A: I have been devoted to soft pastel for more than thirty years. In this blog and in countless interviews online and elsewhere, I continue to expound on its merits. For me no other fine art medium comes close.
I have developed my own original methods for working with soft pastel, pushing this venerable 500-year-old medium to its limits and using it in ways that no one has done before. I have created a unique science of color in which I layer and blend pigments. When viewers (including fellow artists) see my work in person for the first time, they often ask, “What medium is this?”
My self-invented 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 acid-free sandpaper. In addition to the thousands of pastels that I have to choose from, I blend new colors directly on the paper. Each pastel painting takes about three months and hundreds of hours to complete.
My subject matter is singular. I am drawn to Mexican, Guatemalan, and Bolivian cultural objects—masks, carved wooden animals, papier mâché figures, and toys. On trips to these places 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!
* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
My own natural proclivity is to categorize the world around me, to remove unfamiliar objects from their dangerous perches by defining, compartmentalizing and labeling them. I want to know what things are and I want to know where they are and I want to control them. I want to remove the danger and replace it with the known. I want to feel safe. I want to feel out of danger.
And yet, as an artist, I know that I must welcome the strange and the unintelligible into my awareness and into my working process. Despite my propensity to own and control everything around me, my job is to “make the familiar strange and the strange familiar,” as Bertolt Brecht recommended: to un-define and un-tame what has been delineated by belief systems and conventions, and to welcome the discomfort of doubt and the unknown, aiming to make visible what has become invisible by habit.
Because life is filled with habit, because our natural desire is to make countless assumptions and treat our surroundings as familiar and unthreatening, we need art to wake us up. Art un-tames, reifies and wakes up the part of our lives that have been put to sleep and calcified by habit. The artist, or indeed anyone who wants to turn daily life into an adventure, must allow people, objects and places to be dangerous and freed from the definitions that they have accumulated over time.
Anne Bogart in What’s the Story: Essays about art, theater, and storytelling
Comments are welcome!
A: In the late 1980s when I was studying at the Art League in Alexandria, VA, I took a three-day pastel workshop with Albert Handel, an artist known for his southwest landscapes in pastel and oil paint. I had just begun working with soft pastel (I’d completed my first class with Diane Tesler) and was still experimenting with paper. Handel suggested I try Ersta fine sandpaper. I did and nearly three decades later, I’ve never used anything else.
The paper (UArt makes it now) is acid-free and accepts dry media, especially pastel and charcoal. It allows me to build up layer upon layer of pigment, blend, etc. without having to use a fixative. The tooth of the paper almost never gets filled up so it continues to hold pastel. If the tooth does fill up, which sometimes happens with problem areas that are difficult to resolve, I take a bristle paintbrush, dust off the unwanted pigment, and start again. My entire technique – slowly applying soft pastel, blending and creating new colors directly on the paper (occupational hazard: rubbed-raw fingers, especially at the beginning of a painting as I mentioned in last Saturday’s blog post), making countless corrections and adjustments, looking for the best and/or most vivid colors, etc. – evolved in conjunction with this paper.
I used to say that if Ersta ever went out of business and stopped making sandpaper, my artist days would be over. Thankfully, when that DID happen, UArt began making a very similar paper. I buy it from ASW (Art Supply Warehouse) in two sizes – 22″ x 28″ sheets and 56″ wide by 10 yard long rolls. The newer version of the rolled paper is actually better than the old, because when I unroll it it lays flat immediately. With Ersta I laid the paper out on the floor for weeks before the curl would give way and it was flat enough to work on.
Comments are welcome!