Baltimore Museum of Art Visits My Studio

It's funny, my studio is usually the one place I go where there are no other people. Yesterday I had forty some new faces staring at the easel I usually face alone.

It was a studio tour organized by the Baltimore Museum of Art's Prints, Drawings and Photographs Society. Led by Rena Hoisington and Ann Shafer, two of the Curators from the Museum, and my MICA colleague Trudi Ludwig Johnson, a printmaker and President of the Society, the group is focusing their program on the pastel medium this spring. They had a morning and afternoon visit to my studio where they asked me to talk about working with this delicate and sometimes marvelous material. Next Saturday, Rena Hoisington, one of the BMA Curators, will be leading a seminar at the Museum on the history of the pastel medium with examples from the Museum's collection.

As I told the group, I'm very glad there's a Museum group devoted to looking at work on paper. Too often this branch of the art world gets short shrift. In my own history, more than anything, I think working on paper has made me a more original artist than I could have managed had I limited myself only to oil on canvas. Working on paper is quicker and there is less at stake with expensive materials- as a result, artist tend to be more adventurous and playful on paper than on canvas. Sure is the case with me.

My soft pastels.

We touched on a bunch of topics. One was how different pastel is from my usual medium of oil paint. I have an array of 300 different pastel chalks to work from yet I'm constantly amazed at how many more hues are out there I wish I had in my grasp. Almost always the reds seem either too light or too warm and you keep scanning the rows of pastels in their neat little trays in hopes you've overlooked just the right stick. You don't have it. Pastel doesn't really work that way. It forces you to make do. You can layer two or three different colors on top of each other and adjust the hue somewhat. But compared to oil paint, where you can literally mix tens of thousands of variations of color, pastel is limiting.

Ironically, this is a good thing. A real trouble I fell into with oils was getting too comfortable with favorite mixtures of say yellow ochre with ultramarine blue to make a subtle mustard color. I kept reaching for that exact same combination over and over. In pastel, I'm forced to use that color's cousin. At first this seemed strange to me and a little upsetting, but is there anybody who doesn't need to get vigorously shaken up from time to time?

About 13 years ago I started using pastel in earnest for color studies in my studio. Very different chords of color resulted than what I'd been concocting in the previous decades with oil pigments. And I liked the new color sense- it was more vibrant and a little more other-worldly.

Here's some of the smaller pieces I showed the visitors. Above, are a pastel at left and at right the vine charcoal on which it was based. Below a vine charcoal and at bottom an oil on panel painted from it back in the studio.


  1. Bernadette C. WaystackJanuary 24, 2010 at 7:10 PM

    You hit the nail right on the head about the pastels re: color mixing or not,as the case is here. And it's always a surprise when I pick up what I think is the right one but when I put it to paper it looks so totally different.
    As I have mentioned previously, I am struggling with the reverse of your experience. After years of working in pastels I am trying to move to oils. It's hard because I am used to the immediacy and directness of the pastels and have to adjust to something so different. It's all what you're used to of course. But like you I felt I needed to expand my repetoire and I have to discipline myself to learn the oils. I get frustrated so often but I figure the growth is necessary and never comes easily or quick.
    P.S Do you have a set of Unison darks? It was a real breakthrough in getting strong contrasts. If you don't have any, you might like to try them. Also Terry Ludwig makes some terrific darks particularly a red violet and blue violet so dark they are almost blacks. Diane Townsend's terrages are a treat too.

  2. How awesome that you had those visitors from the Baltimore Museum of Arts. It would be really cool if the visit lead to an exhibition at the museum. Congratulations. The work looks great.

  3. Gregory,

    Thanks for your kind words. And no doubt sooner or later, something good will develop as a result of this studio visit. An art career is usually like a hare and the tortoise race, you just keep doing the best work you can and find some ways to show it to people. Eventually someone who sees your work ends up knowing someone who is a curator or runs a gallery and good things happen. Right now for example I have a show at the Clymer Museum of Art in Washington State. The Museum Director had seem my paintings in the office of an old friend (and one of my earliest collectors) who I met forty years ago.


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