It's Better to Give, and Receive
Parting with an artwork is difficult. I end up wanting to keep most of the work I create, and the pastel to the left was no exception. I then heard of an event going on in New York City, and I thought, what a great way to share my work with others (click here for more details). So I sent the landscape and two other small works to the International Arts Movement offices.
Giving away art is bitter-sweet. I know the painting has the potential to bring someone else enjoyment, while simultaneously creating in me a longing for the enjoyment I had in the first place. Repainting this scene (pictured at the top) was a chance for me to be reminded that I can rekindle the first experience and even build on and improve it whenever I want, if I'm willing to work it out again. I was initially only able to see the giving of the art, not the practice I was getting in preparation for the larger version. Creating a work of art doesn't result in the mere out-pour of a visual composition. In the careful act of study, during the process of painting, I find myself accumulating experiences and an understanding of relationships not previously had.
Working larger paid off again (as though I should be surprised). I found myself being less precious with the pastel than with the first, smaller version of this scene (Montana, near Glacier National Park). This was due in part to the use of Sofft Tools, which sped-up the work and gave more painterly expressiveness to my marks. I found that using the right tools let me communicate the unique visual texture presented by different materials. The water vapor of clouds could be shown to posses a gently faceted, round softness, while the blues of the sky maintain a more fluid continuity and eased transitions from areas of differing intensity and hue. I returned to the side of the pastel stick to delineate the edges and cleaved faces of the rock and mountains. The ability to manipulate and control pigments on a surface with my fingers or other tools really lent itself to reproducing the manifold native textures that populate a landscape.
Given the size of the second version, I painted on Ampersand Pastel Board, which has a texture slightly more pronounced than Pastelmat (both surfaces were mentioned and evaluated in my previous 2 posts), with the additional rigidity of a 1/8 inch hardboard. This will allow me different framing options and dimensional stability, despite moisture changes, not available on thinner cards. I plan on framing the large version in a sort of shallow shadow box, with no mat.
Pastel continues to be the most satisfying medium I've worked with as a painter.
A Material Issue
I continue to be impressed at the versatility of pastel. Using this medium, I can both draw and paint. Marks are both painterly and lively or grounded and static. Depending on the tool used (Sofft tools, my fingers or the stick of color itself) I can employ and unleash a diverse visual lexicon. This work is on Ampersand Pastel-board (8x10 inches). The surface is gritty, which lends itself to layering. Rubbing the surface with a finger does not easily move the pastel, which is good because it makes the surface more forgiving, and accidental movements on the surface don't accidentally blur areas. One has to be very intentional and smudge an area repeatedly to blend color, unless Sofft tools are used, which tend to grab and move the color quickly.
A few things I like about Ampersand's board are, its rigidity and the firmness with which the surface grit is held to the support. The board itself is 1/8th inch thick, which means it will not buckle, curl or otherwise move. I just have to worry about holding it down, it keeps itself flat. The abrasive surface is very nice to work on as well. The textured particles on the surface do not come loose from the board, unlike something like Sennelier's la Carte Card (which has its own advantages). This means that if I wanted to I could erase areas aggressively and not damage the substrate. It would then be very easy to paint again in the cleaned off area. With each new painting I see the importance of being open to all kinds of mark making, facilitated by tools or not. There is no formula for painting a picture.
Recently I've experienced three novel and important changes to my pastel work; the size of my surface, the type of surface and the tools I use. Most of my work since November of 2013 (around the time I began taking pastel seriously) was 12x16 inches or smaller, due to economic considerations. My reasoning was that I could get 10 sheets of pastel card in a pad for a reasonable price and I was pleased with the results. I was using good materials from Sennelier and my pictures seemed alive and interesting, more so than anything I made in college. Something I neglected though was the importance of working large. Larger scale works allow marks whose scope and thrust are un-attainable on a 7x10 pastel board. There is something more familiar with a scale that mirrors the dimensions of the human body, a spatial sympathy.
The next novelty was my use of Pastelmat surfaces. These heavy coated pastel papers were unlike the gritty Sennelier La carte card I have grown to adore. The surface was not on initial inspection rough or sanded like many other pastel surfaces. Pastelmat has almost a leather like texture to it, with no free abrasive particles to come loose from the substrate, like the cork flakes of Sennelier's card. Pastelmat has an incredible ability to hold onto color, which really surprised me. An area can be rubbed with your finger with much less disruption of the image than you'd get with Sennelier or Ampersand Pastel-board (I am still fond of both these surfaces for different reasons). Pastelmat comes in a variety of nice colors and costs less than Sennelier, so it is in the running for my new favorite pastel surface.
The third new addition to my pastel painting process is the use of Sofft Tools in conjunction with PanPastels. PanPastels are simply pastels in shallow cylindrical containers that are applied with foam applicators. The Sofft Tools are really the star here though. These foam tools offer a degree of control and mark making not permitted by simple use of one's pastel sticks and fingers or other blending devices. Sofft tools allow for much more painterly and expressive marks and don't merely blend the color, but transport it across the surface by really grabbing onto the pigments. Both distinct edges and diffuse, blurred shapes are attainable with the same tool. Additionally large areas can be covered quickly, using just the right amount of pigment, rather than rubbing a stick on its side until there is nothing left.
As I continue to delve into the world of pastel, I am increasingly satisfied with my decision to switch to this medium as my primary mode of painting, and recommend that every painter give it a try.
J0hn Hunter Speier
Recent work, and explorations of techniques, aesthetics and poetics.