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Pearls from artists* # 505

With ”Impresario,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 70” x 50” framed

*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 myself was once “at the top: – with a book that sat on the bestseller list for more than three years. I can’t tell you how many people said to me during those years, “How are you ever going to top that?” They’d speak of my great good fortune as though it were a curse, not a blessing, and would speculate about how terrified I must feel at the prospect of not being able to reach such phenomenal heights again.

But such thinking assumes there is a “top” – and that reaching that top (and staying there) is the only motive one has to create. Such thinking assumes that the mysteries of inspiration operate on the same scale as we do – on a limited human scale of success and failure, of winning and losing, of comparison and competition, of commerce and reputation, of units sold and influence wielded. Such thinking assumes that you must be constantly victorious – not only against your piers, but also against an earlier version of your own poor self. Most dangerously of all, such thinking assumes if you cannot win, then you must not continue to play.

But what does any of that have to do with vocation? What does any of that have to do with the pursuit of love? What does any of that have to do with the strange communion between the human and the magical? What does any of that have to do with faith? What does any of that have to do with the quiet glory of merely making things, and then sharing those things with an open heart and no expectations?

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Borders

Comments are welcome!

Q: How would you describe the inside of your studio?

Barbara’s Studio

A: My studio is an oasis in a chaotic city, a place to make art, to read, and to think. I love to walk in the door every morning because it is my absolute favorite place in New York! Even after thirty-six years, I still find the entire process of making a pastel painting completely engaging. I try to push my pastel techniques further every time I work in the studio.

There’s one more thing about my studio: I consider it my best creation because it’s a physical environment that anyone can walk into and occupy, as compared to my artworks, which are 2D paintings hanging flat on a wall.  It has taken 25 years to get it the way it is now.  I believe my studio is the best reflection of my growth as an artist.  It changes and evolves as I change over the decades.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 502

Mount Greylock, Adams, MA

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

It seems to me that the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back. If I can relax, then fear relaxes, too. I cordially invite fear to come along with me everywhere I go. I even have a welcoming speech prepared for fear, which I deliver right before embarking upon any new project or adventure.

It goes something like this.

Dearest fear: Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you will be joining us, because you always do. I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life, and that you take your job seriously. Apparently, your job is to induce complete panic whenever I’m about to do something interesting – and may I say, you are superb at your job. So, by all means, keep doing your job, if you feel you must. But I will also be doing my job on this road trip, which is to work hard and stay focused. And Creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring. There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognize and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still – your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps; you’re not allowed to suggest detours; you’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”

Then we head off together – me and creativity and fear – side by side by side forever, advancing once more into the terrifying but marvelous terrain of unknown outcome.

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 497

“The Enigma,” 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.

Peter Jensen: Would you say there’s any kind of statement you’re making in the things which you write?

Ursula K. LeGuin: Of course, I suppose in everything I write I am making some sort of statement, but I don’t know just what the statement is. Which I can’t say I feel guilty about. If you can say exactly what you mean by a story, then why not just say it in so many words? Why go to all the fuss and feathers and make up a plot and characters? You say it that way, because it’s the only way you can say it.

Ursula K. LeGuin: The Last Interview and Other Conversations, edited and with an introduction by David Streitfeld

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

A: I continue working on “The Mentalist,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 26” x 20.” Staying focused on making art is more difficult than usual considering the war in Ukraine and it’s widening repercussions.

Comments are welcome!

Q: You wear gloves and a mask when you are working in your studio, right? Can you tell me what kinds? (Question from Britta Konau)

Barbara at work

A: I wear a paper surgical mask – the type that has become ubiquitous since COVID – bought from a local medical supply store. I thoroughly coat my hands with barrier cream – Art Guard – to prevent pastel getting into my skin. The cream has an added benefit of making it easy to wash pastel off my hands. (Neither gloves nor individual finger cots ever worked for me. They made my fingers sweat and did not allow for the fine touch needed to blend new colors directly on sandpaper. Plus, they shredded from being rubbed against the paper’s grit). Also, it is very important that you work with your hand below your face so pastel dust falls below your nose, where you are less likely to breathe it in.

Comments are welcome!

Q: Who is your core audience for your blog? What do you want people to know about your art that you have not created visually? (Question from “Arte Realizzata”)

Working on “Raconteur”
Working on “Raconteur”

A: As I understand it, my core audience here (currently 77,000+ and growing!) is an international group of artists and art aficionados looking for hope, inspiration, and probably, motivation to keep making art.  Unfortunately, ours is a world that too often misunderstands and under-appreciates the difficult, essential, and sometimes lonely work undertaken by artists.  Hopefully, my blog makes readers think, “If Barbara can keep making art under these conditions and continue to thrive after what she’s been through, maybe I can, too!”  

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 471

“Shamanic,” 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.

Impresario Peter Sellars remarks how “Vermeer [spent] hours, days, and weeks painting a small corner of a small room in an act of ritualistically informed meditation that leads to new possibilities of awareness and love.” The time of making, Sellars adds, influences the time of viewing: “The act [of painting] itself opens up and refines consciousness by slowing down time as it focuses the eye.” Sellars’ language of ritual and meditation anticipates my purposes. He associates painting not only with materiality but also with spiritual practices – indeed, he yokes the two: “The act of painting has always been charged with shamanic energies. Using bits of animal bone, hair, and sinew, mixing them with earth, and applying them steadily and with great concentration to a cave wall, a parchment, or a human face is an act of calling and recalling.”

Arden Reed in Slow Art: The Experience of Looking, Sacred Images to James Turrell

Comments are welcome!

Q: When did you start using the sandpaper technique and why (Question from “Arte Realizzata”)

The start of a new pastel-on-sandpaper painting

A: In the late 1980s when I was studying at the Art League School in Alexandria, VA, I enrolled in  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 and was experimenting with paper.  Handel suggested I try Ersta fine sandpaper.  I did and nearly three decades later, I’ve never used anything else. 

This paper is acid-free and accepts dry media, mainly pastel and charcoal.   It allows me to build up layer upon layer of pigment and blend, without having to use a fixative.  The tooth of the paper almost never gets filled up so it continues to hold pastel.  (On the rare occasion when 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, making countless corrections and adjustments, rendering minute details, looking for the best and/or most vivid colors – 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 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 would lay 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!

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