Blog Archives

Q: Please speak a little about the history of pastel.

Some of Barbara's soft pastels

Some of Barbara’s soft pastels

A:  Pastel has been in use for five hundred years.  Its invention is attributed to the German painter, Johann Thiele, in the 16th century, followed by Venetian artist, Rosalba Carriera, who was the first to use it consistently.  Edgar Degas, the most prolific user of pastel and its great champion, was followed by many artists who used varying techniques.

Degas’ subject matter included ballet dancers, laundresses, milliners, and denizens of the Parisian demimonde.  The pure hues of pastel, plus its direct application, made it his preferred medium.  Rosalba Carriera, a much-admired portrait artist, revolutionized the world of pastel by developing a wider range of colors, expanding pastel’s availability and usefulness.  Mary Cassatt’s pastel portraits of children and family life provided her with a steady income while living in Paris.  American painter William Merritt Chase used pastel to explore plein air painting.  Pastel’s portability and rich colors made it ideal for outdoor landscapes and for capturing light.

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Start/finish of “The Orator,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38″ x 58″

Start

Start

Finish

Finish

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Pearls from artists* # 265

"Colloquium," soft pastel on sandpaper, 58" x 38" image, 70" x 50" framed

“Colloquium,” 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.

I remember hearing Adolph Gottlieb on a panel once at NYU, and Adolph said, in effect – I’m not quoting him directly – “I don’t paint for the masses.  I paint for the elite.  The masses are not interested in what I do.  They won’t understand this kind of painting that I do, and it won’t come through to them.”

I understood perfectly what he meant, and I was totally sympathetic.  But the audience, which was not quite an audience of proletariat workers, but an audience of school of education, art teachers, or art teachers to be, were going out of their heads with rage just at the mention of the elite.

I think there is an elite, and there always was an elite for painting or good music or for good literature.  For a long time there has been, and I don’t see anything wrong with it.  What it means to a lot of people, the elite is the wealthy or something like that.  Adolph, I don’t think, was referring to an elite of the wealthy, where the people run the government or something like that, but to those people who are concerned and interested in the most sophisticated, meaningful painting there is.     

The Art Life:  On Creativity and Career by Stuart Horodner

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Pearls from artists* # 262

"Big Deal," soft pastel on sandpaper, 58" x 38"

“Big Deal,” soft 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.

It may have been easier to paint bison on the cave walls long ago than to write this (or any other) sentence today.  Other people, in other times and places, had some robust institutions to shore them up:  witness the Church, the clan, ritual, tradition.  It’s easy to imagine that artists doubted their calling less when working in the service of God than when working in the service of self.

Not so today.  Today almost no one feels shored up.  Today artwork does not emerge from secure common ground:  the bison on the wall is someone else’s magic.  Making art now means working in the face of uncertainty; it means living with doubt and contradiction, doing something no one much cares whether you do, and for which there may be neither audience nor reward.  Making the work you want to make means setting aside these doubts so that you may see clearly what you have done, and thereby see where to go next.  Making the work you want to make means finding nourishment within the work itself.  This is not the Age of Faith, Truth, and Certainty.

David Bayles and Ted Orlando in Art & Fear:  Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of ARTMAKING

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Start/Finish of “Conundrum,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38″ x 58″ image, 50″ x 70″ framed

Rough charcoal drawing on sandpaper

Rough charcoal drawing on sandpaper

Finished

Finished

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 256

"Offering," soft pastel on sandpaper, 20" x 26"

“Offering,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 20″ x 26″

* 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 saw what skill was needed, and persistence – how one must bend one’s spine, like a hoop, over the page – the long labor.  I saw the difference between doing nothing, or doing a little, and the redemptive act of true effort.  Reading, then writing, then desiring to write well, shaped in me the most joyful of circumstances – a passion for work.    

Mary Oliver in Upstream: Selected Essays

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Start/Finish of “The Ancestors,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38″ image, 70″ x 50″ framed

Beginning

Beginning

Finished

Finished

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  I am putting a few finishing touches on “Conundrum,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38″ x 58″.

Comments  are welcome!

Q: Would you talk about a few of the technical properties that made pastel your medium of choice?

Barbara'a pastels

Barbara’a pastels

A:  Pastel is a time-tested medium that has been in use for five hundred years.  I fell in love with it nearly thirty years ago and it has been my primary medium ever since.

Pastel is known to be the most permanent of all media. It has no liquid binder that might cause oxidizing with the passage of time as often happens with other painting media.  Pastel colors are intense because they are the closest artists get to working with pure pigment.  Artists throughout history have generally favored pastel because it allows a spontaneous approach with no drying time and no change of color.

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Pearls from artists* # 242

"Figment," soft pastel on sandpaper, 20" x 26"

“Figment,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 20″ x 26″

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

Of this there can be no question – creative work requires the loyalty of water to the force of gravity.  A person trudging through the wilderness of creation who does not know this – who does not swallow this – is lost.  He who does not crave that roofless place eternity should stay home.  Such a person is perfectly worthy, and useful, and even beautiful, but is not an artist.  Such a person had better live with timely ambitions and finished work formed for the sparkle of the moment only.  Such a person had better go off and fly an airplane.     

Mary Oliver in Upstream: Selected Essays

Comments are welcome!