Blog Archives

Q: How much of your work is autobiographical?

"The Champ," soft pastel on sandpaper, 26" x 20"

“The Champ,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 26″ x 20″

A:  I suppose all of it is, in the sense that often I can look at a particular pastel painting and remember what was happening in my life when I made it.  As I get older, however, it’s becoming more difficult to remember the circumstances surrounding my earliest work.  Certainly, the cultures of an ever-expanding number of countries – Bolivia last year – are influencing my imagery for the better.

Comments are welcome!  

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Preliminary sketch

Preliminary sketch

A:  I’m working on a preliminary charcoal drawing for my next large pastel painting.  It will be number seven in the “Bolivianos” series.

Comments are welcome!

Q: Having worked as an artist for more than three decades, you and your work finally are becoming well known. Do you ever receive fan letters?

Letter from a fan

Letter from a fan

A:  Yes, I do hear from fans.  Recently I received the hand-written letter pictured above.  It’s from a well-read inmate in a Virginia prison.  I chuckled when I read it because Glen was taken with an old pastel painting of mine called, “He Lost His Chance to Flee”!  

It’s a lovely letter.  I’m touched to know that my work is inspiring people to think about and make art!

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  I continue working on a large pastel painting based on another of my photographs from La Paz, Bolivia.

Comments are welcome!

Q: (Part I) Would you share your story of how creating art enabled you to heal after losing your husband on 9/11?

"She Embraced It and Grew Stronger," 2003, 70” x 50” framed, the first pastel painting I completed after Bryan was killed

“She Embraced It and Grew Stronger,” 2003, 70” x 50” framed, the first pastel painting I completed after Bryan was killed

A:  On June 16, 2001, I married Dr. Bryan Jack, my longtime companion and soulmate, during a very private ceremony in the garden of an historic Alexandria, Virginia residence. In attendance were a justice of the peace, me, and Bryan.  He and I were 48 years old and this was the first marriage for us both.  Sadly, we never celebrated an anniversary.  Exactly 87 days later my new husband was the victim of a terrorist attack.

On September 11, 2001, Bryan, a high-ranking federal government employee, a brilliant economist, and a budget analyst at the Pentagon, was en route to Monterey, CA to give his monthly guest lecture for an economics class at the Naval Postgraduate College. He boarded the American Airlines plane out of Dulles Airport that was high-jacked and crashed into the Pentagon, killing 189 people.

To this day I consider how easily I, too, could have been killed on 9/11, if I had just decided to travel with Bryan to California. Plus, the plane crashed directly into my Navy office on the fifth floor E-ring of the Pentagon. (I am a retired Navy Commander and worked at the Pentagon for many years). But for a twist of fate, we both would have died:  Bryan on the plane, me either beside Bryan or inside the building.

In September 2001 Bryan and I had been together for fourteen and a half years. Surprisingly, we were happier than we had ever been.  At a time when other couples we knew were settling into a certain boredom and routine, our life together was growing richer and more interesting.  So losing Bryan – especially then – was heart-breaking, cruel, and devastating beyond comprehension.  It was so unfair.  I was numb and in shock.

The next six months passed by in a blur. But I had made a decision and pledged that I would not let the 9/11 attackers claim me as one more victim.  My life had been spared for a reason so I began to pick up the pieces and worked to make every day count.  Even many years later, wasting time still feels like a crime.

The following summer I was ready to – I HAD to – get back to work in my studio. I knew exactly what I must do.  More than ever before, learning and painting would become the avenues to my well-being.

Continued next week…

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A. I have just started working on a small pastel painting.  Although the mask looks Tibetan, surprisingly, it is from Bolivia.  It’s one I encountered at a mask exhibition at the Museum of Ethnography and Folklore in La Paz.   This is another in my “Bolivianos” series.

Comments are welcome!

Q: Would you describe how you are taking soft pastel in new directions as a fine art medium?

Barbara at work, Photo: Marianne Barcellona

Barbara at work, Photo: Marianne Barcellona

A:  I have been devoted to soft pastel for more than thirty years.  In this blog and in countless interviews online and elsewhere, I continue to expound on its merits.  For me no other fine art medium comes close.

I have developed my own original methods for working with soft pastel, pushing this venerable 500-year-old medium to its limits and using it in ways that no one has done before.  I have created a unique science of color in which I layer and blend pigments.  When viewers (including fellow artists) see my work in person for the first time, they often ask, “What medium is this?”  

My self-invented techniques for using soft pastel achieve rich velvety textures and exceptionally vibrant color.  Blending with my fingers, I painstakingly apply dozens of layers of pastel onto acid-free sandpaper.  In addition to the thousands of pastels that I have to choose from, I blend new colors directly on the paper.  Each pastel painting takes about three months and hundreds of hours to complete. 

My subject matter is singular.  I am drawn to Mexican, Guatemalan, and Bolivian cultural objects—masks, carved wooden animals, papier mâché figures, and toys.  On trips to these places and elsewhere I frequent local mask shops, markets, and bazaars searching for the figures that will populate my pastel paintings.  How, why, when, and where these objects come into my life is an important part of the creative process.  Each pastel painting is a highly personal blend of reality, fantasy, and autobiography.

Comments are welcome!  

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  This is the first day – with only one layer of soft pastel in most places – of a 38″ x 58″ pastel painting.  It’s based on a photo I composed at the National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore in La Paz, Bolivia.  This is the fourth work in my “Bolivianos” series.

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

“The Orator,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38” x 58”

“The Orator,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38” x 58”

A:  Having finally finished “The Orator” (bottom), I continue working on a small pastel painting that does not have a title yet (top).  The latter is the third piece in my “Bolivianos” series.  

Comments are welcome!

Q: When you are in your studio working on a pastel painting and pause to consider what you have done, do you ask yourself, “Is it good?”

"The Champ," soft pastel on sandpaper, 26" x 20" image, 35" x 28 1/2" framed

“The Champ,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 26″ x 20″ image, 35″ x 28 1/2″ framed

A:  Certainly, I do.  In addition, I ask myself some other important questions:  

Is it the best I can do?

Is it exciting?

Is it surprising?

Is it idiosyncratic and unique to me?

Is there anything I can do to improve it?

Does it meet (or hopefully exceed) the exacting technical and formal standards I have set for my work?  

Will I be proud to finally see my signature on it?

Comments are welcome!