Blog Archives

Pearls from artists* # 275

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

“The Sovereign,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38″ image, 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.

Works of art… have a dominant function. They are objects of aesthetic interest.  They may fulfill this function in a rewarding way, offering food for thought and spiritual uplift, winning for themselves a loyal public that returns to them to be consoled or inspired.  They may fulfill their function in ways that are judged to be offensive or demeaning.  Or they may fail altogether to prompt the aesthetic interest that they petition for.  The works of art that we remember fall into the first two categories:  the uplifting and the demeaning.  The total failures disappear from memory.  And it really matters which kind of art you adhere to, which you carry around in your heart.  Good taste is… important in aesthetics… and indeed taste is what it is all about.  If university courses do not start from that premise, students will finish their studies of art and culture just as ignorant as when they began.  When it comes to art, aesthetic judgment concerns what you ought and ought not to like…          

Roger Scruton in Beauty:  A Very Short Introduction

Comments are welcome!

Q: How do you achieve such richness of color in your pastel-on-sandpaper paintings?

"Motley," soft pastel on sandpaper, 38" x 58"

“Motley,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38″ x 58″

 

A:  This results from the several months of studio time and many layers of soft pastel that go into creating each painting.  In a sense my technique is analogous to glazing done by the Old Masters.  They slowly built up layers of thin paint to achieve a high degree of finish.  Colors were not mixed physically, but optically.  I gradually build up layers of soft pastel, as many as 30, to create a pastel painting.  After a color is applied, 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 overall painting.

Comments are welcome!     

Q: Last week you spoke about what happens before you begin a pastel painting. Would you talk about how you actually make the work?

Beginning a new pastel painting

Beginning a new pastel painting

A:  I work on each pastel-on-sandpaper painting for approximately three months.  I try to be in my studio 7 to 8 hours a day, five days a week. 

I make thousands of creative decisions as I apply and layer soft pastels (I have thousands 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 before.

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  I continue to work on “Motley,” a large pastel-on-sandpaper painting that features two folk art pieces I found in Mexico City in March.

Comments are welcome!

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: What’s on the easel today?

Pastel painting in progress

Pastel painting in progress

A:  I am working on an untitled small, 20″ x 26″,  pastel-on-sandpaper painting.

Pearls from artists* # 97

 

"No Cure for Insomnia," pastel on sandpaper, 58" x 38"

“No Cure for Insomnia,” pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38″

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

“Art should be independent of all clap-trap – should stand alone, and appeal to the artistic sense of eye or ear, without confounding this with emotions entirely foreign to it, as devotion, pity, love, patriotism, and the like,” he wrote in The Gentle Art of Making Enemies.

Take the picture of my mother, exhibited at the Royal Academy as an “Arrangement in Grey and Black.” Now that is what it is.  To me it is interesting as a picture of my mother; but what can or ought the public to care about the identity of the portrait? 

James McNeill Whistler quoted in Whistler:  The Enraged Genius by Christopher Benfey in The New York Review of Books, June 5, 2014

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  I continue to work on a pastel-on-sandpaper painting that I began some weeks ago.  For now the working title is “Blinded,” which relates to the maroon and black shape on the main figure’s right eye.  I haven’t yet figured out the deeper meaning of that shape. 

Comments are welcome!

New eBook!

Cover

Cover

I am pleased to announce that my first eBook, FROM PILOT TO PAINTER, is available now on Amazon!

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:  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.

Thank you for your support!

http://www.amazon.com/From-Pilot-Painter-Interview-Barbara-ebook/dp/B00HNVR200/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389292390&sr=8-1&keywords=barbara+rachko

Note:  If you do not own a Kindle, you can download a free Kindle app.

Here is the one for MACs:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?docId=1000464931 

Here is a link for the rest: 

Kindle Cloud Reader – Read instantly in your browser

Smartphones – iPhone & iPod touch, Android, Windows Phone,  BlackBerry

Computers – Mac, Windows 8, Windows 7, XP & Vista

Tablets – iPad, Android Tablet, Windows 8

http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/ref=sv_kstore_3?ie=UTF8&docId=1000493771

Comments are welcome!

Q: Can you discuss your process, including how you actually use Mexican and Guatemalan folk art figures in your art?

A corner of Barbara's studio

A corner of Barbara’s studio

A:  When I set up the figures to photograph for a painting, I work very intuitively, so how I actually cast them in an artwork is difficult to say. Looks count a lot – I select an object and put it in a particular place, look at it, move it or let it stay, and sometimes develop a storyline. I spend time arranging lights and looking for interesting cast shadows. With my first “Domestic Threats” series, all of this was done so that Bryan, my late husband, or I could shoot a couple of negatives with his Toyo Omega 4″ x 5″ view camera.  For  my “Black Paintings” series, begun in 2007, I shoot medium format negatives with a Mamiya 6 camera.

I always look at a 20″ x 24″ photograph for reference as I make a pastel-on-sandpaper painting, plus I also work from the ‘live’ objects.  The photograph is mainly a catalyst because finished paintings are always quite different from their associated reference photos.  Also, since I spend months creating them, the paintings’ interpretative development goes way beyond that of the photo.   

I once completed 6 large (58” x 38”) pastel paintings in a single year, but more recently 4 or 5 per year is common.  It takes approximately 3 months to make each one.  During that time I layer and blend together as many as 25 to 30 layers of pastel. Of course, the colors get more intense as the painting progresses and the pigment accumulates on the sandpaper.

Comments are welcome!