When Pastels Equal Freedom

I spent my childhood drawing cartoons, but never really imagined I could do much more artistically. I chose music classes over art and chose environmental education over music when it came time to choose a career. Sometimes, life has other plans for us and we have to learn to either go with the flow or fight against it our entire lives. I chose to go with the flow.
I’ve had lupus symptoms since I was around 12 years old and was diagnosed in my early 20s. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that allows the immune system to mistakenly attack nearly any organ system in the body. This disease has shaped so much of my life — sometimes in disappointing ways and sometimes in great ways. Around 7 years ago, lupus forced me to
stop working a traditional job. After the time required for hospital treatments and rest, I had absolutely no energy left. My body was exhausted and needed time to recover.

Laika, by Kit Gray.
Laika, by Kit Gray

A few years ago, my mom gave me some art supplies for the holidays and I happily jumped into learning how to be an artist and hopefully learning to become a better artist over time. When the opportunity arose to start creating pet portraits, I jumped at the chance to work part-time from my home. I could have the flexibility to control my schedule while doing something I enjoy! As I entered the art world (a world I had never truly been part of before), I found myself becoming more curious about things I had never tried before. Because I had never taken art classes, I had only been exposed to the media I was given throughout my childhood… which was basically graphite and colored pencils. I started finding inspiration online — the colors were vibrant and the textures just couldn’t be reproduced by a pencil. I decided to give in and see if pastels could be right for me.

Poppy in Pastel, by Kit Gray.

It’s been about 3 years since I began using pastels and I can’t imagine going without them anymore. I use pastels in all aspects of my artistic life, from wildlife to botanicals to pets. Pastels are faster (which equals freedom when energy is limited!) and they give me better softness and vibrancy than anything else. There is this quality I can’t really describe — something that when seeing a pastel portrait in person, just makes you want to reach out and touch the fur or feathers — and I’m not sure I’ve felt that way about any other medium before. No matter how much I might jump around to satisfy my urge to try new things or simply have a change, pastel is the medium I will continue to come back to. I never anticipated that lupus might help bring me to my artistic “home,” but I am certainly thankful to have found the medium that speaks to me so much.

Pastel painting of a bird, by Kir Gray.

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9 Responses

  1. What beautiful work Kit! I took up painting with Unison pastels during lockdown and love painting animals but it’s early days and I can only aspire to be as good as you! Your portrait of Laika is stunning and the colours you have achieved on the flower are amazing!

  2. A joy to view your work, Kit. The portrait of Laika is beautifully executed, and so is the flower: very subtle colour selection. Thank you for sharing your experience here. My prime interest is landscape, and I’m also an avid Unison fan. Wishing you a happy continuation with your work,
    Peter

  3. Hi Kit
    I started Unison this year I got my first Botanical set & I absolutely love them
    Your work it so beautiful I only hope I can do my Unisons justice
    And I would absolutely love to be professional one day

  4. Hi kit,l too found my artistic side later in life.when l found Pastels it opened up a world of vibrancy.About 8 year’s ago lvisited Unison’s in North Yorkshire,l was blown away by all the colour,s and intrigued with all the processor s,Well worth a visit if you ever come to England.

  5. Beautiful work, Kit. I have discovered pastel painting through Sandra Orme. She recommended Unison pastels and I have been adding to my pastel palette with their materials during the last 9 months. Pastel is now my medium of choice. I have not tried portraits- animal or human- yet so will have to give that a go.

  6. Hello Kit! I can relate to being free with pastels. As a young person in high school pastels were my love. Then after many years of being away from the arts, I began taking classes in oil and colored pencil. For a while I was fine and then I realized that I just wasn’t happy without using my pastels. I dug the pastels out of storage as well as some very old paintings and I knew I had to get back to my pastels. That was 20 yrs ago and I have never looked back. I teach colored pencil and drawing at a local college and it gets a bit difficult since I am not working in colored pencil. You do beautiful paintings. And FYI I have Rheumatoid Arthritis, which can make life a bit difficult.

  7. Beautiful work Kit! I always have a lot of admiration for people like yourself who, despite the setbacks with their health, can and want to devote themselves to making such beautiful art. Kind regards

  8. Beautiful work, it is one of the wonderful things about life that there are opportunities in every unplanned scenario. You have found your talents and thank you for sharing.

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It is early days for my pastel art journey. I consider myself a complete novice when it comes to working with pastels, especially soft pastel, there´s so much to learn but I´m really looking forward to it.

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