Happy Accidents?

Several years ago, 2012 to be precise, my pastel painting took a side road off the path I had been following for a long time.

We’ve all been there I think (we pastellists that is). A piece that went sideways because of various reasons: too many layers of pastel, the sinking realization the composition wasn’t interesting, too much detail, too little detail, yadda yadda yadda.

The subject of the piece I’m referring to was a row of silhouetted trees in the Rocky Mountains. It was a bit large for me at the time, perhaps 12”x 24”. Created on the now extinct sanded Wallis paper (still miss it!) I sort of lost it in the contrast of the light sky against the dark trees. Irretrievable, or so I thought.

Being thrifty with my paper, I elected to remove the image from the sanded surface and forget the whole thing. I had an air duster (compressed air in a can for cleaning your computer keyboard) and proceeded to blast the pastel off the paper.

I was not successful in removing much of the pastel. In fact some of the liquid propellant in the can dripped on to the surface, fusing the pastel even more in blotchy patches. Fed up with it, I put the paper aside (it was mounted on foam core backing btw).

Skip to a couple weeks later when an artist friend was by for a visit in my apartment. He spotted the reject pastel leaning against the side of my fireplace. A sculptor himself and fond of rust and other patinas on his own work, he became excited about the piece. It had mostly disappeared, but there was the splotchy sky and the scrawl of the trees remaining.

It took some convincing. I had a strong idea what made a pastel painting successful, and something that looked like someone tried to remove it was not part of my modus operandi. However, after a while I did see something worth salvaging after all. The sort of milky sky, slightly translucent, took on a new light. And then I started to like the brevity of the marks that made up the trees (they just needed a bit of love, as Linus famously declared about the famous “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree”).

Cut to some months later at a solo exhibition of my pastels, and that very piece made it into the local paper, with my smiling mug next to it.

I now routinely employ the compressed air and drip the propellant freely onto the surface on occasion to intriguing patterns that fascinate me and it adds a dimension to the painting aspect of pastel work – put a little down, take a little away.

Lessons learned? Almost all work is salvageable, seek other opinions on your work with an open mind, and there just may be something out there that might become your favourite art making tool.

Pond Life patel painting, by David Shkolny.
Pond Life, by David Shkolny

I’m including a photo of a more recent piece in which I used the “compressed air” technique extensively (I need to come up with a better way to describe it!) as well as a video showing detail.

Video link:


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9 Responses

  1. Потрясающая техника! Уникальная! Не было бы счастья, да несчастье помогло! Работы выглядят так живописно! Круто! Деревья это то, что у меня не получается изобразить. Наш руководитель студии говорит нам, что если не получается что-то, то значит это надо полюбить! Надо душу вложить в картину, это и просто и сложно одновременно. Безграничная благодарность Юнисон за знакомство с новыми художниками и их произведениями искусства!

  2. Great showing the beautiful textures and contrasting luminosity of dry unadulterated pigment on top. Truly a happy accident. Beautiful.
    If a pastel is really going the wrong way, in my case usually claggy with too much pastel, I get fed up take it outside, make sure wind in right direction and then get going with bristle paint brush. Pastelmat surface seems forgiving!

  3. You’ve inspired me to go through my stacks of older work, look for paintings that would be improved with drastic measures. I might try adding some pastel primer thinned down and dripped across the surface, maybe brushed on, too. Then with a ghost image and a bumpy rough surface add some pastel and see what happens. For a control freak like me this might open a whole new world! Thank you so much for your article!

  4. Oh boy, that’s right up my street David! Love the textures and ‘patinas’ created!! Not sure I have what you have but I have some spray paints stashed away somewhere so you’ve inspired me to dig them out – will do some sort of ‘blow away’ and ‘drip paint’ kind of thing – many thanks!!!

    1. Thanks Andrew! I’m glad it strikes a chord with you. Look forward to seeing your “accidents” 🙂

  5. Thanks for hi-lighting David Shkolny as he is one of my favourite pastel artists. Even his happy accidents are spectacular.

  6. Beautiful! What a way to resurrect a piece. I’d neve guess, looking at it, that it was a discarded painting that was re-worked! I’m a beginner pastellist, and always struggle with working on good sanded paper (am I just wasting it?) versus using an inexpensive paper, that wouldn’t stand up to removal techniques, but feels safer if I fail. This gives me a bit of confidence that I can possibly recover a bad painting, if I use a good base.

    I laughed when I read about your friend seeing the painting. I had a piece of sanded paper that I’d used to test my first set of Unisons on, and then used alcohol on as I’d not tried that technique. It was just blobs of color that I moved around the paper. My best friend saw the scrap, and said, “OH! I love it! Are you doing finish work, or leaving it as an abstract?” Lovely when another artist friend can bring out the potential in one of our pieces, when we don’t see it ourselves.

  7. Loved your commentary on your work. You just never know what will work and a fresh set of eyes to view one’s work is always enlightening.

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