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Pearls from artists* # 269

"White Star," soft pastel on sandpaper, 38" x 58"

“White Star,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38″ x 58″

* 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 an artistic sense, cool came to refer to someone with a signature artistic style so integral as to exude an authentic mode-of-being in the world:  Miles, Bogart, Brando, Eastwood, Greco, Elvis, Lady Day, Sinatra.  Such a person created something from nothing and gave the world some new artistic or psychological “equipment for living,” to use a phrase of Kenneth Burke’s.  A signature style is yours and can only be carried by you:  it cannot be abstracted except through dilution and commodification since it reflects an individual’s complex personal experience.

Joel Dinerstein in The Origins of Cool in Postwar America    

Comments are welcome

Q: Pastel painting is the cornerstone of your practice. What attracted you to this medium?

Barbara's studio with "White Star" in progress

Barbara’s studio with “White Star” in progress

A:  For starters soft pastel is the medium that I fell in love with many years ago.  I am fond of this article, “What is Pastel?” by Mike Mahon, and quote it here because it neatly sums up what I love about working with pastel.

Pastel is the most permanent of all media when applied to conservation ground and properly framed. Pastel has no liquid binder that may cause it to oxidize with the passage of time as oftentimes happens with other media.

In this instance, Pastel does not refer to pale colors, as the word is commonly used in cosmetic and fashion terminology. The pure, powdered pigment is ground into a paste with a minimum amount of gum binder, rolled into sticks and dried. The infinite variety of colors in the Pastel palette range from soft and subtle to hard and brilliant.

An artwork is created by stroking the stick of dry pigment across an abrasive ground, embedding the color in the “tooth” of the ground. If the ground is completely covered with Pastel, the work is considered a Pastel painting; whereas, leaving much of the ground exposed produces a Pastel sketch. Techniques vary with individual artists. The Pastel medium is favored by many artists because it allows a spontaneous approach. There is no drying time, therefore, no change in color occurs after drying as it does in other media.

Did you know that a particle of Pastel pigment seen under a microscope looks like a diamond with many facets? It does! Therefore, Pastel paintings reflect light like a prism. No other medium has the same power of color or stability.

Historically, Pastel can be traced back to the 16th century. Its invention is attributed to the German painter, Johann Thiele. A Venetian woman, Rosalba Camera, was the first to make consistent use of Pastel. Chardin did portraits with an open stroke, while La Tour preferred the blended finish. Thereafter, a galaxy of famous artists—Watteau, Copley, Delacroix, Millet, Manet, Renoir, Toulouse Lautrec, Vuillard, Bonnard, Glackens, Whistler, Hassam, William Merritt Chase—used Pastel for a finished work rather than for preliminary sketches.

Pastels from the 16th century exist today, as fresh as the day they were painted. Edgar Degas was the most prolific user of Pastel and its champion. His protégé, Mary Cassat, introduced Pastel to her friends in Philadelphia and Washington, and thus to the United States. In the Spring of 1983, Sotheby Parke Bernet sold at auction, two Degas Pastels for more than $3,000,000 each! Both Pastels were painted about 1880.

Note: Do not confuse Pastel with “colored chalk.” Chalk is a porous, limestone substance impregnated with dyes, whereas, Pastel is pure pigment—the same as is used in other permanent painting media. Today, Pastel paintings have the stature of oil and watercolor as a major fine art medium. Many of our most renowned, living artists have distinguished themselves in Pastel and have enriched the art world with this beautiful medium.

So knowing all this, I often wonder, why don’t more artists use pastel?  Is it because framing is a big expense? 

Works on paper need to be framed and pastel paintings do have some unique problems.  Third after the cost of maintaining a studio in New York City and marketing, frames are my single largest business expense.  Sometimes I am grateful that pastel is a very slow medium.  I typically finish 4 or 5 paintings in a year, which means I only have to pay for 4 or 5 frames.

Comments are welcome!

 

Q: What art marketing activities do you put into practice regularly that work most successfully for you?

"White Star," 38" x58", ready to go to the framer

“White Star,” 38″ x58″, ready to go to the framer

A:  This blog continues to be a crucial part of my overall art practice.  Blogging twice a week forces me to think deeply about my work and to explain it clearly to others.  The process has helped develop a better understanding about why I make art and has encouraged me to become a better writer.

As far as art marketing, one crucial activity is to take my blog posts and repurpose them for posting on social media sites.  Several years ago I realized it’s necessary to put as much time and energy into getting my work seen online as it is to create it.  

With the help of my assistant I stay active on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.  I have sold paintings, in the 5-figure price range, through Facebook connections. Recently an art critic reconnected with me via LinkedIn and went on to write a scholarly essay about my “Black Paintings.”  In December she’s presenting a paper at Oxford University and will speak about my work.

I find online marketing to be a constant challenge, but it does yield rewards.  You never know what might happen.

Comments are welcome!        

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  “White Star,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38″ x 58,” is awaiting its finishing touches.  

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  “White Star,” 38″ x 58″ is slowly progressing.  The title of this painting alludes to David Bowie’s last album, “Dark Star” and is my somewhat more optimistic take on that phrase.   

The white Guatemalan figure and the Sri Lankan mask on the top right still could use more details.  Over time the “Black Paintings” series is becoming more about what is left out. So how much detail to add is an open question.  

Comments are welcome!  

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  I am continuing with “White Star,” a 38″ x 58″ pastel painting I started some months ago.

Comments are welcome!