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.

3rd China (Suzhou) Pastel Biennial


“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!

Pastel Paper Experience Comparison

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.

(Go here for my earlier comparison of MingART’s four different types of papers.)

That said, here goes!

Multimedia Panel

“Doubt Dispelled” – Enshi, China -Pastel on Multimedia Panel, 4×5.1″/102×132 mm
“The Black Dragon Awaits” – China – Pastel on Multimedia Panel, 4.25×5.25″/109×133 mm


  • Nice and stiff
  • Nice random texture
  • Beautiful cold white color!
  • 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

“Bastion” – Amalfi, Italy – Soft pastel on UART 500, 20×15 cm
“The Space Between Us” – Enshi, China – Pastel on UART 400, 8.5×5.6″/217×142 mm


  • Initial strokes are clear and definite
  • Retains sharp lines
  • Wipes/smears very well
  • Relatively erasable
  • 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.

Clairefontaine PastelMat

“May September” – Sierra Nevada, CA – Pastel on PastelMat, 5.6×7.3″/142×186 mm
“Rest” – China – Pastel on PastelMat, 5.6×3.2″/142x87mm


  • 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

“Vanguard” – Tetons -Soft pastel on LaCarte, 8×10″/21×26 cm
“Guardian of Enshi” – Enshi, China – Pastel on La Carte Pastelcard, 4.5×6″/113×155 mm


  • 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!)

“Quorum” – Taiwan – Soft pastel on La Carte, 6×8″/15.5×20.5 cm
“Waypoint” – China – Pastel on MingART Premium, 8×10″/20×25 cm

“Yearning” – finishing touches video

Every painting eventually gets to a point that I call the “signed and staring at it” phase. More often than not, I’ll tweak something before I call it “done.”

I thought this one (“Yearning,” soft pastel on La Carte, 24x36cm) was finished, but I worked on it for another hour or so the next day. It turned out to be a good choice. This video condenses about 23 minutes’ worth of that painting time down to less than five. Turn on the sound to listen to my instrumental piece “Dawn” while you watch all the scribbling and scratching.

Check it out!

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