Category Archives: Pastel Painting

Q: Would you describe your current work in a few sentences?

Barbara’s Studio

A: Of course, my art practice continually evolves and so does my thinking about its meaning. Using my own iPad photographs of Bolivian Carnival masks from Oruro as source material, for the past five years I have been slowly building a rogue’s gallery of beautiful, if somewhat misunderstood, characters probably best described as oddballs and misfits. For me, the paintings have a deeper meaning as archetypes of the collective unconscious. Creating this series is an act of genuine love. It is my hope that the ”Bolivianos” pastel paintings convey my deep respect and compassion for people around the world.

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

A: I continue working on “Wise One,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58” x 38.”

Comments are welcome!

In celebration of the tenth anniversary of my blog (yesterday), I am republishing the very first post from July 15, 2012. Q: What does it take to be an artist, especially one living and working in New York?

Barbara's Studio (in 2012) with works in progress

Barbara’s Studio (in 2012) with works in progress.

A:  The three Big P’s – Patience, Persistence, and Passion.  Without all three you will not have the stamina to work tirelessly for very little external reward.  You can expect help from no one. 

There are so many obstacles to art-making and countless reasons to just give up.  When you really think about it, it’s amazing that great art gets made at all.  So why do we do it?  Above all it’s about making our time on earth matter, about devotion to our innate gifts and love of our hard-fought creative process. 

And, my God, it even gets harder as we get older!  So what do we do?  We dig in that much deeper.  It’s a most noble and sacred calling – you know when you have it – and that’s what separates those of us who are in it for the long haul from the wimps, fakers, and hangers-on.  I say to my fellow artists who continue to work despite the endless challenges, we are all true heroes! 

These words still ring true and it’s good, even for me, to occasionally be reminded.  

Most importantly, THANK YOU to my 85,500+ subscribers for taking this journey with me!

Comments are welcome!     

Q: What is your process? (Question from artamour)

Some of Barbara’s pastels

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

The acid-free sandpaper support allows the buildup 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. 

My techniques for using soft pastel achieve rich velvety textures and exceptionally vibrant color.  Blending with my fingers, I painstakingly apply dozens of layers of pastel onto the sandpaper.  In addition to the thousands of pastels that I have to choose from, I make new colors directly on the paper.  Regardless of size, each pastel painting takes three to four months and hundreds of hours to complete. 

have been devoted to soft pastel from the beginning.  In my blog and in numerous interviews online and elsewhere, I continue to expound on its merits.  For me no other fine art medium comes close. 

My subject matter is unique.  I am drawn to Mexican, Guatemalan, and Bolivian cultural objects—masks, carved wooden animals, papier mâché figures, and toys.  On trips to these countries and elsewhere I frequent local mask shops, markets, and bazaars searching for the figures that will populate my pastel paintings.  How, why, when, and where these objects come into my life is an important part of the creative process.  Each pastel painting is a highly personal blend of reality, fantasy, and autobiography.

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

A: “Overlord,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58” x 38” awaits some finishing touches.

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

A: I’ve started a new 58” x 38” pastel painting.

Comments are welcome!

Q: What art project(s) are you working on currently? What is your inspiration or motivation for this? (Question from artamour)  

Source material for “The Champ”
Source material for “The Champ” (my first “Bolivianos” pastel painting) and “Avenger”

A: While traveling in Bolivia in 2017, I visited a mask exhibition at the National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore in La Paz.  The masks were presented against black walls, spot-lit, and looked eerily like 3D versions of my Black Paintings, the series I was working on at the time.  I immediately knew I had stumbled upon a gift.  To date I have completed seventeen pastel paintings in the Bolivianos series.  One awaits finishing touches, another is in progress, and I am planning the next two, one large and one small pastel painting.

The following text is from my “Bolivianos” artist’s statement.

My long-standing fascination with traditional masks took a leap forward in the spring of 2017 when I visited the National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore in La Paz, Bolivia.  One particular exhibition on view, with more than fifty festival masks, was completely spell-binding.

The masks were old and had been crafted in Oruro, a former tin-mining center about 140 miles south of La Paz on the cold Altiplano (elevation 12,000’).  Depicting important figures from Bolivian folklore traditions, the masks were created for use in Carnival celebrations that happen each year in late February or early March. 

Carnival in Oruro revolves around three great dances.  The dance of “The Incas” records the conquest and death of Atahualpa, the Inca emperor when the Spanish arrived in 1532.  “The Morenada” dance was once assumed to represent black slaves who worked in the mines, but the truth is more complicated (and uncertain) since only mitayo Indians were permitted to do this work.  The dance of “The Diablada” depicts Saint Michael fighting against Lucifer and the seven deadly sins.  The latter were originally disguised in seven different masks derived from medieval Christian symbols and mostly devoid of pre-Columbian elements (except for totemic animals that became attached to Christianity after the Conquest).  Typically, in these dances the cock represents Pride, the dog Envy, the pig Greed, the female devil Lust, etc.

The exhibition in La Paz was stunning and dramatic.  Each mask was meticulously installed against a dark black wall and strategically spotlighted so that it became alive.  The whole effect was uncanny.  The masks looked like 3D versions of my “Black Paintings,” a pastel paintings series I have been creating for ten years.  This experience was a gift… I could hardly believe my good fortune!

Knowing I was looking at the birth of a new series – I said as much to my companions as I  remained behind while they explored other parts of the museum – I spent considerable time composing photographs.  Consequently, I have enough reference material to create new pastel paintings in the studio for several years. The series, entitled “Bolivianos,” is arguably my strongest and most striking work to date.

Comments are welcome!

Q: You wear gloves and a mask when you are working in your studio, right? Can you tell me what kinds? (Question from Britta Konau)

Barbara at work

A: I wear a paper surgical mask – the type that has become ubiquitous since COVID – bought from a local medical supply store. I thoroughly coat my hands with barrier cream – Art Guard – to prevent pastel getting into my skin. The cream has an added benefit of making it easy to wash pastel off my hands. (Neither gloves nor individual finger cots ever worked for me. They made my fingers sweat and did not allow for the fine touch needed to blend new colors directly on sandpaper. Plus, they shredded from being rubbed against the paper’s grit). Also, it is very important that you work with your hand below your face so pastel dust falls below your nose, where you are less likely to breathe it in.

Comments are welcome!

Q: Have you always signed your work on the front? (Question from Anna Rybat)

Signing ”Impresario,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58” x 38”

A: Yes, I have no other choice. I frame all of my pastel paintings under plexiglas soon after they’re completed. Were I to sign on the reverse, as do many painters, my signature would be hidden. Moreover, I sign using pastel pencils so the letters would get smudged.

As I compose and work to complete a pastel painting, I reserve a specific location for my signature. I sign discreetly so as not to interfere with the depicted imagery. In most cases you have to look closely to see my name.

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

A: I’m working on a 58” x 38” pastel painting that is number 20 in the ”Bolivianos” series. It does not yet have a title. The mask depicted is a Supay. From Wikipedia:

In the Quechua, Aymara, and Inca mythologies, Supay was both the god of death and ruler of the Ukha, Pacha, and the Incan underworld, as well as a race of demons. Supay is associated with miners’ rituals.

With the Spanish colonization of the Americas, Christian priests used the name “Supay” to refer to the Christian Devil. However, unlike Europeans in relation to the Christian Devil, the indigenous people did not repudiate Supay but, being scared of him, they invoked him and begged him not to harm them.

Supay acquired a syncretic symbolism, becoming a main character of the diabladas of Bolivia (seen in the Carnival of Oruro), Peru and other Andean countries. The name Supay is now roughly translated into diablo (Spanish for devil) in most Southern American countries. In some of them, for example the northern region of Argentina, the underworld where Supay rules, is called “Salamanca”.

Comments are welcome!

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