As artists, we have choices. There are very few rules that apply across the board. We can create highly realistic paintings, or perhaps more expressive paintings, or paintings that have very little basis in reality, including those that are totally non-representational. We can record color as we see it or as we’d like it to be.
As pastel artists, we have even more choices. We can use a wide variety of pastels, strokes, surfaces, and techniques to create many different looks.
The choices we make form the framework of our individual style, our signature as artists.
Any subscriber to The Pastel Journal realizes how varied the medium of pastel can be. For the experienced artist, these articles are stimulating, offering possible ways to experiment with alternative approaches. For the beginner, the panoply of choices can be overwhelming.
Painting is primarily an intuitive process. But intuition is gained through study and experience. Part of my impetus in writing this book has been to create a more structured approach to help those fairly new to the medium understand its many possibilities. The book is aimed at all levels of pastel artists. Beginners will find a wealth of helpful information and intermediate artists will gain insight into how to take their work to another level and develop a style. Many advanced artists teach pastel; the organization of ideas and the exercises included should be of assistance. I offer a variety of suggested approaches and sometimes make up terminology to describe my experiences with the medium.
The instructions in the book are based on my preferences and the guidance that I offer my students. The diversity of styles and techniques evident in the paintings of contributing artists should make it clear, however, that there are many ways to successfully work in pastel.
Having acknowledged the many possibilities, I want to note a few musts.
Representational paintings must be well-drawn. Poor drawing skills cannot be overcome with lovely
color or great technique.
Likewise, paintings must have strong compositions, regardless of whether they are realistic, abstracted, or non-representational.
Values must be properly interpreted to produce strong compositions and to use pastel to its full effect.
And finally, pastel paintings must sing! Whether the applications are light and airy, or rich and painterly, it should be clear that the artist is in control of the medium and is using it to produce his or her desired look.
For years I have resisted suggestions that I write a book. As a landscape painter, I knew that there were more authoritative books already available. And the growing popularity of pastel has led to so many resources, including online blogs, a biennial convention, and the wonderful Pastel Journal, mentioned above. What could I add to this?
My personal training in pastel has been from weeklong landscape workshops with some of the leading pastel painters in the country. As a teacher in a community college, I am not teaching a particular style nor focusing on specific subject matter. Some of my students work with the landscape, but others do portraits or figurative work, while others prefer still life, or work abstractly. In dealing with this mixture, I’ve realized that there are different ways to approach one’s use of color, and this formed my first idea for creating a book.
Furthermore, as a teacher, I’ve spent time experimenting with different surfaces, pastel brands, and techniques in order to make suggestions to students to help them find the look they want to achieve. I do not teach students to paint the way I do, but instead, try to share my experience and help them develop their own individual style.