Blog Archives

Q: How do you work and approach your subject? (Question from “Arts Illustrated”)

At work
At work

A: Undoubtedly, I could not make my work without UART sandpaper since my entire pastel technique evolved around it.  I use 400 0r 500 grit.  My favorite thing about it is its ‘tooth’ (i.e. texture or roughness).  

Over the many months I spend creating a pastel painting, I build layer upon layer of soft pastel.  Because the paper I use is relatively “toothy,” it accepts all of the pastel the painting needs.  And as many people know, I own and use thousands of soft pastels!

Many layers of soft pastel and several months of studio time go into creating each painting.  My self-invented technique is analogous to the glazing techniques used by the Old Masters, who slowly built up layers of thin oil paint to achieve a high degree of finish.  Colors were not only mixed physically, but optically.  

Similarly, I gradually build up layers of soft pastel, as many as thirty, to create a pastel painting.  After applying a color, I blend it with my fingers and push it into the sandpaper’s tooth.  It mixes with the color beneath to create a new color, continually adding richness, saturation, and intensity to the piece.  By the time a pastel painting is finished, the colors are bold, vibrant, and exciting.

From the beginning in the 1980s I used photographs as reference material and my late husband, Bryan, would shoot 4” x 5” negatives of my elaborate setups with his Toyo-Omega view camera. In those days I rarely picked up a camera except when we were traveling. After Bryan was killed on 9/11, I inherited his extensive camera collection – old Nikons, Leicas, Graphlex cameras, etc. – and I wanted to learn how to use them. In 2002 I enrolled in a series of photography courses (about 10 over 4 years) at the International Center of Photography in New York. I learned how to use all of Bryan’s cameras and how to make my own big color prints in the darkroom.

Along the way I discovered that the sense of composition, form, and color I developed over many years as a painter translated well into photography. The camera was just another medium with which to express my ideas. Astonishingly, in 2009 I had my first solo photography exhibition in New York.

It’s wonderful to be both a painter and a photographer. Pastel painting will always be my first love, but photography lets me explore ideas much faster than I ever could as a painter. Paintings take months of work. To me, photographs – from the initial impulse to hanging a framed print on the wall – are instant gratification.

For several years I have been using my iPad Pro to capture thousands of travel photographs.  Most recently, I visited Gujarat and Rajasthan in India. I have never been inclined to use a sketchbook so composing photos on my iPad keeps my eye sharp while I’m halfway around the world, far from my studio practice.

My blog, “Barbara Rachko’s Colored Dust,” continues to be a crucial part of my overall art practice.  Blogging twice a week forces me to think deeply about my work and to explain it clearly to others.  The process has helped me develop a better understanding about why I make art and, I like to think, has helped me to become a better writer.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 448

Museum of Ethnography and Folklore, La Paz, Bolivia
Museum of Ethnography and Folklore, La Paz, Bolivia

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

Memory plays a huge role in the artistic process. Every time you stage a play, you are embodying a memory. Human beings are stimulated to tell stories from the experience of remembering an incident or a person. The act of expressing what is remembered is actually, according to the philosopher Richard Rorty, an act of re-description. In redescribing something, new myths are created. Rorty suggests that there is no objective reality, no Platonic ideal. We create truths by describing, or re-describing, our beliefs and observations. Our task, and the task of every artist and scientist, is to redescribe our inherited assumptions and invented fictions in order to create new paradigms for the future.

Anne Bogart in A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theater

Comments are welcome!

Q: How has photography changed your approach to painting?

Alexandria, VA (composed on an iPad Pro)

A: Except for many hours spent in life-drawing classes and still life setups that I devised when I was learning my craft in the 1980s, I have always worked from photographs. My late husband, Bryan, would shoot 4” x 5” negatives of my elaborate “Domestic Threats” setups using his Toyo-Omega view camera. I rarely picked up a camera except when we were traveling. After Bryan was killed on 9/11, I inherited his extensive (film) camera collection – old Nikons, Leicas, Graphlex cameras, etc. – and needed to learn how to use them. Starting in 2002 I enrolled in a series of photography courses (about 10 over 4 years) at the International Center of Photography in New York. I learned how to use all of Bryan’s cameras and how to make my own big color prints in the darkroom.

Early on I discovered that the sense of composition, color, and form I had developed over many years as a painter translated well into photography. The camera was, and is, just another medium with which to express ideas. Pastel painting will always be my first love. However, pastel paintings take months of work, while photography offers instant gratification, especially with my current preferred camera, an iPad Pro.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 445

Artists at work… our documentary film crew!

*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 good friend the writer Charles L. Mee, Jr helped me to recognize the relationship between art and the way societies are structured. He suggested that, as societies develop, it is the artists who articulate the necessary myths that embody our experience of life and provide parameters for ethics and values. Every so often the inherited myths lose their value because they become too small and confined to contain the complexities of the ever-transforming and expanding societies. In that moment new myths are needed to encompass who we are becoming. These new constructs do not eliminate anything already in the mix; rather, they include fresh influences and engender new formations. The new mythologies always include ideas, cultures and people formerly excluded from the previous mythologies. So, deduces Mee, the history of art is the history of inclusion.

I believe that the new mythologies will be created and articulated in art, in literature, painting and poetry. It is the artists who will create a livable future through their ability to articulate in the face of flux and change.

Anne Bogart in A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theater

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 444

Barbara working on an interview. Photo: Maria Cox
Barbara working on an interview. Photo: Maria Cox

*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 are individuals willing to articulate in the face of flux and transformation. And the successful artist finds new shapes for our present ambiguities and uncertainties. The artist becomes the creator of the future through the violent act of articulation. I say violent because articulation is a forceful act. It demands an aggressiveness and an ability to enter into the fray and translate that experience into expression. In the articulation begins a new organization of the inherited landscape.

Anne Bogart in A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theater

Comments are welcome!

Q: You are a multi-talented woman! Tell us about your book, “From Pilot to Painter,” and how writing, for you, compares to painting and photography. Which do you prefer?

“From Pilot to Painter”

“From Pilot to Painter”

A:  I am pleased that my eBook FROM PILOT TO PAINTER is available on Amazon and iTunes.  It is based on my blog and is part memoir, including my personal loss on 9/11, insights into my creative practice, and intimate reflections on what it’s like to be an artist living in New York City now. The eBook includes new material not found on the blog, plus 25+ reproductions of my vibrant pastel-on-sandpaper paintings, a Foreword by Ann Landi (who writes for ARTnews and The Wall Street Journal), and more.

“Barbara Rachko’s Colored Dust” (the title of my blog) continues to be a crucial part of my overall art practice.  Blogging twice a week forces me to think deeply about my work and to explain it clearly to others.  The process has helped me develop a better understanding about why I make art and has encouraged me to become a better writer.

From the beginning in the 1980s I used photographs as reference material and Bryan would shoot 4” x 5” negatives of my elaborate setups with his Toyo-Omega view camera. In those days I rarely picked up a camera except when we were traveling. After Bryan was killed on 9/11, I inherited his extensive camera collection – old Nikons, Leicas, Graphlex cameras, etc. – and I wanted to learn how to use them. In 2002 I enrolled in a series of photography courses (about 10 over 4 years) at the International Center of Photography in New York. I learned how to use all of Bryan’s cameras and how to make my own big color prints in the darkroom. Along the way I discovered that the sense of composition, form, and color I developed over many years as a painter translated well into photography. The camera was just another medium with which to express my ideas. Astonishingly, in 2009 I had my first solo photography exhibition in New York.

It’s wonderful to be both a painter and a photographer. Pastel painting will always be my first love, but photography lets me explore ideas much faster than I ever could as a painter. Paintings take months of work. To me, photographs – from the initial impulse to hanging a framed print on the wall – are instant gratification.

For two years I have been using my iPad Pro to capture thousands of travel photographs.  Most recently, I visited Gujarat and Rajasthan in India. I have never been inclined to use a sketchbook so composing photos on my  iPad keeps my eye sharp while I’m halfway around the world, far from my studio practice.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 213

Matisse Book Cover

Matisse Book Cover

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

I am astonished by the accuracy with which Matisse remembers the most trifling facts; he describes  a room that he went into forty years ago and gives you the measurements, where every piece of furniture stood, how the light fell.  He is a man of astounding precision and has little time for anything that he has not confirmed for himself.   In art matters, he is not the sort to go looking for a profile fortuitously created by cracks in the wall.  Elie Faure writes that Matisse is perhaps the only one of his contemporaries (in particular Marquet and Bonnard) to know exactly where he comes from and the only one who never allows it to show “because his inveterate, invincible, vigilant willpower is always focused on being himself and nothing but.”

Matisse neglects nothing.  He seems to know as much about the art market as about painting.

So many stratagems to sell a painting, from intimidating the purchaser to seeming to avoid him:  Vollard used them all and used them successfully.  Not least the lies that he told to  reassure the client.  “It works like this,” says Matisse:  “To make a sale, you invent lies that have somehow disappeared into thin air by the time the deal is done.”

We talk of the difficulties faced by dealers hoping to gain access to Renoir in his Cagnes residence.  Renoir didn’t like having people talk to him about selling his work,” says Matisse:  “It bored him.  About the only one who got a foot in the door was Paul Guillaume; he dressed up as a young worker with a floppy necktie:  “You see, I’m a local.  I’ve always loved your painting.  I’ve just inherited a little money; I’d like to buy something.”       

Chatting with Henri Matisse:  The Lost 1941 Interview, Henri Matisse with Pierre Courthion, edited by Serge Guilbaut, translated by Chris Miller

Comments are welcome! 

Pearls from artists* # 84

My Alexandria living room

My Alexandria living room

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

I have a stockpile of sculptures, paintings, and drawings – every work of art I have made that has not sold – in a storage space for which I pay every month as regularly as I pay my utility bills.  This is a sensible arrangement, as I can leave this work to my children.  Most of the time I never give it a thought, but this morning it flashed across my mind that if it were blown away I would be bereaved in a way that would hurt me very much.  I have not been inordinately materialistic, but I am attached to my house, to my inherited belongings, and to the things that I have chosen for myself.  All these objects add complexity to my emotional ties to people with whom I have shared, and share, my life, and to my aspirations for myself.

Anne Truitt in Turn:  The Journal of an Artist 

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 71

New York street

New York street

* 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 are individuals willing to articulate in the face of flux and transformation.  And the successful artist finds new shapes for our present ambiguities and uncertainties.  The artist becomes the creator of the future through the violent act of articulation. I say violent because articulation is a forceful act.  It demands an aggressiveness and an ability to enter into the fray and translate that experience into expression.  In the articulation begins a new organization of the inherited landscape.

My good friend the writer Charles L. Mee, Jr. helped me to recognize the relationship between art and the way societies are structured.  He suggested that, as societies develop, it is the artists who articulate the necessary myths that embody our experience of life and provide parameters for ethics and values.  Every so often the inherited myths lose their value because they become too small and confined to contain the complexities of the ever-transforming and expanding societies. In that moment new myths are needed to encompass who we are becoming.  These new constructs do not eliminate anything already in the mix; rather, they include fresh influences and engender new formations.  The new mythologies always include ideas, cultures and people formerly excluded from the previous mythologies.  So, deduces Mee, the history of art is the history of inclusion. 

Ann Bogart in A Director Prepares:  Seven Essays on Art and Theater

Comments are welcome!

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