Artist Quest for Color: Return to Pastel Landscape

It all started with a purple mountain.

Day before yesterday, I saw a purple mountain on one of the oil paintings currently on my working wall.

pastel landscape
Purple Mountain (Muse I), pastel on sanded panel, 8 x 10 PURCHASE INFO>

With the purple mountain in my mind’s eye, I moved the oil painting to my easel and stopped. Instead of going for the paint brush, I walked across the studio and laid out 2 trays of pastel. I dug through the drawer and found a small sanded panel.

Stepping back, I looked across the room at the oil painting. A piece of luscious vibrant purple pigment on the palette caught my eye. I grabbed it and stroked the mountain into the gritty surface.

Artist Quest for Color Unleashed

This unleashed a cascade of color. Lavenders, yellows, golds, greens, blues and finally vermilion red rang across the paper. A chorus of voices singing in harmony, one behind the other. I hung on for dear life and let them lead me by the hand. When they quieted down, I clipped the pastel to my easel and replayed their song in oil paint.

Now I am not going to post the oil painting ~ not yet. I have been searching for something in my art. Since 2012 I have been looking for a deeper connection. A deeper, more fluent connection with my own unique voice. This connection between pastel and oil satisfies my quest.

New Approach ~ Find the Trigger

I have struggled to make my oils behave like pastels. Why? Why not speak first in my primary language, then translate.

Touching raw pigment triggers something for me. This first piece is the beginning of a new chapter. Rather than post the oil paintings now, I will hold them until I have several. In the meantime, I will use pastel to open my door. (No pun intended!)

pastel palette
Colors on my pastel palette include hand mixed pigments from Unison, Sennelier, and Diane Townsend.

PASTEL LANDSCAPE  What many may not know is that pastel was my ‘first language.’ Although I have not used pastels much in the past 20 years, I first used them in college. Through the late 70s and 80s, my pastels won me entry to national exhibitions at Pastel Society of America, Pastel Society of Canada, Virginia Museum, and numerous others. My pastels are in the permanent collections of the City University of New York, Longwood University Art Museum, and many corporate collections.

I turned my back on pastel when clients asked for oil paintings. It IS time for me to come home! No more searching. Only singing with my own unique voice!

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Autumn in Tuscany

I have been looking for something here in Tuscany. Some something indescribable ~ knowable only when it shows itself on canvas.

Autumn in Tuscany

Last week on our way home from a day of painting en plein air, I saw three golden trees against a backdrop of rich, freshly tilled earth. Late afternoon sunlight lit them against the mountain.

A triangle of trees standing on a patch of lush green in the middle of that deep lavender red earth ~ I couldn’t get them out of my mind.

Autumn in Tuscany
Terra Tuscano, oil, 16 x 20

The Dream

The following week, I woke from a dream with a vision of middle ground. The neutral earthy hue that is both warm and cool at once. And with it a realization about painting.

I have been painting from the outside ~ in. I have been painting from the extremes of the spectrum ~ to create balance in each painting ~ to balance myself.

Suddenly, I feel myself at the center, a neutral place. From this center, each brush stroke swings wider out into the spectrum of light.

Terra Tuscano

I scrubbed the warm/cool earthy violet neutral into my panel.  Thinking of my paint as if it were pure pigment of pastel, I used a palette knife to paint back into the neutral tone. First shadowing the mountain with cool blues. Then warming the earth with reds.

The earth divided into warm and cool tones itself. Cool lavenders dropping into the distance, warm reds moving closer into the foreground.

The trio of trees followed suit in the green-yellow range of the spectrum. The last strokes of paint, pure Cadmium Yellow.

The entire process flowed as readily as if I had pastel in hand.

Revelation in Brilliance

I know it sounds bizarre for someone who paints as much as I do to say this. Yet I have wished for years that my oil paintings would flow like my pastels. I had given up the notion that it was possible to do in two mediums.

Yet here it is. And I am surprised at how dark the painting is, when there is so much light coming from it. This is what I came to Tuscany to find.

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Large Scale Abstract Floral Landscape Paintings Sprout After 30 Years Dormant

Large Scale Abstract Floral Landscapes

Blooming Essence Regenerated in Mixed Media Paintings

As a young artist, I painted large scale abstract floral landscapes  What most people don’t know about me is that I created multiple panel murals ~ large scale pastels, 40 x 60 inches side by side. Installed in banks, hospitals, resorts, corporations, universities and private residences, they won me recognition early in my career.  I stopped painting them the summer I turned thirty.

I’ve been working on my book ~ my healing story, why I stopped and how I found my creative voice again. In four weeks I leave for Tuscany. The book has to be finished before I pack. My editor returned the manuscript Friday. “Not much left,” she said. “You’ll be able to finish. You just need a few more details and an ending.”

This morning I wrote the details of my first hours in France. That’s when I began to feel it . . .

The urge to paint was overwhelming.

A watercolor postcard I painted two years ago beckoned me loud and clear.

Hollyhock Series Came to Life in my Studio This Afternoon

FRANCE July 28, 2013 ~ Two years ago today

experimental watercolors
HOLLYHOCK DREAM watercolor postcard

Surrounded by blooming hollyhocks the garden at Mas d’Ariveux felt like a dream. A hideaway where a soul could forget ~ or remember herself ~ in a heart beat,

I stuck my toe in the pool.

Cool and inviting, I let myself down into the water. I swam to the deep end and floated on my back.

Clouds drenched in evening sunlight drifted in slow motion on a light Cerulian canvas. Tall hollyhocks swayed to and fro, puppet silouettes. I rested, letting Tarascon permeate my thoughts.

watercolor study
the garden at Mas d’Ariveaux

How in the world did I get here? It’s a wonder.

excerpt from Finding Joy’s Garden

When I finished writing, the copy spilled onto the next page. I moved the two watercolor postcards to a double spread of their own. That’s when I saw it ~ a large scale painting of the hollyhocks.

watercolor study
watercolor postcard study, Mas d’Arivveaux

The postcard was buried in a drawer of scraps. When I found it last week, I set it aside thinking I might put it on my nightstand. It was still in the heap of papers on my work table.

I really didn’t have time to paint. I needed to finish writing. The next thing I knew, I had cleared the cluttered table and discovered five jars of matching paint I bought at Lowe’s last week ~ exact ly the colors of the watercolor hollyhock sketch from two years ago.

large scale abstract floral
Three verdigris primed canvases from last week waited for me, as if they knew something I did not. With one positioned on the table, the other two called from behind me  ~ a series ~ not just one. A set of three in the same palette, not a triptych ~ a trio of sisters. A triptych is three images tied together, continuing a single design from one to the next. A trio of sisters would each stand on their own.
hand painted fabric
Swatches of hand painted satin I had dug out of the closet two weeks ago  clamored onto the canvas when I finished mixing the paint. Surprisingly they showed me examples of the loose brushwork and colors that were swirling in my head. I plunked them on the table and took the photos.
chalk paint
My custom chalk paint recipe calls for marble dust and a lot of stirring. I created this recipe years ago when I painted gritty textural underpainting for my large scale abstract floral pastels.
large scale abstract floral
A wide wash brush loaded with water soaked the canvas quickly. I dipped it again encouraging the blue paint to run down the canvas. Wet in wet, I let the paint be thick and thin. It would dry overnight.
large scale abstract floral
The sketch felt like coming home to my pastels ~ with a twist. It was just enough to get my hand loose, to help me remember my calligraphy, how it felt to sign my name. The block in needs to be simple, bold areas of light and dark, warm and cool. Since the watercolor was so small and detailed, I wanted a stepping stone to the bolder large scale 46 x 36 inch canvases. 
large scale abstract floral
The second block-in is warmer and deeper than the first. Verdigris paint peeks out from between the warm green leaves and pink red hollyhocks to create the zing.  This is a colorist principle: to balance warm with cool and vice versa.
large scale abstract floral
The third painting shows the cool colors dominant with the warm green as the counter balance. It is striking to note that the green on this canvas is the same as the one on the other two. On the first it appeared to be dark green, beside the light pastel colors. On the second, it appears more neutral beside the red. Yet here it seems much more yellow, especially in areas where it is thickest. This is because color is relative. How it appears to us depends on what is beside it.

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