Sunflowers, Red Pears, Turquoise Cloth (pastel, 18×24)
New Mexico artist Sarah Blumenschein looks forward to the brief springtime appearance of red Bartlett pears in her local grocery store because of their beautiful red color. Sunflowers, Red Pears, Turquoise Cloth is a joyous assemblage. “I tend to try to enhance the colors and the effect of the light,” Blumenshein says. “I really like the challenge of capturing how the light bounces between things.”
A systems engineer before turning her attention to art full time in 2000, the artist began experimenting with pastels in 2003. She’s found them to be the ideal medium for her, and the still life genre suits her for a similar reason. “Still life allows me to be a mom and an artist,” she says. “I can set up a still life and paint for a couple of hours, then stop and come back later.”
Blumenschein spends a great deal of time establishing a composition with a viewfinder and photos. She creates soft pastel paintings on Wallis sanded pastel paper, toned a medium red-gray with watercolor (either permanent red or permanent alizarin crimson, with Payne’s gray). To keep the paper flat during her toning and painting process, she has the paper dry-mounted to museum board or, as an alternative, she’ll use 3M Scotch positionable mounting adhesive.
She says she makes sure to establish appropriate values and value relationships by placing one or two layers of pastel over the entire paper. “I usually start this process in the area of my focal point,” she explains, “and work outward. By doing this I can more easily correct value problems before I’ve put a lot of pastel on the paper.”
Blumenschein has received numerous regional, national and international awards and is a signature member of the Pastel Society of America and the Pastel Society of New Mexico, as well as a distinguished pastelist and signature member of the Pastel Society of the West Coast.
Joel Carson Jones
Topple (oil, 9×12)
Dreams of falling may have inspired Joel Carson Jones to paint Topple, a complex piece involving marbles, jacks and dominoes quite literally falling off a table and out of a reference photo. The artist was pleased with the illusion of motion he was able to convey, a condition he likens to the fleeting nature of youth, represented by the drifting, forgotten toys. “A great deal of my work,” Jones says, “revolves around my feelings, fears and triumphs.”
Working both from life and reference photos, Jones begins his paintings with a light graphite drawing on a primed panel. Topple was painted in two layers: The first, “slow” layer has a greater amount of opaque paint and a certain finished aspect, while the second layer, a glaze, was applied more quickly and serves to heighten the halftones and enhance the details. Using hog hair bristle brushes and Winsor & Newton Scepter Gold brushes, Jones works systematically from the upper right corner to the lower left. After massing in shadows, he works into the background. “When the values of the background and the attached shadow are both in place, I have an indication of how light or dark the midtone should be,” he says. “I usually reserve the white of the gesso for my highlights.” When the painting reaches a certain point, the artist switches to sable brushes and removes visible brushstrokes.
To achieve a photorealist effect, he works exclusively in oils and uses a slow process that allows the paint to cure. Topple, for instance, took approximately four weeks to complete, with the artist working 10 to 12 hours per day, six days a week. Jones also invests significant time establishing his compositions. “Many artists can pick up any object and paint it for the sake of painting,” he says. “For me, choosing a subject can be a daunting task. If my heart isn’t in the subject matter, I find it extremely difficult to paint.”
A living master as certified by the Art Renewal Center, Jones lives in Plymouth, Pennsylvania. He’s represented by Cavalier Galleries in Greenwich, Connecticut.
Blue Plate Special (oil, 9×12)
To achieve radiant color for the apples, pear and cherries in Blue Plate Special, New York artist Richard Denisiewicz applied a careful series of transparent glazes as a final touch. The artist says he has a tendency to push color—especially rich, lush color. “Every painting,” he notes, “is a chromatic learning adventure.”
Denisiewicz prefers to paint entirely from life, without a reference drawing. He blocks the composition in with the paint itself, pushing and pulling until he’s happy with the result, before applying a series of two to five glazes at the end. This process allows him to create “a convincing sense of mass and shadow.”
Once the forms have been painted, the artist lets the painting dry completely before applying a layer of intermediate varnish. After this layer is dry, he covers the painting in a masking glaze to unify the shadow areas. Subsequent transparent glazes are added to enhance, warm or cool the color and tint, with the final glazes added for highlights. If Denisiewicz’s preliminary painting is tightly rendered, his glazes are looser to provide contrast. Taken together, the glazing process is time consuming, with each glaze being allowed to dry before the next is applied. “It seems to finish the painting,” he explains of the glazing. “For me, it’s a necessary thing. I circle the prey, experimenting with color until I figure out how to finish it.”
The time needed to finish a piece varies in length, with some works taking days and others taking weeks. For its part, Blue Plate Special was really special. “This painting was a pleasure,” the artist says. “It seemed to paint itself.”
Denisiewicz is affiliated with the Chrysalis Gallery, in Southampton, New York, and Beardsley Fine Art in Wilton, Connecticut. “Oil painting is a passion I hope to struggle happily with for the rest of my life,” he says.
Old Music (oil, 32×18)
Inspired by the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice—and an illustration of the story showing a hidden door with a broken lyre hanging from it—Katherine Stone embarked on a scavenger hunt to locate the haunting assemblage that became Old Music. “The image struck me as a child,” she says, “and it was reincarnated in my painting. The broken French horn and the old photo of the pretty woman are, however, new to the presentation.”
The Toronto artist made her own door from found wood and worked sight-size from her setup, painting directly on the canvas in sections in a repeated loop—adding greater detail each time around. “My painting technique is precise and deliberate, so you can predict the outcome,” she says. “My technique doesn’t depend on spontaneity or chance brushstrokes, but that’s also its weakness. I’d like to incorporate more painterly effects into my work in the future.”
Katherine (Kate) Stone is affiliated with the Portrait Society of America, the Portrait Society of Canada, the Canadian Society of Classical Realism and the International Guild of Realism.
Jeffrey T. Larson
Birds on Brackets (oil, 30×32)
A pair of elegant antique fixtures sat in Jeffrey Larson’s studio for five years before finding their way into Birds on Brackets. Building on the fixtures, Larson added and subtracted elements until the arrangement worked as a whole. “The challenge was to add enough detail but to still allow the composition to breathe,” he says.
After “massing up” his composition in charcoal, the Wisconsin artist starts in “rough and loose” with a full palette. He likens his method to sculpting, as he adds, builds up and refines the paint little by little, glazing only at the end. He describes much of his painting process as a series of happy accidents: “The main thing I’m aiming for is visual honesty,” he says. “How I get there can be a thousand different ways.”
After Sixty Years (acrylic, 24×24)
Inspired by trompe l’oeil and mural-painting techniques, Laidacker painted After Sixty Years to chronicle the encroachment of Alzheimer’s disease into his grandparents’ relationship. The Philadelphia artist savors including and re-creating printed images in his paintings, “filtering” charcoal sketches and photographs through his own eyes. “I enjoy the reinterpretation,” he says, “of the mechanical view of the camera.”
Laidacker emphasizes the difficulty in making subjects appear as if they’re hanging off the page—and the reward that comes when the technique is successful: “I want the work to look as though it’s actually an installation and not just an image on a surface, so there’s no hard evidence that this is actually a painting until you go up and start looking at it. I find a well thought out and executed trompe l’oeil painting an excellent example of what the painter’s hand can do.”
Currently Laidacker works for the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program (www.muralarts.org), a not-for-profit organization that coordinates the creation of large-scale community murals—a cause that both inspires and challenges him.
Meredith E. Lewis is a freelance writer working in Manhattan.
Havre de Grace MD
East Petersburg PA
South Richmond Hill NY
Mina Dela Cruz
Miami Beach FL
Teresa N. Fischer
Kristine Martineau Gellerman
Barbara S. Groff
Michael E. Hockenbury
Lori Pitten Jenkins
Joel Carson Jones
Jeffrey T. Larson
Eileen Mueller Neill
Pamela J. Reich
Mountain Top PA
Lea Colie Wight
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