“The Face of Change”

“The Face of Change” – Huangshan National Park, China
Various soft pastels on Fabriano “Elle Erre” – 10×8″
Another day ends. Though they appear eternal, these stones also speak of impermanence. Beauty endures in the face of change.

Huangshan National Park is a wonder. We spent some time there a few years ago, hiking the extensive trail system. Since we were there overnight, we had the chance to see the sun set in one of the most famed canyons. I have dozens of images from this place, and I’ve been looking forward to painting them, only to move on to other scenes time and again.

I painted this one on Fabriano’s “Elle Erre” cardstock, a reddish violet color. After the initial block-in was smeared, some of the paper color still showed, so it set the tone for the painting. The block-in was done with my back to my laptop which displayed reference photo across the room from my painting board. I had to turn 180 degrees to see it. I find that this forces me to pay attention to the big shapes and keeps me from getting too enamored with the details. After the first session was done, I still wanted to define those amazing crags. I transferred the painting to my smaller drawing board and sat in front of my computer with the board in my lap, using pastel pencils.

In the third session, I put the painting back up on the larger, stand-up setup and finished it with pastel sticks again. I tweaked some of the rocks, found a nice blue that helped me set the depth a bit better, defined the foreground just enough, and called it good.

Art in Remembrance

I had seen him before the weekend, but by my next shift, I found out that one of my coworkers was gone. Jim had experienced a sudden medical emergency. He didn’t make it out of surgery. It was just supposed to be his day off. He wouldn’t be coming back.

Deeply sad, our crew came up with the idea of signing a picture a coworker had taken of Jim with his beloved Newfoundland, Reid, and giving it to his wife, Jackie. I volunteered to do a drawing of the photo, if that suited everyone. It did. Ken, our store Captain, told me to take whatever time I needed; the store would cover it.

Jim was hired a few months before I was, and I’d come to know him a bit during the year we worked together. We shared several things in common. We were two of the four oldest members of the crew at the time. We’d both lived in Illinois, and my wife and I had lived within walking distance of the neighborhood in Taipei where Jim and his wife Jackie had spent a couple of years. We shared a sense of humor and an interest in gathering different perspectives while seeking the truth. One thing we did not have in common was a balding pate: he had way more hair, wonderfully white.

He lived not far from here. We used to greet him as he walked his gentle bear of a dog down the bike path behind our house, or on the sidewalk in front of it. You couldn’t miss the big guy with the big black dog, and we always enjoyed seeing him. In fact, not long ago, he and Reid happened to pass by while our sons were over for dinner (in the open garage, since we’re properly “social distancing”). That was the last time we saw him.

Jackie is a lovely woman. Jim talked about her with great fondness. I didn’t meet her until shortly after he was gone. While I drew his portrait, I kept her in my heart, thinking about how this was the man she had loved for so many years. I wanted to portray not just his physical appearance but the solid, firmly grounded yet vital energy he carried with him. Halfway into working on the study, I realized that this was to be the final version. It felt right. It felt alive.

The crew signed the wide mat around the drawing, many addressing their heartfelt comments to Jim directly. Ken and I delivered it yesterday. That big Newfoundland came out to welcome us when Jackie opened the door, and then settled in comfortably at our feet as we stood in the living room. I removed the protective cardboard sheet and handed the framed portrait to Jackie.

Quiet tears ran down her cheeks.

“That’s him,” she said.

Jim and Reid, August, 2020 – Graphite on paper, 6.5×10″

High Mountain Drama

I always enjoy the high mountains. Something about altitude just works for me. It might have something to do with having grown up in the Ecuadorian Andes, shuffling between towns at 7,000, 9,000 and 10,600 feet. Whatever the reason, I feel the mountains calling me all the time.

I’ve been fortunate to hang out with these huge peaks in several countries. Painting them brings me back. Here are three recent paintings of views I’ve enjoyed over the years, all done in soft pastels on Strathmore Artagain charcoal black paper.

“This Rarefied Air” – Khan Tengri Peak, China – Soft Pastel on Strathmore, 8×10″/20x25cm
“Take Heart” – China – Soft Pastel on Strathmore, 8×10″/20x25cm
“Goodnight, Joseph” – Wallowa Mts., Oregon – Soft Pastel on Strathmore, 8×10″/20x25cm

Back in the U.S. of A.

“Trying Again” – Soft pastel on UART 240, 7×5″ – Available

Thanks to so many who helped us get here, my wife and I are back in the Pacific Northwest. We landed on Monday, and by Wednesday, we were out in the woods. It’s not hard to get to a forest around here. Many of the parks are so densely wooded you hardly know you’re near a town. Noble Park is new to us, so we have some nice exploring to do close to where we live. This scene was just a short walk from the parking lot via one of several trails.

I started the painting onsite. About 45 minutes into the session, it started to do that Oregon drizzle thing, so I quickly packed up the pastels and we headed back. (Only after I was mostly packed did I see the owl perched about 15 feet over my head, graciously refraining from anointing/bombing me down below!) A few hours later, I sat outside the place we’re staying and painted for another half hour…until it started raining for real. I finished painting in the dining room.

What a delight to be out in the cool woods once again! I love it.

If your art group would like a demo, contact me at markivancole@gmail.com and we’ll arrange it! Workshops are also available. Let me know!

New Workshop: Mystery and Discovery – Emotional Landscapes

Bring out the mystery in your pastel paintings

Introducing a new workshop focusing on using light, shadow and atmosphere in pastels.

I’ve spent the last several decades exploring some of the most mysterious places on the planet. These experiences have influenced my painting techniques as I’ve worked to capture and communicate the emotional impact of moving through these amazing landscapes, watching the weather unfold, coming around the corner to a view that takes one’s breath away.

In this 3-day workshop, we’ll discuss how to approach a new painting, what gives us that emotional pull to put color on the surface, and how we can communicate that to the viewer.

I’ll demonstrate how I go about it, and we’ll practice different techniques that probe the magic inherent in the landscape. The process itself is a combination of mystery and discovery.

By the end of the workshop, you’ll have at least one completed painting, and the beginnings of more.

Email me at markivancole@gmail.com to schedule this workshop for your group!

OPTIONS: This workshop can also be customized as a 1-day or 2-day event. Email me for details!

The Impact of Sales

SOLD – “Dawn Arrives Slowly” – Yading, China – 10×5″/25.4×12.7 cm

The “Help Mark Move the Studio” sale is 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.

Is MingART Paper Acid-Free?

Many of my recent paintings have been done on MingART paper from China. They have several different surfaces–all of which are great for different pastel techniques.

You can read about my experience with all the different grades of MingART here.

The question arose recently as to whether or not these were acid-free and non-toxic. The marketing materials for the paper currently do not specify the answer.

The short answer is YES: MingART papers are acid-free and non-toxic.

The email I received from the company today included a complete report showing that MingART papers were certified in 2017, having passed the ASTM D-4236 and TRA tests.

Painting on MingART Standard Gray in Suzhou, China – 2018

2019 Moving Sale! Original Artwork at Special Prices

Well, it’s time to move the studio, so here goes….!

Whew! This sale is over. Thanks so much to all of you who made it a smashing success!! Much appreciated!

Then I’ve got to start packing for real!!

This includes my pastels, acrylics, pen & ink, and graphite works. Check out the galleries to see full-size images (links below)!

To order, email me at markivancole@gmail.com or message me on Facebook and let me know the title(s) of the painting(s) you want!

Links to the galleries:

Pen & Ink
“Treasures” (steampunkish stuff!)
The Watchers

“Ordinary Afternoon”

“Ordinary Afternoon” – Soft pastel on MingART, 9×12 cm

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.

Who knows where these things come from…


I made a dollar yesterday, just by being myself.

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.

That’s it.

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.