November 24

My Journey into Soft Pastel Painting

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My Journey into Soft Pastel Painting

While painting today, I listened to a podcast that discussed the fact that Greco-Roman sculptures were often painted. I had forgotten this, but I remember it being alluded to years ago in art school. Because the art restorers inadvertently (or not) removed the paint when cleaning the sculptures, our relatively modern sensibilities can only think of them one way: the color of white marble.

 I have had a complicated relationship with color. I started out in college as a fabric designer, so I obviously dealt with color. Color in fabric, particularly dyeing, is very unpredictable. By the time I graduated, I was working full-time as a stained glass artisan. Color in windows is unyielding. It's not unlike creating a quilt with colored fabric. If you're really lucky, you get to use hand-made, multi-colored glasses, but you're still at the mercy of whatever color combinations are immortalized in that unique sheet of glass.

Oddly enough, I ended up spending several years working almost exclusively with charcoal, creating grayscale drawings. Drawing enabled me to do the highly detailed, representational work I had missed while working in stained glass, which is very limiting in that regard. Attempting to recreate birds, flowers, landscapes, etc. in stained glass is a lot harder than it looks, with what I always felt were questionable results. It always seemed much easier to just abstract things than fight for realism.

 Many different factors affected my move to soft pastels. The first was just scale. Pastels are physically bigger than charcoal pencils, so I reckoned I could create larger pieces without huge areas of, well, black or gray. Secondly, I felt my art would be more marketable if I could offer color pieces. Who would want a black-and-white drawing of a coral reef or fall landscape? Relatedly, I just wanted to change things up and expand my subject matter and execution. And lastly, I wanted a medium that was similar (dry) to the charcoal I had worked with and enjoyed for several years.

I still love the classic quality of charcoal. I appreciate how relatively easy it is to achieve detailed realism, which tends to be my particular cup of tea. But I'm enjoying the challenge not only of adding color, but also being able to choose and control it, qualities I wasn't really able to do with stained glass and dyeing, respectively.

Lastly, diving into soft pastels has really forced me to think harder about style, subject matter, and quality of mark. I could go on an on, but I'll save more for another day. Suffice it to say I've found that soft pastel painting has a lot to offer, and I'm so looking forward to developing my portfolio.

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About the Author

Amy Watts is a craftsman/artist who obviously can't make up her mind about her favorite pursuit: stained glass, drawing, web design, filming, sewing, weaving... So she decided to do them all. She enjoys creating every day through commission work, teaching or just for fun. After all, someone has to use up all that spare yarn and glass. You can read her full bio in "About Us" above.

Amy Watts

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