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American Realism In Pastels
Fine Paintings & Reproductions...

Ask The Artist

James - California, USA
I'm new to pastels.  Do you paint all the way to the edge of the paper or do you have to leave a margin?  If so, how much?
I always paint to the edge of the paper which makes it a little harder for my framer when applying the matting materials. Leaving about a 1” margin is a good idea if you choose to do that.  It depends on how your work is framed and presented. Some galleries actually prefer the “floating” look where the entire paper is visible and basically sits on a back surface. Usually works done on a paper with a deckled edge are more appropriate for this kind of presentation.

Eric - Washington, USA
You don't spray fixative on your paintings.  The painting must get bumped and dropped a lot if it's going across country and I imagine that this is a risk to the painting's image.  Does any of the pastel fall off of the paper during the shipping process?
Because of my method of working, there is very little residual pastel dust on the finished painting to begin with. Consequently, my paintings ship very well.  The only time I had problems with any dusting on the inside of the framing glass was the result of the painting being dropped from the back of a UPS delivery truck.  I cleaned the inside of the glass and did a few minor touch ups on the painting and luckily, it was fine.   Normal shipping and transit has no adverse affects on my paintings otherwise.  A good rule of thumb that I use when shipping original work (I typically use UPS) is to insure it for a minimum of $5,000.  Items insured this highly receive special “kid glove” handling and are kept in high value “safe” storage areas, separate from most other bulk packages during transit.

Lynn - USA
I know you don't like using fixative, so, how do you know that a picture framer won't smear your work while framing it?
You have to be very adamant about the fact that the painting is unfixed, especially when dealing with a framer for the first time.  A framer who’s a trained & certified PPFA member (Picture Framers Association of America) is a pretty safe bet. The framer you deal with should also make it very clear to anyone else handling or working on the painting how to handle the unfixed work.  I’ve dealt with the same framer for about 10 years for all of my original works and she’s a gem.
Don’t be afraid to shop around until you’re totally comfortable in who you deal with.

How do you store your work?
I temporarily store my paintings in large, sturdy, flat photo film boxes or shipping cartons.  After I’ve created a digital file of the painting I have matted using acid free needle point board as backing material.  I don’t always frame every painting immediately so the matting keeps the painting flat and somewhat protected, at least from a handling standpoint.  It also allows for convenient storing and minimizes the risk of someone accidentally touching and/or damaging the work.

Michael - Rhode Island
First of all I want to say I really admire your beautiful artwork.  You mentioned in one of your answers to a question that you stored your artwork in large flat photo film boxes or shipping cartons, my question is where would I purchase these? 
Unfortunately, the large film boxes that I use to store my unframed pastels appear to be going the way of the film cameras.  I used to get mine for no charge at commercial printers and photo labs that used large sheets of film. You may still find some but they’re becoming scarce.  Another alternative is to create your own which is a little time consuming.  Cardboard “pads” can be purchased almost anywhere in various sizes.  Then it’s just a matter of creating a box that is 1-2” in depth by gluing or taping a 1” sq. frame of wood around the inside edges.  Just make sure you use acid free buffering material between the artwork and cardboard if storing this way for any amount of time.

Is it alright to use pure white in the shine or highest highlight in a portrait?
I never use white to create highlights on flesh tones if that’s what you’re referring to.  White doesn’t occur (at least naturally) on human skin.  I personally feel it gives a portrait an artificial or doll like look.  If the flesh tones and values in your portrait are painted correctly, you can use a VERY pale flesh or yellow to creates effective and even striking highlights.  I only use pure white to highlight hair and eyes.

Stephanie - Oklahoma

Has there ever been an incident where a customer has contacted you about their commissioned pastel painting fading?
No. The permanence of pastels is what makes it such a great medium.  I invite you to read more about it on my website here.

Have you ever pastel painted on Suede Matt Board?
I can
t imagine trying to use pastels on a suede surface, at least dry pastels, with my method of working. I do a lot of blending and layering so I need a paper with a certain amount of texture and tooth to hold the pastels in place.

Jana - East Germany

What colors do you use for light skin tones?

I use a bone white, pale yellow-white, pink, flesh and a touch of yellow orange where needed.  I never use pure white as it gives the skin an artificial look.

Can you live from the sales of your paintings?
I have made a living from selling, publishing, and licensing my paintings for the last 10 years.  Sometimes it can be more difficult than others, but I always seem to get over the "bumps".

JON - Skaneateles, NY

I find that it is very hard to get such detail to stay sharp as I smear it by accident while working on other parts of the painting.  (How can I avoid this?) 
Try using a maul stick while you work. This allows you to rest and steady your painting hand without
touching the surface of the painting.  You could also work from top to bottom to avoid trying to work over areas you've already completed.  It also avoids adverse effects of any drifting pastel dust as you work.

What do you use for sketching before you use the pastels, and on what color paper, if any?
I use a pastel pencil (dark brown) to sketch out the composition, and I always use white paper. For me it's the perfect "color" which, of course, may not be right for someone else.  Never be afraid to experiment with different colored papers.  Because I completely cover the surface of the paper, I prefer white.

SUSAN - Naperville, IL
Do you do your own framing?
I don't do my own framing as it's just too involved, nor do I have the proper equipment.  I have all of my originals framed by a professional framer with a membership in the Professional Picture Framers Association of America (PPFA).  These framers are located throughout the country and have to go through intensive training programs before becoming certified.

Do you use foam board at all for your support or in framing?
The backing that my framer uses is called acid free needlepoint board.  Even though it's a cardboard like material, it's extremely resilient and provides great protection for the back of my paintings, which are done on paper.  It should always be non-acidic
as should any materials that come in contact with the paper surface.

LARIAN - Australia
Do you experiment and use other mediums with your pastels?
What you're referring to in art terms is "mixed medium painting", which involves the use of more than one type of medium on a painting (watercolor and colored pencil / charcoal and oils for examples).  I have done some experimenting with mixed mediums, but prefer to work exclusively with pastels at this point in time.  I feel that I achieve
the look I'm after with just the one medium.

PAUL - Red Bank, NJ

When you're painting, how often do you use fixative?

I never use fixative on my pastel paintings. The beauty of the raw, unfixed, dry pigments that make up pastels, combined with the fact that there are no additives, chemicals, or oils that might cause the painting to discolor, darken, or crack over time, make for a very stable and lasting look/work. Fixative can also cause certain colors to change when it's applied.  For these reasons, adding a chemical fixative is something that I avoid.

Do you work on an easel or in some other way?
I work on a large drawing table adjusted to a vertical position so the painting is parallel / perpendicular to my line of vision.  Painting this way prevents visual distortion, and subsequently distorted and incorrectly drawn elements within my paintings.

CAROL,- New Zealand

How long does it take you to paint each picture and are you always pleased with the finished work?

It depends on the size of the painting.  I work in two basic sizes, with the smaller sized paintings measuring 22 X 30".  This size takes me an average of 10-12 days of actual painting time.  My larger paintings measure 30 X 44" and can take up to 3 weeks to complete.

not always completely pleased with the finished work. However, the more I paint, the better the outcome. Creating quality work is analogous to exercising...the more you work at it, the healthier/better you are.

Have you painted all your life?
No. I graduated from art school a number of years ago and became a musician
not long after (the lure of my youthful seed sowing I guess), so I have only been painting full time about 11 years.

RITA - Kansas City, MO
Do you always draw your paintings before filling them in, or just start
painting at times?
I don't do finished drawings of my paintings, but rather outline, before I start them.  Using the photos I've taken as reference material, I outline  the key elements for positioning and composition.  Once I'm satisfied, I basically approach the painting as one would a coloring book, working from top left to bottom right so that any drift from the pastels will not affect what's below it in the painting.  I also work from background to foreground, finding it easier to add
and build the layers of the painting this way.

Who was/is your biggest inspiration, and have you always loved painting?
My biggest inspiration would have to be my mother in my personal life. She always encouraged me at every turn. Of course, I didn't always listen to her early on due to other youthful pursuits, but I eventually realized how right, and perceptive, she was as to my potential ability. Unfortunately, she died many years before I had fully developed my artistic skills. My dad, who passed away a few years ago, was able to see what I accomplished as an artist.

I've always greatly admired the work of Vermeer, Ingres, Rembrandt, Rockwell, and others, along with several of the French Impressionists. There wasn't one particular artist who inspired me, rather a number of them during different phases of my own development. I've always loved drawing, which is what working in pastels is a natural extension of. I don't enjoy oil painting as much, and I currently "paint" exclusively with pastels, and do indeed love working in this great medium.

ANDREA - N. Andover, MA

How do you come up with the background ideas for your portraits/paintings?
think of my paintings as narratives or stories, so a background is a necessary part of what is being said.  I would imagine my approach isn't that much different from other artists who paint similar subject matter and style.  Rockwell obviously comes to mind, and was certainly a master at story telling.  I try to keep a more everyday look to my paintings and still convey the message and story. Sometimes it works better than others.

How do you come up with your ideas?

More often than not, I get an idea in my head and let it develop for while.  When I see the same basic idea the same way, then I know it's ready to photograph.  Setting it up with the appropriate people/models is fun and challenging.  The great thing about painting kids ideas is that there's often a spontaneous element that takes place during the actual shooting that often makes the idea an even better one.  From there, it's just a matter of taking the necessary photos (sometimes 2 to 3 rolls and several different sessions) until I feel comfortable that I have all the reference material I need to do the painting.  I generally use about 5 to 6 of the best photos to work with.

TONY- Eagle, ID
What brand of pastels do you use, and which do you find layer the best?
I use several brands of pastels, including Nupastels, Rembrandts, Faber Castell Poloychromos, and a few others not worth mentioning. I also use a few pastels pencils for fine detail, but usually I accomplish what I need to with the Nupastels & Rembrandts. Any of these brands layer/blend well, including with each other, which is important.

What kind of paper or support do you use to get such intricate detail?
I use a hand made paper that I get from NY Central Art Supply in NY City called Pastel Deluxe, and I'm pretty sure that this is the only location where it can be purchased. The paper is key to layering and it depends on just how much tooth it has. The heavier the tooth, the more layers you can apply.  It also depends on how heavily the pastels are applied.  Pastel Deluxe has enough tooth to allow up to 3 layers of pastels, depending on how heavily I apply it.  Of course, everyone's method and style of working are different, so it's pretty important to experiment with different papers and pastel combinations.


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