Interview with an Associate Artist: Rebecca de Mendonça

In today’s “Interview with an Associate Artist” we’ll be chatting to Rebecca de Mendonça.  Rebecca has enjoyed a varied career in the arts.  She is an Associate member of the Society of Equestrian Artists and has exhibited in the Mall Galleries, London.  She is a published author in her own right, with her book Pastels for the Absolute Beginner, and also writes articles for Leisure Painter Magazine and the Society for All Artists. Rebecca runs workshops and courses online and in person. 

Interview with an Associate Artist: Rebecca de Mendonça 1
Rebecca de Mendonça

Steve: Rebecca, thank you for taking the time for today’s interview, could you tell us a little about your journey into the art world and how you found pastels?

Rebecca: I was lucky to be born into an artistic family. My mother was an art teacher, my father a highly creative architect and my older brother did a degree in Fine Art. I grew up in a house that was filled with art and craft projects (that rarely got finished) and conversations about the modern artists of the day.

I trained as a theatre designer, as a means to get a job in the arts when I left college. I think that my love of atmosphere and dramatic light developed during that time.

I found pastels after quite a frustrating time. I naturally draw rather than paint, so after years of failing to get the results that I wanted using a brush, I saw my brother using Conte crayons, and had a go with them. It was a natural step to pastels, and ‘drawing with colour’.

I discovered Unison Colour pastels in the 1980s thanks to Lionel Aggett’s book, ‘Capturing the Light in Pastel’ and I also realised then the power of a book as a way to learn, and dreamed of writing one myself one day.

Steve: You are particularly known in pastel for your stunning portraiture including horses and your atmospheric landscapes, what is it about these genres that attract you?  As an artist does your work have a message for the world or is there something you particularly want to achieve through art?

Rebecca: I draw and paint what is close to me, so my subject matter has changed over the years. For a long time I was fascinated by people, but now that I live in rural Devon, I am surrounded by dramatic landscapes, and have access to the long-term love of my life; horses!

I respond to the energy and spirit of my subjects, and try to convey that in my work.

As for a message, I just want to share my love of beauty, whether it be represented in form or light.

I hope that my paintings bring people some joy and maybe trigger a positive emotional response in them too. We all need reminding of the beauty in the World, especially at the moment!

Interview with an Associate Artist: Rebecca de Mendonça 2
‘Evening on the Moor’. Unison pastel on Colourfix primer

Steve: Is there a particular project that you are working on at the moment or have planned?

Rebecca: I went to the Camargue area of France a few months ago, to gather reference of the iconic horses galloping through water, and I am currently working on a series of large paintings capturing the energy and movement of these amazing horses. I nearly always paint from my own photos, as that is the only way that I can channel the incredible energy of my subjects.

You can see some of them on my website, but the largest ones are still in progress!

Sea Horses at Dawn pastel painting depicting a group of horses galloping along a beach in golden sunlight.
‘Sea Horses at Dawn’ in the Camargue

Steve: How has your style changed in any way as you’ve developed as an artist, and do you see your work going in any particular direction in the near future?

Rebecca: I am not sure that my style has changed much, but my subject matter has. When my children were small, I used to paint them all of the time! When I worked in theatre, I painted actors and dancers.

Interview with an Associate Artist: Rebecca de Mendonça 3
’Playing for Pennies’. Unison pastel and Conte crayon on sandpaper

Steve: What is your greatest artistic triumph / achievement?

Rebecca: I achieved a life time ambition when my book was published.

However, after years of hard work, I have had a few other highlights, including exhibiting at the Mall Galleries in London with the Pastel Society.

Winning an award this year at the Society of Equestrian Artists Annual Exhibition made me very proud, as did being commissioned to paint an Olympian, the eventing horse Ballaghmor Class.

I should say that working with Unison Colour is very high on the list too!

Interview with an Associate Artist: Rebecca de Mendonça 4
Commission of the Olympian eventing horse, Ballaghmor Class

Steve: Which other artists do you particularly admire and what is it about their work you are drawn to?

Rebecca: From the past; Caravaggio for his drama and lighting (but not his life style!) and Rembrandt for his lighting and because he captured the very essence of someone’s character. I also love the colour work of my friend and colleague Nel Whatmore, who uses pastels in a very different way to me. We run The New Pastel School together, combining our varied approaches to the media, and always inspiring each other.

Steve: Why Unison Colour pastels?  Do you have a particular favourite from the range?

Rebecca: Unison Colour pastels are for me the perfect blend of colour intensity, ‘feel’ in my hand, and durability. I love the additional grey/purples such as Additional 31, 32, 33 and the freshness of Blue Green 3. If ever there was a blue that has sunshine in it, it’s that one. Every single painting I ever do has some Grey 27 in it, such a creamy cream, it’s just yummy…. I could go on all day…….

Steve: What is it like being a Unison Colour Associate Artist?

Rebecca: Exciting, fun, inspiring!

I have to say that I am thrilled to be working as an Associate Artist with Unison Colour, as these pastels have been with me all through my artistic journey, constantly giving me pleasure and inspiration. To be able to share that passion and inspire other people is a great privilege.

I absolutely love giving tuition online, and also putting together colour sets, which you can see on my website. I have just put my favourite moorland colours together in a mini ‘Wild Landscape’ set.

Interview with an Associate Artist: Rebecca de Mendonça 5
Sketches using 2 of the pastel sets we have put together

Steve: If you were to offer one tip and one thing to avoid for a beginner to pastels, what would they be?

Rebecca: Keep your pastels clean, to keep those beautiful colours alive. I just use soft tissue or cloth.

Avoid working on white paper, it makes everything SO much more difficult.

Steve: Are there any tools or particular pieces of equipment that you use with your pastels that you wouldn’t want to be without?

Rebecca: I make little scrapers, or ‘refreshers’ out of thin plastic waste, (such as packaging). I cut them out with a knife and a straight edge, and then I can drag them across my work, to scrape off excess pastel dust, and refresh the surface. This means that I build up many layers without my surface becoming overworked and clogged up with pastel.

Interview with an Associate Artist: Rebecca de Mendonça 6
Scraping off excess pastel to refresh the surface and work lights over darks

Steve: Which papers do you prefer working on and why?

Rebecca: Art Spectrum Colourfix Primer if I am working in my studio.

I can paint it onto mount card to create a lively underpainting, and it has a great surface for building layers. It is textured but not too rough. You can use water on it, and push the pastel around to create movement.

It gives me great freedom and is forgiving (meaning I can erase areas with a pencil eraser)

If I am travelling or going out sketching, I use Canson Mi Tientes paper.

Interview with an Associate Artist: Rebecca de Mendonça 7
‘A Walk on the Tor’.
You can see where I have left the loosely painted primer showing in some parts of the painting.

Steve: Do you think that social media adds to or detracts from the world of art?  Same question but linked to the development of an artist?

Rebecca: Social media is a great source of inspiration to me. I love seeing breath-taking work from artists all over the world, and being able to communicate with them.

However, I am very aware that it can affect my mood, so have to be careful if I am feeling unconfident or low, as then I can start to compare my own art to that which I am looking at. I have to remind myself that we are all on a journey, and that we all have good days and bad days. There is a danger of thinking that everyone else out there is having a fabulous time, being highly successful. Maybe we all need to be a little bit more truthful! (It can’t be just me that has days when nothing is working?)

Steve: Do you enter competitions and curated shows – if so, are there any tips you can share in getting your work accepted – If you don’t enter, why don’t you do this?

Rebecca: Yes I do, but this can lead to exciting highs, and also the sad lows that come after rejections. Nobody likes to be rejected, and as artists I think we are all rather sensitive (it comes with the territory). I get more work rejected than accepted, and there seems to be no pattern whatsoever in why this is.

I am told that entering more unusual work, often with unusual compositions can help. I am also told that work can be rejected for multiple reasons, rather than just that it lacks the sufficient skill to be accepted. So, for example, in a mixed show, they might already have enough of that type of landscape or seascape. Curators are looking at the show as a whole, so will pick to create a balanced exhibition.

Hence the advantage of entering something a bit different!

Steve: We’re going to finish by having an in-depth look at one of your pieces.  The piece you’ve chosen is ‘Swish and Flick’.   – Please talk us through it.

Rebecca: ‘Swish and Flick’ Approx size 50 x 70cm

For this piece I used a limited palette of Unison Colour pastel and charcoal. The surface was a sheet of mount card, which I primed with 3 coats of red acrylic paint, and then a layer of clear Colourfix primer made by Art Spectrum. This clear primer is great for turning any surface into a textured one suitable for pastel work.

I used this colour as I thought it would look great with the lightness of the horse, and to create some drama as he is a beautiful Arabian.

I had already done this piece before, in a landscape format, but decided to try it again in portrait format to see how that looked.

For reference I used photographs that I had taken of my neighbour’s horse Comet, when he was in our field next to my studio on an early sunny morning. I wanted to capture the movement and the sunlight shining through his mane and tail.

The colours of pastel used were mostly Grey 27 (the creamy cream), and Additional 31, 32 and 33. I also used some other greys, and willow charcoal for its soft, earthy, natural quality.

The hardest part was just hinting at his head and face, when it was at such an awkward angle to draw. I just tried to pick out the bone structure.

It was great fun to paint!

Interview with an Associate Artist: Rebecca de Mendonça 8
‘Swish and Flick’

Steve: Rebecca, thank you so much for the insight into your work and into you as an artist, as well as the invaluable tips.  For those who wish to see more of your work, where can you be found?

Rebecca: There is lots to see on my website, and on my social media, including information about a series of zoom pastel workshops I am doing each month.


Instagram;  @rebeccademendonca.artist


An Interview With The Interviewer

Today we are turning the tables, and talking to Stephen Fuller, an Associate Artist both known for his atmospheric and dramatic landscapes, and his in depth interviews of other Associate Artists.

Equestrian Artists and their use of Soft Pastels

This year, Unison Colour have sponsored the ‘Best Pastel Award’ at the Society of Equestrian Artists ‘Horse in Art Exhibition’, with the lucky prize winner receiving an Emma Colbert Animal Set as their prize.

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