Californian Kim Lordier has succeeded by pushing herself to create better and more original paintings with pastel and by stopping herself from rendering photographic details. “I had to gain enough confidence to make marks that expressed what I wanted to say about a subject, and then walk away from the painting before I overworked it,” she explains.
by M. Stephen Doherty
|The Trinchera Experience
2006, pastel, 14 x 18.
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Like many young artists, Kim Lordier started painting with the expectation that she should dazzle people with her ability to load pictures with photographically precise details. “I started painting wildlife and domestic animals in pastel when I was in high school, and I received so many ‘wows.’ People were asking me to paint portraits of their pets. For years afterward, I was happy just copying photographs, always striving to make the paintings as detailed and precise as possible. I knew there had to be more to art than that, but I had a hard time breaking away from the public’s perception of art. It was only after I started working from life that I was able to make advances in my painting.”
Lordier put pastel aside when she was a student in the late 1980s at the Academy of Art University, in San Francisco, concentrating instead on using gouache and watercolor to create commercial illustrations. She then spent 12 years working as a flight attendant for a major airline before returning to painting full time in 2001. “I took a pastel-painting workshop with Lorenzo Chavez in 2003, and he taught me about personal calligraphy, or mark-making,” Lordier explains. “He had a wonderful curriculum that inspired me to work harder at understanding what I could accomplish with the medium. I bought a supply of different brands and experimented to teach myself how the various materials and techniques could be used. In time, I found a way to paint that satisfied me.”
|Deeper In, Past the Lake House
2006, pastel, 16 x 12.
Before long, Lordier’s paintings were being juried into exhibitions organized by national and regional organizations, such as the Pastel Society of America and the Pastel Society of the West Coast; and she was being invited to participate in plein air-painting events organized by the Napa Valley Museum, in Yountville, the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, and the Carmel Art Festival, all in California.
The reason for this rapid success has as much to do with Lordier’s attitude about her work as it does with her training. For her, the most important measure of a painting is the degree to which it communicates her intentions to the viewer. “My mantra is ‘There is always another canvas,’ meaning I don’t have to worry about failing or about starting over again,” she says. “Once I was able to let go of the idea that my work was precious, I began to make real progress. I was willing to try things, and if they didn’t work, I would start over again. Instead of patting myself on the back for putting a lot of energy into making a painting, I took a hard look at each picture as it was developing and wiped out passages that weren’t supporting the rest of the piece. It’s hard to do that if I’ve invested a lot of time in a section, but if there are problems with a picture, I have to acknowledge and correct them.”
Another quality that distinguishes Lordier’s approach to painting with pastel is her willingness to stop once she has expressed the concept that first attracted her to a subject. “I saw real progress in my work when I accepted the idea that painting is more about the process than it is about the finished result,” she explains. “That is, once I’ve expressed all the elements that support what I’m trying to say in a piece, I don’t need to add anything else.”
2006, pastel, 11 x 14.
Lordier’s specific procedure begins with drawing the basic shapes with hard Nupastels on Wallis pastel paper mounted to acid-free Fome-Cor, then turning the hard lines into a thin wash by brushing over them with Turpenoid. “I begin painting with a very light sketch of the major shapes with a dark purple-gray Nupastel, keeping the ideas or themes simple and allowing the gesture of the line to grace the abstract shapes,” she says. “Then I lay the same Nupastel stick on its side to glaze the stick across the surface of Belgian-mist gray paper, applying more pressure to cover the darker areas of the composition. I also use a Terry Ludwig dark-purple pastel to enrich some of the deep shadow areas because it produces a beautiful, dark, rich, transparent undertone once I’ve washed over it with Turpenoid. The combination of the two pastels allows me to establish four distinct values that define the composition.
|And the Day Begins
2006, pastel, 16 x 20.
“When I’m satisfied with the basic outline of the picture, I use a size 12 filbert-shaped bristle brush and a small amount of Turpenoid to melt and push the pastel around on the surface of the paper,” Lordier continues. “I love this part of the process because the pastel is malleable, liquid, and fluid, and so many wonderful textures can be achieved that will show through in the final image. I know that if I can get the painting to work as a basic monochromatic design, it has a good chance of being successful in the end. If I see problems with the drawing or arrangement of values, I know they have to be addressed before I go any further.
“Once the surface of the paper is dry again, I start building up the layers of local color, making a point of working over the whole surface and not completing one area before bringing all the others to the same level of completion,” Lordier continues to explain. “I carefully consider the relative intensity, value, and color temperature of each new layer of pastel, remembering that the underlying gray will help make the intense colors sing.”
2006, pastel, 9 x 12.
Lordier works with almost all the major brands of pastel, including Sennelier, Unison, Terry Ludwig, Mount Vision, Great American Art Works, Diane Townsend, and Schmincke. “My workhorses are Unison and Terry Ludwig pastels,” she reveals. “I have gone through two boxes of Terry Ludwig’s 85-piece set of greens and regularly replace the pastels in his dark set. I’ve also had to replenish the Unison light set because I use them up so quickly—the range of color temperature within that one value in their set is amazing. Unison pastels are not made in the traditional way of adding white and black to make a dark or light version of a specific color. The manufacturer created Unison pastels in cycles of related hues that accurately reflect the colors in nature while being closely related and harmonious. The Unison and Terry Ludwig pastels have had the most influence on my work because they facilitate the technique of graying down my palette and working in a close value range, with a variety of colors that are rich and deep and that reflect my view of the world.
2006, pastel, 18 x 14.
“I sometimes use Krylon Workable Fixatif to sink the pastel back into the paper so I can build up layers and textures,” Lordier continues. “I only spray a finished piece if I need to ship it and am concerned that vibration might loosen the particles of pastel.
“My procedure is much the same whether I’m working in my studio or outdoors,” Lordier says. “I do vary my technique for different subjects and circumstances, however. For example, I sometimes start with a sienna color or a red rather than a dark purple; and I may paint on Art Spectrum or Ersta paper rather than Wallis. In the studio, I use the box covers that come with the Unison pastels to separate the colors I’m using for a painting. I’ll have three or four boxes that contain the sticks I’m currently using on top of my large rolling tray. In the field, I have an All-in-One Easel with an empty tray in which I reserve the pastels I’m using. The field palette is separated by color, value, and temperature; whereas the studio pastels are only separated by color and value.”
When asked how she adjusted her selection of materials or her techniques when painting on the Forbes Trinchera Ranch, in Colorado, Lordier responded that she added a few more grays to her field kit, but otherwise traveled with her standard supplies. “I did notice that when I was working in Colorado I used a lot of greens that I would not have needed at home,” Lordier explains. “I found myself needing colors that were more intense, as well as some cleaner blues that were not as grayed down. We painted under gray skies most of the time.”
|First Day at the Lodge
2006, pastel, 10 x 16.
|Draped in Light
2006, pastel, 14 x 18.
2006, pastel, 24 x 18.
About the Artist
Kim Lordier graduated from the Academy of Art University, in San Francisco, and worked as a flight attendant before devoting herself to fine art on a full-time basis in 2001. Her paintings have been included in exhibitions organized by the Pastel Society of America, the International Association of Pastel Societies, and the Carmel Art Festival. Lordier is a signature member of the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association and the Pastel Society of the West Coast, and she is an artist-member of the California Art Club.