November 25

Stylistic Concerns: On Realism

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Stylistic Concerns: On Realism

Yesterday I spoke a bit about the limitations of medium in producing realism. I referred to stained glass in that case, but today I'd like to talk about realism in pastel painting.

I have been working with graphite and charcoal in a realistic style for years. I've heard people call it high realism, photo-realism, and hyper-realism, which sounds really cool--like the hyperloop--but a little over-the-top for a drawing done with a burnt stick. And I'm not going to go into the debate over whether realism is a "valid" style. It's been done for centuries, and I honestly don't believe that the invention of the camera disqualified painters and draftsmen from working in realism.

My concern is whether I want to be as realistic when working with pastels as I have been with charcoal. I've seen some exquisite realistic pastel portraiture lately, and I admit it's very tempting to continue in that style. But there's nothing like changing mediums to get your mind loosened up to the idea of trying a different style as well.

There are a few considerations. The first is what clients want. A friend of mine, who has painted portraits in oils full-time for decades, has noticed that as her clients become younger (think Millennials), they tend to want artwork that is less traditional. Secondly, while soft pastels, particularly pastel pencils, can be controlled for a highly realistic result, there is also the opportunity to use a looser, more painterly style, leaving the marks unblended. And then there is the time factor. High realism is very time-consuming, and if that's not what people are looking for anyway, why spend 50 hours meticulously painting every hair and feather?

Unless that's what you want to do. And there are people doing it with spectacular results that their fans adore. The question is, do I? So the next challenge I'm giving myself is to do a series of smaller pieces in a more simplified style. The worst that could happen is I learn something, and that's never a bad thing.

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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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