A Pastel Painter's Journey
PASTEL — glowing luminosity to thick impasto
Touch a stick of pastel and you fall in love with its buttery smoothness. Look at a set of pastels and it's eye candy: subtle lights, intense darks, wild and vibrant colors. It's the only medium I work with; enjoy the journey along with me.
Where Are You Going
It's early morning, 7:00, sitting on the deck with that first coffee, wondering how to tackle the day. It's a great view from the upstairs deck, a lake and fairways seeming to spread to infinity. About half way through the coffee, my eyes focused on the puzzle of tracks just off the green. Dew still on the grass, the tracks were eerily visible, joining, separating, crossing, disappearing. Maybe because the morning was so still and quiet, one could imagine the tracks telling a life story. I knew the title of the painting would be "Where Are You Going."
And now I wonder if that is what I should ask my art muse: "Where am I going?"
My age this year is 70, and I think my mind is overly concerned: There just is not enough time and parallel physical ability to do all the things I want to do. In January I set a 10-10-10 goal; half way through the year, I'm not even close. Just like the tracks in the painting, I start to merge with goals, but then sharply pull away. I swing wide, far away from my goal, doubting that it can be achieved.
But then a phone call or email or completed painting steers me back.
Where Am I Going? Just as the tracks in this painting swerve back on course, the artist in me is looking down the road with lofty ambition:
- I've submitted paintings to Pastel Society of America Open Juried Exhibition
- I've entered my local Best of Show painting in Lone Star Art Guild 2013 competition
- I've been invited to have a booth at the Historic Rosenberg Cultural Arts District
- I'm planning for my 2nd annual Open Studio this fall.
The tracks in the painting disappear into the distance, leaving questions, not finishing the story. After all, we are never more than Almost Half-way There.
Two Tee framed
My awesome, long, one putt went in the hole, for par. "That just shows that on a par 5 you don't have to risk the water trying to reach the green in 3. Just lay up, pitch it close to the pin, and drop your 5th stroke in the hole," says my Chief Critic aka husband. "You won't get par every time, but you're learning and you're playing smart."
Isn't that a great way to look at art? Every painting doesn't have to be the one that will win awards. It can be a painting that stays in the closet but taught me something. It can be a painting that rests for a while then sees new life because now I know how to make it better.
A par 5 is hard for the average lady golfer. Two Tee especially poses that problem. It takes a great drive to miss the sand and crest the first slope for a good forward roll. It takes a great fairway shot to fly through the alley, that narrow strip with sand on the left and a vicious slope to the water on the right. Easy to the green if you have a perfect pitch. Two putts for a par? Well that depends on the pin placement, which is usually a bear. I've made the par, but I'm happy with a 6.
Monday, October 8, somebody new will be happy with Two Tee. It's my donated painting for Rally for the Cure, my group's golf tournament supporting breast cancer awareness. Seems like everything is pink in October!
And the image of Two Tee? Sometimes it helps to see a painting framed and in place in a home.
Rally for the Cure 2012 Donation, Two Tee
Last year's auction price was embarrassingly low. "Well, that's the last time," flew through my mind. I would rather have donated that amount of money and kept the painting. So why am I again this year donating my best golf painting?
I think it's that undertow in each artist that we want to share our work, to have someone else love it as much as we do. It's not the final bid that carries the importance. It's the commitment to put yourself out there, to risk an embarrassment, whether it's a rejection or a bid amount. It's the fulfillment that comes when the buyer invites you into her home and shows you her pride at owning YOUR art, when she thanks you many times over. That feeling cannot be bought with a low or high bid.
Brazos Bend transformed itself once, twice, and again.
My husband and chief critic passed by my pastel painting of a murky swamp scene, with the off-hand comment that it was scary looking. The strong shadows and dark tones created interest, but also a spooky feeling. Hanging moss added light areas, but proved distracting. Away they went. The real scene had a beautiful layer of green skimming the water in front of the trees. In the painting, it pulled my eyes away from the center of interest. Away it went. The painting still held too many elements: reflections and shadows; leaves, twigs, branches, vines, and floaters; skim and scum. Too much going on.
Not a successful painting, it saw some closet time.
Breakthrough came when I got some help, by subscribing to the pastel videos on ArtistsNetwork.tv. After watching Colleen Howe and Liz Haywood-Sullivan, I finally got it: Simplify, simplify. Seeing an artist create and explain is invaluable. As artists, we are isolated in our studio time. If we are not masters, we continue the same mistakes. If we are critical of our own work, maybe we recognize the problem areas, maybe we don't know how to fix them.
Although Brazos Bend was saturated with pastel, I tackled it again. Larger blocks of neutral colors covered squiggles and detail. Gray scrumbled over water and blurred distant light. One center of interest emerged. Light found its direction and lit up Brazos Bend.
The reference photo? A walking excursion at Brazos Bend State Park near Houston. Bill stopped at a rest bench. Facing him, I looked above his head and saw a ray of sunshine enticing the eye deep into the swamp. Still, quiet, alone, we were the only ones to witness that beauty, that day.
Cool Koi, Pastel, 18x24
I'll stop now, but this painting taught me a lot: Humility, perseverance, linear and personal perspective, color management, rethinking, and maybe a few bad words. I'm not sure how my Wallis sanded paper could have taken so much pastel and so many brush offs!
One special help I used frequently was a tip from a mentor, Frank Gerrietts. Frank looked at paintings with his hand and fingers curled together creating a tunnel, positioned on his right eye, left eye closed. A telescopic pinhole. He would move that tiny view all over a painting, and smile or shake his head.
The hand-scope blocks out all extraneous input, limiting the view to only one small area of a painting. It forces or allows you to more easily see what's good, what's bad, what relates, what works, and what's got to go!
Strongly influenced by Mexican culture, Frank thought of his work as "expressionism," rather than abstract. He passed away recently, but I think he's still listening to the music that infused every idea he captured in his work.
TriniMon. A captivating expression from Trinidad.
Paint what you love. I've read several blogs and articles this year making that statement in different ways. It's made me think about how I've struggled with some of my pastel paintings, which ones, and why.
When I paint faces, I feel total enjoyment in my art. I respond to their emotion and character. I can see the planes and understand the shadows. The face is easy. Not that I always paint it perfectly, but it's easy.
When I have to put the other stuff in, painting becomes work. Backgrounds and landscapes, creating depth on a 2D surface; that's hard. This past year I've created several paintings of my golf course. Now that's really hard: so much green, not much contour. A few landscapes have come off my easel. And I've done a number of flower paintings.
While I might not have enjoyed painting these subjects, they were teachers. I struggled. I learned. I'm still learning. And they surely make me appreciate the joy of getting back to painting faces — what I love.
Bill Davidson has an excellent blog post in OPA today. He believes that "nothing is clearer to me than that, if the process is enjoyable, I will paint more often and better."
Pecan Lake, donated to Rally for the Cure
The golf ball flew into the air, really into the air, then landed in the sand. "That was a good shot, except for that."
Did I actually say those words? Does sounds dumb, huh? Yes and no. My fairway shots always just skim the ground, never make that beautiful air lob. This one, the direction was off, but the ball was up. Major accomplishment.
How does this relate to art? "It's a good painting, except for that corner," (or that color or the background or . . . whatever your reoccurring problem is). So, just as I will hit another thousand practice balls to perfect that airborne shot, I will work through my painting problem. I will continue to question what's wrong? how do I fix it. I'll face my painting nemesis, and conquer it. I WANT to get rid of the "except for that."
Red Glow on the Bayou
Are you ready? Those words excite Red, our dog. He knows it's time for his leisurely morning walk. His enthusiasm never fails to bring a smile. His world centers around this time that he knows belongs to him.
For me, are you ready? is my mental cue that the chores are done, exercise is out of the way, I've again tackled my golf score, and sunlight floods my studio. And I am ready to paint. I can allow myself to be transported to a selfish zone.
My world centers around that 16x20 surface in front of me. Did I make mistakes on it yesterday or do the colors interact perfectly? Is the composition slightly off or is the slope of the shoulder just right? Should I consider it finished or do I dare to push the pastel even further?
Maybe that 16x20 is just white; it's waiting for a new drawing. That's the hardest time for me, the get-going-on-it time. But after those first proportional marks darken that white surface, when I now have something to relate the next mark to, the process flows. And the rest is fun.
In that time of studio solitude, the brain, eyes, and hands constantly make decisions and adjust, and the answer is, “Yes, I was ready.”
I love golf, just about as much as I love painting. This little story by a golfer easily applies to art as well as to any sport or activity that we enjoy. Play the Game You Want to Play.
Newest painting, Mystic Lotus, Pastel, 8x10
Today was publish day. After weeks of planning, thinking, writing, and agonizing.
When I hit the send button, I was like an old-time Norman Rockwell character, grinning from ear to ear. Excited that I had done something new, that I had accomplished a goal. The newsletter had been prettied up, finalized, and published on January 16, the date I had set for myself (another check-mark for the year!).
The newsletter, Art, Golf, and Life Between, is not what you'd expect from an artist. It's not just about art, because all of the great things in my life intertwine. I love painting; it's an escape. I love golf; it's a challenge. I love travel; it's a chance to explore other cultures and ways of life. And, ultimately, that's what my newsletter is about—Life.
In Fine Art Views feature article today, Keith Bond suggests compartmentalizing, having separate places to create art, to frame, mat, etc, and to take care of the business side of art. It's an excellent article, the main idea being that it is too easy to lose focus.
But life just won't fit into compartments. Travel created my need to study art. My artwork features people or scenes from travel. And golf has led me into a new subject matter, painting the golf course.
That's how the writing in today's newsletter came to be. It's a great read; you can find it by clicking here.