Pastel Pointers | Making New Friends

Sometimes the experience of painting can feel more like a battle than a party. I once overheard an artist describe it as a roller coaster ride. We go up and then we go down—back and forth until the ride stops. At a recent workshop, a dear artist friend of mine, Kathy Detrano, had a few rides on the painting roller coaster. Afterwards she posted her experience on a social networking site, and it really got me thinking about how difficult it is when the painting roller coaster is plummeting down and we feel like we are in a battle.

Here are Kathy’s comments:
“If there is one thought that still is really fresh in my mind from Richard McKinley’s recent Dakota Art’s workshop it is: Make friends with it. My first encounter with this feedback happened when UART paper didn’t behave the same as Wallis paper with a wet underpainting. All my colors ran … all that lovely underpainting gliding slowly off the bottom of the board. Answer for next painting: less water; blot the brush more.

“My second encounter was with an underpainting that I had done in what turned out to be full sun … and was, for me, way too dark back in the studio (but it didn’t run). Richard’s counsel was to either fight with it and cover it up or, again, ‘make friends with it.’ Figure out how to make it work. I decided to give a go at making friends with it. Had to work quickly, limited time, which provided another valuable lesson.” (See Kathy’s painting, “Making Friends” below.)




I remember well my interactions with Kathy. At first, she was very frustrated with the paper and, when I stopped to give advice, I could see she was not working with the new paper. Instead, she was expecting it to respond with the same familiarity as an old friend surface with which she was quite comfortable. After listening, I simply said, “Well you can beat it up and hate it for not being Wallis, or you can attempt to make a new friend.” Later, she was quiet disappointed that her plein air painting appeared dark. Again, I listened and responded, “Well, make it the best dark landscape painting you have ever done.” The breakthrough both times was when she came to the realization that it was not the paper or the dark landscape painting that was the enemy, it was her expectations.

Often the disappointments and frustrations we experience while painting can be traced back to expectations. When the products we are using or the appearance of the painting is not living up to those expectations, it can become a battle. It is not that we have to cower but instead change our attitude. When using a new surface or brand of pastel, I find it is best not to compare it to another. Experiment with it. Get to know its personality. If a painting is going in an unplanned direction, take a moment to step back and reevaluate the situation. There are only two choices. Either make changes or accept it and make it work. Really, aren’t new friends much better than new enemies?

Kathy Detrano’s pastel painting, “Making Friends” (above; 9×12), was done on UART paper with a watercolor underpainting.



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