Blog Archives

Pearls from artists* # 560

"Broken," soft pastel on sandpaper, 38" x 58" image, 50" x 70" framed
“Broken,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38″ x 58″ image, 50″ x 70″ 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.

In describing her technique, Joan [Mitchell] once said, “I don’t go off and slop and drip. I ‘stop, look, and listen!’ at railroad tracks. I really want to be accurate.” One can imagine every stroke applied, every drizzle of pigment – both those visible in the finished work and those buried beneath its many layers – being the result of just such consideration. The majesty of Joan’s painting, which she would call City Landscape, was a quality it shared with all great art – the sense that it had always existed, and that during one inspired moment it had been dredged from the subconscious depths by a hand and mind graced with the talent and vision to retrieve it for the rest of us. That revealing work, so exuberant, so deep, so masterful, and so unlike the shards and violent explosions that had been her signature, was the result of Joan’s having survived a personal hell and her own imperfections. It was her prize for having persevered, and all who saw it were the beneficiaries.

Mary Gabriel in Ninth Street Women

Comments are welcome!

Q: Have you always signed your work on the front? (Question from Anna Rybat)

Signing ”Impresario,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58” x 38”

A: Yes, I have no other choice. I frame all of my pastel paintings under plexiglas soon after they’re completed. Were I to sign on the reverse, as do many painters, my signature would be hidden. Moreover, I sign using pastel pencils so the letters would get smudged.

As I compose and work to complete a pastel painting, I reserve a specific location for my signature. I sign discreetly so as not to interfere with the depicted imagery. In most cases you have to look closely to see my name.

Comments are welcome!

Q: When you are in your studio working on a pastel painting and pause to consider what you have done, do you ask yourself, “Is it good?”

"The Champ," soft pastel on sandpaper, 26" x 20" image, 35" x 28 1/2" framed

“The Champ,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 26″ x 20″ image, 35″ x 28 1/2″ framed

A:  Certainly, I do.  In addition, I ask myself some other important questions:  

Is it the best I can do?

Is it exciting?

Is it surprising?

Is it idiosyncratic and unique to me?

Is there anything I can do to improve it?

Does it meet (or hopefully exceed) the exacting technical and formal standards I have set for my work?  

Will I be proud to finally see my signature on it?

Comments are welcome!

Q: Your pastel paintings are immediately recognizable as yours alone. Did you consciously try to develop a signature style in your work?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A: I don’t believe that is even possible.  An artist’s style is something that evolves with plain hard work and experience, over many years of trial and error, as one finds what techniques work best and discards those that don’t.  It is a process of continually experimenting, refining, and clarifying.  In other words, style is something that emerges naturally as you gradually strive to improve your art-making. 

Style develops in close connection to what an artist is saying as she undergoes a very personal and idiosyncratic journey.  Again, it would seem improbable for an artist to strive for any particular style, since style is not something over which an artist can exert much conscious control. 

I would even say that each artist’s unique style is inevitable.  It would be nearly impossible now to make a pastel painting or photograph that does NOT look like a Rachko. 

Comments are welcome!

%d bloggers like this: