Blog Archives

Q: Can you explain how you choose colors? (Question from Maria Cox via Instagram)

“Overlord,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58” x 38”

A: I am wild about color! As I work to create a pastel painting, I apply a color, back up from my easel to see how it interacts with and affects the rest of the painting, and then I make revisions. This process necessitates countless color changes and hundreds of hours during months of work. I apply pastel using a meticulous layering process. Were you to x-ray one of them, the earlier, discarded versions of a pastel painting would be visible. All the while I carefully fine-tune and refine how the colors and shapes interact with each other.

The goal is to make an exciting painting that no one, especially me as the maker, has ever seen before. I have no desire to repeat myself, to make art that resembles work by any other artist, or to be forced into a niche.

I try to select intense, vibrant colors that are exciting to look at, that work well in relationship to each other, and that will grab the viewer. Sometimes I deliberately choose colors for their symbolic meanings. For example, I selected a dark purple for the alternating triangles (the ones with the pink dots above) in “Overlord” because purple denotes royalty.

I have been working with soft pastel for 37 years so I have a fairly intricate science of color at my disposal. No doubt, many unconscious factors are at play, too. More on that in future posts.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 534

Barbara’s Studio

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

Today I am quoting myself:

I strive to always do what is best for my art practice. It’s difficult sometimes, but it’s important to ignore most of what other people say. They mean well, but advice to artists is often misguided, especially when it is unsolicited. Fortunately, our hearts are never wrong.

B. Rachko on a Facebook post

Comments are welcome!


Pearls from artists* # 533

Downtown Manhattan

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

Contemporary life promises unlimited options – and sometimes delivers them. If we’re able to avail ourselves of a never-ending supply of digital information, we can connect with our family, friends, and colleagues, binge watch or listen to anything that strikes our fancy and buy stuff so effortlessly that we’re in danger of imagining there’s no price attached. We can do so much with what seems like a little effort that doing itself becomes disembodied, wonderfully in some instances, bewilderingly or disturbingly in others. Some will say the situation is new – of course, our lives in cyberspace are unprecedented – but the desire to inhabit a time and place outside of time and place isn’t new at all. This is where the arts come in. They’ve always been a time out of time and a place out of place. But they’re also right here, right now. They’re both adamantine and ethereal, physical and metaphysical.

Jed Perl in Authority and Freedom: A Defense of the Arts

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 532

Barbara’s Studio

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

Far from offering an escape from the world, the arts present one of the most difficult and hard-fought ways to enter into the life of our time or any other time. What the artist must first accept is the authority of an art form, the immersion in what others have done and achieved. Once the artist has begun to take all that in – it’s a process that never really ends – there comes the even greater challenge of asserting one’s freedom. It’s the limits imposed by a vocation that makes it possible to turn away from the pressures of the moment and think and feel freely – and sometimes, give the most private emotions an extraordinary public hearing. If art is the ordering of disorderly experience, and I don’t know how else to describe it, then the artist must be true both to the order and to the disorder. These are the trials of the artist and the artistic vocation. They shape the experience of anybody who reads a novel or looks at a painting or listens to a piece of music.

Jed Perl in Authority and Freedom: A Defense of the Arts

Comments are welcome!

Q: Where do you create your art? (Question from artamour)

Barbara’s Studio

A: In April 1997 an opportunity to move to New York City arose and I didn’t look back. By then I was showing in a good 57th Street gallery, Brewster Gallery (they focused exclusively on Latin American Masters so I was in the company of Leonora Carrington, Rufino Tamayo, Diego Rivera, etc.).  Also, I had managed to find an excellent New York artists/agent, Leah Poller, with whom to collaborate. (Leah and I are still dear friends).

I looked at only one other space before finding my West 29th Street studio and knew instantly it was the one! An old friend of Bryan’s from Cal Tech rented the space next door and he had told us it was available. Initially the studio was a sublet. The lease-holder was a painter headed to northern California to work temporarily for George Lucas at the Lucas Ranch. After several years she decided to stay so I was able to take over the lease. I feel extremely fortunate to have been in my West 29th Street, New York City space now for twenty-five years. In a city where old buildings are knocked down to make way for new ones this is rare.

My studio is an oasis in a chaotic city, a place to make art, to read, and to think. I love to walk in the door every morning and I feel calmer the moment I arrive. It is still my absolute favorite place in New York! Sometimes I think of it as my best creation.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 509

New York sunrise

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

Which left me with nothing but a dazzled heart and the sense that I live in a most remarkable world, thick with mysteries. It all called to mind the British physicist Sir Arthur Eddington’s memorable explanation of how the universe works: “Something unknown is doing we don’t know what.

But the best part is: I don’t need to know what.

I don’t demand a translation of the unknown. I don’t need to understand what it all means, or where ideas are originally conceived, or why creativity plays out as unpredictably as it does. I don’t need to know why we are sometimes able to converse freely with inspiration, when at other times we labor hard in solitude and come up with nothing. I don’t need to know why an idea visited you today and not me. Or why it visited us both. Or why it abandoned us both.

None of us can know such things, for these are among the great enigmas.

All I know for certain is that this is how I want to spend my life – collaborating to the best of my ability with forces of inspiration that I can neither see, nor prove, nor command, nor understand.

It’s a strange line of work, admittedly.

I cannot think of a better way to pass my days.

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Comments are welcome!


Pearls from artists* # 507

Working on “Raconteur”
Working on “Raconteur”

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

Intellectual work sometimes, spiritual work certainly, artistic work always – these are forces that fall within its [uncertainty and the unknown] grasp, forces that must travel beyond the realm of the hour and the restraint of the habit. Nor can the actual work be well separated from the entire life. Like the Knights of the Middle Ages, there is little the creatively inclined person can do but prepare himself, body and spirit, for the labor to come – for his adventures are all unknown. And no artist could go about his work, or would want to, with less than extraordinary energy and concentration. The extraordinary is what art is about.

Mary Oliver in Upstream: Selected Essays

Comments are welcome!

Q: What was the first New York gallery that represented your work and how did they find you?

Exhibition Review

A: My first (and still the best) New York gallery was Brewster Gallery on West 57th Street in what, in 1996, was the most important gallery district in Manhattan. By joining Brewster, my work was exhibited alongside an impressive list of Latin American painters and sculptors such as Leonora Carrington, Frida Kahlo, Francisco Zuniga, Rufino Tamayo, Diego Rivera, Francisco Toledo, and more. Brewster was a prestigious and elegant gallery, well-known throughout the Latin American art world for their superb exhibitions and their contributions to art history scholarship.

Since I am not Latina, my work was selected by virtue of its Mexican subject matter and level of craftsmanship. Mia Kim, the owner/director, told me that amidst so many deserving, unrepresented, and talented artists of Latin American heritage, she was sometimes challenged to defend her decision to represent me. Mia’s response was always, “Barbara may not be of Latin American ancestry, but she most assuredly has the soul of a Latina! Her work has obvious affinities to Leonora’s, the other non-Latina that we represent.”

In July of 1996, while I was still living in Virginia, I mailed a slide sheet and reviews to Brewster, thinking that during the slow summer months, perhaps someone might actually LOOK at my material. Then I forgot all about it as Bryan and I headed off on a trip to Mexico. While we were in Mexico City, something told me to check our phone messages at the house in Alexandria. I did so and was floored to hear Mia offer me representation and a two-person show in October. The first time she would even see my work in person would be when I delivered it to the gallery!

In October my “Domestic Threats” pastel paintings were paired with work by Cuban artist, Tomas Esson, for an exhibition called “Monkey Business.” The opening was extremely well-attended by a sophisticated international New York crowd. A highlight was meeting Leonora Carrington, one of my artist heroes of long standing. Afterwards a large group of us were wined and dined at a French restaurant around the corner on West 58th Street. I remember looking at Bryan and saying, “I think I’ve made it!” The next day there was a favorable review in a publication called, “Open Air.” After working in complete obscurity for thirteen years, I was finally on my way.

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress
“Shamanic,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 35” x 28.5” framed

A: I just started a large 58″ x 38″ pastel painting based on the same reference photograph I used for “Shamanic,” 26″ x 20.” Sometimes ideas for new projects arrive in prosaic ways. I saw a mockup of “Shamanic” on my New Delhi gallery’s Instagram page. The mockup depicted my pastel painting as considerably larger than it actually is. I became intrigued with this unexpected format and decided to create a new one in a larger size.

For now I have turned Shamanic” to the wall so that it does not inadvertently influence my color choices. The two pastel paintings are already looking quite different.

Comments are welcome!

Q: Who is your core audience for your blog? What do you want people to know about your art that you have not created visually? (Question from “Arte Realizzata”)

Working on “Raconteur”
Working on “Raconteur”

A: As I understand it, my core audience here (currently 77,000+ and growing!) is an international group of artists and art aficionados looking for hope, inspiration, and probably, motivation to keep making art.  Unfortunately, ours is a world that too often misunderstands and under-appreciates the difficult, essential, and sometimes lonely work undertaken by artists.  Hopefully, my blog makes readers think, “If Barbara can keep making art under these conditions and continue to thrive after what she’s been through, maybe I can, too!”  

Comments are welcome!

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