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Q: How do you determine what size to make your pastel paintings? (Question from Prince North via Facebook)

Two pastel paintings in progress

A:  For three decades I have been making pastel paintings in two sizes:  26” x 20” and 58” x 38.”  These sizes are dictated by practical considerations. 

The smaller ones are because 28” x 22” sheets of acid-free sandpaper are what’s available.  (I mask off an inch all around for mats so the paintings are 20″ x 26″).  For large paintings I buy rolls of acid-free sandpaper that measure 54 inches wide by 30 feet. I cut this down to 40″ x 60″ for paintings and mask off an inch all around on these, too.

And why specifically make them  58” x 38”?  This is the absolute largest size I can make and I prefer making big paintings!

Again, practical factors come into play:  the size of my truck, the cost and size of mat board, and the weight of the frames.

 My pastel paintings need to lie flat when they are moved.  Framed paintings are 70” x 50,” the largest size that can fit flat in the back of my Ford F-150.  58” x 38” is the largest size that will fit in a 8 feet by 4 feet sheet of mat board.  (60 inch wide mat board is available, but the cost goes up considerably).  Lastly, I’ve never weighed them but my large framed paintings are already rather heavy.  It takes two people to carry them.   

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.

Comments are welcome!

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!

Q: To what extent will the world of art change in the post-COVID period – both in terms of what is created and also the business of art? (Question from artamour)

Barbara’s Studio

A: We all still wonder how the art world will change post-COVID. (Will there ever be a time when we can say we are post-COVID?). I know that I will continue refining and developing my art practice and seeking out new business opportunities.  I have been an artist long enough to know that I will always follow my own path (each pastel painting points to the next one) regardless of what is going on in the larger world. How could I not do so? In large part due to an extensive social media program carried out by my two able assistants, the COVID period has been a personal boon.  I completed a short documentary film about my life and work. It is in post-production now. I gained representation with three new international galleries. My blog is attracting approximately 1,000 – 2,000 new subscribers every month and I continue receiving requests for interviews from around the world.

Comments are welcome!

Q: What are your current aspirations?

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

A: During the pandemic I was fortunate to have added three international galleries – in London, New Delhi, and Sweden – to the growing list of galleries that represent my work. (This is in addition to a gallery in Naples, FL that I have been working with for several years). It is extremely gratifying to discover that finally, after 36 years as a devoted and hard-working professional artist, galleries are seeking me out, instead of the other way around. Next I’d like to find a local home gallery in New York with whom to work. This will be the final piece of my business plan… at least for now!

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 511

My paternal grandparents, left

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

You do not need anyone’s permission to live a creative life.

Maybe you didn’t receive this kind of message when you were growing up. Maybe your parents were terrified of risk in any form. Maybe your parents were obsessive-compulsive rule-followers, or maybe they were too busy being melancholic depressives, or addicts, or abusers to ever use their imaginations towards creativity. Maybe they were afraid of what the neighbors would say. Maybe your parents weren’t makers in the least. Maybe they were pure consumers. Maybe you grew up in an environment where people just sat around watching tv and waiting for stuff to happen to them.

Forget about it. It doesn’t matter.

Look a little further back in your family’s history. Look at your grandparents: Odds are pretty good they were makers. No? Not yet? Keep looking back, then. Go back further still. Look at your great-grandparents. Look at your ancestors. Look at the ones who were immigrants, or slaves, or soldiers, or farmers, or sailors, or the original people who watched the ships arrive with the strangers onboard. Go back far enough and you will find people who were not consumers. People who were not passively waiting for stuff to happen to them. You will find people who spent their lives making things.

This is where you come from.

This is where we all come from.

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 503

Barbara’a 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.

… your life is short and rare and amazing and miraculous, and you want to do really interesting things and make really interesting things while you’re still here. I know that’s what you want for yourself, because that’s what I want for myself, too.

And you have treasures hidden within you – extraordinary treasures – and so do I and so does everyone around us. And bringing these treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think small.

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 484

Behind the scenes of our documentary. Photo: David De Hannay

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

[Walter] Murch: We hope we become better editors with experience! Yet you have to have an intuition about the craft to begin with: for me, it begins with, Where is the audience looking? What are they thinking? As much as possible, you try to be the audience. At the point of transition from one shot to another, you have to be pretty sure where the audience’s eye is looking, where the focus of attention is. That will either make the cut work or not.

[Michael] Ondaatje: So before you make the cut, if you feel the audience is looking towards point X, then you cut to another angle where the focus of attention is somewhere around that point X.

The Conversation: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje

This passage in Ondaatje’s book resonates because I work similarly to refine and construct each pastel painting. My goal is to move the viewer’s eye around in an engaging and interesting way. This part of my process is subtle so I suspect that most of my audience neither appreciates nor even suspects that I have done it.

Comments are welcome!

Q: What was the first New York gallery that represented your work and how did they find you?

Exhibition Review

A: My first (and still the best) New York gallery was Brewster Gallery on West 57th Street in what, in 1996, was the most important gallery district in Manhattan. By joining Brewster, my work was exhibited alongside an impressive list of Latin American painters and sculptors such as Leonora Carrington, Frida Kahlo, Francisco Zuniga, Rufino Tamayo, Diego Rivera, Francisco Toledo, and more. Brewster was a prestigious and elegant gallery, well-known throughout the Latin American art world for their superb exhibitions and their contributions to art history scholarship.

Since I am not Latina, my work was selected by virtue of its Mexican subject matter and level of craftsmanship. Mia Kim, the owner/director, told me that amidst so many deserving, unrepresented, and talented artists of Latin American heritage, she was sometimes challenged to defend her decision to represent me. Mia’s response was always, “Barbara may not be of Latin American ancestry, but she most assuredly has the soul of a Latina! Her work has obvious affinities to Leonora’s, the other non-Latina that we represent.”

In July of 1996, while I was still living in Virginia, I mailed a slide sheet and reviews to Brewster, thinking that during the slow summer months, perhaps someone might actually LOOK at my material. Then I forgot all about it as Bryan and I headed off on a trip to Mexico. While we were in Mexico City, something told me to check our phone messages at the house in Alexandria. I did so and was floored to hear Mia offer me representation and a two-person show in October. The first time she would even see my work in person would be when I delivered it to the gallery!

In October my “Domestic Threats” pastel paintings were paired with work by Cuban artist, Tomas Esson, for an exhibition called “Monkey Business.” The opening was extremely well-attended by a sophisticated international New York crowd. A highlight was meeting Leonora Carrington, one of my artist heroes of long standing. Afterwards a large group of us were wined and dined at a French restaurant around the corner on West 58th Street. I remember looking at Bryan and saying, “I think I’ve made it!” The next day there was a favorable review in a publication called, “Open Air.” After working in complete obscurity for thirteen years, I was finally on my way.

Comments are welcome!

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