Blog Archives

Q: Do your materials have properties that allow you to maximize what you depict in your work?

Barbara’s studio

Barbara’s studio

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

The sandpaper support allows the build up 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.

Comments are welcome!

Q: You have spoken about your pastel technique, which involves layering pigments on top of each other, up to 25 to 30 layers. When you do this are you putting the same colors on top of each other?

 

An early version of "Oracle," 26" x 20"

An early version of “Oracle,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 26″ x 20″

Finished

Finished

A:  I do layer Rembrandt black soft pastels on top of each other to achieve the dark backgrounds in my “Black Paintings” and “Bolivianos” series.  Black Rembrandts are the pastels I use most so I order them several dozen at a time.  The 400 or 500 grit sandpaper requires at least four layers of pastel just to achieve even coverage.  Over the next few months I add many more layers of black pastel to achieve the final rich look.

The figures and shapes in each pastel painting are a different  story.  Were you to x-ray them, you’d see many different colors underneath the final one.  Sometimes subsequent colors are closely related to earlier ones.  With each additional layer, I correct, refine, and strengthen my drawing so the objects depicted become more solid and/or three-dimensional.

In addition to the thousands of pastels I have to choose from, I mix and blend new colors directly on the sandpaper.  As I proceed, I am searching for the ‘best’ colors, those that make the overall painting more resonant, more alive, and more exciting to look at.  Of course, this is wholly subjective.

Comments are welcome!        

Pearls from artists* # 296

"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.

Meaning in art isn’t the same as meaning in science.  The meaning of the second law of thermodynamics, so long as the words are understood, isn’t changed by who reads it,or when, or where.  The meaning of Huckleberry Finn is. 

Writing is a risky business.  No guarantees.  You have to take the chance.  I’m happy to take it.  I love taking it.  So my stuff gets misread, misunderstood, misinterpreted – so what?  If it’s the real stuff, it will survive almost any abuse other than being ignored, disappeared, not read.      

Ursula K. Le Guin in No Time to Spare:  Thinking About What Matters

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 284

"The Magical Other," soft pastel on sandpaper, 48" x 38"

“The Magical Other,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 48″ 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.

We can do anything, or almost, but how balanced, magnanimous, and modest one has to be to do anything!  And also how patient.  It is as true in the arts as anywhere else.

So… to work.  It is not a non sequitur.  I shall never be one of those directly active (except as a teacher, occasionally), but now and then I am made aware that my work, odd though it seems, does help people.  But it is only in these last years at Nelson that I have known that for sure.   

May Sarton in Journal of a Solitude:  The intimate diary of a year in the life of a creative woman   

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 282

"The Champ," soft pastel on sandpaper, 26" x 20"

“The Champ,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 26″ x 20″

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

The longstanding, at one time almost universal, dismissal of one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century as essentially decorative and superficial is based, at any rate in part, on a simplistic response to the poise, clarity and radiant colour of Matisse’s work that fails to take account of the apprehensive and at times anguished emotional sensibility from which it sprang.

Hilary Spurling in Matisse the Master, A Life of Henri Matisse:  The Conquest of Colour, 1909 – 1954  

Comments are welcome!

Q: What has been your scariest experience as an artist?

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

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

A:  It was the approximately six months in 2007 when I finished the “Domestic Threats” series and was blocked, certain that a strong body of work was behind me, yet not knowing what in the world to do next!  For a professional artist who had been working non-stop for 21 years, this was a profoundly painful, confusing, and disorienting time.  I remember continuing to force myself to go to the studio and for lack of anything much to do there, spending long hours reading and thinking about art.

Eventually after all of this reflection, I had an epiphany.  “Between,” with drastically simplified imagery, was the first in a new series called, “Black Paintings.”  I like to think this series includes work that is considerably richer and more profound than the previous “Domestic Threats.”


Co
mments are welcome! 

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!