|Unknown Woman by Thomas Wilmer Dewing, 1890,
pastel painting on paper.
I love the effects and colors you can get with pastel
. . . at least I do now. It wasn't too long ago that I felt like I
had some kind of weird complex where I could appreciate the work but I couldn't
really see how they were created, which was frustrating for the forever art
student that I am content to be.
But a friend of mine gave me some good advice: "Look at a
few works you love and really study them," he said. "I mean really study them—for
a good, long period of time. Your mind can wander but don't look at anything
I did! It was odd, like having blinders on, but in a good
way. And once I settled down and just let my eyes rest on the work, I could see
a lot of things I missed before. So here's what I saw:
In Unknown Woman
by Thomas Wilmer Dewing, I realized the delicacy of pastel. This pastel figure
drawing has such an ephemeral, barely-there quality that it seems like the
delicate layers of pastel were blown on rather than put down by hand. It is the
veil-like transparency that I'm drawn to, and lends a real sense of atmosphere
rather than form to the work that I would love to imitate.
|Flower Clouds by Odilon Redon, 1903, pastel painting.
When I look at Odilon Redon's Flower Clouds, one word reverberates in my head: glory. This
painting makes me gasp and open my eyes wider and wider trying to take it all
in. After the initial heady sensation of just looking, I did begin to notice
that despite the otherworldly response I have to this pastel drawing, there was
a lot of physical effort from the artist—stumping, incising, and layering
brushwork—to create the overall effect. That was a revelation. I hadn't thought
about interacting with the medium in such a way before.
|Dog Woman by Paula Rego, 1994, pastel painting on canvas.
To me, viewing Paula Rego's Dog Woman
is like being slapped in the face. It is that much of an
assault on my senses. But sitting with it for a while, I am mesmerized by how
varied the mark making is. The chalky, almost crusty surface of the figure's
face is a contrast to the taut stretched skin of the knee and shoulder. And the
colors in the skin are incredibly blended, especially in the exposed leg. The
shadowed areas evoke thoughts of bruises, aged skin, dirt, and sunburn in my
mind, and the fact that all of that was churned up with just blended pastel is extraordinary
Having these works and the pastel painting techniques that
created them swirling around in my mind has been incredibly beneficial in terms
of trying to push into this medium, which is pretty new for me. But now I can begin to gain confidence in using pastels, and then move
further in my own creative direction. I wish the same for you! Enjoy!
And what are your favorite pastel paintings? Leave a comment and help me discover more!