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Never Give Up

31st March, 2020
By Neva Rossi Smoll

I started painting again back in about 2008. I say “again,” because I used to paint way back in 1972-74. Then I stopped. Why did I stop? Because I got married and well – life. But in 2008 my boys were grown and on their own. I wanted to be a watercolorist, so I took lessons every Saturday morning at our local Art Center. I joined the watercolor society, was active, participated in shows, took workshops, won some awards. But I had more failed watercolor paintings than I did successful paintings. Or what I deemed successful in my own self-critical eye. I looked at my failures and was discouraged. I looked at those I considered somewhat successful and realized that to me, my watercolors were always only “somewhat” successful. It took me about 4 years to realize this. I’m not one to give up.

I have been a fan of Degas’ work since I was in elementary school and participated in the Picture Memory competitions. Remember those? They give you these flash cards with a famous painting on it and you are required to memorize the title and the artist. Then they test you on it. I was very good at this. I’m sure there must have been more to it than that, but elementary school was a very long time ago and this is about all I remember about it. Anyway. Degas’ pastels are so wonderfully expressive and alive and sometimes raw and I decided I wanted to see what I could do with pastel sticks. I took another workshop at the Art Center, and while I did not produce any masterpieces, I learned a lot about the medium, the supports and got my hands dirty. I jumped in head-first and did not look back.

I got my first set of Unison Colour Pastels after I attended an Albert Handell Mentoring workshop in Santa Fe a few years ago. I already had a few scattered pieces of Unison, but at his workshop, I saw the big Handell Landscape set and I took a photo of it, copied down all the colors I did not have and promptly ordered them to complete my bigger landscape set. Which is interesting in a way, because during that workshop, which was a plein air landscape workshop, Albert told me to stay away from landscapes and distance because I didn’t know what to do with them. All of us who know Albert can relate to this remark. He is honest. Sometimes brutally. But it did not hurt my feelings. First of all because I was there to get his honest opinion. Secondly, because I already knew I didn’t know what to do with the landscape. That was why I was there, after all. And like I said, I’m not one to give up. Albert did have more encouraging advice for me, though. During the portfolio review session of this workshop, he saw my portrait and figurative work. I saw him smile and he said, “Well, this is why! You are a portrait artist!” I had never considered myself a portrait artist. In fact, portraits and figures intimidated the heck out of me. But Albert saw something there, and so I started to see something there as well. I started to concentrate on the figure and the face, and things took off for me.

I have already expounded in a previous Unison Blog on the fine qualities of the Unison Colour 36 portrait set. But let me say it again – “these colors are luscious!” Here are some of my latest pieces working with this set and with other colors in my palette.

Icon I
Icon II
Ava in Apricot
Red Scarf

By the way, I still have those early pastel landscape paintings. They are in my box of supplies that I take to workshops when I teach beginning pastels. They have become a very handy tool. I show them to my students about half-way through a workshop, when they may be getting a little frustrated and too self-critical. I think it is important to point out that everyone starts somewhere. You must keep at it, and practice and never give up. You can’t just skip ahead to the part where you’re awesome.

By the way – I still use watercolor, but as an underpainting for my pastel work. Through the Vineyard is an example.

Beginning Landscape I
Beginning Landscape II
Recently completed landscape: Through the Vineyard
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2 Responses

  1. Love this post and the vineyard one has really inspired me for once I can get a delivery of canvases and unison pastels again!

  2. Thanks for sharing that story, made me smile. I’ve given up watercolor to try again with pastels after a very long break. You’re right, never give up, and I don’t …..

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