Many artists have a signature style or favorite subject for which they are well known. Rarely is it the case, however, that the acclaimed body of work is the only type of artwork these artists produce. In the August issue of Pastel Journal, I checked in with Dawn Emerson, Cuong Nguyen and Andrew McDermott—three pastel artists who are connected to a favorite genre or subject, or identifiable style—and asked them to talk about the “other work” that they do. These three artists explain how working differently, whether regularly or only on occasion, impacts their creative output overall.
Cuong Nguyen is celebrated for portraits like John (seen below) that demonstrate his talent for contemporary realism, but he also paints an occasional still life. He explains that working differently now and then—in his case, in another genre—is just good exercise, stretching his creativity and keeping his mind nimble. “I don’t do a lot of still life painting, but I do enjoy it,” he says. “It’s great for me to refresh my mind, to search for new concepts and to challenge myself with new ideas.”
Andrew McDermott has won much acclaim for moody urban scenes like IAPS Night Time (seen below) that capture the energy of city life, but the artist has also been practicing life drawing consistently since college. In McDermott’s case, working differently strengthens his drawing skills which is a foundation for all of his painting, figural or not. “Figure drawing is a lifetime of study,” he says, “and it’s excellent for keeping up my visual skills. I would advise any budding artist to draw and paint from life as often as possible.”
The horse is a favorite subject for artist Dawn Emerson. The animal is well suited for her bold, expressive painting approach, but the artist also enjoys painting the landscape as a whole. Regardless of genre, her paintings range from loose but representational portrayals to pieces that teeter into abstraction. Her process is a very physical one, “something like a dance,” Emerson says. “I want to pull the imagery out of the background, to layer up and scrape back down through the textures and color to reveal as well as construct.” Working in a spontaneous manner like this requires the artist to work on instinct and to be ready to problem solve. “Often times, it ends in failure or redirection,” Emerson admits. “I’ve learned to be OK with that.”