A Pastel Painter's Journey

Self-doubt, fear and the put-it-off

Talking About Ticonderoga

I haven't painted many portraits or figurative pieces in the last couple of years; mainly flowers and landscapes. So going back to the face was scary—could I still get the proportions right, light up the eyes, paint emotion in the face? Self doubt causes fear and the dreaded put-it-off.

These photos of Talking About Ticonderoga show the progression of lines, color and correction. My work-in-progress never looks beautiful. Wish I had the knack that the wonderful Daniel Greene does in making every phase of a painting look perfect. I do, however, always have confidence that the finished piece WILL look perfect.

Talking About Ticonderoga Pastel Painting by Carolyn HancockTalking About Ticonderoga Pastel Painting by Carolyn HancockTalking About Ticonderoga Pastel Painting by Carolyn HancockTalking About Ticonderoga Pastel Painting by Carolyn HancockTalking About Ticonderoga Pastel Painting by Carolyn HancockTalking About Ticonderoga Pastel Painting by Carolyn Hancock

Thanks to great drawing basics learned at Mission: Renaissance in Los Angeles, my drawing is a running question of “where is this in relation to that?” All the visible lines and darker spots on the first photo are reference points. They let me align and relate one thing to another. Color changes as the painting progresses: the black hat and open doorway are layers of blue, green, purple, red and black; the red wool vest starts with purple and blue, ends with burgundy, orange and red, creating a realistic rich color. The light background and dominant rocks were the biggest problem, seeming to fight his white shirt. At the end, I changed shapes and grayed them down. I'm still considering the background unfinished; it looks plain and does not give the guide enough breathing room.

BUT, I tackled my favorite kind of painting - people, with a good result: I have regained my confidence in painting people; the fear is gone.

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Carolyn and Carolyn, Pastel, 24x18

I love working with pastels: soft, buttery strokes that catch on Wallis Sanded Paper and refract light like no other medium. The most amazing thing is to see it magnified. 

Look at the painting surface through a magnifier. See the tiny bits of color, unique combinations of color, strokes you don't remember making and can't see on the surface because they blend together to the eye. I don't remember ever reading about that, and discovered it by accident. Trying to work on a really small section of an eye and couldn't get the right expression, it occurred to me to enlarge it, to see what WAS there. I was enchanted at the beauty of that small area, magnified.

So many additions have been made to the world of pastel since I started painting in 1994. Lots of instructional and inspiring pastel books and DVDs. Great range of colors and softness of pastel sticks. Many new pastel supports. And artists who are so skilled in pastel that it is exciting to see their work.

When I was learning to use pastel, I luckily found second-hand books in Pasadena by Daniel Greene, Albert Handell, and Alan Flattmann, just before moving to Japan. Their words and photos, along with Greene's Erika pastel portrait video, educated me. How I studied them! Then a postcard arrived with the bold, dramatic "Color Conviction" pastel portrait by Bob Gerbracht. That was my first sight of any "new" pastel art, and I was awed by his use of color, on the face no less, wondering if one day I could do that. Arranged from Japan to attend his workshop in Asilomar. Loved the workshop, the Monterey coast, and even more so, pastel. 

Rembrandt is still the workhorse in pastel sets, especially on sanded papers. It is hard enough that it doesn't fill the paper too early in the painting, and the sticks last a long time. All of my early work was done with Rembrandt, on Canson paper. When we moved to Japan, internet ordering was finally available from a limited number of suppliers. How exciting to receive that first order of pastels, Sennelier, and to experience their softness.  

How great it would be to have all the new brands at my fingertips, but these are currently on my table:

NuPastel. Hard, great for drawing and block-in, but also for unifying color throughout the process. I use light cross hatching or simply a feather-light touch
Rembrandt and Winsor & Newton. Fairly hard, many colors, lasts a long time, use for most of the painting
Unison. Slightly softer than Rembrandt. I received the Daniel Greene 72 Portrait Collection as an award in an Austin Pastel Society juried exhibition, and love the subtle colors

Schminke, Great American, and Sennelier. Soft and smooth, delicious colors, usually for top layers. Love the buttery Schminke.

Carolyn and Carolyn is a 1995 self-portrait with a younger self looking over my shoulder. Final project in my beginning drawing class was to create a portrait in a different way, from a strong contrast black and white photo. I overlaid a transparency of my first grade photo (when my hair was blond), then interwove the two images with sanquine and black Conte, touches of blue and yellow pastel. The younger Carolyn appears only when the viewer is tightly focused on the image. I consider this my first pastel painting

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Painting a new figurative piece.

Ticonderoga Tour Guide

The newsletter gets finished and the send button is pressed. FASO makes that part easy. The hard part was getting back into painting people, to have a figurative art piece for the newsletter. It's the kind of painting I enjoy most. Yet, if there is no market for the work and there's no more room on my walls, why do it? Because it's the most challenging and because it's what I want to paint. And who knows, maybe the newsletter creates the market!

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How a Drawing Starts

Ticonderoga Guide WIP Initial Drawing

Once upon a time . . . well, it feels like a fairy tale come true every time I pick up a stick of charcoal or Conte to begin a drawing. There's a blank paper and just an emotion that I want to create on that paper. 

With a photograph in one hand and uncertainty in my mind, eye proportions are first sketched in. Then nose and mouth positions. That may sound familiar to pastelists who follow Daniel Greene's method of drawing from the inside outward. But always, the great drawing basics taught at Mission: Renaissance take precedence: "where is this in relation to that?" This photo is the initial drawing of Ticonderoga Guide; it's not pretty yet. You'll see lots of plumb lines, diagonals, and darker spots. These are all reference points, that let me align and relate one shape to another. 

The progression of this painting will be featured in my newsletter on February 16. Subscribe now -- Art, Golf, and Life Between! You'll see the finished portrait of Ticonderoga Guide, read a little about self-doubt, learn a lot about golf, and thoroughly enjoy Paris.  

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Paint What You Want to Paint

Two Tee

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

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Woodlands High School Art Trust

Eyes to the Future, Pastel, 24x18

Eyes to the Future has been selected by a special panel of students to be included as a Top 20 Finalist in the Woodlands High School Art Trust Exhibit. The Art Trust was created as an art acquisition program to help maintain and organize student-selected, student-purchased original artwork created by Texas artists. During the exhibit, the entire student body will vote for their choice to be included in the Art Trust's collection. The collection will not only expose students to art throughout each day but will also be used to enrich curriculum in areas such as language arts and social studies.

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