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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