Pastel Artist Sandy Byers | Artist of the Month

Sandy Byers is our July 2012 Artist of the Month. Her dry pastel seascape, City Beach Sunrise, was a finalist in the landscape/interior category of The Artist’s Magazine’s 28th Annual Art Competition. “I like to paint in all genres because my art is a personal reflection of my life,” says Byers. “Living on the water and having an opportunity to study it daily contributes to my understanding of how it moves and how waves react to each other and the objects they strike. I strive to illustrate the movement of water, its moods and reflection of sunlight in a seascape painting.”

pastel painting, pastel landscape, pastel landscape painting

City Beach Sunrise (dry pastel, 16 x 20) by Sandy Byers

A Sea of Inspiration
In general, I am inspired to paint after a great photo-shoot along the Oregon Coast or the area surrounding my home on Whidbey Island in Washington. The inspiration for City Beach Sunrise came from an overnight stay my husband, our cat, and I made in our RV on City Beach in Oak Harbor, WA. That  morning, my husband and I awoke before sunrise; I grabbed my camera and we walked the entire stretch of the beach in the absolute quiet of the morning. It is these types of experiences that inspire me, the ones that cause a spontaneous smile when I am painting back at my studio.

The physical painting of this piece went rather smoothly, and I was able to recapture the pleasurable feeling of being on the beach. One obstacle I had to overcome early on was the darkness of the images that resulted from improper metering of my camera; even though I made adjustments to them in Adobe Photoshop, it was not enough to recapture what I had actually seen that morning. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I had the opportunity to use what I know and imbue that into the painting instead of working primarily from the reference photo.

I’m currently working  on a series of landscapes called “Romancing the Rock” that showcases the beautiful scenery of Whidbey Island. This series derives its namesake from the local term for Whidbey Island,”The Rock,” which was inspired by the island’s formation form glacial rock during the Ice Age.

Byers’ Voyage to Art
Because I showed a persistent interest in anything art-related (especially drawing) throughout my childhood, my parents enrolled me in private oil painting lessons when I was 13 and then again as a young adult. Although I pursued a career in the software industry, I continued to paint and draw as time allowed until  2002 when I was able to retire and devote myself to art full time.

I became infatuated with pastels in 2001 when a friend gifted me a small set. I vividly recall going to a bookstore to find out more about the medium during one of my lunch breaks and picking up my first copy of Pastel Journal–I was memorized by the work in the magazine. I ordered all of the back copies and proudly have a complete, cherished, set.  In addition to Pastel Journal magazines, I have a collection of The Artist’s Magazines that dates back to the 1980’s. The knowledge I have garnered from these magazines has been invaluable to my learning. In 2004, I entered Pastel Journal’s Pastel 100 Competition and won two awards. I was hooked.

Painting Process & Palettes
My perfect working scenario is to go on a photo-shoot, come home and upload my photos, work out some compositional studies and then paint. I like it fresh; the immediacy of that is very inspiring for me. I have made some honest attempts at painting en plein air and painting still lifes from live set-ups, but the majority of my work is done using photographs I have taken. I enjoy using photographs with the idea of adding what I know, or what I would like something to be to the mix. I generally combine elements from several photos into one painting by doing sketches or working loosely in Photoshop. I don’t like to overwork a piece in Photoshop; rather, I prefer to leave the creative parts for when I get to the easel.

I work primarily in pastels, followed closely by oils. I find that one medium tends to teach me something about the other medium. For instance, I intentionally limit my oil palette to about eight colors. Having learned how to mix any color in oils with a limited palette helps me layer pastels to get colors I want without always having to have the exact color already mixed in a pastel stick. This makes for a rich, complex color for the viewer.

For pastels, my favorite papers are Sennelier La Carte, which is what I used for City Beach Sunrise,  and Pastelmat. I don’t execute every painting exactly the same way for landscapes and seascapes, but I generally place a few marks as my road map. Then, using NuPastels, I establish values and a color scheme. When that seems solid, I add softer pastels using a light touch so as not to fill in the valleys of the paper too quickly. It is at this point I start thinking of the pastel paper (or surface) on a horizontal plane vs. a vertical plane. It’s also at this point that I am thinking of each of those particles of pastels, all different colors, sitting side by side, tucked into the little valleys in the paper as I continue building layers. These are the colors I want to have show through when I start my blending and glazing process. If done correctly (with a light touch), this layering will look like glazes of color. If done incorrectly, it will look like mud.

When painting in oils, I tend to use a base set of eight colors and occasionally toss in other colors as needed. My basic set includes: ivory black, transparent oxide brown, ultramarine blue, viridian, cadmium red light, vermillion, naples yellow and mixed white.

There is an order of difficulty that translates to the length of time it takes me to paint a piece. For instance, portraits are much more difficult for me and take much longer than landscapes. The medium I choose also makes a difference in the amount of time it takes me to complete a piece.  When I paint with oils, I work in glazes so I have to wait for one layer to dry before applying the next, so it usually takes me longer to complete oil paintings than pastels.

Engineer Expertise
In my early twenties, I agreed to paint a mural for a travel agency in exchange for an airline ticket for my vacation. I already had a full-time job so every night after work I would arrive at the agency and work until around three in the morning, grab a nap, shower and then go to my “real” job. The travel agency wanted  a 747 Boeing jet with their logo on the tail of the plane painted on the wall (20x4o feet). I didn’t realize that the Boeing Company was a tenant in the same building. Every night as the Boeing engineers left the building, they would stop by and tell me what changes I needed to make to get the bolds, parts, wing-flaps, windows, (you name it), corrected on the plane, down to the 1/32 of an inch! I should have gotten a ticket to Europe for the amount of work that went in to that piece. I was able to thoroughly enjoy my vacation, knowing that 747 was technically sound.

Visit Sandy Byers website at to view more of her work. Artists of the Month are chosen from the list of finalists of The Artist Magazine’s Annual Art Competition.

Painting Realistic Landscapes in Pastel: Skies with Liz Haywood-Sullivan
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Click here to watch a preview of the video “Painting Realistic Landscapes in Pastel: Skies with Liz Haywood-Sullivan.”



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