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Saturday, April 06, 2019

2019 * Creating Soft Pastels * Experimentation

Following my previous Blog Post about the creation of new pastel sticks from crumbs and pieces of used pastels (see:

After allowing the sticks to dry for about 3 days, I was ready to experiment.  The colors had brightened as the liquid evaporated.

The paper on hand was Hahnemühle PastellFix.  Next I am excited to try them on a more heavily sanded paper.

I decided to do a painting that would use mostly the colors I had created.  This photo attracted me (one I took in San Gimignano, Tuscany).  I prefer to use my own reference photos so from conception the paintings are my personal experiences.
inspiration photo of similar colors

The colors were rich.  The sticks were SO SOFT!  A wonderful buttery texture.  I had a friend online comment:  "Are those Terry Ludwig pastels?"  "No!  They are MINE!"  (Sweet!)

Tiny bits of uncrushed pastels pieces came through on the paper and added nice surprises to my painting - although they tend to have a harder consistency than the surrounding stick.

The painting is unfinished yet .. I didn't spend long on this preliminary layer.  I gave it a quick spray of SpectraFix (casein-based fixative, non-toxic) to add back some texture so I can return and see what happens next as I add more pastel!

Next:  play with these more on various papers and get better crushing tools (rather than just the rounded plastic lid of one of my jars).

I'm almost tempted to crush up good "whole stick" pastels  ..
just to create more of these!

first layer - playing!

"Creativity is contagious .. pass it on!"  ~Albert Einstein 

Thursday, April 04, 2019

2019 * Overcoming Hesitancy * Creating Soft Pastels

pastel pieces and dust crushed
For years I have considered creating my own personal pastels from all the left over bits and pieces and pastel dust that I have saved from my boxes and paintings.  Tossing the tiny pieces into little jars, collecting the dust under the paintings as they are created, putting them in jars of similar colors and saving for .. "someday".

Researching various approaches, from very complex to rather simple, I take the leap and try one of the simplest methods possible.  Keeping in mind that:  "A pastel stick consists of pure powdered pigment and an inert binder, such as gum arabic, gum tragacanth, or methyl cellulose.  Pastels have a higher pigment concentration than any other artist medium (hence the rich, luminous colors that pastels can achieve)." [quote from]. 

water & isopropyl alcohol added
Gum tragacanth is not something one has at hand, usually, but I realize that it is already present in the pieces of sticks I have so .. for simplicity?  Just add a bit of water and perhaps isopropyl alcohol to speed the drying time.

Use gloves, a hard surface (preferably glass), crushing tools and blending spatulas (like spackling spatulas from the hardware store).  Use a face mask to protect from pastel dust.   Clean up is a bit of soap and water.
cross-cutting & blending

Take the pieces (it's surprising how they all come to seem the same color on the outside as they hang out in that jar together), crush them (even without fancy tools one can just use the hard, softly curved cover of a jar - and - surprise! what colors are there), slowly add the bit of water/alcohol until the particles adhere.  Continue to blend them until smooth .. it's rather like cutting and kneading bread dough.  Then roll and shape.  Set aside to dry.


New varieties of grays and unique colors are created.  Tiny bits of pastels within can add excitement when applying to the painting.

new pastel sticks drying

It's easier than I imagined!  Try it!

Friday, March 01, 2019

2019 * Pastel Painting Evolution * 5 of 5 * Feb 24

#5 of 5  “Pemaquid Awash”
Pemaquid Awash
It’s the Fifth and final day of my challenge to post paintings that mark steps of my pastel voyage to the present.  This painting still brings me joy.  It is more emotive than other paintings, instinctively created – the flow from deep within of the Creative Spirit.  I used sanded paper with soft pastels and kole, strong diagonals, a good section of the paper color contributing to the painting.  Just a few details, plenty of impressionistic strokes, and then those final, fun wisps of vertical white.  I have NO idea why I added those at the last moment.  It just seemed JOYFUL and playful.  This painting was judged into an International show.  Wow.  That blew me away.  To be included in an exhibit with some of the best known pastel artists in the country!  Such an honor.  And encouragement!

Side note about leaving paper showing through.  I think this approach is influenced by my work in watercolor.  There is a “rule” in watercolor that says “leave 1/3 of your paper showing to create sparkle in the work.”  When I discovered toned pastel paper years ago, I started implementing a similar idea for pastels.  Not so much for the “sparkle” but for the aspect that the underlying color ties together the whole painting and contributes to the overall effect.  This is not as intense as the black paper I often use, but .. (hey, I could get all artsy and philosophical here, but ..)  I just simply REALLY enjoy it!

Moving ahead:  My biggest challenge currently is finding the time and space to work.  I am still in “itinerant” mode, living one spot and working in another.  I often lament those years when I had a dedicated space in my home, but life choices have me where I am presently and I make do.  Face the challenge and get it done.  “Just keep moving” I tell myself daily. 

I am greatly encouraged and inspired by the wonderful artists communities around me – both physically and on the Web.  Thank you all!  From time to time it is good to do a little self-analysis and exploration of our process and progress as artists.  Now to the next …

[This painting will be in the Pastel Society of Maine Spring Member Show in May.  

Thursday, February 28, 2019

2019 * Pastel Painting Evolution * 4 of 5 * Feb 23

#4 of 5 "Floating Fauna"
Floating Fauna

Fourth day challenge to post pastel paintings that mark steps my experience. While in France in 2016 and playing with watercolor and pastel (I call it "playing" because why should painting be "work"?!), I realized how HAPPY it made me to work in pastel. It flowed freely - fresh and immediate on the paper. I decided then to really focus on pastel painting. The purest medium with the least amount of carrier .. just ground pigment with a touch of something to hold it together!

I found that working on dark colors make the other colors sing. White paper just created more work, less interesting colors to me. I got inspiration from .. go figure .. television! When I realized what was done to intensify color on the screen. Here's my inspiration:

"Zenith introduced its first color TV sets for consumers in 1961 and quickly established itself as a leading brand. The 1969 introduction of the revolutionary “Chromacolor” black-matrix (negative guardband) picture tube doubled the image brightness of color television and established a new standard of performance for the entire industry."

For this image I used black Canson Ingres paper (yes, almost like painting on velveteen) and the image was jellyfish (one of my daughter's favorites). Playing with the luminescent colors and letting them sing was my intent. Fun strokes and colors.

Upon entering my first International Exhibit I was at a quandary as to which painting to enter. The ever-gracious, very talented, internationally recognized, and also Maine native, Lyn Asselta took time to check some of my work and suggested this one as the one to enter. (Thank you, dear friend!) And also by my mother, lifetime watercolor artist Rosalie Barden. They both have wonderful instincts and I was so greatly encouraged because the painting was accepted!

Pivotal point!

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

2019 * Pastel Painting Evolution * 3 of 5 * Feb 22

#3 of 5 

Third day challenge to post pastel paintings that mark steps my experience. While studying for my BFA I was intent upon becoming a sculptor .. I loved loved figurative work and was quite good at it, even then, but believed that in the area I lived it was difficult enough to "make a living as a 2-dimensional artist, no less a 3D artist" so I opted to focus on painting. Initially oil painting and watercolor, but when my husband had strong reactions to the oil, I had to drop that, after getting a good start on producing and selling. Then when my children were little it was easier for me to grab sticks of pastel -- no prep, no clean-up -- so my focus shifted. (Ah to have had a dedicated, private studio .. but I was doing something, so ..)

Drawn back to figures, I did more portraits. I love trying to catch a likeness AND an emotion. Recently I've been playing with creative in-the-moment expression of the subject. It's fun and, with some recent ones, for my own enjoyment. (Of course, notably, my greatest muse and favorite is my granddaughter.) And I've shifted to sanded papers and softer pastels (what a difference!)

Here is one of my first portraits of my daughter's friend Lisa.  Early and very controlled strokes on golden Mi-Teints and allowing the paper color to show through as highlights on the skin. I feel I've come a long way from this one.

The second painting is a more recent one.  "Let It Snow".   Playing with expression and more fluid strokes.  Close-up and personal to pull the viewer into the subject's momentary experience.

Let It Snow

Sunday, February 24, 2019

2019 * Pastel Painting Evolution * 2 of 5 * Feb 21

"Geranium"  (soft pastel on Mi-Teints)

Teaching.  I love sharing ideas, techniques and experiences, encouraging students and then watching them discover new media and applications and fresh ways of seeing the world.  While first teaching pastels in the 90s, I was often surprised at how my demonstrations would turn out.  Fresh and immediate.  More full of life than those paintings that received close scrutiny .. although those had their place too.  

With this geranium, I just threw my purple coat (yes, purple) over a chair and set the flower on top for a still life.  The resultant secondary triadic color scheme worked in an exciting way!  Color, texture, energetic strokes all came together.

I still own this painting.  It reminds me of the transition in my thinking of "focus focus, make it perfect" communicating the reality before me to allowing the Creative Spirit to flow through me and be my partner in the experience.  (My brother, a great poet, also share how this Creative Spirit works in many of his works .. not knowing exactly where the inspiration comes from .. but it flows through us in near magical ways!  Below is a link to his poetry page.)

The experience is amazing!  This was the dawn of my taking pastels more seriously as a finished medium.  The process rather than the product becomes my real joy.  And the resultant painting is more free, more exciting, more FUN!

Saturday, February 23, 2019

2019 * Pastel Painting Evolution * 1 of 5 * Feb 20


#1 of 5  "Rain Washed" (soft pastel on Canson Mi-Teints)
"Rain Washed"

I was asked by Bernadette Decesare, renowned pastel artist, to post 5 of my paintings for 5 days that have special significance to me as a developing artist.  She inspires me so, one of the many great pastelists today.  I am so thankful for social media that allows us to share ideas and keep in touch with artists and friends from around the world .. to share and learn and grow.

This "Rain Washed" was one of the first pastels I created as a finished work, back in the 1980s.  Previously, using soft pastels had been only a sketch medium for me and I was using Rembrandt pastels and Canson Mi-Teints paper.  So much has changed since then.  I've greatly expanded my materials.

I was looking out my window one day as the rain fell heavily washing down across the pane and distorted the view of the field beyond.  It gave me great joy to do a painting the way I wanted to do it .. for myself .. the emotion and vision of the moment .. and not worry about whether it would be liked by others or sell or not.  Throughout my artistic career I have struggled with that nasty little devil on my shoulder that whispers discouraging comments in my ear.  He's an insistent little bugger and I often wonder from whence he came and why he is still hanging around.

As I progress in my artistic evolution, I strive to escape any negativity and worries.  I aim to not so much appreciate the product created but to simply enjoy the creative process itself.

Friday, August 31, 2018

August 31, 2018

MY GOODNESS!  It his been a while since I have posted a blog entry!  So many changes in my life .. but suffice for now to simply keep this running.  I will update soon.  Meanwhile, a painting of mine was recently judged into an International Pastel Show!  I am honored, flabbergasted, and excited!   More info to come soon!

Pemaquid Awash  (soft pastel 12x18in)

Thursday, March 09, 2017

2017 Maine * Recurring Revelation * March 9

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. 
It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed."   
~Albert Einstein

Adventure is out there! Even if it's just a tiny one.

I need to figure out where I'm going for the rest of my life. I have no plan, no real goals, I've just been kind of wandering for a bit. I can't totally go far away and do exactly what I would want at this point because of my parents' aging and struggling with illness and my grandchildren are growing and we need to build relationship. 

Something close? In the Caribbean?  Some place from where I can get back to Maine quickly.  When I ask for ideas via social media, many people offer wonderful experiences but 90% of them are vacations at resorts.  I need more in-depth travel.  Getting away from gringos and mixing with the local people.  That’s what I love to do.  I checked a couple places and I really love something with mountains. Puerto Rico has that… And I need something fairly safe.

On the other hand … I just want to go to Europe.

Sudden snow squall forces me to stop driving
Early March in Maine.  Still very much winter with grimy snow banks and chilling temperatures.  I decide to take a day drive, in the sun, up the coast, to clear my mind and open it to stream-of-consciousness ideas.

Brunswick, Maine. Bowdoin College. As I drive northeast along the coast it starts out sunny … then suddenly a huge squall came in.  Snow, sleet, heavy wind.  I arrive in Brunswick and it is ridiculous. So heavy one can barely see the other cars. I pull over to the side of the street, check Weather Channel on my SmartPhone, and it reveals that the storm is moving along exactly in my pre-planned route.  I try to make a logical decision: I might as well turn around and head back south. By the time I looked up again the sky was clearing to a bright cobalt blue.  Still, no sense trying to catch up to and follow that intense squall.

Bowdoin Art Museum

At Bowdoin, I drive around the campus three times before I finally find a parking place. I had become frustrated and was about to give up but thought: “just once more and if I don't find a place I will leave.”  I nearly immediately find a parking spot directly in front of the art museum.  (Why do I forget to send out requests to the Universe?)  I lock the car.  I'm heading in ...

Käthe Kollwitz aquatint
The Bowdoin Art Museum houses a wonderfully eclectic collection of artwork: paintings, etchings, photography, Assyrian sculpture, Falcon mummies, ancient pottery, and African masks. It is an efficient museum, well kept and, on this day at least, with few visitors. The Käthe Kollwitz etchings particularly call my attention.  Ever since I took print making in college, her work has held a powerful fascination for me. The disturbing and melancholy images, rendered in high contrast and deep shadows, which often reflect the tragic historical events that surrounded much of her life, evoke powerful disquieting emotions. []

I am reading "Madam X" by Deborah Davis.  It is a study of John Singer Sargent and his rise to artistic fame especially through his relationship and amazing portrait of Amélie Guatreau.  It is a richly woven book with details of the artist’s growth and life and the reputation-destroying scandal caused by the avant garde painting.  It causes me to remember, yet again, that I do yearn to be an ex-pat, or to simply to live elsewhere ... somewhere ...  anywhere else … that is unique for me (but most earnestly in France or Europe).  

My petite adventure of the day, to Brunswick and back, well … it is not truly much of an adventure. Just riding and giving myself a chance to think, without focusing, to allow a stream of consciousness to take over.  It does help me so much.  Later in the afternoon, after more driving, I pull over to read a bit more of the book about John Singer Sargent and Madame X.  

Pine Point
I am at Pine Point, watching the Atlantic waves wash the beach.  The tiny white dots of seagulls are scattered on the sand.  The sky is a pale blue with a dissolving three-quarter moon looking wistfully down upon the water. The ocean is a deep terra-vert tone edged in a ruffle of pale lace as it hits the shore. The tide is out and the exposed earth is a light raw umber with the most fascinating pattern of sky-reflecting rivulets tracing patterns from the higher sand to where they greet the sea below. The sun is beginning to set behind me. It casts a pale light on the dry and faded amber-toned sea grass. Weathered fence posts and linking sea ropes border the beach and the path that leads from the parking lot toward it. I have opted not to go down and run on the shore – although it is a momentary aspiration -- the March wind has picked up force and the temperature has dropped discouragingly.

The insipid existence of my recent days had left me empty and depressed.  I have not truly gained a new process today in trying to make a decision about what to do with my life, nor how to follow any plans I try to make, nor even to start to make them; but I know deep down inside me that something has been decided. It is not easy to take the first steps to move on any such a resolution, but my time does NOT stretch interminably in front of me, my upcoming active years dwindle, so I know it must basically be NOW for action to be taken.  

We each have only One Life. 

Saturday, March 04, 2017

2017 Maine * The Cosmos * March 4

One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; 
the self is more distant than any star. 
~G.K. Chesterton

Minus four degrees whisked by a wind chill for a frigid winter day in Maine.  No nature walk today!  A weak sun occasionally peaks through the grey clouds, but adds none of its distant warmth to this colorless day.  It is Saturday.  I awakened slowly this morning, remaining tucked between my cozy French linen sheets for a while and savoring the comfort.  I take a few moments to be come centered and focus to carry this balance into the conscious existence of the day.  A quick video call from my granddaughter put me in a happy mood for a moment.  Then she hung up .. without warning .. off to do some adventure of the moment. 

She is just six after all.

Still snuggled, I catch up on evening texts from my brother.  He was watching the movie “Arrival” again; a complex sci-fi film where a linguist is basically the savior of Earth and the aliens bring knowledge instead of war.  Texting quickly, we rush off in a discussion of theories of language effects on the brain and multiple language approaches.  “The Sapir Whorf Hypothesis states that the immersion in a foreign language actually rewrites your brain”, he texts,  “ – Linguistic Relativity – as can be done with math as well.” To which I respond that math is, of course, a language.   I share that when I am speaking in a foreign language and my mind hiccoughs over a needed, but momentarily forgotten, word, it automatically seeks a similar-meaning word in the next language (I am tri-lingual).  My brother comments, referring to the Ur-language hypothesis: “Inferring cognitive differences based on linguistic differences can become a circular argument.  Because different languages rely on different cognitive patterns and routes, some less linear than others.  That’s where [the movie] gets the concept of time and relativistic theory, and while it’s highly unreliable at this point, it makes a lot of sense.  Although they made it up for the movie, people are starting to investigate it with weight and import.” 

Yes, these are how our texting conversations often run.

Meanwhile, as I wait for his responses, I am off watching Carl Sagan YouTube videos.  Compilations of “Ten Times Carl Sagan Blew Our Minds”.  Now I’m off on a science and spiritual contemplative hour.  Language, science, spirituality, the cosmos, and Life.

No surprise that I run across Liz Gilbert a bit later in the morning, touting the importance of self-love:

Go outside and look up at the sky, and know that you came from atomic stardust, from worlds that exploded billions of years ago. Look at a tree, and know that you are part of nature's endless story, and remember, as Chief Seattle said, "We know that sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins."

Find that knowing.

I glance around and focus on my paja-toquilla hat (called “Panama” hat) hanging on the wall.  It reminds that I was in Ecuador just a couple weeks ago, but those two and a half weeks seem like months.  Since the abrupt return from my South American trip, I have been occupied mostly with caring for my 90-year old mother (who had contracted pneumonia and was very sick in the hospital – hence my early homecoming).  My older brother had born the weight of most of her care and visits, so I hoped to give him some relief as well.  My father, 90, is also struggling with health issues.   

Between visits, I try to be with my daughters and grandchildren as much as possible, but to small avail.  I am also attempting to organize my present personal life: what I am doing, where I am going, what are my dreams and plans?   

Here am I – as many friends are -- pin-balling amidst contemplation and tasks of the beginning, the middle, and the end of Life.  Such in-my-face thoughts have me swirling in a dense murk.

A cup of coffee and a pale yellow primrose keep me company as I write.  The pale sun fades even more behind the snow-spitting clouds and does not invite me outside into this bleak day.   

Quietly I sit here in my room, alone in the house, and ponder Life and the Cosmos.


Tuesday, February 07, 2017

2017 Ecuador * Decision * February 7

"To decide is to make peace within and let the chips fall where they may."
~Lisa Tabak

Cuenca, Ecuador

Special coffee, alone, at Sajsana and time to avoid thinking or doing much. Boredom and depression. Seems like now I'm just biding time to get home. Although home will not be better. Gray days both and cold versus warm.  

After a FaceTime with Mom yesterday and today, I have adjusted various flights and reservations in order to go home this week. I leave Monday and arrive Tuesday afternoon. (My flight is actually five past midnight in Tuesday morning and with layovers it will take the two days). 

Mom is wearing down. Over a week in the hospital now.  Heart and back issues, and pneumonia.  She puts a strong face on when I video-call, but I can tell.  Around her eyes are red-purple and sunken. She's dehydrated, terribly bruised where testing is done, she is not sleeping, eating or drinking fluids much at all.  She doesn't get up except to the bathroom with nurses help and she refuses OT.  My brothers say she is ok and shares that the medical staff considers that she is improving, but my observations and my intuitions convey otherwise.  

I'm going home. A month early, yes … but going. 

Actually once I had arrived here in Ecuador I wasn't excited anyway.  I usually am very eager when I travel.  It is not where I really wanted to be.  I have been here and it is fine, yes .. but if someone is looking for lots of sun and warmth, it is not here in these beautiful mountains. This is a nice, temperate spot, fairly clean and convenient for a  small South American city with wonderful variety .. but .. it is not my spot for now.  

My plans had been firm to visit the Pacific beach at Puerto Lopez for a week, then the my host family (from my teens) in Guayaquil - for what would have been probably my final visit with the mother who is 88 - but that is changed now. I need to get home to my own mother.   I am procrastinating telling my host sister because I know they will try to talk me into a quick visit before I leave. It would be too rushed and complicated. No, gracias, no puedo ya. 

Besides the consideration of my mother’s situation, I am intuiting big changes this coming year.  My grandson growing so fast, my daughter moving out of state, my granddaughter flourishing and in school now, my parents slipping away slowly at 90, and there is a need for me to exam where I am personally after eight years of single life and nearly three years without regular employment.  

In the courtyard below me as I sit and ponder in this wide, soft chair at Sajsana, there is a little girl about five years old, running around and dancing on the stone tiles. Her arms are flying in the air, her curly hair bounces with energy, and the joy on her face of just being alive and enjoying freedom is wonderful!  A traditional Ecuadorian ballad plays in the background. She reminds me of my beloved granddaughter on this day, her sixth birthday, when I cannot be with her.  Just the momentary thought of her is a small joy in this gray day. 

Suddenly the Andean sun breaks through the clouds in an attempt to cheer me.  Heavy white and gray clouds disintegrate to reveal a brilliant cerulean sky.  A single pigeon sits atop the brick toned tiled roof basking in the rays of sun. Behind me the massive cathedral stands sentinel over us all.  And the twirling girl in the pink dress soars on. 

More photos on Facebook:  Photos: 2017 Ecuador to Maine


My friends Dee & Scott have visited Cuenca a few years now for weeks at a time.  
Scott writes for Cuenca High Life and expresses the trials of being 6'6" in a community created by and for smaller people:

Dee's photo as we wait for the bus.  This sweet Indigenous lady came up to my waist.

Friday, February 03, 2017

2017 Ecuador * Away * February 3

"… Now the sun
Is once again nearing the horizon, and the days
Of my life are shortening, and I dream of the things
That once made me feel so alive..."

~ Greg Barden, from Ballet on the Beach


Mom is back at MMC again after one night home.  Usually I'm at peace when she has a medical episode ... she always bounces back so quickly ... but this one feels different. I keep trying to get my emotions centered.   

My granddaughter’s birthday this week. She’s six.  I am missing my grandson, too, who is growing so fast.  Besides lamenting all this, I'm having trouble getting involved in interesting things to do this time here in Cuenca. I enjoy long hikes, activities, and hanging with my gringo roomies here, but I crave more variety and time with locals to improve my personal Spanish and experiences.

I had planned to spend a week at a beach at Punto Lopez and then a few days in Guayaquil, but I have misgivings now, as my mother’s health is slow to improve. What does make the coastal visit essential is that it will probably be the last time to visit my host mother (of my first visit in 1972); knowing that after this visit I probably won't make it a priority to come back to Ecuador for a while.    

So much is beautiful here but on the list of pros and cons I am making, my sentiment is leaning away from return here any time soon. 

I continue to struggle against depression and often feel I’m without ambition or goals. Not sure if it's my age or something else…  this does not usually occur when I travel.

And then, serendipitously, there's the enlightening moment as I sit atop the Inca ruins of Pumapungo hill, above the rivers, where the air is fresh, with a soft breeze, a warm caressing sun, and the city sounds are so far below.  Near perfection.

 Facebook photo album 2017 Ecuador #2: 

Ecuador still a top retirement place info: