I thrive on positive, unexpected surprises, and so when browsing the newest issue of Pastel Journal (June), I was delighted to read about Peter Thomas, an English watercolorist who discovered pastels in an unanticipated way. Read on in this excerpt by Niall O’Neill to learn about this fabulous discovery.
The Accidental Pastelist
An errant Christmas gift more than 30 years ago changed the trajectory of artist Peter Thomas’ life. In 1981, Peter was a watercolorist, as well as an art and design teacher at his English alma mater, Uppingham School. At the time, he was also exploring a printmaking system he had developed with friends, using a silkscreen with oil pastels that printed like monoprints.
“I needed oil pastels, and my sister–she knew I was broke–gave me a wonderful box for Christmas, four layers of what she thought would be useful for my screenprinting,” Thomas says. “When I opened the box, my face fell a little, because they were soft pastels and completely useless for my purposes. She offered to exchange the box, but I thought the pastels were so beautiful that I responded, ‘No, don’t change it. I think I’d like to take it out to France and see what happens.’ ”
With soft pastels in hand, he left Britain for the Dordogne, a county in southwest France. “I decided not to end up a disappointed teacher who was frustrated about never really putting his dream to the test,” Peter says. “I had met teachers who were good at painting or music, but who got trapped by teaching, and I didn’t want to be like that when I reached 50. I wanted to have tried, and if I failed, I would go back to teaching. I was quite a good teacher, and it was a good job. When I came to France, I thought I’d give painting five years to see if it was going to work, but after the second year, I never really thought about teaching any further.”
Once in France, Peter began renovating an old barn and outbuildings, transforming them into a house and studio. “The house was an old cowshed, but it had buildings around it which I bought later, and it developed gradually,” he says. “While I was a teacher, I wished to own a place where I could concentrate on painting. I loved France, and, during my holidays in the southwest, I fell for this old stable. I didn’t think I would stay this long, but it suits me. I feel at home here, even though I leave sometimes to paint other horizons.” ~Niall O’Neill
Inspired? Our readers often tell us that they keep every issue of their magazine; but we also have them available on CD for easy storage and access. You can get the Pastel Journal 1993-2003 CD; order if you’ve missed an issue, or just want the convenience of being able to the the CD with you anywhere you travel for inspiration such as this. And in the meantime, view more of Peter’s countryside paintings here!