Pastels, Portraits and Meaning

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Girl at DMV
A girl waits with her mother at the DMV in Fayetteville, Ark. Pastel on 5-by-7 paper. 2016

I carry a Fabriano journal everywhere I go and managed to capture this quick study of a young girl at the DMV. I used my cell phone to snap a photo (it wasn’t the best photo) and used that to fill in some more detail. I really like this kid’s expression because we all felt this way while trapped at the DMV.

These are highly concentrated pigmented pastels. I also sometimes work with hard pastels or mix the two. I find soft pastels deliver a higher-quality color saturation. I love color and experimenting with color. I was originally drawn to this child because of her bright shirt and dark hair.

Below, is an example of hard and soft pastel used together with a gold acrylic background. You can really see the vibrancy in Medusa’s snakes — soft pastel. I painted Medusa’s skin first with hard pastels in green shades. The technique is one used by artists like Degas. You can see some of the green in his underpaintings.

I also saw this technique used at the Savannah College of Art & Design, where students used variations of green first to catch a certain effect.

Medusa, mixed media
Medusa, Malaysian Coral Snake hair. Pastel and Acrylic

I chose Medusa because she has such an interesting background. She was a beautiful maiden who was treated unjustly and turned into a monster who became feared by men. Her image was at one point adopted by feminists.

I chose the brightest snakes I could and reproduced them here. They are Malaysian Coral Snakes — highly poisonous, which I thought was fitting for Medusa.

Both of these pastel examples (the girl and Medusa) strive to capture a certain meaning using a very vibrant and difficult media. With Medusa, I was shooting for symbolism. With “Girl at the DMV,” I wanted to show emotion and life.

I believe art is an experiment. Every time I sit down at my easel, it’s an experiment. Even so, art should say something. To me, art should be more, than “Art for arts sake.” It is meant to bring us closer to beauty, emotion, society and ourselves.

2 thoughts on “Pastels, Portraits and Meaning

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