Category Archives: Creative Process

Q: What more would you wish to bring to your work?

Tile worker in South India

Tile worker in South India

A:  I tend to follow wherever the work leads, rather than directing it.  I have never been able to predict where it will lead or what more might be added.

Travel is essential for inspiration.  Besides many Mexican sojourns, I have been to Bali, Sri Lanka, South India, Guatemala, Honduras, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Paraguay, and other places.  A second trip to India is upcoming, to Gujarat and Rajistan this time.  

Last year I had the opportunity to go to Bolivia. In La Paz I visited the Museum of Ethnography and Folklore, where a stunning mask exhibition was taking place.  As soon as I saw it, I knew this would be the inspiration for my next series, “Bolivianos.”  So far I have completed six “Bolivianos” pastel paintings with two more in progress now.  This work is getting a lot of press and several critics have declared it to be my strongest series yet.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 322

Barbara's studio

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.

Think, dear sir, of the world you carry within you, and call this thinking what you will:  whether it be remembering your own childhood or yearning toward your own future – only be attentive to that which rises up in you and set it above everything that you observe about you.  What goes on in your innermost being is worthy of your whole love; you must somehow keep working at it and not lose too much time and too much courage in clarifying your attitude toward people.       

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, Translation by M.D. Herter Norton

Comments are welcome!

What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  This is my fourth day working on a small (26”x 20”) pastel painting.  All of these colors are going to change over the next few months.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 320

"Offering," soft pastel on sandpaper, 20" x 26"

“Offering,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 20″ x 26″

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

As soon as I use words and actions to convey an emotion, I engage with the world, pitting my feelings against fate in hopes of a desired outcome.  If I am angry, my anger is directed at someone or something.  If I am in love, my love is for another.  Feelings are purposive in ordinary reality, our emotional states tangled in the processes of life.  This is what we mean when we refer to ourselves as subjects.  But if, instead of acting on a feeling, I make it the basis of a song or a film or a dance, something strange happens.  My purposive feeling leaves the closed circle of my personal existence, almost as though I had taken it out of historical time altogether.  Transposed into the work of art, it becomes nonpurposive, undirected.  It disassociates from its original focus, and from my self as subject, acquires a kind of autonomy.  Artistic creation allows for the subjective aspect of our lives normally locked inside our skulls to exist outside us, which is to say that in art, the subjective becomes objective.   

J.F. Martel in Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice:  A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action 

Comments are welcome!

Q: What was the first folk art figure you brought back from Mexico?

Mask from Oaxaca

Mask from Oaxaca

A:  In Oaxaca I bought a large carved wooden dragon mask with a Conquistador’s face carved and painted on its back.  My intent was to depict the dragon in a subsequent “Domestic Threats” painting (the series I was working on at the time).  The dragon still hangs in my living room in Alexandria, VA.

This first trip in 1992 was a revelation and marked the start of my on-going love of Mexico:  its people, landscapes, ancient cultures, archaeology, history, art, cuisine, etc. There would be many subsequent trips to Mexico to learn as much as I can about this endlessly interesting cradle of civilization.

Comments are welcome!

Q: Does your attraction to Mexican folk art have anything to do with the way you see life or your taste for color?

Studio corner

Studio corner

A:  Initially, it was the fact that these folk-art figures opened up an entire new world to me.  I had learned almost nothing about Mexico in school, a fact I found mystifying, considering Mexico is the United States’ southern neighbor. 

When I started collecting, I was launched on a rich intellectual adventure with seemingly no end.  The folk art figures had so much to teach and prompted many questions.  Most were unanswerable, but still, I was curious:  who made them, why, how, what did they represent, what did they reveal about the maker’s worldview, how did they fit in with historical and contemporary forces, etc.

Comments are welcome!

Q: Do your materials have properties that allow you to maximize what you depict in your work?

Barbara’s studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  I work exclusively in soft pastel on sandpaper.  Pastel, which is pigment and a binder to hold it together, is as close to unadulterated pigment as an artist can get.  It allows for very saturated color, especially as I utilize the self-invented techniques developed and mastered over more than thirty years as an artist.  I believe my “science of color” to be unique, completely unlike how any other artist works.  I spend three or four months on each painting, applying pastel and blending the layers together to mix new colors directly on the paper.  

The sandpaper support allows the build up of 25 to 30 layers of pastel as I slowly and meticulously work for hundreds of hours to complete a painting.  The paper is extremely forgiving.  I can change my mind, correct, refine, etc. as much as I want until a painting is the best I can create at that moment in time.

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  I continue slowly working on a 58” x 38” pastel painting.  For now I’ve added a small figure on the right.  I’m not sure yet whether I’ll keep it.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 316

Central Park, NYC

Central Park, NYC

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

Works of art are of an infinite loneliness and with nothing so little to be reached as with criticism.  Only love can grasp and hold and be just toward them.  Consider yourself and your feeling right every time with regard to every such argumentation, discussion, or introduction; if you are wrong after all, the natural growth of your inner life will lead you slowly and with time to other insights.  Leave to your opinions their own quiet undisturbed development, which, like all progress, must come from deep within and cannot be pressed or hurried into anything.  Everything is gestation and then bringing forth.  To let each impression and each germ of a feeling come to completion wholly in itself, in the dark, in the inexpressible, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own intelligence, and await with deep humility and patience the birth-hour of a new clarity:  that alone is living the artist’s life:  in understanding as in creating.     

There is also no measuring with time, no year matters, and ten years are nothing.  Being an artist means not reckoning and counting, but ripening like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storms of spring without the fear that after them may come no summer.  It does come.  But it comes only to the patient, who are there as though eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly still and wide.  I learn it daily, learn it with pain to which I am grateful:  patience is everything!   

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, Translation by M.D. Herter Norton

Comments are welcome!

Q: Why did you first decide to depict Mexican folk art in your work?

"Myth Meets Dream," soft pastel on sandpaper, 47" x 38"

“Myth Meets Dream,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 47″ x 38″

A:  As a Christmas present in 1991 my future sister-in-law sent me two brightly painted wooden animal figures from Oaxaca, Mexico. One was a blue polka-dotted winged horse.  The other was a red, white, and black bear-like figure.  See the two Mexican figures in “Myth Meets Dream” above.

I was enthralled with this gift and the timing was fortuitous because I had been searching for new subject matter to paint. Soon I started asking artist-friends about Oaxaca and learned that it was an important art hub.  Two well-known Mexican painters, Rufino Tamayo and Francisco Toledo, had gotten their start there, as had master photographer Manual Alvarez Bravo.  There was a “Oaxacan School of Painting” (‘school’ meaning a style, not an actual building) and Alvarez Bravo had established a photography school there (the building/institution kind). I began reading everything I could find.  At the time I had only been to Mexico very briefly, in 1975, having made a road trip to Ensenada with my cousin and best friend from college. 

The following autumn my then-boyfriend, Bryan, and I planned a two-week trip to visit Mexico. We timed it to see Day of the Dead celebrations in Oaxaca.  (In my reading I had become fascinated with this unique festival).  We spent one week in Oaxaca followed by one week in Mexico City.  My interest in collecting Mexican folk art was off and running!  

Comments are welcome!