Experience informs our art. What we have seen and endured is as much a part of our art as learning sketching and painting.
I have lived all over the world. I was born in France and have lived in Germany, Holland, Panama, the Caribbean, Ethiopia, and in seven American states. Before I became an Artist I travelled to the Middle East, Korea and Japan. I now live in Naples, Florida, USA.
My travels developed in me a love for the Human face in all its myriad colour and contours. People all over the world share a common humanity we seem to have forgotten. Merriment in a child’s eyes are the same in Iraq as Panama. The pain of life is etched in every line of a grandmother’s face who has known too much loss and suffering. I have seen the humiliation of a soldier who has lost everything in battle and the haunted look in the eyes of a starving child. This is my canvas. This is my art.
Art is the universal language. We can gaze on art made by Neolithic people 40,000 years ago in a cave in Southern France and immediately connect to those whose lives were unimaginably different from ours and feel a kinship. A hand pressed in ochre on a rock wall is our hand covered in pastel. We each create and stand in the light. We are one.
Every time I finish an oil painting I am drawn back to pastels. I am a stickler for quality. As a former engineer I spent years researching pigments and materials. I learned how to make paints and pastels and now demonstrate that to my many students. I now teach “Mixed Media and Pastels” and “Pastels for Everyone” at the Naples Art Center. Although, classes have been on hold during this pandemic.
Pastel art is a tactile and visual craft. A rich, dense, soft pastel is a joy to hold and use. When I started, I didn’t know much about the quality of different brands. It was an experience of hit and miss. I now let my students use my pastels so they can see and feel the difference between a student and artist grade pastel. I tell them there is no better soft pastel in the world than Unison Colour Soft Pastels. Like your own art, it is something created with loving hands and not by a machine. Love is an essential ingredient to art great and small.
A superior soft pastel like Unison has characteristics not found in many other pastels. First, you’re dealing with a pastel that is comprised of pure pigment and binder with a minimum amount of filler. Many other pastels are cheaper because they use less pigment and more fillers and binder. Fillers are typically talc in cheaper pastels and chalk or kaolin in better pastels although, transparent titanium oxide and lithopone are also used. The best pastels use gum tragacanth or gum arabic as a binder. The actual composition of pastels is a closely guarded trade secret.
When you swipe a superior quality soft pastel like Unison across your textured paper it lays down in dense, rich lines. It flows from the stick like sumi ink from a brush. Run your finger through the line and pigment spreads as fine powder. The finely ground pigment embraces the paper in a tight bond.
The lack of the extensive use of fillers has an added benefit, ease of erasure. Using an eraser made specifically for pastels, such as the General’s FACTIS Black 18, pastel can be picked up easily. This can be a fun tool for exposing previous passages of pastel colour or simply changing your mind.
Highly pigmented pastels also lend themselves to being used as a powder or applied using a sponge or make-up applicator. This achieves a soft, transparent passages of colour.
In future blogs I will explore more on using Unison soft pastels with other mediums, techniques for layering, the history of pastels, and safely using pastels and fixatives.
This time of isolation and social distancing can be a blessing. It lets you focus on your creative impulses without outside distractions. Art is the best therapy!