push my pastel techniques further each time out. Whether it’s a painting or a photograph, I enjoy making something from nothing… art that is well-crafted and has never been seen before.  

Travel is the other activity that excites me. I thrive on adventure and I especially love new vistas.  When I am in a country I have never visited before, with every step and around every bend there is something new to see. I am an explorer at heart!

Comments are welcome!

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