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Q: How long does it take you to complete a pastel-on-sandpaper painting?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  Mine is a slow and labor-intensive process.  First, there is foreign travel to find the cultural objects – masks, carved wooden animals, paper mâché figures, and toys – that are my subject matter.  If they are heavy I ship them home.  

Next comes planning exactly how to photograph them, lighting and setting everything up, and shooting a roll of 220 film with my Mamiya 6 camera.  I still like to use an analog camera for my fine art work, although I am rethinking this.  I have the film developed, decide which image to use, and order a 20” x 24” reference photograph from Manhattan Photo on West 20th Street.  

Then I am ready to start.  I work on each pastel-on-sandpaper painting for approximately three months.  I am in my studio 7 to 8 hours a day, five days a week.  During that time I make thousands of creative decisions as I apply and layer soft pastels (I have 8 tables-worth to choose from!), blend them with my fingers, and mix new colors directly on the sandpaper.  A finished piece consists of up to 30 layers of soft pastel.  My self-invented technique accounts for the vivid, intense color that often leads viewers of my originals to look very closely and ask, “What medium is this?”  I believe I am pushing soft pastel to its limits, using it in ways that no other artist has done.

Comments are welcome!

Q: How do you begin a photograph?

Untitled chromogenic print, 24" x 24", edition of 5

Untitled chromogenic print, 24″ x 24″, edition of 5

A:  It always begins in my mind long before I actually start making it.  By the time I take the photograph, I’ve already thought deeply about the possibilities, the formal arrangements, meanings, etc. so that setting up the objects, lighting them, and clicking the shutter feels like a reward after a long thought process.  My fine art photographs are  finished works in themselves.  However, when I select one to use as reference for a pastel painting, a different but related process of working out my ideas and translating them into pastel occurs over the next several months spent in the studio.  Of course, in that case the photo becomes only the starting point for an entirely new artwork.  

Comments are welcome!  

Q: There is plenty of joyful and vibrant color in your work, but shadows are also ever-present. I would almost go as far as calling them the supporting players of your compositions. Can you elaborate on their importance and significance?

"She Embraced It and Grew Stronger,"  soft pastel on sandpaper

“She Embraced It and Grew Stronger,” soft pastel on sandpaper

A: When I arrange the setups, I spend a lot of time lighting them, mainly in a search for intriguing cast shadows. At one point in the “Domestic Threats” series the shadows became so important that I thought of them as physical objects in their own right. So I made them very prominent, outlined them, and otherwise gave them added emphasis. Often they had no relation to the actual objects as I created any shadow shapes that looked interesting in the painting. When I go to art galleries and museums, I always look at the shadows surrounding well-lit three dimensional objects. I find shadows quite fascinating. How less visually satisfying Calder’s mobiles and stabiles would be without the cast shadows!

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