interview with Pratique des Arts

The Fall Line   24x24" Pastel

A few months ago, I was approached by author Stephanie Portal of a French publication Pratique des Arts.  She had attended the International Association of Pastel Societies last June and saw my work and was curious if I would share some information about my pastel work for her audience.  I am thrilled to be a conduit for the European's to see inside It helps me to find words for my work, and I am hoping your readers will gain a better understanding of my work. Please be aware that I am answering your questions predominantly for studio work, but I do provide some of my plein air techniques in the city…a very challenging, yet exciting place to paint.

What do you like about painting cityscapes? What sparked your interest in this theme?
My first spark of inspiration was lit when I saw a painting created by American artist Ken Auster on the cover of an art magazine. It excited me to see everyday scenes uncommonly celebrated as a subject worth painting. Why not... I asked myself, could I take a closer look at my own city? Could I see the beauty in such an unconventional place? Could I recreate a sense of everyday life with bustling modes of transportation and people making their way through town interesting? My most favorite city scenes are accessorized with signage and lights.  I often describe the illuminated lights as a candy Lollipop!

What are your favorites places to paint and why?
My favorite city to paint is Portland, OR, where I currently live. It has beautiful contrasts with cool and warm colors and a rail system, taxis, and many pedestrians. But wherever I am traveling, I am always on the lookout for the new subject matter. Having said that, I really like painting from a pedestrian point of view. As I walk along the streets of my own city, I look for the energy and movement of cars and pedestrians that will never present themselves in that moment and arrangement again.

Why is pastel the medium of choice for this theme? Do you sometimes use another medium (oil?) and how do they compare?
I choose pastel for my city scenes because I love the layering of color and how it allows me to emote solid shapes with color strokes. There is a beautiful thing happening when there are strong heavy marks and light feathery marks that adds excitement to my cityscapes. I do use oils for cityscapes, but it is not my preferred medium. It takes time to mix oil color, but with pastels, there is a spontaneity that matches the energy of the city.

What challenges do you encounter when painting streets from life (compared to quiet country views)?
(atmosphere, busyness, noises, choice of spots)
Do you work or finish your paintings in-studio and why?
Painting en plein air poses many challenges in the city. I have reported that the scene is more challenging to select due to its’ location, pedestrian traffic, and safety than painting it.  The noise of the city does not bother me, but sometimes there might be an occasional observer. This can create many pleasant and unpleasant situations. Having said that, I prefer to paint my larger urbanscapes in the studio because I can take my time reacting to my feelings than my speed.

Evening Errands 24x24" Pastel

What do you look for in a cityscape? What makes an interesting scene?
I look for composition and energy first.  For me, an interesting scene must have transit, lights, and then signage.  People are wonderful extras, but not always necessary.

What makes a good composition? What elements do you keep/erase? 
In the city, I often find good composition when viewed from crossing the middle of a street surrounded by tall buildings.  This provides a "U" composition, however, I love creating a fulcrum that is predominantly dark with a small area of light.  This can be found deep within an area of buildings with a small area of sky lighting the scene.

I don't like the sight of trashcans, so I choose to eliminate them. I am careful to choose elements that support the feeling of energy. It could be a specific rail or shuttle, or perhaps people rushing off to work.

How important is the light? What are the best times (of the day, of the year) to paint the city?
I love painting any scene in the early or later hours of the day because it provides a light that has more drama and provides an interesting mood, dramatic shadows, and tonal qualities to an otherwise gray scene. The fall season is also a favorite time of year to paint because it has more color and weather variations.

How do you decide color harmony? Do you pay attention to complementary and analogous colors? Do you have favorite color combinations?  
I love using a complementary or split complementary palette. I am open to what colors are most dominant in a scene and then play with that. However, I love painting orange or blue scenes the most.

You also like night scenes. Why and how do you work on them ? Are they specific difficulties with them?
I love creating night scenes because they offer mood without much detail. Also, there is less to see in the dark, and the street lights are what excite me the most. Like I shared before, "they" are the lollipops!
Evening Errands  24x24" Pastel

But when it comes to painting nocturnes en plein air, that offers many challenges. Losing your equipment is easy when there is a limited light source. Also, colors are nearly lost, so I use a clip-on lamp attached to my palette so that I can see the colors. Upon returning to a day-lit location the finished paintings are often more intense than intended. Oftentimes the pieces could be either exciting or disappointing, depending on how you look at it.  As for safety, I recommend painting with a partner so that there are two sets of senses to hear and see potentially dangerous predicaments.

How do you proceed? (sketch, blocking in, layers, highlights)
How important is the drawing?
First, I begin to select a color theme and work up my sketch onto my sanded paper with a pastel pencil.  I adjust the composition and drawing by taking a photo of it and then reducing it on my smartphone screen to clearly see the basic elements of the composition. 

What about the underpainting?
Once I have made drawing corrections, I begin on an underpainting of either a thin acrylic wash or thin veils of oil. I often switch it up a bit with laying in pastel and then wet it down with turpentine. This is the fun part because often the painting will create an entirely new direction.  I love the adventure of all the directions a piece will take in the process.

Do you use different textures of pastels and if yes, how do you make use of them
I love using softer pastels than harder ones, and I prefer using my own selection of colors produced by Jack Richeson because they are consistent in texture.  I will use a harder pastel to lay in my sketch and use the softer pastels for the build-up of layers and mark-making.

How do you capture the atmosphere, the energy of the city? (color harmony, mark making)
The atmosphere is created by thin layers of color, much like the fog is to the sky. Mark making is the most effective way to create energy in a cityscape. It is felt upon application, and it is felt when looking at it.

What did you learn from painting this theme? What do you aim to achieve in the future?
I learned that I need to crop in the scene more often and look for the basic shapes rather than observing every overwhelming detail. This has made my growth and enjoyment so enriching.

Do you have 5/10 advice/tips/golden rules to paint cityscapes or to paint in the street?

Expect the unexpected
Always choose safety first
Find the vanishing point and layout the horizon.
Paint what will most likely move first. Cars, trucks, food cart, the light source.
Keep it simple
Be aware of your tripod legs impeding foot traffic
Be aware of your time
Take small breaks to rest your legs and look around your surroundings as they are constantly changing.
Don’t engage with unstable people
Be flexible. You may have to move while in the middle of creating your masterpiece.

What material do you use (you can mention brands): paper, pastels, accessories, fixative?
What is your outdoor material?
I use Uart 280 grit paper
Jack Richeson Brenda Boylan Plein Air and Starter Kits, Terry Ludwig pastels, Sennellier pastels
a small t-square to get angles straight
Gamsol or denatured alcohol for my wash
Foam brush to wipe away build-up or to make corrections
masking tape to mount work to the palette and also to create a dust bin below my paper.
Soft cotton rag for wiping my hands
Portable moist wipes for cleaning my hands
Non-latex gloves to protect my hands
Tripod with a ball adaptor, and a pastel box that is custom made by Open Box M.
I do not use fixative.  I finish my paintings by covering with a sheet of glassine atop my finished painting. I then buff the glassine into the pastel surface by pressing with the palm of my hand and smoothing out the entire surface. This helps knit the pastel into the tooth of the Uart paper

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