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.
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.