Blog Archives

Q: How do you work and approach your subject? (Question from “Arts Illustrated”)

At work
At work

A: Undoubtedly, I could not make my work without UART sandpaper since my entire pastel technique evolved around it.  I use 400 0r 500 grit.  My favorite thing about it is its ‘tooth’ (i.e. texture or roughness).  

Over the many months I spend creating a pastel painting, I build layer upon layer of soft pastel.  Because the paper I use is relatively “toothy,” it accepts all of the pastel the painting needs.  And as many people know, I own and use thousands of soft pastels!

Many layers of soft pastel and several months of studio time go into creating each painting.  My self-invented technique is analogous to the glazing techniques used by the Old Masters, who slowly built up layers of thin oil paint to achieve a high degree of finish.  Colors were not only mixed physically, but optically.  

Similarly, I gradually build up layers of soft pastel, as many as thirty, to create a pastel painting.  After applying a color, 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 piece.  By the time a pastel painting is finished, the colors are bold, vibrant, and exciting.

From the beginning in the 1980s I used photographs as reference material and my late husband, Bryan, would shoot 4” x 5” negatives of my elaborate setups with his Toyo-Omega view camera. In those days I rarely picked up a camera except when we were traveling. After Bryan was killed on 9/11, I inherited his extensive camera collection – old Nikons, Leicas, Graphlex cameras, etc. – and I wanted to learn how to use them. In 2002 I enrolled in a series of photography courses (about 10 over 4 years) at the International Center of Photography in New York. I learned how to use all of Bryan’s cameras and how to make my own big color prints in the darkroom.

Along the way I discovered that the sense of composition, form, and color I developed over many years as a painter translated well into photography. The camera was just another medium with which to express my ideas. Astonishingly, in 2009 I had my first solo photography exhibition in New York.

It’s wonderful to be both a painter and a photographer. Pastel painting will always be my first love, but photography lets me explore ideas much faster than I ever could as a painter. Paintings take months of work. To me, photographs – from the initial impulse to hanging a framed print on the wall – are instant gratification.

For several years I have been using my iPad Pro to capture thousands of travel photographs.  Most recently, I visited Gujarat and Rajasthan in India. I have never been inclined to use a sketchbook so composing photos on my iPad keeps my eye sharp while I’m halfway around the world, far from my studio practice.

My blog, “Barbara Rachko’s Colored Dust,” continues to be a crucial part of my overall art practice.  Blogging twice a week forces me to think deeply about my work and to explain it clearly to others.  The process has helped me develop a better understanding about why I make art and, I like to think, has helped me to become a better writer.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 446

At the studio. Photo: Kimberly Kevorkian

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

What stops us in our tracks? I am rarely stopped by something or someone I can instantly know. In fact, I have always been attracted to the challenge of getting to know what I cannot instantly categorize or dismiss, whether an actor’s presence, a painting, a piece of music, or a personal relationship. It is the journey towards the object of attraction that interests me. We stand in relation to one another. We long for the relationship that will change our vistas. Attraction is an invitation to an evanescent journey, to a new way of experiencing life or perceiving reality.

An authentic work of art embodies intense energy. It demands response. You can either avoid it, shut it out, or meet it and tussle. It contains attractive and complicated energy fields and a logic all its own. It does not create desire or movement in the receiver, rather it engenders what James Joyce labelled ‘aesthetic interest.’ You are stopped in your tracks. You cannot easily walk by it and go on with your life. You find yourself in relation to something that you cannot readily dismiss.

Anne Bogart in A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theater

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 98

Teleidoscope

Teleidoscope

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

A work of art can start you thinking about some aesthetic or philosophical problem; it can suggest some new method, some fresh approach to fiction.  But the relationship between reading and writing is rarely so clear-cut…

To be truthful, some writers stop you dead in your tracks by making you see your own work in the most unflattering light.  Each of us will meet a different harbinger of personal failure, some innocent genius chosen by us for reasons having to do with what we see as our own inadequacies.  The only remedy to this I have found is to read a writer whose work is entirely different from another, though not necessarily more like your own – a difference that will remind you of how many rooms there are in the house of art.

Francine Prose in Reading Like a Writer:  A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them  

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 76

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

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

What stops us in our tracks?   I am rarely stopped by something or someone I can instantly know.  In fact, I have always been attracted to the challenge of getting to know what I cannot instantly categorize or dismiss, whether an actor’s presence, a painting, a piece of music, or a personal relationship.  It is the journey towards the object of attraction that interests me.  We stand in relation to one another.  We long for the relationships that will change our vistas.  Attraction is an invitation to an evanescent journey, to a new way of experiencing life or perceiving reality.

An authentic work of art embodies intense energy.  It demands response.  You can either avoid it, shut it out, or meet it and tussle.  It contains attractive and complicated energy fields and a logic all its own.  It does not create desire or movement in the receiver, rather it engenders what James Joyce labeled ‘aesthetic arrest.’ You are stopped in your tracks.  You cannot easily walk by it and go on with your life.  You find yourself in relation to something that you cannot readily dismiss.

Anne Bogart in A Director Prepares:  Seven Essays on Art and Theater 

Comments are welcome!   

Q: How would you describe your personal artistic style?

Barbara'a pastels

Barbara’a pastels

A:  Regardless of what medium I am using, I am first and foremost a colorist.  Everything I create is vibrant with color.

The Navy taught me to be organized, goal-oriented and focused, to love challenges, and in everything I do, to pay attention to the details.  Trying to make it as an artist in New York is nothing BUT challenges, so these qualities serve me well, whether I am creating paintings, shooting and making photographs, or trying to understand the art business, keep up with social media, and manage all the tasks required of a busy artist with a New York studio, a business, and two residences to maintain.  It’s a lot, but it forces me to continually learn and grow.  As Helen Keller famously said, “Life is an adventure or it is nothing.”

These days I am rarely bored.  I thoroughly enjoy spending long, solitary hours working to become a better artist.  I am meticulous about craft and will not let work out of my studio until it is as good as I can make it.  My creative process is more exciting than ever.  It’s thrilling and energizing to continually push soft pastel to its limits and use it in ways that no other artist has done before!  

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 57

Studio corner

Studio corner

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

You are talented and creative.  You rarely block, and when you do block you know how to move yourself along.  Your moods are not incapacitating and you haven’t stepped over into madness.  Your personality is sufficiently integrated that your necessary arrogance doesn’t prevent you from having successful relationships, your nonconformity hasn’t made you a pariah,  and your skepticism hasn’t bred in you a nihilistic darkness.  You work happily in isolation but can also move into the world and have a life.  You have, in short, met the challenges posed so far.

Are you home free?  Unfortunately not.  The next challenges you face are as great as any posed so far.  They are the multiple challenges of doing the business of art:  making money, developing a career, acknowledging and making the most of your limited opportunities, living with compromise, dealing with mass taste and commercialism, negotiating the marketplace, and making personal sense of the mechanics and metaphysics of the business environment of art.

Many artists grow bitter in this difficult arena.  Many an artist flounders.  Only the rare artist sits himself down to examine these matters, for they are painful to consider.  But you have no choice but to examine them.  If you are an artist, you want an audience.  And if you want an audience, you must do business.

Comments are welcome!  

Eric Maisel in A Life in the Arts

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