Behind the Scenes with Sharon Allicotti

The unique on-the-road visions of L.A. artist Sharon Allicotti seize viewers’ attention with riveting design and the suggestion of a story. Pick up your copy of the August 2010 issue of The Pastel Journal to read a full-length feature on her work. You’ll find an illuminating step-by-step examination of her painting, Dry Birth, below.
 
Step One: To create Dry Birth, Allicotti started with a quick sketch and written notes, visualizing her idea thematically and pictorially. She then worked to gather visual information on the landscape for her painting. “I knew I definitely wanted an older, roomy red car as the setting, which I eventually found abandoned in a Utah car junkyard,” she says. “I made many reference photographs of the interior, knowing I would not be able to pose my model in it once back home in my Los Angeles studio.” Returning to L.A., Allicotti arranged for a model and created an artificial, red-draped support before a studio window to mimic the lighting and color reflections of the original desert setting.
 
Step Two: Having completed a full-size study of the model from life in charcoal, Allicotti made a reduced pencil sketch (approximately 5×8 inches) of the entire composition. She made heavy use of her reference photographs at this stage and worked extensive changes into the sketch to suit the composition as a whole. The reduced pencil sketch is typically one of Allicotti’s most important tools, because it is this sketch that she enlarges with a grid technique to a full-sized sheet of translucent vellum. For Dry Birth, the artist taped the charcoal figure drawing (done from life in her studio) beneath the vellum before tracing it to maintain accuracy. The vellum then served as Allicotti’s cartoon for the direct transfer of the composition to the final paper support.
 
Step Three: After taping the vellum cartoon to a sheet of white Stonehenge paper, Allicotti transferred the image with artist graphite paper. She then darkened her lines on the final paper with vine charcoal. With the image in place, Allicotti began applying the pastel. She painted from her photographic references and from direct observation of still-life components and the figure. For Dry Birth, Allicotti chose to work on the sky and landscape first, then the car door, then the interior, and finally the figure. Overall her painting process consumed several hundred hours. “My process entails continuously and subtly adjusting tone and color to suit the ‘needs’ of the painting,” she says, “especially coherence of ambient color.”
 
Finished Painting: Overall the composition gives the feeling of being inside in the landscape, inside the car and looking out at the world beyond, the world beyond the self. “Since my earliest memories, I have been drawn to the theme of ‘inside looking out,’” Allicotti says. “This has always been so, and I assume it is possibly even primal. Although I have painted landscapes without the auto[mobile] as point-of-view, it is the relationship (both formally and psychologically) between the car interior, subject (figure or objects suggesting the human presence), and landscape that most interests me.”


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