“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire,” said Irish poet William Butler Yeats, and pastel artist and teacher Robert K. Carsten would no doubt agree after participating as part of a team of international pastel artists invited to offer instruction to a group of art educators in China. The experience provided a view of what looks to be a very bright future for pastel in this part of the world.
A Summary of the Event From Robert K. Carsten:
If you take 100 talented and dedicated school teachers, introduce them to the history and practice of pastel painting so that they, in turn, can share their newfound knowledge and experiences in their respective classrooms—what do you have? Simply put, the planting of seeds that is sure to grow the awareness, appreciation and practice of pastel for generations to come in China.
This past spring, I was privileged to spend three weeks in the beautiful city of Suzhou, China, a city near Shanghai, as one of four international pastel instructors invited to be part of a team of professionals for an innovative, outstanding program. The event was sponsored by the beautiful Ming Gallery of Art and its well-designed Ming Jia Arts Education Center, as well as the Beijing Art Center, along with cooperation from the International Association of Pastel Societies (IAPS).
The participating artists used soft Mungyo pastels and Montmarte pastel pencils on Yi Cai sanded paper. An immense amount of work went into the planning and logistics of this comprehensive program. Many people were instrumental to the development and running of this pilot program, including: the professional staff of the gallery and educational center; Mr. Simon Yang, consultant to the Ming Gallery; Mr. Yang Yan, who was involved with the promotion of the project and selection of the school teachers in Beijing; and pastel instructor and event coordinator Isabelle V. Lim. Organizers have invited instructors for an additional four instructional sessions later this summer and fall.
All of the participating teacher-students came to Suzhou from the Beijing area for one of two separate one-week sessions, learning from a number of instructors, including: Hong Kong artist Isabelle V. Lim who taught color, movement and abstraction; Polish/French artist Jerzy Moscicki, who taught on light and precision in still life; Spanish artist Aurelio Rodriguez Lopez, who taught portraiture; and me, teaching about impressionist landscape painting.
During the middle week, Aurelio taught a master portrait workshop, coinciding with his solo exhibition opening at the Ming Gallery of Art while Isabelle, Jerzy and I—along with Suzhou pastel master extraordinaire Hang Ming Shi, the Ming Gallery staff, and Mr. Yang Yan—lectured and demonstrated for teachers and students at three local schools: Canglang Xincheng Experimental Primary School, Suzhou No.6 Middle School, and Fangzhou Primary School. Each school gave us a tour of their wonderful arts education facilities and we viewed outstanding student work.
Also, during that week, we enjoyed guided tours of the river town Zhou Zhuang; walked and had tea on ancient Ping Jiang Street; visited the enchanting Humble Administrator’s Garden; and also toured the extraordinary new Horticultural Gardens by Lake Tai.
China doesn’t have a long tradition in this medium. In fact, most of the participants had never used pastel before. Yet, I found the attention, enthusiasm and diligence of both teachers and young students to be exemplary—beyond my wildest dreams. Of my experience in this lovely city in southeast China, I would say that the hosts were most gracious; the teacher-students and young, school students were extremely motivated to learn; everyone was always helpful and friendly; the food was second to none; and the promotion of the pastel medium was first class. Suzhou is truly a pastel paradise with a very bright future.
Robert K. Carsten, of Vermont, is an artist, teacher, writer and enthusiastic promoter of the pastel medium. Check out his step-by-step demonstration of a still life painting here.