Blog Archives

Q: Would you talk about a few of the technical properties that made pastel your medium of choice?

Barbara'a pastels

Barbara’a pastels

A:  Pastel is a time-tested medium that has been in use for five hundred years.  I fell in love with it nearly thirty years ago and it has been my primary medium ever since.

Pastel is known to be the most permanent of all media. It has no liquid binder that might cause oxidizing with the passage of time as often happens with other painting media.  Pastel colors are intense because they are the closest artists get to working with pure pigment.  Artists throughout history have generally favored pastel because it allows a spontaneous approach with no drying time and no change of color.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 247

A recent charcoal study

A recent charcoal study

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

Studies made in the open air are different from pictures that are destined to be shown in public.  The latter, in my opinion, result from the studies, but they may, or even must, differ a great deal from them.  For in the picture the painter rather gives a personal impression, while in a study his aim is simply to analyze a bit of nature – either to make his idea or conception more correct, or to find a new idea; for example, the studies of Mauve, which I myself like very much, precisely because of their soberness and because they are done so faithfully.  Still they miss a certain charm, which the pictures that result from them possess in such a high degree.

I believe one gets more sound ideas when thoughts arise from direct contact with things than when one looks at them with the set purpose of finding certain facts in them.  It is the same with the question of a colour scheme.  There are colours that harmonize wonderfully, but I try my best to paint a subject as I see it before I set to work to make it as I feel it.  Yet feeling is a great thing, and without it one would not be able to do anything.  Thus, studies belong more to the studio than among the pubic.

Dear Theo:  The Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh, edited by Irving Stone

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Q: You use an impressive assortment of soft pastels to create your pastel paintings. Which are your favorite?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  My favorite brand of soft pastels is Henri Roché.  They offer subtle variations in color and hue since they make more colors than any other company.

As a birthday present a few years ago, I treated myself to a full 750-color set.  I mainly use them for finishing touches, rather than letting them get buried under pastel.  At nearly $20 a stick, I also don’t want see them reduced to colored dust on the floor beneath my easel.  One of my peers calls them, “the Maserati of pastels!”

Isobel Roché told me that her goal is to reach 1000 colors in time for the company’s 300th anniversary in 2020!  I hope she makes it.  

These pastels have been around so long that Degas and other artists of the era used them.  It’s humbling to know that I am working with the same materials and following a long and prestigious art tradition of using soft pastel.

Comments are welcome!

Q: Would you share your elevator pitch?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  Here it is:

I live in New York and have been a working artist for thirty years.  I create original pastel paintings that use my large collection of Mexican and Guatemalan folk art – masks, carved wooden animals, papier mache figures, and toys – as subject matter.  

Blending with my fingers, I spend months painstakingly applying dozens of layers of soft pastel onto acid-free sandpaper.  My self-invented technique achieves extraordinarily rich, vibrant color and results in paintings that uniquely combine reality, fantasy, and autobiography.

My background is extremely unusual for an artist.  I am a pilot, a retired Navy Commander, and a 9/11 widow.

Please see the extensive interview (14 pages so page through) at

http://barbararachko.com/images/PDFS/ARTiculAction-July2014.pdf

and see images and more at http://barbararachko.com/en/

Comments are welcome!  

Pearls from artists* # 228

Barbara's studio

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.

… we’re plagued by the certainty that we haven’t quite achieved what we’d hoped we could.  The work is only as good as our small, imperfect, pedestrian selves can make it.  It exists in some idealized form, just out of reach.  And so we push on.  Driven by a desire to get it right, and the suspicion that there is no getting it right, we do our work in the hopes of coming close.  There’s no room in this process for an overblown ego.  A career – whether it takes us to Cap d’Antibes or to the Staybridge Suites off the interstate – can be the result, but if it’s the goal, we’ve lost before we’ve even begun.

Dani Shapiro in Still Writing:  The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

"A Long Goodbye," soft pastel on sandpaper, 26" x 20"

“A Long Goodbye,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 26″ x 20″

A:  I am putting finishing touches on a small pastel painting called, “A Long Goodbye.”  It’s a smaller, cropped version of a larger piece completed in 2013 called, “The Ancestors” (below).

"The Ancestors" in Barbara's studio

“The Ancestors” in Barbara’s studio

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 219

Barbara's studio

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.

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action.  And because there is only one of you in all time, the expression is unique.  If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.  The world will not hear it.  It is not your business to determine how good it is; nor how valuable it is; nor how it compares with other expressions.  It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.  You do not even need to believe in yourself or your work.  You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you.  Keep the channel open.  No artist is pleased.  There is no satisfaction whatever at any time.  There is only a queer, divine satisfaction, a blessed unrest that keep us marching and makes us more alive than the others.

Martha Graham to Agnes de Mille in Still Writing:  The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro

Comments are welcome!

Q: What advice to you have for younger artists who are just beginning their careers?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  I have two pieces of advice:

  • Build a support network among your fellow artists, teachers, and friends.  It is tough to be an artist starting out.  Also, be sure to read plenty of books by and about artists.  All have experienced similar challenges.
  • Do whatever you must to keep working – no matter what!  Being an artist never really gets easier.  There are always new obstacles and you’ll discover solutions over time.

Comments are welcome!

 

Q: What qualities do you think mark the highest artistic achievement?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  If I may speak in the most general terms, several qualities come to mind that, for me, mark real artistic achievement: 

  • firm artistic control that allows the artist to create works that simultaneously demonstrate formal coherence while responding to inner necessity
  • the creation of new forms and techniques that are adapted to expressing the artist’s highly personal vision
  • an authentic and balanced fusion of form, method, and idea
  • using material from one’s own idiosyncratic experiences and subtly transforming it in a personal inimitable way during the creative process
  • the meaning of the thing created is rigorously subordinated to its design, which once established, generates its own internal principles of harmony and coherence  

Comments are welcome! 

Q: What significance do the folk art figures that you collect during your travels have for you?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  I am drawn to each figure because it possesses a powerful presence that resonates with me.  I am not sure exactly how or why, but I know each piece I collect has lessons to teach. 

Who made this thing?  How?  Why?  Where?  When?  I feel connected to each object’s creator and curiosity leads me to become a detective and an archaeologist to find out more about them and to figure out how to best use them in my work. 

The best way I can describe it:  after nearly three decades of seeking out, collecting, and using these folk art figures as symbols in my work, the entire process has become a rich personal journey towards gaining greater knowledge and wisdom.

Comments are welcome!