Blog Archives

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  I’m working on a large pastel painting based on a photograph shot when I was vacationing recently in La Paz, Bolivia.  How fortuitous to stumble upon a mask exhibition at The National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore!  It felt as though the exhibition somehow was staged for me, just waiting for me to come along and photograph it. 

Incredibly, I returned to New York, after a spectacular trip to Bolivia, and found myself with photographs that are inspiring a new series.  Certainly this has never happened before!  The series is tentatively called, “Bolivianos.”             

Comments are welcome!

Q: How can you tell with certainty when a pastel painting is finished?

“Poker Face,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38″ x 58″

A:  For me a work is finished when to add or subtract some element causes the composition to diminish or somehow weaken.  It’s mostly a matter of where I want viewers to look and how I decide to lead their eyes around a painting.

I work on each piece for several months so that by the time it’s nearly done, I can no longer see flaws.  I put it aside for a week or two.  Then I pull it out again, turn it upside down, and any details that need improving become obvious.  Once I fix them, I know the painting is finally finished and ready to be signed, photographed, and delivered to my framer.

Comments are welcome!

         

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A: I’m putting finishing touches on a small, 20″ x 26,” pastel painting called, “Survivors.”

Comments are welcome! 

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  I continue working on a large, 38″ x 58″, pastel painting called, “Conundrum” and am happy with how it’s progressing.  A few days ago I added the small triangle to the right of the central figure.  I felt some compositional element was needed there and believe this is an improvement.

Comments are welcome! 

Q: Pastel painting is the cornerstone of your practice. What attracted you to this medium?

Barbara's studio with "White Star" in progress

Barbara’s studio with “White Star” in progress

A:  For starters soft pastel is the medium that I fell in love with many years ago.  I am fond of this article, “What is Pastel?” by Mike Mahon, and quote it here because it neatly sums up what I love about working with pastel.

Pastel is the most permanent of all media when applied to conservation ground and properly framed. Pastel has no liquid binder that may cause it to oxidize with the passage of time as oftentimes happens with other media.

In this instance, Pastel does not refer to pale colors, as the word is commonly used in cosmetic and fashion terminology. The pure, powdered pigment is ground into a paste with a minimum amount of gum binder, rolled into sticks and dried. The infinite variety of colors in the Pastel palette range from soft and subtle to hard and brilliant.

An artwork is created by stroking the stick of dry pigment across an abrasive ground, embedding the color in the “tooth” of the ground. If the ground is completely covered with Pastel, the work is considered a Pastel painting; whereas, leaving much of the ground exposed produces a Pastel sketch. Techniques vary with individual artists. The Pastel medium is favored by many artists because it allows a spontaneous approach. There is no drying time, therefore, no change in color occurs after drying as it does in other media.

Did you know that a particle of Pastel pigment seen under a microscope looks like a diamond with many facets? It does! Therefore, Pastel paintings reflect light like a prism. No other medium has the same power of color or stability.

Historically, Pastel can be traced back to the 16th century. Its invention is attributed to the German painter, Johann Thiele. A Venetian woman, Rosalba Camera, was the first to make consistent use of Pastel. Chardin did portraits with an open stroke, while La Tour preferred the blended finish. Thereafter, a galaxy of famous artists—Watteau, Copley, Delacroix, Millet, Manet, Renoir, Toulouse Lautrec, Vuillard, Bonnard, Glackens, Whistler, Hassam, William Merritt Chase—used Pastel for a finished work rather than for preliminary sketches.

Pastels from the 16th century exist today, as fresh as the day they were painted. Edgar Degas was the most prolific user of Pastel and its champion. His protégé, Mary Cassat, introduced Pastel to her friends in Philadelphia and Washington, and thus to the United States. In the Spring of 1983, Sotheby Parke Bernet sold at auction, two Degas Pastels for more than $3,000,000 each! Both Pastels were painted about 1880.

Note: Do not confuse Pastel with “colored chalk.” Chalk is a porous, limestone substance impregnated with dyes, whereas, Pastel is pure pigment—the same as is used in other permanent painting media. Today, Pastel paintings have the stature of oil and watercolor as a major fine art medium. Many of our most renowned, living artists have distinguished themselves in Pastel and have enriched the art world with this beautiful medium.

So knowing all this, I often wonder, why don’t more artists use pastel?  Is it because framing is a big expense? 

Works on paper need to be framed and pastel paintings do have some unique problems.  Third after the cost of maintaining a studio in New York City and marketing, frames are my single largest business expense.  Sometimes I am grateful that pastel is a very slow medium.  I typically finish 4 or 5 paintings in a year, which means I only have to pay for 4 or 5 frames.

Comments are welcome!

 

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  I am working on a small 20″ x 26″ pastel painting that doesn’t have a title yet.

Comments are welcome!   

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  I am working on a large 38″ x 58″ pastel painting  that depicts figures found years ago in Oaxaca and Mexico City.  This painting doesn’t have a title yet.

Comments are welcome!

What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  I am in the very early stages of a large pastel painting.

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Preliminary drawing

Preliminary drawing

A:  I am ready to start a preliminary charcoal drawing as a study for my next pastel painting. It has been a while since I worked with the Mexican figures in the photo on the left. It’s like a reunion with dear friends!

Comments are welcome!

Q: Do you consider your finished pastel works to be drawings or paintings?

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

“The Sovereign,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38″ image, 70″ x 50″ framed

A:  Among artists who work in pastel, these two words, ‘drawings’ and ‘paintings,’ have very specific meanings, somewhat unrelated to the usual distinctions made by art historians and others.  For a pastel artist, a ‘drawing’ refers to a work in which the paper or other substrate is allowed to show through.  In a pastel ‘painting’ you do not see the substrate at all, i.e. pastel is used much more heavily in a painting than in a drawing.  Since I have always spent months creating each piece, covering the entire sandpaper ground with up to 30 layers of pigment, I have considered my work to be pastel painting.

Comments are welcome!