Monday, August 22, 2011

View from Fiesole

View from Fiesole, 24x36 commissioned pastel

This is the newest addition to one of my most gracious client's collection of pastels. "View from Fiesole" will hang with the "Trevi Fountain" and the "Spanish Steps." And there is one more pastel of Italy to come, so stay tuned!

The Trevi Fountain, 24x36 Soft Pastel

The Spanish Steps, 30x30 Soft Pastel

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Coast of Maine

The Coast of Maine, 16x20 Commissioned Pastel

I love the challenge of drawing the ocean, and especially the ocean spray as the waves crash upon the dark rocks. This piece is similar to my earlier pastels of the Scottish coast, with the wonderful contrast of darks and lights. I love using the many blues, greens, and whites intermixed with the unexpected hints of burgundy and ochre hidden in the water. The rocky coast in this particular piece was very interesting, with its striated texture glistening in the sun.

Friday, August 12, 2011

"Paper from the Past"

At an art show last spring I met a fellow pastel artist and, after some discussions about techniques, we did a paper swap. I gave him a piece of Sennelier La Carte pastel card, and he generously gave me a large sample of a pastel cloth. I like to call this one "paper from the past," because a) he bought it a very long time ago and can't remember the brand, b) after research, it is very hard to find information about pastel cloth, and c) it doesn't seem to be made much anymore, if at all.

I discovered two possible sources for pastel cloth, which comes in a roll and is a synthetic, unwoven fabric, with a coating similar to sanded papers, that will hold layers of pastel. NY Central Art Supply and Sennelier both make/have made a pastel cloth.

The cloth can be cut to the desired size, but needs to be mounted or secured in some way to keep it from curling. It can also be stretched like a canvas. Since I was experimenting, I just taped all four sides down with masking tape.

I cut several pieces and taped them down to a board and decided to try a few things. First I layered some pastels, browns, oranges and ochres, and painted with a brush and water. Then I added details of a lily in my yard. The result pleased me well enough: the paper held the layers well, the water did not affect the paper adversely, all brands of pastels that I tried worked fine (Sennelier, Rembrandt, Gallery, Derwent pastel pencils). 

5x7 Soft Pastel on Pastel Cloth

For the second "test" I tried a simple picture with my usual techniques. Again, the results were satisfactory, but I felt that the texture wasn't as deep as I usually get by layering on Ampersand Pastelbord or Sennelier La Carte pastel card; the colors blended just a bit more.  

While I enjoyed trying and learning about a different surface, the benefits of pastel cloth, mainly the texture, are overshadowed, in my opinion, by the downside of it being a cloth. My "verdict" is biased because of my preference for a hard board or card on which to work, and it seems like an unnecessary step to mount the pastel cloth on a hard surface when I could just buy another surface with a similar texture that is already sturdy.

With pastel cloth being hard to find, and made somewhat irrelevant by the numerous types of sanded papers that can also be used with wet or dry mediums (such as Wallis Paper), it may be more convenient and less frustrating to try another surface.

But to those who already have pastel cloth, or like the ability to stretch or mount it onto the size and surface you want, you can create some beautiful pieces of art!

Check out the art by my friend Daniel Curry, who has done several pieces on pastel cloth and so kindly shared some with me!

View his work at

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

New Minis!

In preparation to list on Etsy, I've been making some new mini pictures! Here are a few of the 3x3 pastels which consist mostly of "the birds and the bees," with the occasional snail or other tiny creature thrown in here and there!

These pieces range in price from $35-$45 depending upon the frame. The pastels are drawn on Sennelier La Carte Pastel Paper and sprayed with a fixative for durability. All birds are native to Alabama, and any bird can be drawn on commission at the same price. These make great gifts!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

SpectraFix Pastel Fixative

I have recently begun using a new pastel fixative introduced to me by one of my very talented art students Jenny Thornton. SpectraFix Is "a natural milk casein pastel fixative" that is non-toxic with no odor, and you can even spray it inside! It is pretty much alcohol and milk comes from cows! See?

The SpectraFix website describes the ingredients:

"SpectraFix blends art-grade milk casein with water and pure grain alcohol adding a tiny amount of isopropyl alcohol (to please the Federal Government rendering the grain alcohol undrinkable). The alcohol evaporates rapidly taking the water with it, leaving a thin film of casein which quickly dries to a protective matte surface. Even though it is milk protein, it is not subject to invasion by opportunistic organisms, as 9000 years of use as an art medium testifies."

The spray dries without darkening the colors (but don't douse it...I sprayed it lightly a couple of times about a foot above the picture, letting it dry in between coats.) I sprayed it heavily on a piece to test it, and was surprised at the little color change...while the alcohol evaporated the colors lightened almost to the original hues. I do employ heavy spraying on images that I want to deepen the rich colors and contrast, but do not recommend heavy spraying for pieces with a lot of delicate or light colors, or on something where no color change is desired, such as a portrait.

I was initially wary over the pump application, fearing that it would splatter or spray inconsistently, but when applied with a fine mist and allowed to dry between coats, I haven't experienced any trouble.  As with any fixative application, you may occasionally have a small spot appear that doesn't completely dry; this is easily fixed by adding the appropriate pastel to the spot.

The thing I find most fascinating about this spray is the history of it's ingredients. Casein has been used by artists throughout history, including my favorite artist, the French Impressionist painter and pastelist Edgar Degas. 

"Casein is simply dried milk protein and has been used for over 9000 years as a binder for pigments. Cave paintings in Asia and ancient Egytpian tomb paintings are the greatest testament to its archivability, with colors still firmly adhering to their supports with brilliant clarity of hue after literally thousands of years! No other painting medium has such an ancient and demonstrable history of stability and permanence. 

Casein has been widely used by artists since that time including medieval illuminated manuscripts, Gustav Klimt’s ‘Beethoven Frieze’, Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’, Ben Shahn, Thomas Hart Benton and many more. Since the introduction of acrylics, casein has fallen by the wayside, but it was the original foundation for the development of acrylics. It was an early type of plastic (when combined with formaldehyde) and was used for decades to make buttons, handles, trays and all manner of colorful items.

There is also great evidence that Degas used different formulations of casein as a medium and as a fixative, including liquid solutions into which he would dip his pastel stick. He was a close friend of the artist Luigi Chialiva who patented a pastel fixative using casein and alcohol back in the 1890s, and one can hardly doubt that Degas would have been instrumental in its development and popularization

If you give SpectraFix a try, I'd love to hear your thoughts!