Thursday, June 30, 2011

Varnish pastel experiment

charcoal sketch on prepared panel
 Pastels have to be framed under glass to protect them. Glass is heavy. Glass can break during shipping and needs extra care. Plexiglass is an alternative but can generate static electricity. Static electricity can pull loose pastel dust and create a cloud on the inside of a framed piece. Plexiglass can also be less rigid than glass, and when used on large paintings (like my 4 foot square painting earlier this Spring) it can even dip onto the painting surface. What a pain!

So, that's the problem. I love pastel. I hate glass. Can I successfully varnish a pastel painting without having it change the beauty of the pastel?

original pastel painting, no varnish
 I created this small painting of birch trees. Gatorboard support with acrylic gesso, acrylic underpainting, acrylic pumice gel, and pastel on top.

Golden Archival Varnish, Mineral Spirit Acrylic Aerosol
 I thought I might be able to create an acrylic sandwich by using Golden's Archival Varnish Mineral Spirits Acrylic Aerosol.

Spray in a well-ventilated place, in my case outdoors under the overgrown Christmas tree. I sprayed the piece and let it dry for at least 20 minutes between coats. Five layers of varnish. 

What I found: 
1. When the first spray of varnish hit the pastel, all of the little pastel particles that were loose, suddenly became solid and obvious. Next time I will give the piece a sharp smack on the back to get rid of the loose stuff before I spray varnish on it.

2. The color darkened, but not as much as I expected. 

3. The pastel lost something when varnished. With the first layer of varnish, I lost my ability to change the painting, to add or remove pastel. And, the pastel became more plastic and less elegant. 

Overall, I was pleased with the results and I will try this again on a larger panel painting. Once the aerosol varnish sets up a protective surface on the painting, I can use a brush to add more layers of varnish, and to give the piece a different look. 
spray in a well-ventilated area
final result, varnished pastel painting on prepared panel

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

... selects her own Society

12 x 7
charcoal, gouache, pastel, graphite on paper

First a graphite drawing, then charcoal to shape and block in. Paper towel and brush to wipe away detail, block in shapes. Then color, the golds and greens and feeling of the inside of a treasure trove with gouache. The calligraphy of pastel and the feel of the drape barely concealing the pink flesh.

Finally, the words, just phrases from Emily Dickinson's "The Soul Selects" poem. Read here by Julie Harris, when she played "The Belle of Amherst," in 1976.

The Soul selects her own Society --
Then -- shuts the Door --
To her divine Majority --
Present no more --

Unmoved -- she notes the Chariots -- pausing --
At her low Gate --
Unmoved -- an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat --

I've known her -- from an ample nation --
Choose One --
Then -- close the Valves of her attention --
Like Stone --

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Three steps for the Yellow-Capped Blackbird

charcoal sketch

gouache added

pastel for the finish
This painting process is a variation on a technique I learned at Dawn Emerson's workshop. It takes time to practice and experiment in order to make something my own, and that's my arrival point today. This technique is MINE.

Too bad I didn't correct the composition problems before taking this piece to the finish. Next time around I will give the bird room for his tail feathers!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Juicy treat

9 x 13
charcoal, gouache, pastel on paper

Mussels appeared with the extra low spring tide, a juicy treat for observant birds.

Friday, June 24, 2011

It figures, more from Dawn Emerson

Instructions:  break up the composition space first with a grid of not necessarily straight, not necessarily equivalent lines. At least five of them. Then, draw your figure. How is your drawing influenced by the grid? What happens when you add color?

Instructions: with as few marks as possible, indicate the figure. What did you include? What did you leave out? 

I love the uninhibited, almost primitive look of these drawings. It's all too easy to take a workshop, get excited while I am there, and then leave with a case of instant amnesia. I lose the breakthroughs I began. But I am retracing some of my steps, to find the hints and clues to another way.

Do you know Beth Hart? Her music and this song get at this turmoil.
She's worth knowing, especially if you can relate to this: I don't want to survive, I want to live!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tool -- new and cool

I'm pretty sure that I've seen it before, but at Dawn Emerson's workshop earlier this month, I saw this tool again. Not only saw it, but saw it being used. 

If you are working on tuning up your color harmonies in your paintings, like I am, allow me to recommend this tool to you. The "Analogous Color Wheel" lets you dial up the main colors in your painting, and shows you which colors complement and are discords. Is you painting mostly blue (as I have dialed in above)? Then orange is the complement and yellow green and red violet can offer some discord pops. Where to get this nifty tool? I bought mine through Dakota Art Pastels here.
And that brings me to a question Casey Klahn threw at me during his recent workshop in town: what would happen if you just turned the color wheel and painted this piece again, but one click to the right or left? I am working on that one.

Do you have a new favorite art tool? Do tell!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Storms over cranberry bogs

12 x 16, pastel on BFK
12 x 16, pastel on BFK
Not many places are just right for cranberry growing, but the Long Beach peninsula is one such place. Have you ever seen a cranberry bog? Of course, the berries are red, but so are the plants. Big fields of burgundy red growth that seem to wait patiently under stormy skies.

Monday, June 20, 2011


Low Tide Feast
8 x 13
mixed media on paper

Enjoy Keith Jarrett here.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day

My father is a great man. A real gentleman. He was raised in Illinois and in his growing up years he was exposed to farming (cousins Tommy and Margaret), car mechanics (his father), kindness (his mother), music (his father again and friend Thelma). When he went to college, though, he took up Electrical Engineering. He was a true "Fighting Illini."

Over the years, he worked at various defense contractor positions. He could never talk about his work at home because his work was top secret, so I thought he was a train engineer for the longest time. Kids. They will always sharpen your sense of humor, won't they?

Dad helped me with my Math homework. Dad studied my report cards and told me he was proud of me. Dad always listened to me play the piano and would wipe tears at my recitals. 

Some of you know that in the last year, my siblings and I helped Dad decide to move to an assisted living facility in Florida. He is doing well, has made some friends, and has gained some weight. He spends a lot of great time with my brother and his family. And he has been diagnosed with dementia and short term memory loss. 

In her book, "Finding Water: the Art of Perseverance," Julia Cameron talks about the importance of having encouraging and optimistic people in our lives. She calls them "believing mirrors" who "reflect back to you your competency and potential."

My father has always been one of my believing mirrors. He would tell me how proud he is of me, and celebrate my successes and accomplishments with an epic poem like account of my previous successes. He believed in me without hesitation and only asked which new mountain I was planning to tackle next.

Not now.

And that is a painful loss.

So, Happy Father's Day, Dad. I love hearing how happy you are when I call and the cheerfulness you have about your life. Never do I hear a complaint or a negative word. Your caregivers love you to pieces and can't say enough positive about you. You are a great man. A real gentleman. You were my #1 believing mirror. And I miss you.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Chinook start and finish

Charcoal, acrylic pastel ground on Rives BFK is the recipe for this start. I painted many starts at once and have been finishing them more slowly. I actually like the starts so well that I may leave some in their Notan form and not add any pastel on top.

11 x 17
pastel on top of charcoal start

Friday, June 17, 2011

Lose what's precious

 A cheap, dry brush was my tool of destruction for a section of the foreground grass. Once I lost it, I was able to see past the grass to the marsh behind and open it up more with bits of green and pink and more grayed violet. Did I gain new strength in this painting when I was willing to lose something precious?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Nearly finished -- Oysterville

At the workshop, CaseyKlahn mentioned several times that we should be willing to "lose something precious to find something new." I think that the grasses in the foreground of this piece have become too "precious" to me, so tomorrow I will brush or wipe them down and see what something new I discover.

I love how the start from yesterday provides a dynamic surface for painting and the incised calligraphic marks give me a happy zing when I paint over them. And, because they are my marks, they speak my language.

Here's a sweet little piece to enjoy, if you like. Why try to change me now?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


11 x 17
BFK Rives, charcoal
acrylic pastel ground

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Workshop thoughts -- Emerson Idea Book

I only saw it for a few minutes, but it made a big impression on me. Dawn Emerson's large format (16 x 12) sketchbook was filled with value studies, line drawings, photographs from magazines, and postcards that inspire her, and many notes about what meanings and applications she had about what she included. 

What a great idea!

Even when I don't feel much like making art, or when I don't have a lot of time to commit to painting, I can work on the idea book, or just spend time looking at it and dreaming of what I might create. In the photo above you see the first page of my new big idea book. I think it might just prove to be a slump-elixir, too.

Monday, June 13, 2011

More workshop thoughts -- Klahn

Casey's palette is set up like a rainbow, violet to red

It is always great to see how another pastel artist sets up his/her box. You can see Casey Klahn's box arranged like a rainbow, and within each color section they are further arranged by value and saturation. His are a mixture of brands, including some that he has made himself (some of those are made from easel tailings!).

Before repainting one of my "failed" paintings, Casey suggested I make several composition sketches before jumping in with the re-do.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Casey Klahn Workshop -- Day Two

Earlene, Sarah, Suzanne, Casey
Casey Klahn describes his use of color in "Fauvist Forest"

Casey comments on Earlene's painting

originally a failed painting, but transformed into the seed for this new work
24 x 24 on Wallis Museum

You are right to feel jealous that you missed this workshop with Casey Klahn. It has been a weekend of ideas and challenges. I have much to think about and will post more of my thoughts later in the week. 

We painted more today, by using a failed painting and correcting the mistakes as we discovered them. It is a struggle, a dynamic back and forth of correcting what is not working and then working to see the next thing. Work, work, work. And then, too soon, it was over. But the ideas linger ...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Casey Klahn Workshop -- Day One

keep it simple

Casey Klahn demonstration on composition

my studio during the workshop

Whew! We've had a full first day. I'm pondering all of the the ideas and thinking about what are my ideas about painting. Oh, the beauty of the simplified composition! More to come tomorrow!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Casey Klahn is coming to town!!

turn left at the sign

studio is empty and ready

Yes, you read right! Casey Klahn, pastel artist and blogger of "The Colorist", is coming to town. He's not only coming to town, he's coming to MY studio to conduct a workshop! Starts tomorrow! Casey promises that we will "Never look at your pastels the same way again."

Oh, yeah. It's gonna be GOOD!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Dawn Emerson Workshop -- Day Three

We started today with several drawing exercises with figures. My final painting today was this development of the sailboat idea. I have several sketches that I want to play with, and that will come soon.

Have you taken a workshop with Dawn Emerson? I have really enjoyed my days with this wonderful pastel artist. Hers has been a workshop that leaves me filled with ideas of new things to try. I know that my drawing will never be the same and I plan to carry this sense of play and exploration with me into the days ahead.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Dawn Emerson Workshop -- Day Two

My last painting today and my attempt to synthesize all that I learned. This is BFK paper with gesso on it for a support, then Sumi ink and gouache under painting, with pastel on top. Layers of putting on and taking away, of discovering a shape and then losing it. Push, pull, add, subtract. Tomorrow morning we will start the day with a critique of our final paintings. On of my fellow students has suggested the title "Bloody Race" for this piece.

Playing with the materials with this #1: gesso on BFK with pastel and charcoal

More play with this #2 plus a real response to the didgeridoo music: 
acrylic pastel ground on BFK with charcoal and pastel and chalk

Monday, June 6, 2011

Dawn Emerson Workshop -- Day One

 blocking in the major shapes using charcoal and pastel

Dawn Emerson

First day of a three day workshop in Springfield, OR with Dawn Emerson. Wow! Dawn is a dynamo and she moves and teaches with grace and energy. I feel stuffed with ideas and new challenges to think more, try more, play more.

We did a series of drawing exercises, designed to loosen up, look better, vary the line, mass the value shapes, and all the while maintain a playful attitude. I loved every minute of it! Many times, we walked around the room to look at all of the drawings. I learned a lot by seeing how others handled the same exercise.  What a great group of participants!

Today my contentment can be measured by the charcoal in the cracks of my fingers. Lots and lots!

The top photo shows my final drawing, a synthesis of everything from the day. More to come tomorrow! But, first, to sleep!

Friday, June 3, 2011


16 x 22

A few days ago, I commented that the landscape looked to be all triangles. Today I did something about it. Remember, the angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees. And an isosceles triangle has two sides that are the same length and two angles that are equal. Ummmm. That's about all I've got from my high school Geometry.

Look here for more triangle fun! I love how this juggler makes a variety of rhythms with his routine. If I tried it, I think I would need a full time ball chaser. How about you? 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Calming the water with yellow ink

24 x 24

And so it seemed that the sun reached over the clouds 
to spill pale yellow ink onto the waters to calm them.