For many years I’ve used oil pastels, for so long I cannot remember, and one thing I love about the medium is its directness. You open the box, select a color and begin drawing. And drawing easily becomes painting since you can lay the pigment down in many ways, can blend it, can even work over top it (to varying degrees).
When I work with pastel, I feel such direct contact with the object I watch. One imagines that the pastel somehow touches the thing’s surface. It’s as though a stylus connects to the object and to my hand and runs across the thing’s surface (such as with the shell above) and directs my hand to make gestures that echo the shapes of the thing’s forms. An imaginary Rube Goldberg contraption-of-the-mind connects me to the things I see as though by thought levers and perception wires.
Dry pastel, the older more traditional medium, one that’s been around since Lascaux, offers the same possibilities of connection with the subject. It is messy to be sure. It’s dusty. It is more complicated and less portable (because of its complications), but its effects are so beautiful that one learns not to care. The directness is still present.
My boxes of pastel lay open on the table. When I go into the studio I immediately set to work. Sanded papers hold pigment abundantly, and so the artist has many ways to manipulate the color. All the usual ways are available: through color choices, through drawing, scale, choice of motif, and other options beckon also.
You can color the ground with watercolor and draw over it. You can fix the pastel and work over the preceding layers with greater freedom than I ever imagined was possible. I drag colors over colors with abandon. Lest I make it sound easy-peasy, the material will fight back; it’s doesn’t sit there dormant. It gives you challenges that you want to seize, if you’re someone who loves lines and loves colors, and must always be describing the things you see. Pastel puts up a good resistance, offers continually new chances to aim and stalk and meander and explore layers of light and dark and the lines that an artist’s mind wraps around things because everything is wrapped in lines, you know ….
See all the lines?