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Pearls from artists* # 352

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

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

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

The jester was certainly a key player in medieval court politics.  His power, however, was commensurate with his acknowledged irrelevance to the state apparatus.  As the eternal outsider, ridiculed or at best ignored by the elite unless he was actually entertaining them, he acquired the right to speak truths that others would speak at their peril.  Yet if the imprudent king simply saw the Fool as a source of amusement, the wise king saw in his antics and wordplay the pattern of the past, present, and future.  In the same way, art is the joker in the hand that was dealt to humanity.  Nothing is easier than dismissing it as a frivolity, and yet those who meet it on its own ground gain access to the hidden facets of their situation.  It is by virtue of its very separateness, its position outside the realm of the useful and the practical, that art reveals the Real.  Paradoxically, art has political value only when appraised outside of any political framework.       

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

Comments are welcome!

Q: Do you consider your finished pastel works to be drawings or paintings?

"The Sovereign," soft pastel on sandpaper, 58" x 38"

“The Sovereign,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38″ image, 70″ x 50″ framed

A:  Among artists who work in pastel, these two words, ‘drawings’ and ‘paintings,’ have very specific meanings, somewhat unrelated to the usual distinctions made by art historians and others.  For a pastel artist, a ‘drawing’ refers to a work in which the paper or other substrate is allowed to show through.  In a pastel ‘painting’ you do not see the substrate at all, i.e. pastel is used much more heavily in a painting than in a drawing.  Since I have always spent months creating each piece, covering the entire sandpaper ground with up to 30 layers of pigment, I have considered my work to be pastel painting.

Comments are welcome!

      

Pearls from artists* # 168

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.

How strange the human mind is!  When I first began, I think I should have been willing to work at it from the tops of a church steeple, whereas now, even to think of finishing requires a real effort.  And all this, simply because I have been away from it for so long.  It is the same with my picture and with everything else I do.  There is always a thick crust to be broken before I can give my whole heart to anything; a stubborn piece of ground, as it were, that resists the attacks of plough and hoe.  But with a little perseverance the hardness suddenly gives and it becomes so rich in fruit and flowers that I am quite unable to gather them all.

The Journal of Eugene Delacroix edited by Hubert Wellington

Comments are welcome!     

Q: Do you have any favorite memories of visiting museums when you were a child?

Calder's circus at the new Whitney Museum of American Art

Calder’s circus at the new Whitney Museum of American Art

A:  Yes, I loved seeing Alexander Calder’s wire circus at the Whitney Museum of American Art when I was a child.  The circus, and the charming movie that he made with his long-suffering wife (to me she always looked bored and embarrassed that her husband was playing with his toys!) used to be on permanent display in a glass case on the ground floor.  For many years Calder’s circus was in storage.  

How thrilling to see it again, when the new Whitney Museum opened in May, just blocks from my apartment!  Now any day of the week I can visit Calder’s circus – and other favorite works that have not been on exhibit for many years! 

Comments are welcome!  

Q: What is it about soft pastel that you find so intriguing that you use it as your primary fine art medium?

Some of Barbara's pastels

Some of Barbara’s pastels

A:  For starters it’s the medium that I fell in love with many years ago.  I recently read this article online, “What is Pastel?” by Mike Mahon, and will quote it because it neatly sums up  what I love about working with pastel.

Pastel is the most permanent of all media when applied to conservation ground and properly framed. Pastel has no liquid binder that may cause it to oxidize with the passage of time as oftentimes happens with other media.

In this instance, Pastel does not refer to pale colors, as the word is commonly used in cosmetic and fashion terminology. The pure, powdered pigment is ground into a paste with a minimum amount of gum binder, rolled into sticks and dried. The infinite variety of colors in the Pastel palette range from soft and subtle to hard and brilliant.

An artwork is created by stroking the stick of dry pigment across an abrasive ground, embedding the color in the “tooth” of the ground. If the ground is completely covered with Pastel, the work is considered a Pastel painting; whereas, leaving much of the ground exposed produces a Pastel sketch. Techniques vary with individual artists. The Pastel medium is favored by many artists because it allows a spontaneous approach. There is no drying time, therefore, no change in color occurs after drying as it does in other media.

Did you know that a particle of Pastel pigment seen under a microscope looks like a diamond with many facets? It does! Therefore, Pastel paintings reflect light like a prism. No other medium has the same power of color or stability.

Historically, Pastel can be traced back to the 16th century. Its invention is attributed to the German painter, Johann Thiele. A Venetian woman, Rosalba Camera, was the first to make consistent use of Pastel. Chardin did portraits with an open stroke, while La Tour preferred the blended finish. Thereafter, a galaxy of famous artists—Watteau, Copley, Delacroix, Millet, Manet, Renoir, Toulouse Lautrec, Vuillard, Bonnard, Glackens, Whistler, Hassam, William Merritt Chase—used Pastel for a finished work rather than for preliminary sketches.

Pastels from the 16th century exist today, as fresh as the day they were painted. Edgar Degas was the most prolific user of Pastel and its champion. His protégé, Mary Cassat, introduced Pastel to her friends in Philadelphia and Washington, and thus to the United States. In the Spring of 1983, Sotheby Parke Bernet sold at auction, two Degas Pastels for more than $3,000,000 each! Both Pastels were painted about 1880.

Note: Do not confuse Pastel with “colored chalk.” Chalk is a porous, limestone substance impregnated with dyes, whereas, Pastel is pure pigment—the same as is used in other permanent painting media.

Today, Pastel paintings have the stature of oil and watercolor as a major fine art medium. Many of our most renowned, living artists have distinguished themselves in Pastel and have enriched the art world with this beautiful medium.

So knowing all this, I often wonder, why don’t more artists use pastel?  Is it because framing is a big issue?  Works on paper need to be framed and pastel paintings have unique problems (see my April 27, 2013 blog post).  Second only to the cost of maintaining a studio in New York City, frames are my single largest business expense.  Sometimes I am grateful that pastel is a very slow medium.  I typically finish 4 or 5 paintings in a year, which means I only have to pay for 4 or 5 frames!

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists # 19

View from the balcony

View from the balcony

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

What  one writes at twenty-one is a cry, does one think of a cry that it ought to have been cried differently?  The language is still so thin about one in these years, the cry pierces through and just takes along what is left clinging to it.  The development will always be this, that one makes one’s language fuller, thicker, firmer (heavier), and of course there is sense in that only for one who is sure that the the cry too is growing in him ceaselessly, irresistibly, so that later, under the pressure of countless atmospheres, it will issue evenly from every pore of the almost impenetrable medium…

Talent, you understand, scarcely has significance any more in our day, since a certain dexterity of expression has become general, where is it not?  Hence succeeding still means something only where the highest, utmost is achieved, and then one is again liable to think that just this unsurpassable something, once it appears in person, is in itself successful.

And so there is no real ground for concern, only that we want never to remain behind our heart and never to be in advance of it:  that is probably needful.  Thus we arrive at everything, each at what is his. 

Jane Bannard Greene and M.D. Herter Norton editors, Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke 1910 – 1926

Comments are welcome!

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