Q: When and why did you start working on sandpaper?
A: In the late 1980s when I was studying at the Art League in Alexandria, VA, I took a three-day pastel workshop with Albert Handel, an artist known for his southwest landscapes in pastel and oil paint. I had just begun working with soft pastel (I’d completed my first class with Diane Tesler) and was still experimenting with paper. Handel suggested I try Ersta fine sandpaper. I did and nearly three decades later, I’ve never used anything else.
The paper (UArt makes it now) is acid-free and accepts dry media, especially pastel and charcoal. It allows me to build up layer upon layer of pigment, blend, etc. without having to use a fixative. The tooth of the paper almost never gets filled up so it continues to hold pastel. If the tooth does fill up, which sometimes happens with problem areas that are difficult to resolve, I take a bristle paintbrush, dust off the unwanted pigment, and start again. My entire technique – slowly applying soft pastel, blending and creating new colors directly on the paper (occupational hazard: rubbed-raw fingers, especially at the beginning of a painting as I mentioned in last Saturday’s blog post), making countless corrections and adjustments, looking for the best and/or most vivid colors, etc. – evolved in conjunction with this paper.
I used to say that if Ersta ever went out of business and stopped making sandpaper, my artist days would be over. Thankfully, when that DID happen, UArt began making a very similar paper. I buy it from ASW (Art Supply Warehouse) in two sizes – 22″ x 28″ sheets and 56″ wide by 10 yard long rolls. The newer version of the rolled paper is actually better than the old, because when I unroll it it lays flat immediately. With Ersta I laid the paper out on the floor for weeks before the curl would give way and it was flat enough to work on.
Comments are welcome!
Q: What’s on the easel today?
A: Today is a day off to let my fingers heal. When I start a new painting, I need to rub my fingers against raw sandpaper in order to blend the pastel. With each layer the tooth of the paper gets filled up and becomes smooth, but until then my fingers suffer. Here is what I’ve been working on.
This pastel-on-sandpaper painting is an experiment, an attempt to push myself to work with bigger and bolder imagery. The photograph clipped to the easel is one of my favorites. It depicts a Judas that Bryan and I found in a dusty shop in Oaxaca. Among the Mexican and Guatemalan folk art pieces that I’ve collected are five papier mâché Judases. This particular one is unusual because it has a cat’s head attached at the forehead (the purple shape in the painting). They are not made to last. In some Mexican towns large Judases are hung from church steeples, loaded with fireworks, and burned in effigy. This takes place at 10:00 a.m. on the Saturday morning before Easter. Mexico is primarily a Catholic nation, of course, so effigy burning is done as symbolic revenge against Judas for his betrayal of Christ. The Judas in the photo is small and meant for private burning by a family (rather than in public at a church) so by bringing it back to New York I rescued it from a fire-y death! In sympathy with Mexican tradition, I began this painting last Saturday (the day before Easter) at 10 a.m.
Comments are welcome!