Pastel: Liz Haywood-Sullivan: Dynamic Darks With Pastel

0705hayw1_600x400_2Liz Haywood-Sullivan relies on several techniques to ensure she consistently achieves rich, velvety darks.

View an online exlcusive gallery of Haywood-Sullivan's work.

by Christopher Willard

Southwest Solitude
2005, pastel, 24 x 36. Private collection.

When she first began using pastel, Liz Haywood-Sullivan, of Marshfield Hills, Massachusetts, was dismayed with the range of dark colors available. “Rich, dark pastels were hard to find,” she says. “Most of the time the darks just weren’t dark enough. Now, fortunately, times have changed and colorful, dark pastels are easier to come by.” The artist also achieves dark effects by working on black paper and layering colors with alcohol washes. The result is that the dark areas in her pastel paintings command attention and enhance the glow of white, watery highlights or gray-day snow. They provide areas where the eye can rest, giving Haywood-Sullivan’s paintings a solid, grounded appearance.

Haywood-Sullivan became a pastel artist after many years of working with other media. As she explains, “I grew up in a household where my father was an artist, and at 84 years of age he still paints in oil. He was a big influence.” She pursued a degree in environmental design at Rochester Institute of Technology, in Rochester, New York, and worked in that trade for a number of years. A feeling of dissatisfaction, however, began to affect her artistic output. “My jobs encompassed a range of interests, including exhibition design and fabrication, photography, graphic design, and illustration,” she explains, “and I felt I was jack-of-all-trades and master of none. At the same time, I recognized that whenever I ran into a roadblock in one of the other disciplines I would jump to drawing to solve it.” During a vacation to the Southwest, she took a weeklong pastel workshop with Jane Schoenfeld at the Taos Institute of Arts, in New Mexico. “I recalled my enjoyment of drawing figures on brown Kraft paper back in school, and I immediately saw that pastel allowed me to draw the light instead of just applying dark,” she says. “From there I went on to study with Albert Handell and Anita Louise West.” At first, however, Haywood-Sullivan believed pastel to be a medium with limited potential. “I kept saying, When I hit the ceiling, when I can’t go any further with the medium, then I’ll stop,” she recounts. “But the longer I worked, the more opportunities opened up. At this point I’ve been working with pastel for 11 years, and there seems to be no end in sight, which is just wonderful.”

Momentary Majesty
2004, pastel, 30 x 25. Collection the artist.


Haywood-Sullivan begins her pastel works by drawing her subject freehand, challenging herself by never tracing or projecting the image onto paper. “On lighter paper I will often use pale beige or pale blue pastel for the drawing. For example, in Ranchos Light I started with an olive green,” she says. Her preference is to use a variety of pastel densities. “I like Rembrandt and Girault for harder pastels and Terry Ludwig, Unison, and Diane Townsend pastels for the mid- to soft range,” the artist explains. “Generally, though, the Girault, Ludwig, and Unison pastels are my workhorses because they offer a wide range of colors, and I like their feel and texture.” Because she works in a bedroom converted to a home studio, the artist positions her work vertically on an easel and sets an air filter underneath to capture the falling pastel dust.


Although Haywood-Sullivan never uses pure-black pastel, she does not shy away from using black paper for her ground. Her current preference is Canson Mi-Teintes pastel paper. “I first started using the black paper as a way to get darker areas into the work because good, dark pastels were not widely available,” she explains. “I found this also allowed me to get more light into a work. If I took a light-yellow pastel and put it onto a white paper, the yellow and white would look very similar. I would therefore try to compensate and make the yellow stand out by using a more highly pigmented yellow. On black paper, however, the difference is clearer, and I end up using more color. Such a dark ground also keeps me honest as an artist: It’s more challenging to work on, it’s not as forgiving, and it won’t take unlimited layers. I have to think and plan more in advance.”

Looking to Santa Fe
2004, pastel, 24 x 24. Collection Stephen and
Camille McSweeney.

Christmas Field exemplifies Haywood-Sullivan’s technique. “The darkest areas are the untouched paper, and the lighter ‘blacks’ are often dark reddish-browns,” the artist comments. “I love to do winter scenes in which I lay down the white over the black to create shadows. I can almost feel the pale snow falling and layering as gravity pulls it to the earth.”

Having established the darks of her composition, Haywood-Sullivan next focuses on applying the other color values. “The way I do this is to locate a darkest dark and lightest light in a small section and then adjust the midrange colors in terms of these extremes. Most of the time I drag the side of the pastel so it makes a mark about a half-inch, similar to a brushstroke, in width. I do a lot of layering, working from hard to soft pastels, and this gives me a wonderful translucency with amazing depth. This can only be accomplished by not being too heavy-handed with the application of the pastel.” As she works over the entire painting, the artist continually and intently double checks the relationships among values, only “coming up for air” after several hours.

Haywood-Sullivan playfully compares the development of each painting to raising a child. “In the beginning I have all sorts of hope,” she explains. “Once I start, I’m encouraged and excited. But in every painting I hit a point similar to adolescence: I begin to argue with the painting and it argues back. I find areas that are a little rough and other areas that are not working well. At this point I have to overcome the resistance and discover the promise again.” She never leaves a work until the immediate problem is solved. “This makes it easier for me to come back into the work with energy,” she says. “Without that clear path I would just be wrestling without a direction. When I’m working alone in the studio, I think it’s important to play these sorts of games in order to retain a work’s energy.”

Christmas Field
2003, pastel on black paper,
24 x 50. Private collection.


Haywood-Sullivan takes an entirely different approach when creating darks on lighter papers. She begins with a white, museum-grade Kitty Wallis pastel paper for stability. “I block in the darks very roughly and then take out my Robert Simmons flat 3/4" brush and rubbing alcohol. This is where the fun begins. I start washing down the dark pastels with the alcohol, delineating major shapes, such as tree trunks. I find it very much like working in watercolor, except that the alcohol dries more quickly. As I work, I’m careful to preserve any areas of light paper I want to shine through.”

After Haywood-Sullivan is satisfied with the appearance and placement of her darks, she lets the work dry fully. “This takes about 15 minutes,” she explains. “At this point I can actually rub my hand over the whole paper, and the pastel won’t rub off. The other nice thing about the alcohol method is that it restores the grit to the sanded paper.”

This Way to Taos
2004, pastel, 15 x 30. Collection Susan and Brian Miles.

Layering dark pastels also plays a key role in her work, giving the darks added vibrancy. In Rio Grande Reflections, for instance, a good portion of the gorge is in shadow, yet none of it is black pastel. As she explains, “I don’t use pure black because there is no life in sheer blackness, whereas in the shadowed area there are all sorts of colors and details. The new generation of dark pastels allows me to add as much detail into the dark areas as I might into the light. I can therefore work in the darkest 15 percent of value and still have a whole palette of colors, including blues, turquoises, and greens, that didn’t exist when I first started painting. Unfortunately, reproductions don’t often capture the full impact of all these darker colors.”
For sunlit areas, the artist will frequently apply lighter colors over a strong, dark background. “After I do this, the darker colors peek through from underneath, creating a glow that I love. My final touches are the highlights that I instinctively know will complement the strong darks. The piece doesn’t sing until I add those final glints of light—I live for that moment.”

0705hayw6_600x600 0705hayw7_400x600
Orange Glow
2004, pastel, 10 x 10. Collection the artist.
Rio Grande Reflections
2004, pastel, 36 x 24. Collection Jack Richeson.

About the Artist

Liz Haywood-Sullivan is a signature member of the Pastel Society of America and the Pastel Painters Society of Cape Cod. She is also a signature member of the Connecticut Pastel Society. In 2006 she was selected to show her work at The Butler Institute of American Art, in Youngstown, Ohio, and in the Pastel Society of America show. Most recently she received an honor award from the Academic Artists Association of Massachusetts and was accepted into the Allied Artists of America’s annual show. She has twice received the Diane Bernhardt Gold Medal Award. Her work hangs in many private and corporate collections, and she is represented by Vose Galleries of Boston and Act 1 Gallery, in Taos, New Mexico.

Christopher Willard is a painter, color theorist, and freelance writer who has contributed to American Artist and its quarterlies for more than eight years.

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11 thoughts on “Pastel: Liz Haywood-Sullivan: Dynamic Darks With Pastel

  1. Just discovered this really impressed with the pastel work. Am in love with New Mexico, also, having lived in Colorado for 20 years…Great Work! Keep it up!

  2. Beautiful..inspired landscapes, juicy bursts of light,and untraditional hard edges that look like they belong right where they are. I happened upon this site right before my trip to the studio with my pastels. I’ll be back!

  3. I have two paintings signed only Sullivan from around 1950-1954. On the back it says Shiprock NM in Sepia Tones by Sullivan. The other says New Mexico Adobe genuine oil by Sullivan. Could these be your fathers work? I can find no information on them If you could help I would APPRECIATE IT. Oh and another thing…your art work is breath taking…truly.

  4. We have had an oil painting since 1982, with only the name Sullivan in the lower right corner. It is entitled “Springtime in New Mexico” and is a beautiful painting. I have just been trying to find out who the artist is and when it was painted. Possibly any relation to you? Thanks.