Friday, May 22, 2015

I Hate to Clean

Back in August I suggested that I might experiment with cleaning pastels with sand.  Well, I finally got around to doing it.

I have to admit that I hate to clean my pastels.  I never have the time to clean them, especially when I have just finished painting outdoors or taught a class.  I usually toss them into a bag to be sorted and cleaned later.  Often times though, later doesn't come until MUCH later.  By the time I finally do get around to doing it, colors have transfer to other sticks, making a tedious job even more tedious.

I am always looking for ways to simplify my life and I hate waste.  I hated the idea of buying rice, cornmeal... just to throw it away because it had become too polluted with pastel dust to be an effective cleaner.  I think that using sand as a cleaning medium is going to do the trick!  The following images showed what happened when I used beach sand to clean my pastels.

This is the dish of dirty pastels and the dish of beach sand.  All of the pastel colors have transferred to all of the other pastels I had in the same bag.  Grungy looking and impossible to tell what colors they really are.  I live near Lake Ontario and sand is readily available any time I go there.  There is about 1/4 cup of sand in the bowl.

The first 3 pastels to be cleaned go into the sand.

After swirling them around in the dish about 20 times this is how they looked.  Pretty good, huh?  I was inspired to continue cleaning them all!

Afterward, here is the entire dish of pastels after I had cleaned them.  Very different than they were in the first picture.  Mission accomp-lished!  I cleaned 4-5 of them at a time.  They cleaned up very quickly and I used the same sand throughout.  I did not discard or change it.

On to cleaning the sand.  I took the dirty sand and poured it onto 2 paper towels laid on top of a piece of a flannel rag.  I pulled all 4 corners of the rag up and twisted them together, poured some warm water into a bowl and began to dunk and swish it around.

I changed the water probably 20 times as it became dirty from the pastel dust, and as it rinsed out of the sand.  Eventually, it became cleaner and cleaner.  This picture shows the water at the final rinsing.

I opened the rag and found that the paper towel had pretty much   disintegrated, but the sand was still there and had not managed       to pass through the flannel.  I think the next time I do this, I will use a tighter woven fabric.  I will let the sand dry out over-night and we'll see how it looks in the morning.

Well, it took a couple of days for the sand to dry out enough to allow me to pour it through a strainer.  (The reason for straining it was all of the bits of paper towel that had disintegrated during this process and which had to be removed once the sand/paper towels mixture had dried.)  But the sand cleaned up great!  It now has a slight greenish tint, but if you didn't pour a bit of it on top of the original sand (like I just did) you would never know it.  None or very little sand was lost in the process.

In summary, cleaning pastels with sand was a HUGE success in my opinion.  It did not seem to damage the pastels, was very fast, there was no waste, plus it's free.

In fact I liked the outcome so much that I now have a small cup of sand next to my studio set-up so that I can clean the sticks as I'm working.  And I may even use this system when I am working en plein air - especially when I am at the beach!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Hand-made Ground

"Sultry Summer" - pastel, 8x10
I guess it's because it's been so cold recently that I began to think of summer.  I was thinking about the hot, humid evenings in late summer when the weeds are tall and full of color and the thickness of the atmosphere makes distant trees look blue due to the humidity.  I love this time of year, except of course, that it means that soon winter will be upon us.  Sigh.

I'm getting off track.

I wanted to discuss the ground this is painted on.  

I usually paint on a sanded paper such as Uart or Wallis paper.  But I really admire the work of artists who can make their own surface to work on.  I like the stability of using some kind of board instead of a piece of paper.  So I decided to experiment a little.  I cut an 8" x 10" piece of Foam Core, left over from framing, and covered it with a layer of Golden's Gel Medium containing fine pumice.  The pumice creates a nice surface to paint on.  It's a bit more course than the Uart I normally use, but as it dried, it left the brush strokes in the gel and they show up in the painting, adding dimension to the piece.  

I also toned the board with a layer of color which I liquefied with alcohol, then let dry before painting.  The color of the under-painting was yellow at the top, magenta in the middle and deep blue near the bottom.

I believe this experiment was a success.  The painting came out well.  However, I am not sure of the archivalness of the foam core.  I think I will need to research that a bit more.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Pastel Painting Class

I probably should have put this in here a long time ago, but better late than never.  I am teaching a class in pastel painting starting this Monday, September 22 at Irondequoit Community Education.  I will cover all things to do with pastel. We will meet for 5 weeks.  If you are interested, please click on the link below or contact me at  Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Mat, Fixative Or...

I currently don't frame my work with a mat or fixative.  I frame them directly against the glass.

I used to use mats, but they're a nuisance as far as I am concerned.  Cutting mats is a time-consuming pain.  I have better things to do with my time - like paint!

Despite correctly measuring and doing the math to figure out where to cut, I'd still make mistakes and wind up throwing matboard out.  It took a lot of time that I didn't have, but I couldn't afford to have a framer do it for me, so I cut them myself.  Then there was the added expense of framing with a mat, or a double mat (if I was feeling extravagant).  Mat-board, mat-cutter, blades... more linear inches of frame too, and bigger pieces of glass to cover a larger area.  Sheesh.

Now, with the pastel right against the glass there are fewer expenses: smaller sheets of glass, smaller frames, not having to buy mat-board.  Added bonuses:  They are lighter and easier to carry, and numerous people comment that they thought they were oils.

Plus they are SO much easier to frame this way!  It takes me a fraction of the time to frame them now than it did before.

Other artists have asked me about the pastel dust getting on the glass.  Yes, a tiny amount does get on the glass, HOWEVER, it will never be an issue until you unframe the painting.  And why would you want to do that?  (Well, OK, I do unframe them occasionally if I have to reuse a frame, forget to sign them, forget to photograph them or scan them.  That's how I know there is some dust left on the glass.)  But seriously, it isn't enough to worry about.  Plus the sanded Uart paper really holds onto the pastel.

I really like the way they look, too.  I figure if someone doesn't like they way they are framed, they can have a framer redo the framing for them.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Cleaning Pastels

I am probably the messiest pastel artist out there.  There.  I've said it.  I am always rushed for time when I paint, I'm really bad about putting things back in the right place, figuring I will do it later. (I usually do organize them later.  Really, I do.)  And as a plein air artist, I'll bet my pastels get dirtier than any of you studio artists because my pastels are rubbing against each other whenever I use them.  And I use them a lot.

So I want to tell you what I know about cleaning them.

I have cleaned them in rice, in cornmeal, with a slightly damp sponge, a piece of foam, in the grass, with a rag and with a paper towel.  And I have cleaned them for years using these different methods.  However, no one way has jumped out to me as being particularly awesome until just this past week.

This is the story.

I was up at the beach painting, sitting on a cushion in the sand.  My hands had gotten dusty from the pastel and so I rubbed them in the sand to remove the bulk of the dust.  I have done that in the past.  It works in a pinch.  Then I remembered reading about cleaning pastels in sand.  I never gave it a second thought because I figured it would be too abrasive on my delicate sticks.  But as I sat there I thought I'd give it a shot.  Nothing to lose, right.?

And holy cow!  Did that sand ever clean those filthy pastels!  Cleaner than they have ever been, and so much faster than anything else I have tried.

I filled up a little dish I take with me to hold the pastels I am working with with sand and took it home to play (clean) with.  I am going to sift all of the miscellaneous flotsam and jetsam out the the sand, wash and dry it and will then give the pastels the once over.  I will report on this later.

But this is the awesome parts so far:  Excellent cleaning ability, washability (you can't wash cornmeal or rice), it's FREE and it's readily availability - at least around here it is, living on the shores of Lake Ontario.

I will conduct further experiments and will report back!  Who knows?  Maybe I'll even get my pastels cleaned.

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,