Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What I Did On My Summer Vacation or Shaking Things Up A Bit

Thousand Acre Pond 4"x 6"
Path to the Beach 4"x 6"
I spend most of the year working as an aide for special ed kids in a high school.  It's great fun and very challenging at times.  Once I'm done working summer school, I have a few weeks off to do what I really love to do - get outside and paint!

Day at the Beach II  4"x 6"  SOLD
Day at the Beach I  4"x 6"  SOLD
This summer vacation amounted to about 2 weeks in which I painted and did a bunch of the miscellaneous stuff I don't get finished the rest of the year (like cleaning my house).  During that week, I tried to do at least one plein air painting a day.

Field of Wildflowers 5"x 7"  SOLD
Summer Cornfield 4"x 6"  SOLD
They were very small paintings - most were 4"x 6" and I really enjoyed the challenge of working so small.  I popped them into little frames I'd gotten at the dollar
store as a way to protect them
and put them all up on a shelf
in my dining area where I
Distant Blue 5"x 7"  SOLD
could see them all of the time.
Kind of a nice reminder of
my summer.

I enjoy mixing things up periodically as a way to challenge myself and going to such a small size definitely did the trick for me.  Doing something so small means that every mark counts.  It also forces me to be much more accurate than I would be in a larger piece - no room for errors. Once I get tired of doing this, perhaps my next challenge should be to work REALLY big!                              

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Water and Alcohol Washes on Pastel Paper

I have been a fan of Kitty Wallis paper from the time I first started using pastels back in 2004.  I like the neutral gray color (Belgium Mist), it's smooth texture and it's sturdiness.  I can re-used the paper several times if I am not happy with a painting by using a house painting brush to brush the original pastel dust off of the surface. This restores most of the tooth of the paper and I like the "ghost" image left behind.  I have been using Wallis paper almost exclusively.

Recently I attending a demonstration by Liz Haywood Sullivan presented by the Rochester Art Club.  She did a wonderful demo and I learned a great deal about how she creates her dynamic landscapes.  And there was one thing she did that really piqued my interest: she used an alcohol wash to help establish her design and values by liquifying her first layers of pastel in a kind of underpainting.  To do this, she worked out her design, drew it on the paper and then laid down the correct value of pastel in those large areas.  She then liquifed the pastel using a brush and alcohol, let it dry and then continued to add color.

WOW!  Awesome stuff!

I love to experiment with new ideas and decided to give it a try myself.   

Now I have used alcohol in the past to liquify pastel in an underpainting wash.  But I was not especially controlled in the way I did it.  As a result, I didn't really care for the outcome or the extra time it took to do it.  I wanted to actually get painting with the pastel sticks themselves!  I am all about instant gratification.  I have also used water as a liquifier, but that was even worse for me.  It took way too long to dry and buckled the Wallis paper, making it impossible to use.  Lessons learned and I stopped using a wash... until I watched Liz's demo and decided to give it another try.

This time I sketched out the design on a recycled piece of Wallis paper, blocked in with pastel and washed over each individual color with plain old rubbing alcohol.  This time, I was more controlled in my application of alcohol and things worked well.  The color wasn't quite as pure as it could have been simply because I was going over a brushed out dud of a painting and some of the old color mixed with the new color.  The thing I did notice, and which Haywood-Sullivan had mentioned, was that the surface of the Wallis paper did get a bit gummy in the process of applying the alcohol.  I don't know why.  It didn't change the wonderful sandy surface of the Wallis paper though and the painting came out beautifully.

click on image - UArt paper pattern 
I did the same thing with the alcohol wash to some UArt paper and that worked very well too, with no gumminess.  UArt is great because it comes in several grades of roughness, similar to regular sandpaper that one would find in a hardware store.  The paper I used was a 500 grit.  I really like it, but noticed that it seems to have a subtle lined surface to it.  It's not a huge deal, but I really like working on a smooth sanded surface.  The photo is a close-up to show the patterned surface.  I think it's because I use a very light touch with my pastels and very rarely fill in the tooth completely.  As a result, that lined pattern was visible.  I also noticed that it was more obvious depending on how I had the paper oriented  in relationship to the angle at which I paint.  There is a definite pattern to it.  However that wouldn't stop me from using it again.  It's a great paper.

Over all, I enjoyed using the alcohol wash.  It seemed to make things go a bit more rapidly since most of the paper's surface is toned already from the wash.  I don't know that I would do it all the time because I just like to keep things simple.  Paper and pastel.  It works for me.

You can see photos of my experiments on my other blog,

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fixative: Yes or No?

In all honesty, I have used fixative in the past, but it definitely made the pastel darker. I have a feeling that I used too much of it and it liquified the pastel dust. Now, since I really don't want anything to alter what I have painted, I stay away from them. I want the colors and textures of the surface to be the way I intended them to be. Besides, to really make a pastel touchable, I would have to use a whole lot of fixative, and even then I don't think I could make a pastel as easy to handle as an oil painting. You just have to use care and not let anything touch the surface.

I have heard that there is a relatively new fixative on the market which will not alter the appearance of a pastel, but I don't know the name of it. Here in Rochester there is a wonderful art store called Rochester Art Supply ( If you are interested to find out more about this product, you may want to contact them. I still don't use a fixative, however.

No fixative? Now what?!
As I have stated in other posts, I use a sanded paper. That means that there is sand attached to the surface of the paper. It makes for a very rough surface to work on. Although it tends to eat up pastels, and my finger tips (which is why I never blend with my fingers), it is great at holding onto the pastel dust. To remove any loose dust which might fall off onto a mat when framed and while I still have the painting taped to a sheet of masonite, I will hit the edge of the masonite on a hard surface (like the sidewalk) to knock off the loose pastel. That pretty much ensures that there won't be any loose dust to fall onto the mat. Despite that, it does not mean that the surface will not be marred if touched in any way, so don't let anything touch the surface of your pastel painting.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


I was recently emailed by a woman who said she was interested in purchasing two of my paintings. Now, having people contact me by email about a painting is nothing new, but something about this email sounded fishy. I did a little research online and sure enough, it is a complete SCAM. It just proves that you have to be careful all the time! The content of the email follows:

Joy Howard
Apr 16 (4 days ago)


Hope this message finds you well. I saw these creatives works on your
website and i will like you to get back with more details if they are
still available for purchase.

Purple Loosestrife and Summer (demo)

I will appreciate an urgent reply.

Best Regards,
Joy Howard.

A second email looked like this:

Joy Howard
10:41 AM (8 hours ago)

Hi Colette ,

Thanks so much for your response to my query about those creative
works. I will like to proceed with the purchase of both pieces (
framed and ready to hang ) . I will also like photo of Summer so i can
know how best to proceed. I will also like to know what inspire you
to make the pieces.

I will look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best Regards,

Since a lot of the people who read my blogs are artists, I want you to be aware so that you can protect yourselves!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Pastel Workshops

I have been invited to teach a couple of pastel workshops this summer and I'm very excited at the prospect of sharing my love of pastels with others.

The first will be for the Livingston Art Group in Lakeville, NY, in the beautiful Finger Lakes. The date is July 28th. Please contact Sally Moses for more information at 585-243-3305.

The second will be on August 12th for the Coonley Ward Artist Community, in the "Gaslight Village" of Wyoming, NY. For more info, contact Diane at the Handyside Gallery in the Village of Wyoming.

If you are interested in attending either workshop be sure to contact them to register.

In both cases, I will discuss "everything pastel", give a demo and then give you dome time to try your hand at creating with pastels as well as answer your questions about the medium. Please bring any materials you need to work in pastels.

I am looking forward to these wonderful opportunities to demonstrate this terrific medium.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Buying Used Pastels

I belong to several art organizations here in Rochester where I have met many wonderful artists who work in all kinds of mediums. I was recently approached by another member artist and friend who decided that pastels were just not working out for her. She does amazingly tight colored pencil drawings which are much more controllable for her. As a result, she decided to sell her collection of pastel sticks and paper. Two other pastel artists and I met with her and purchased her stuff at a very reasonable price. Her pastels and paper were high quality Schminckes and Rembrandts. I really appreciated her contacting me, as I am sure I will use them and somehow, I can never have enough pastel colors!

The moral of the story: Pastels, unlike some mediums I have tried, are usable no matter how old they are. If you know about pastel prices and if you are looking to build your general color selection, you can find some real deals out there on some used sets. Once you have the chance to work with what you currently have, you can go to an art supply store and purchase the specific colors which you may decide that you need to fill in the holes in your collection.

Watch out, though! Getting just the "right" pastel color can be addicting. After all, I don't think any manufacturer has yet developed just the right shade of "winter marsh grass on a really sunny early winter morning on Lake Ontario" or the allusive "purply-bluish-gray with a little yellow on the underneath of that cloud in late October just before it gets really cold" color. Somehow, I always find myself having to make due with ochres, blues, violets and grays. I know that every day and every season brings changes in the scenery and to the colors out there. My palette can never keep up. Nevertheless, I keep trying to fill in the colors I am missing! It's a losing battle, I know. But it's still fun trying.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hot Off the Presses! My Newsletter

I have recently developed a newsletter which I have emailed to anyone interested in what is happening with my art. If you would like to receive future editions, please send me an email and I will be sure that you name gets added to the mailing list. In the meantime, just click on this image and the current newsletter will come up full size.