About “Mood”

About “Mood”


Oil painting by Terry Allen Jones, used by permission

A painting that artist Terry Allen Jones posted on Facebook (above) sparked a discussion on “mood” that made me think. I had mentioned that I loved the juicy paint, and that I’d found the mood interesting. Terry thanked me and followed up by saying: “Mood is hardest, don’t you think?”

Hmm, I thought: yes, it can be. Then he said the following:

“It isn’t something I try to do, do you? If it’s there it doesn’t come out on purpose. Right? I’m thinking of Don [Gardi]’s pastels.”

That really got me thinking.

Abstract paintings by artists such as Don Gardi, Pirkko Mäkelä-Haapalinna, Casey Klahn, William Wray, Laura Pollak and Arlene G. Richman–among others–are delightful puzzles to me. I marvel at the artist’s ability to evoke emotions with shape/color/line/value that may or may not have any direct correlation to actual objects! I would love to have a long conversation with these folks about the _intention_ with which they approach a given painting.

I, personally, have become increasingly intentional about the mood and emotion I want to convey. Back when I started drawing and painting seriously, my paramount intention was to get the details “right.” Now, all aspects of the painting are consciously chosen and rendered to express my _response_ to a momentary view or vision, even if I cannot verbally articulate it (which often I cannot until the painting is done). So, for me, the mood is definitely “on purpose.”

Okay, that turned out to be a long answer to a short question. Many thanks to Terry Allen Jones for asking it! I enjoyed thinking about this.


“The Necromancer’s Daughter” – Point Lobos, CA – Pastel on MingART Premium, 4.4×7.1″/11.2×18 cm

“May September” WIP and Final

“May September” WIP and Final

Here’s a look at my most recent pastel painting, “May September,” and part of the process of painting it.


“May September” – Sierra Nevada, CA – Pastel on Pastelmat, 5.6×7.3″/142×186 mm


A Dozen Pastels From One Trip

A Dozen Pastels From One Trip

As I write this, it’s been 19 days since we got back from China. In the 8 days we were there, I took almost 3,000 photos. No wonder: the places we hiked in Chongqing and Hubei were classic Chinese landscape. I was so inspired that I couldn’t wait to start painting. I set an arbitrary goal of “10-12 paintings” from this trip. I just finished the twelfth painting this afternoon. What a journey, both on foot, and artistically! I feel so grateful to have spent time in such places, and great joy at being able to bring that experience to the artwork! It’s been quite an adventure, on both counts!

Below is a quick collage of the dozen paintings (not to scale). You can see these as individual paintings in the gallery on the Landscape>Pastel page here.

A Dozen Pastel Paintings From our 8-Day Trip to China - May, 2018

A dozen  pastel paintings done in 19 days, after our trip to China in May, 2018.

Poem: “The Last of the Lukewarm Tea”


“The Last of the Lukewarm Tea”

By Mark Ivan Cole

(c) 2018 Mark Ivan Cole

No finer ship
Ever sailed the slip
With a prouder crew than she,
And no other schooner
Ever foundered sooner
Than The Last of the Lukewarm Tea.

Aye, she lost all sails
In a hungry gale
On the waves of an angry sea.
Tho’ we lashed each plank,
We almost sank
With The Last of the Lukewarm Tea.

She came to grief
On the barrier reef
By the gods’ and the winds’ decree.
To the sea we were cast
With the shattered mast
Of The Last of the Lukewarm Tea.

Aye, the men who clung
Slipped away, each one;
We were five, then four, then three,
Till I and you
Were the only two
From The Last of the Lukewarm Tea.

Nigh sixty-odd years
Since we faced those fears,
Awash in the brine of the sea.
And in all those years
We have shed no tears
For The Last of the Lukewarm Tea.

But as this cold day wanes,
We take our canes
And our aches and pains
Down the winding lanes
Till we reach the shore
Where we kneel once more
And embrace again
Like we did back then.

And when this setting sun
Says the day is done,
We trundle back
Up that well-worn track.
Then I and you—
As we always do
When the day is through—
We make tea for two.

We fill the pot,
Brew it nice and hot,
With a cup for you and for me,
And we scald our tongues
For the men who clung
To the shattered mast
To the very last
Of The Last of the Lukewarm Tea.

Experience: MingART Papers

Back at the end of March, I received a sample booklet of MingART pastel papers. I’d recently purchased a sheet of their Premium sanded paper and was thoroughly enjoying it. Rather than just try a few exploratory pastel marks, I decided to make a real test out of it: I did a series of 20 paintings, one on each note card-sized sheet in the spiral bound booklet.


NOTE: Prior to using the MingART, my experience with sanded surfaces was limited to one sheet of Wallis and a few sheets of 600-grit industrial sandpaper, so this cannot be considered a proper review. I can’t compare these to UART, Ampersand Pastelboard or Sennelier La Carte since I haven’t tried them…yet! When I do, I’ll report back.

Basic Info

(For MingART availability, size, price and color info, email limac2012@gmail.com)

MingART pastel papers are made in China, and they come in four types. This is the order in which they were presented in the sample booklet, and not in order of price:

  • Standard ($)
  • Premium ($$$)
  • Finest ($$)
  • Velour ($$$$)

I wanted to try one of each, first, and since I had already used the Premium before, I decided to work my way backward from the Velour. Then, I went through the order again with a second color, making notes after each painting. Below, I review each paper type in the order of my preference (least to most). The paintings shown in each section were done on that particular kind of paper.

Velour: great for soft blending


“Best Breakfast” – Beijiang, China – Soft pastel on MingART Velour, 4.5×7.5″/11×18 cm


“Susurration” – Sawtooth Mountains, ID – Soft pastel on MingART Velour, 4.3×7.1″/11x18cm


“No Shots Fired” – Taiwan – Soft Pastel on MingART Velour, 3.9×7.1″/10×18 cm


“It Might Be True” – Soft pastel on MingART Velour, 7.1×4.5″/18×11.3 cm

I’ve painted on “suede board” before, and I found it a bit too soft for my technique. MingART’s Velour was not as soft and spongy as that suede, but it was still a bit soft for my personal taste. Remember that I’m working extremely small here, so at a larger scale it may work just fine for you. One sheet had a few anomalies in it (vertical lines), but none of the other samples did. Here are my notes:

  • Takes the initial strokes of pastel well
  • Allows for nice soft edges, easy finger blending
  • Alternating between detail and blending is okay–don’t overwork it
  • As long as sharp edges are not needed, you can keep using softer pastels long after pastel pencils can add no more.

For example, “Susurration” worked great because I used few layers and needed no sharp edges. On the other hand, I struggled with “It Might Be True” and wasn’t happy with the pastel pencil work until I painted over it with softer pastels, which proved to be just the trick. The velour was perfectly happy to let me keep painting, as long as I used softer sticks.

Finest: more grit and still good for finger blending


“Rest” – Sierra Nevada, CA – Soft pastel on MingART Finest, 4.5×7.5″/11×18 cm


“Persistence of Hope” – Eastern Sierra Nevada, CA – Soft pastel on MingART Finest, 7.1×4.4″/18×11.2 cm


“Stone to Stone” – Zion N.P., UT -Pastel on MingART Finest, 7.1×4.5″/18×11.3 cm


“Infinite Moment” – Yosemite N.P., CA -Pastel on MingART Finest, 7.1×4.4″/18×11.1 cm


“Remembering the Chief” – Wallowa Mts. OR – Pastel on MingART Finest, 7.1×4.4″/18×11.1 cm

MingART’s “Finest” actually uses a polymer for the “sand.” It feels like a grittier version of the Velour to me, and not as rough on the fingers as the Standard or Premium. This makes it good for blending while still allowing me to put down clear, fine lines when needed. I can make a decent sharp edge with it if I don’t overwork it. While it will take lots of soft pastel without making “mud” (by blending with earlier layers), it does eventually lose its tooth. Thus, I found myself wiping off something that wasn’t quite working, rather than simply painting over it. Here are my notes:

  • Similar to Velour: less “sand-like” and a bit softer than the sanded papers
  • Takes a nice, fine line and saturates well without mud if not overworked
  • Blends and wipes off really well; can take a lot of reworking
  • Stands up to heavy erasures, leaving a faint ghost image
  • VERY even texture, no anomalies
  • Sharp edges are easily done if you plan ahead and avoid correcting

For example, “Rest” ended up getting kind of fuzzy, but I kept painting over it until I was happy with the result. The extra layers made fine, sharp lines and edges difficult. Having learned that, I wiped off “Stone to Stone” multiple times, even erasing large areas of the image to avoid overworking it. The surface was perfectly capable of taking that kind of abuse. You can see the “ghost image” I mention (slightly accentuated) in the lower right corner of that painting. I got right to the brink of overworking “Infinite Moment,” stopping just before the tooth gave out. “Remembering the Chief” was done more methodically, so fewer layers were added. Thus, it didn’t get overworked and its edges remained pretty clean.

Standard: great bang for buck


“Along the Spine” – South Africa – Pastel on MingART Standard, 4.4×7.1″/11.2×18 cm


“Between Rains” – Taiwan – Soft pastel on MingART Standard, 7.1×4.4″/18×11.2 cm


“About Halfway” – Table Mountain, South Africa -Pastel on MingART Standard, 4.4×7.1″/11.2×18 cm


“Legacy” – Smith Rock, OR – Pastel on MingART Standard, 4.4×7.1″/11.2×18 cm


“Who Knew It Best” – Navajo National Monument, UT – Soft pastel on MingART Standard, 4.3×7.1″/11×18 cm

MingART’s Standard is definitely a sanded paper: it will take your fingerprints off if you rub too hard! In my experience, the Standard holds slightly less pastel than the Premium.  Still, it holds a LOT of pastel if you just need to keep layering. For me, the biggest difference between the Premium and the Standard (besides the price) is the sense of even-ness I feel when I use the pastel pencils. The Standard is a bit rougher, and the Premium is somehow more finished. Here are my notes on Standard:

  • Not as fine-toothed as Premium
  • Takes PLENTY of pastel, but it’s tougher to keep a sharp edge; the edge seems to “feather” when overworked
  • Proper planning can go a long way to keeping colors and edges lively
  • Hard to smear!
  • Erases pretty well, but can leave residue in the tooth

For example, I would have done better if I had wiped off some excess from “Along the Spine,” rather than just painting more on top. After awhile, it lost some of its vibrancy, getting a bit muddy in some places. Admittedly, most of that issue is the fault of the artist (me!). Both “Legacy” and “Who Knew It Best” were painted more methodically, with fewer layers, and I got great detail in those! On “Who Knew It Best,” I used very (VERY) light pressure to lay down the sky and block in the initial shadows with soft pastel sticks. To make sure there was plenty of tooth, I rubbed in that first layer. Yes, I used my fingers, and yes, I’ve got some calluses now. It left enough fresh tooth to take the details and the highlights.

Premium: holds a sharp edge and allows for LOTS of layering


“Quarter Tank” – Beijiang, China – Soft pastel on MingART Premium, 4.8×7.5″/12.3×19 cm


“If You Can Find It” – Beitou, Taiwan – Pastel on MingART Premium, 4.3×7.1″/11x18cm


“Hidden, Not Lost” -Alishan, Taiwan -Pastel on MingART Premium, 7.1×4.4″/18×11.2 cm


“The Last Gate” – Ta Som Temple, Cambodia – Pastel on MingART Premium, 7.1×4.4″/18×11.2 cm


“The Necromancer’s Daughter” – Point Lobos, CA – Pastel on MingART Premium, 4.4×7.1″/11.2×18 cm

My favorite MingART surface is the Premium. According to their brochure, they somehow get the selected quality sand granules to stand vertically with the sharp edge upward. Somehow, it does actually feel like that! It keeps crisp edges while still allowing a lot of layered pastel. Details and subtle shading were easy. The brochure suggests that you can use water media. I’ll have to try it. The brush may not last long, but the paper is strong and remarkably even. Here are my notes:

  • Crisp lines and still holds plenty of pastel
  • The white and light beige colors were actually useful; I could get good color saturation without bleed-through.
  • No anomalies; fine surface
  • The white paper took enough pastel to allow true white highlights to be painted over the top of darker colors because there was still plenty of tooth.

For example, “Quarter Tank” was a complete surprise to me. I’d never painted an animal to that degree, and having the ability to layer subtle colors over each other was unexpectedly delightful! I was able to sharpen the last details without any “feathering” or clumping of the pastel. “The Last Gate” got wiped down twice, which helped me build the subtleties I was not achieving by layering alone. Once I had the look I wanted, I could easily define the details. “The Necromancer’s Daughter” also got wiped off (almost completely!) several times, each iteration allowing for more complex atmospheric effects.

Personal Conclusion

Again, all of this is my personal experience, so it may not match your own. In any case, after having done five complete paintings in each of these papers, I prefer the Premium. The fine surface belies how much pastel it can take, and it allows for a lot of working, reworking, wiping off, working again, without ever getting rough or marred. I still have a letter-size sheet of the Payne’s Grey that I have not yet used, and I am looking forward to painting on the remaining cut sheets of the Dark Green sheet I purchased originally.

Bang-for-buck, MingART Standard is pretty good. I did a lot of tiny detail, and got some good atmosphere with it. I think when the process is less iterative, the Standard works fine. Even so, the pleasure of dragging a pastel pencil across the fine surface of the Premium still makes the Premium my favorite.

If you do a lot of blending and soft edges, the Velour and Finest may be exactly what you want. I tend toward sharpness in my details, so at the small scale, at least, I didn’t find either of these to be suitable to my personal technique.

All of them were a blast to paint on, though! I’m glad to have had the chance. Any questions? Let me know.



Snow Texture: the making of “Remembering the Chief”


“Remembering the Chief” – Wallowa Mts. OR – Pastel on MingART, 7.1×4.4″/18×11.1 cm

After I posted this painting of Chief Joseph Mountain, I was asked how I go about painting snow texture. Well, the texture has a lot to do with two factors, in this case: 1) the finely sanded surface of the MingART “Finest” paper, and 2) the ability to lightly, evenly drag a pastel pencil point across that surface.

Of course, between those two factors lie several steps that add realism to the snow. In a nutshell, though, I paint the most colorful parts first, which are the mid-value shadows, and then I work the highlights and darks, alternating between them. Most of the darks on the snowy mountain were done with deep Indigo. Virtually all of the highlights were done using Chinese White on top of the shadows. Texture is achieved by varying the pressure on the pastel pencil when painting the highlights. Most of the time, I’m using very subtle strokes.

Here are all the geeky details.

  1. Lightly (very lightly) lay down the varying hues that make up the sky and snow shadows. I completely ignore all details, focusing on the midrange values only. At this point, I don’t really differentiate between the snow, the clouds and the sky, except where the colors shift.
  2. Smooth the color transitions with finger blending. MingART Finest allows for blending without too much loss of skin! I add a little color where needed, again, paying no attention to the highlights or deep darks. Some of it rubs off, and that’s okay because I want to put down as little pastel as possible an still have some color. I actually rub my fingertip on a soft pastel and paint with my finger rather than applying the pastel directly. In some places, where the sun strikes, I leave the light gray paper showing through the color haze.
  3. Using a deep Indigo pastel pencil, faintly outline the left ridge and the upper shadows. Again, this is all about subtlety. Lay another line down to generally demarcate the middle ridge. Don’t finalize any of these lines.
  4. With a Chinese White pastel pencil, leave little tick marks to show where the uppermost highlights are, and then lightly establish the line of the brightly lit snow slope. I used less pressure to show where the clouds obscure the view.
  5. Using only Chinese White and varying amounts of pressure, establish only the brightest highlights on the upper third of the mountain. Now the drawing is sent and I can start working the details.
  6. Using deep Indigo, paint the exposed rocks and deepest shadows. With an image this small, I literally poke at the area I’m painting, hardly scratching the surface. The tip of a lightly held pastel pencil skidding across the sanded surface is sufficient to represent the rock bands on the upper right. I’m still saving the darkest darks for later, when the whole range of values is clear.
  7. Using the lights tint of Indigo, Ultramarine Blue and Dark Violet (Derwent’s names), I start working the snow highlights within the shadowed areas on the upper part of the mountain. I’m going for luminosity here, so I put warm and cool temperatures next to each other. The sanded paper allows for lots of layering without creating mud, so if I watch my pressure, I can put a warm violet over a cool blue and get a nice mix without blending. I can even paint the negative space between the exposed rocks, showing where the snow drifts and collects.
  8. With medium tints of the same three colors, I make sure the subtleties in the shadows are correct. To make certain shadows more luminous, I’ll add some Spectrum Blue and go over it subtly with a medium tint of Dark Violet to keep it from being too intense.
  9. Going back to Chinese White, I paint the lower highlights. With very delicate, even pressure, I paint the sunlit snowfields in the middle of the mountain, letting the texture of the paper catch just the slightest hint of white. These strokes are painted in the same direction as the slope, so we can see the curvature.
  10. As I do the highlights on the bottom of the mountain, I draw a thin line for the top of that low, backlit ridge, and then paint feathery strokes off of it from right to left to show the spindrift. I set my fingertip on the line and lightly drag it off, from right to left to pull that white into the shadowed area. If it’s too strong, I buff it in the opposite direction, pushing the shadow toward the spindrift. When that’s close enough, I reestablish the sunlit ridge line.
  11. Finish up the darkest darks, and then tweak the values throughout to ensure proper depth.
  12. For reflected light in the uppermost summit dome shadow, I put just a little French Gray in the lightest tint, which gave that area some warmth.
  13. In the middle ground, the shadowed snow is done by painting a middle tint of Ultramarine Blue in patches over a relatively heavier blended layer of Dark Gray (NuPastel) and deep Indigo (Derwent). I then reestablish the tree texture with the deep Indigo pastel pencil.
  14. The foreground dusting of snow is made by painting the moraine with Umber blended on top of deep Indigo, and then dragging a light tint of Indigo over it in the direction of the slope. The paper texture does the work.

Hope it explains what I did this time around. How do you do snow texture? I’d love to hear about it.