Blog Archives

Q: Is your work fast or is it slow?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  I work extremely slowly.  I’m a full-time artist and I spend three or four months on each pastel painting, sometimes longer if it’s an especially difficult piece.  

I generally have two pastel paintings in progress and switch off when one is causing problems.  The paintings tend to interact and influence each other.  Having two in progress helps me resolve difficult areas quicker, plus when one is finished, I still have something to work on.  So there’s rarely any dead time in my studio.

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  I have two works in progress.  Both are based on photographs I shot at a stunning mask exhibition in La Paz, Bolivia in May.  At present I am tying to ‘ramp up’ my imagery and believe these two pastel paintings to be particularly striking.  However, both still have a long way to go so I hope I’m not speaking too soon.

Comments are welcome!   

Pearls from artists* # 108

At work on a pastel painting

At work on a pastel painting

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

Artists generally need privacy in order to create, and as I’ve noted, what constitutes adequate privacy varies by person and time.  Solitude quickly becomes isolation when it oversteps one’s desires.  But most artists need to feel that they and their work won’t be examined prematurely and, certainly, won’t be ambushed unfinished by ridiculing eyes.  You might go out and invite various people to critique a piece in progress, even knowing they’re unlikely to view it with sympathy, exactly because you feel there’s necessary information in their opinion.  But, if you’ve invited them, however unpleasant the response, your experience is likely preferable to what you would feel if they impulsively offered up the same critiques unsolicited.

Someone making art needs privacy in part because the process of creation makes many people feel vulnerable, sometimes exquisitely so, particularly since the work frequently emerges in a jumble of  mixed-up small parts that you can only assemble gradually, or in a wet lumpy mound that requires patient sculpting.  When people feel prematurely revealed or exposed, they often experience great discomfort and find themselves babbling apologetically, seeking to reassure by laying out the distance they have yet to travel.  It is in part this babble-as-smoke-screen to cover exposure resulting, distracting, unhappy self-consciousness that privacy seeks to shelter.

But even more significantly, privacy grants us permission to turn our attention inward without interruption.  As I described earlier, in order to concentrate, think, and fantasize, we need to feel we’re in a safe enough space that we can lower our vigilance, stop monitoring our environment, and allow ourselves to refocus on the happenings within our own minds.  There are times interruptions feel merciful, but many more when they disrupt our effort to flesh out an inchoate notion.

Janna Malamud Smith in an absorbing errand:  How Artists and Craftsmen Make Their Way to Mastery 

Comments are welcome!  

Q: Your pastel-on-sandpaper paintings are very labor intensive. Do you typically have just one in progress at any given time?

Works in progress, soft pastel on sandpaper, 58" x 38"

Works in progress, soft pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38″

A:  For many years I always worked on one at a time because I have only one or two ideas – never more than that – about what I will make next.  Also, I believe that “all art is the result of one’s having gone through an experience to the end.”  (It’s on a note taped to the wall near my easel).  So I would work on one painting at a time until all of the problems in it were resolved.  Each piece that I undertake represents an investment of several months of my life and after nearly three decades as an artist, I know that once I start a piece I will not abandon it for any reason.  When it is the best painting that I can make – when adding or subtracting anything would be a diminishment – I pronounce it “finished.”  In the past I would start the next one only when the completed piece was out of my sight and at the frame shop.

But a few years ago I began working on two pastel paintings at a time.  When I get stuck – or just need a break from looking at the same image day after day (I am in my studio 5 days a week) – I switch to the other one.  This helps me work more efficiently.  The two paintings interact with each other; they play off of each other and one suggests solutions that help me to resolve problem areas in the other.  I’m not sure exactly how this happens – maybe putting a piece aside for awhile alerts my unconscious to begin working deeply on it – but having two in progress at the same time is my preferred way of working now.

A note about the painting on the left above, which was previously called, “Judas.”  I happen to be reading “Cloud Atlas,” by David Mitchell and came across the word “judasing” used as a verb meaning, “doing some evil to a person who profoundly trusted you.”  I’d never heard the word before, but it resonated with an event in my personal life.  So the new title of my painting is “Judasing.”  This is a good reminder that work and life are inextricably (and inexplicably) woven together and that titles can come from anywhere!  

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  I’m continuing work on “Judas,” a piece I started some weeks ago.  A second in-progress pastel-on-sandpaper painting is on the right in the photo above.  

Comments are welcome! 

Q: What’s on the easel today?

"Stalemate" in progress, soft pastel on sandpaper

“Stalemate” in progress, soft pastel on sandpaper

A:  A large pastel painting with the working title, “Stalemate.”  For this one I went back and looked at some of my older 35 mm negatives.  I selected one from 2002 and made the photographic print you see above, clipped to the left side of my easel.  This piece is unusual because I’m painting the figures much larger than life size.  I like what’s happening, but it’s slow going.

The title, “Stalemate,” is one I thought of some twenty-odd years ago, when I worked on a very different pastel painting – a table top still life – by that name.  Somehow I couldn’t resolve some problems in the composition so I never finished it.  I haven’t seen it in years, but it’s probably sitting in my Alexandria basement someplace. 

Comments are welcome!