The “Help Mark Move the Studio” saleis currently in full swing, and continues until May 5th. I’m grateful to everyone who has contacted me and made a purchase! Wow! Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’m shipping more stuff out today!
What I realized, and finally articulated a few minutes ago, is that this experience has had an impact on me in more ways than one.
1) It’s helping defray the costs of moving, and it really does help us with the whole “food and shelter” thing!
2) It’s freeing up physical space that has been holding all this inventory.
3) It’s freeing up psychological space. I feel like I’m not just accumulating more of my own artwork, but that there is ROOM for more art, even in my psyche.
4) Knowing that someone resonates with my art is deeply satisfying, and having someone choose a painting or drawing creates a connection like no other.
These are irreplaceable experiences, and I’m grateful to be having them.
Where some songs come from, I don’t know. “Ordinary Afternoon” came to me from some unknown place when I was in my mid-twenties. It almost wrote itself. Back then, I had two cassette players and I did my best to sing the parts, bouncing tracks from one machine to the other. That low quality recording was all I had of it for years.
Fast forward to 2003. My wife had encouraged me to buy a 16-track digital recording station and I was finally able to do real multi-track recording. One week, while she was on a business trip, I spent several evenings laying down the guitar, the bass and each vocal.
I’m so focused when I do music; I don’t notice the passage of time. It was after midnight when I finally made the last tweaks to the levels and EQ and mixed it down. I remember listening to the final recording in full stereo on my headphones.
Somehow, after the last chord finished, I found myself in the darkened kitchen, headphones off, leaning on the counter with tears of gratitude streaming down my face. For the first time, the sounds of this song that had rung in my head over all these years were actually out there. I’d just heard them with my own ears.
Today, I decided to paint something reminiscent of the image that, for me, has accompanied this piece whenever I hear it. I hope you enjoy the music, the words, and the painting.
I’ve been wanting to get out and explore, to paint onsite outdoors, to move my body that loves to rack up miles on foot with a pack on my back. I came up with this idea of the “10K Steps Project.” The concept is simple:
Get outside and go somewhere, anywhere, nowhere–just go.
Do something creative at some point while you’re out there.
Take at least 10,000 steps before you walk back in your door.
I’ve been at this for less than a week, and the wanderings have been memorable already! Yesterday, my wife and I found ourselves at the foot of DanFengShan (Red Phoenix Mountain) about 7,000 steps into the 10,000. The light on the hill was just beautiful, and this overhanging outcrop inspired me, so while she headed home, I plopped down right there beside the road and got out my DIY plein air gear (see the picture, above).
While I tried to capture the shifting light in pastels, a few people passed by and commented. A group of middle aged ladies came down the road and stopped to see. We bantered a little in my broken Chinese. They liked what I had painted at that stage.
One of them stooped down to the pavement, picked up this battered, encrusted Taiwanese dollar coin that was lying there and placed it on my palette cover.
I burst out laughing with delight! I made a dollar! I just got paid to do something I love!
When I was done, I picked up the coin and tucked it into one of the cracks between the pieces of Styrofoam on my palette. It fits perfectly, just a bit higher than the foam so I can see it every time I open the lid.
The universe says “yes” in so many different ways. It’s a matter of perspective. Sometimes it takes a passerby to point it out.
“Titan” – California – Pastel on MingART Premium, 8×10″/20×25 cm
“What an experience!” I said this so many times in the past week!
It was an amazing time, from the moment I received the notification that my painting “Titan” was accepted into the show to the last evening as we drifted away from the table, still enjoying each other’s company. I appreciated the graciousness and generosity of Simon and Junny, our hosts at the Ming Gallery of Art, who made us feel so welcome and honored. I thoroughly enjoyed the boundless enthusiasm and energy of the indefatigable May who facilitated the plein air event and found a place in everyone’s heart. Mingxing’s open, positive attitude allowed us to simply be ourselves, and the photos she captured of all of us are treasures to be savored like a fine banquet, complete with a delightful dessert (those are a few of Mingxing’s photos, below). To all the artists whom I met and who shared their love of art and life: I am blessed to have met you and spent time with you in Suzhou!
I am so grateful to the world of pastels for having brought together the talents and personalities of so many from around the world, and to the Ming Art Gallery for its ardent dedication to the medium. I can only imagine how daunting it was to choose these paintings from the submissions. The quality, vision and skill evident in this show speaks volumes for the medium. I appreciated the richness of the Chinese masters, in particular. It was an immersive education just to walk the gallery in wonder, observing one beautiful painting after another. This experience alone was priceless.
To the jurors and the awarding judge I give my thanks. This has been a golden moment, and I am so pleased that they resonated with the grand old oak in my “Titan” painting. Their decision and the gallery’s generosity made all this happen for me and for Ping. I am happy to have donated this painting to the gallery.
“What an experience,” indeed!
I welcome any opportunity to return to Suzhou! I look forward to all the wonderful paintings that proceed from here!
Well, I wanted to compare different pastel papers, and I was graciously given a selection of various brands for just that purpose! Take this “review “with a grain of salt, since the paintings you see here are my first attempts on each of these surfaces. This post is simply my personal experience of trying them. Only after many paintings would one be able to properly compare these brands.
Good for smearing (just go easy so as not to fill the tooth)
Mostly erasable, nice for pulling out highlights
Does not pill up or make the pastels “skate,” even after hard use
Runs out of tooth fairly quickly
Hard to cut
Inflexible, possibly brittle if used in larger sizes; might need mounting
A bit rough texture for smaller works
My personal take on Multimedia Panel:
I like the stiffness and the random texture of Multimedia Panel, and I’ve seen others do nice work on it. While it’s not as conducive to my usual style of painting in pastel, it might be a good choice if I want a brilliant white base. I like it better than the Canson water media paper I gessoed myself. I expect Multimedia Panel to be quite durable, especially when mounted to a wood panel or foamcore, but that increases weight and size for storage. Unmounted, it seems brittle and I would be concerned that it might chip or break. I’d be interested in hearing the perspective of others who use this substrate regularly.
UART 400- and 500-Grit
Initial strokes are clear and definite
Retains sharp lines
Wipes/smears very well
400-grit takes more layers
Comparable to MingART Premium
Slight laid finish on the 500-grit (could just be my sample)
Thin sheet tends to curl if not mounted
My personal take on UART:
I found UART 400-grit to be comparable to the MingART Premium paper. The 500-grit was a bit too fine for my style, as it would not take as many layers. Also, while I was able to manage the “laid” finish of the 500, I would prefer not having to do so. The warm yellowish color was not particularly suitable to my style either. I found myself working to cover every bit of it. Since I like to leave a bit of the paper showing whenever possible, I prefer a darker gray, brown, blue or green as a color foil for my landscape pastels. On the other hand, the UART easily achieved well-saturated blues which did appear greenish despite the yellow substrate. Given the ease with which UART accepted both pastel sticks and pastel pencils, I’m interested in trying UART’s new “Dark” paper.
Super-fast application of pastel pencils: just draw
Blends very well, simply keep painting
Imperfections in the paper are easily managed
Allows for sharp lines
Encourages an oil-like approach (for me, anyway!)
Decent stiffness, though it still has a tendency to curl
Surface mars easily if not stored carefully
Substrate color can show through (which can be good or bad)
My personal take on PastelMat:
My first impression of PastelMat was “wow, this is EASY!” The pencils just raced across the surface leaving a clear trail of color behind. It felt a lot more like “painting” than it sometimes does with the pastel pencils. I found myself wanted to do more oil-like blending and even impasto. However, it was not particularly conducive to iterative improvisation, turning kind of muddy after a few passes over the same area. The yellow/buff color of my particular sample is not one that I would choose again since it toned everything a bit yellow, despite multiple layers of pastels. For artists who plan ahead more than I do, PastelMat will work wonders! I’d be interested in trying some of their other colors (they have 8).
Sennelier La Carte Pastel Card
LOTS of control!
Nice “feel” to painting on it
Does not impose any texture, yet has plenty of tooth and randomness
Blends easily when desired
Usable range of available colors
Easily accepts 3 layers without making “mud”
Ridiculously durable! Takes an amazing amount of abuse and reclaiming!
Does not pill up or make the pastels “skate,” even after hard use
Very stiff, easily stored
Extra fine detail is best planned ahead
I have heard it comes apart when wet (though I have not tested this).
My personal take on La Carte:
Sennelier La Carte is now one of my go-to papers! The texture is palpable, but does not intrude on the painting at all. It doesn’t feel like any other paper, and I find the sensation of painting on it quite pleasant. Their gray and brown are excellent color foils for my kind of landscape painting. In comparison to the other papers, the La Carte is particularly suitable to my technique. I often iterate, smearing the initial colors into the surface and then wiping most of it off to make a dry underpainting. The La Carte can handle it over and over again! In fact, on one small sheet I recently did four complete paintings and wiped off every one of them, erasing down to the faintest ghost image each time. The paper was still in good enough shape to allow me to spray it with fixative and paint over it one last time! While it had lost a little tooth, the fixative restored it, and I was still able to paint on it. Unbelievable.
My Two Favorite Papers (at this moment!)
About 8 months ago, I decided to try painting again on a partial sheet of reclaimed Wallis that had been sitting around for years. I finally figured out how to paint on sanded paper. Suddenly it made sense, and I loved it! After receiving some samples of MingART (all 4 types), UART, PastelMat, Multimedia Panel and La Carte, I got a better idea of the range of papers available out there. Some thirty paintings later, I have established a clear preference.
Given my personal style, MingART Premium and Sennelier La Carte Pastel Card are my current favorites. The La Carte is stiffer than the MingART, which makes for easier storage and handling of unframed originals. The colors of both brands are eminently usable. Both papers accept a LOT of layers and allow for excellent control. While the MingART takes and holds a sharper line, the La Carte allows for remarkably subtle blending without abrading one’s fingertips. When it comes to reclamation (obliterating an image so the paper can be reused), the La Carte is king! Vigorous erasure does no damage and leaves a fainter ghost image, and the paper will take as many as four cycles before it needs fixative to restore the tooth.
Again, to be clear: my experience with sanded papers is relatively short, and I did only two small paintings on most of these surfaces. There is a wide range of pastel papers out there. Price is always an issue, and–of course–if the paper is not available in your area, it doesn’t really matter how good it is! I’m fortunate to have good sources for both the MingART and the La Carte. I expect to be painting on these two for quite some time.
(UPDATE, 3 December 2018: I have asked MingART for a new contact email for questions about availability, size, price and color. I’ll post it here as soon as I receive it!)