Blog Archives

Q: Can you explain how you choose colors? (Question from Maria Cox via Instagram)

“Overlord,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58” x 38”

A: I am wild about color! As I work to create a pastel painting, I apply a color, back up from my easel to see how it interacts with and affects the rest of the painting, and then I make revisions. This process necessitates countless color changes and hundreds of hours during months of work. I apply pastel using a meticulous layering process. Were you to x-ray one of them, the earlier, discarded versions of a pastel painting would be visible. All the while I carefully fine-tune and refine how the colors and shapes interact with each other.

The goal is to make an exciting painting that no one, especially me as the maker, has ever seen before. I have no desire to repeat myself, to make art that resembles work by any other artist, or to be forced into a niche.

I try to select intense, vibrant colors that are exciting to look at, that work well in relationship to each other, and that will grab the viewer. Sometimes I deliberately choose colors for their symbolic meanings. For example, I selected a dark purple for the alternating triangles (the ones with the pink dots above) in “Overlord” because purple denotes royalty.

I have been working with soft pastel for 37 years so I have a fairly intricate science of color at my disposal. No doubt, many unconscious factors are at play, too. More on that in future posts.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 539

View from Pier 57, New York, NY

*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 is important to consider, when cities like New York continue a process of gentrification that make them unlivable for most artists and intellectuals, that the community Schloss describes was to some extent brought into being by a number of radically different circumstances: first, immigration – in some cases, such as de Kooning, illegal, and in others, such as Schloss, forced by war and politics – and second, the existence in post-Great Depression New York of cheap rents for run-down spaces that no one other than artists would consider or would be able to make not just livable but eventually fashionable.

Mira Schor in The Loft Generation: From the de Koonings to Twombly, Portraits and Sketches 1942-2011 edited by Mary Venturini

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 532

Barbara’s Studio

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

Far from offering an escape from the world, the arts present one of the most difficult and hard-fought ways to enter into the life of our time or any other time. What the artist must first accept is the authority of an art form, the immersion in what others have done and achieved. Once the artist has begun to take all that in – it’s a process that never really ends – there comes the even greater challenge of asserting one’s freedom. It’s the limits imposed by a vocation that makes it possible to turn away from the pressures of the moment and think and feel freely – and sometimes, give the most private emotions an extraordinary public hearing. If art is the ordering of disorderly experience, and I don’t know how else to describe it, then the artist must be true both to the order and to the disorder. These are the trials of the artist and the artistic vocation. They shape the experience of anybody who reads a novel or looks at a painting or listens to a piece of music.

Jed Perl in Authority and Freedom: A Defense of the Arts

Comments are welcome!

Q: There are so many instances in the art world where paintings are discovered to be fakes. Do you think this is a potential problem where your work is concerned? Can your pastel paintings be forged?

Start
Start of “Acolytes,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38″ x 58″
Finish
“Acolytes” finished

A: For the record, a little-appreciated fact about my pastel-on-sandpaper paintings is that they can never be forged. To detect a fake, you would only need to x-ray them. If dozens of layers of revisions are not visible under the final pastel painting, you are not looking at an original Rachko, period.

My completed paintings are the results of thousands of decisions. They are the product of an extremely meticulous, labor-intensive, and self-invented process. This is the difference between spending months thinking about and creating a painting, as I do, or a single day. It’s highly doubtful that my rigorous creative process can EVER be duplicated.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 531

In the Studio

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

Find joy in the process as well as in the product. The issue of recognition is in part the issue of process versus outcome. Insofar as the process brings you joy, insofar as constructing a paragraph, painting shafts of sunlight, or playing a passage fills you with awe and delight, for that hour the issue of recognition vanishes. Insofar as the effort to construct that paragraph or to master that passage is a heartfelt struggle, welling up from deep sources, for that hour the issue of recognition vanishes. Notice your joy in the work, so as to remind yourself why you embarked on this journey.

Eric Maisel in A Life in the Arts: Practical Guidance and Inspiration for Creative and Performing Artists

Comments are welcome!

In celebration of the tenth anniversary of my blog (yesterday), I am republishing the very first post from July 15, 2012. Q: What does it take to be an artist, especially one living and working in New York?

Barbara's Studio (in 2012) with works in progress

Barbara’s Studio (in 2012) with works in progress.

A:  The three Big P’s – Patience, Persistence, and Passion.  Without all three you will not have the stamina to work tirelessly for very little external reward.  You can expect help from no one. 

There are so many obstacles to art-making and countless reasons to just give up.  When you really think about it, it’s amazing that great art gets made at all.  So why do we do it?  Above all it’s about making our time on earth matter, about devotion to our innate gifts and love of our hard-fought creative process. 

And, my God, it even gets harder as we get older!  So what do we do?  We dig in that much deeper.  It’s a most noble and sacred calling – you know when you have it – and that’s what separates those of us who are in it for the long haul from the wimps, fakers, and hangers-on.  I say to my fellow artists who continue to work despite the endless challenges, we are all true heroes! 

These words still ring true and it’s good, even for me, to occasionally be reminded.  

Most importantly, THANK YOU to my 85,500+ subscribers for taking this journey with me!

Comments are welcome!     

Q: What is your process? (Question from artamour)

Some of Barbara’s pastels

A: For thirty-six years I have worked exclusively in soft pastel on sandpaper.  Pastel, which is pigment and a binder to hold it together, is as close to unadulterated color as an artist can get.  It allows for very saturated color, especially employing the self-invented techniques I have developed and mastered. I believe my “science of color” is unique, completely unlike how any other artist works.  I spend three to four months on each painting, applying pastel and blending the layers together to mix new colors on the paper. 

The acid-free sandpaper support allows the buildup of 25 to 30 layers of pastel as I slowly and meticulously work for hundreds of hours to complete a painting.  The paper is extremely forgiving.  I can change my mind, correct, refine, etc. as much as I want until a painting is the best I can create at that moment in time. 

My 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 the sandpaper.  In addition to the thousands of pastels that I have to choose from, I make new colors directly on the paper.  Regardless of size, each pastel painting takes three to four months and hundreds of hours to complete. 

have been devoted to soft pastel from the beginning.  In my blog and in numerous interviews online and elsewhere, I continue to expound on its merits.  For me no other fine art medium comes close. 

My subject matter is unique.  I am drawn to Mexican, Guatemalan, and Bolivian cultural objects—masks, carved wooden animals, papier mâché figures, and toys.  On trips to these countries 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: 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* # 486

Barbara working on an interview. Photo: Maria Cox
Barbara working on an interview. Photo: Maria Cox

Walter Murch: Somebody once asked WH Auden, is it true that you can write only what you know?” And he said, “Yes it is. But you don’t know what you know until you write it.” Writing is a process of discovery of what you really do know. You can’t limit yourself in advance to what you know, because you don’t know everything you know.

The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje

Comments are welcome!

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