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Q: Would you describe how you are taking soft pastel in new directions as a fine art medium?

Barbara at work, Photo: Marianne Barcellona

Barbara at work, Photo: Marianne Barcellona

A:  I have been devoted to soft pastel for more than thirty years.  In this blog and in countless interviews online and elsewhere, I continue to expound on its merits.  For me no other fine art medium comes close.

I have developed my own original methods for working with soft pastel, pushing this venerable 500-year-old medium to its limits and using it in ways that no one has done before.  I have created a unique science of color in which I layer and blend pigments.  When viewers (including fellow artists) see my work in person for the first time, they often ask, “What medium is this?”  

My self-invented 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 acid-free sandpaper.  In addition to the thousands of pastels that I have to choose from, I blend new colors directly on the paper.  Each pastel painting takes about three months and hundreds of hours to complete. 

My subject matter is singular.  I am drawn to Mexican, Guatemalan, and Bolivian cultural objects—masks, carved wooden animals, papier mâché figures, and toys.  On trips to these places 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!  

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

Start

Start

Finish

Finish

Comments are welcome!

Start/Finish of “The Champ,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 26″ x 20″

Start

Start

Finish

Finish

Comments are welcome!

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

Comments are welcome!

Start/Finish of “Survivors,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 20″ x 26,” 2017

 

Erased charcoal underdrawing

Erased charcoal underdrawing

Finished and signed

Finished and signed

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 263

"Alone Together," soft pastel on sandpaper, 20" x 26"

“Alone Together,” 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.

Making art and viewing art are different at their core.  The sane human being is satisfied that the best he/she can do at any given moment is the best he/she can do at any given moment.  That belief, if widely embraced, would make this book unnecessary, false, or both.  Such sanity is, unfortunately, rare.  Making art provides uncomfortably accurate feedback about the gap that inevitably exists between what you intended to do, and what you did.  In fact, if artmaking did not tell you (the maker) so enormously much about yourself, then making art that matters to you would be impossible.  To all viewers but yourself, what matters is the product:  the finished artwork.  The viewers’ concerns are not your concerns (although it’s dangerously easy to adopt their attitudes).  Their job is whatever it is:  to be moved by art, to be entertained by it, to making a killing off it, whatever.  Your job is to learn to work on your work.

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

Comments are welcome!

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

Comments are welcome!

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

Comments are welcome!

Start/Finish of “Spectral,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 20″ x 26″

Beginning

Beginning

Finished, before signing

Finished, before signing