June 14, 2013

IAPS Pastel Paradise

On My Way

Yeah baby! Two days to go and I’m out of here! I’m heading to New Mexico for the 2013 Biennial Conference for the International Association of Pastel Societies. It’s a vacation that’s long overdue and I can’t wait to learn more about my medium and network with other artists.

The International Association of Pastel Societies (IAPS) is a non-profit organization representing pastel societies uniting in a common cause — to demonstrate the validity and quality of pastel fine art around the world. The coming together of pastel societies provides a strong voice for pastel artists and the luminous medium of pastel. The foundation of IAPS is based on networking and sharing. Individual artists benefit and expand their knowledge through the IAPS society of their choice. Since IAPS was founded, pastel artists have been gathering together every two years for the IAPS conventions. The convention has grown and expanded each time, and now includes a wide variety of activities for pastel artists.

I’m excited and nervous at the same time. Many of the artists whose portfolios and blogs I drool over will be there both as teachers and as students. I’m almost a lil star struck, but instead of wanting their autograph I want to see things like how they hold their pastel, how they move their wrist, what type of paper they use…I want to be all up in their studio business lol…all up in it! It will be a lot to take in. It will be an experience for sure and I know that I’ll have to relax some of my introverted nature so as to get the most out of this opportunity. Two days and I can’t wait! … I’ll tell you all about it for sure!

I must give a huge shout out and thank-you to my family and friends that continue to encourage me on this artistic journey. I’m truly blessed to have such amazing people in my life. I can only hope that I return the same positivity to the universe we share.



IAPS Day 1

After spending almost 14 hours in travel (the pain of which was lessened by free wifi, Wendy’s fast food and some good music), I arrived in Albuquerque New Mexico for the 2013 IAPS Conference. I was in awe as we flew over the mountains and across the red desert landscape. It is an absolutely beautiful place made even more special by the hospitality of those who live there.


I spent my first full day there doing what tourist do best. I slept in to catch up on some well needed R&R and tried to ignore the numerous emails flooding in from work. I took a slow stroll through the streets lined in “Pueblo Revival Style Architecture” admiring the vibrant flowers and doors that lined each entrance.

Late morning I hopped on the “2 guys and a trolley” tour bus which was a wonderful experience coupled with a lot of jokes! (They gave tootsie pop a whole new meaning) During the tour and game show type questionnaire, they highlighted the history of Albuquerque, showed us the city’s best attractions, university and different neighborhoods… talked about its history in the movie industry (who would have known!)… the culture and food (Red or Green is the question they say!)…and last but least they gave us homework to discover the rest of the town…it was well worth it!

In the afternoon I wondered through Old Town visiting the galleries and shops that sold native crafts and fine art. I did pick up a few  gifts which I just couldn’t walk away from. Old Town is so rich in culture and it is very apparent that the city has a lot of pride and value in the arts. That’s not something many cities can claim. I even met a local artists there who gave me a sneak peak of some pieces he will be displaying in an upcoming solo show!

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I discovered quite a few shops that were tucked away out of sight and found a small family run restaurant called Romero Street Grill where the people treated me like I came there all the time. There’s something so comforting about a homemade sandwich and a thick milkshake especially when served with smiles. My daughter would have had a blast filling her tummy there.

After spending almost the entire day out, I returned just in time to relax for a little before heading to the IAPS opening receptions for the Juried Exhibition and the Master Circle Exhibition. The works on exhibit were jaw dropping. It has to be the best group of work I have ever seen hands down. Congrats to Lynn Asselta for her Master Circle award! Lynn and I had talked online via facebook btu had never met in person so it was wonderful to finally meet her!

To top it off I had the pleasure of meeting in person Karen MargulisSally Strand and Colette Odya Smith! That just made my night. And in my search for a Pepsi (because water just won’t cut it), I met Christine Debrosky in the elevator! (Why on earth people care about hollywood celebrities when instead they could be in the company of these great artists is beyond me!).

IAPS Day 2

My 2nd day in Albuquerque at IAPS began with a pre-convetion workshop “The Figure in Pastel with Live Model” taught by Margaret Dyer. I absolutely love Margaret’s work and jumped at the opportunity to enroll in her workshop. Her figures, some of which are shown below, are done with such simple shapes and the values and colour within each are so beautiful!

Twenty artists in total took the workshop, all of various backgrounds, styles, and levels which made for a wonderful mix. We began by watching Margaret work through a demonstration with a nude model. She discussed what she was doing at each stage along with her reasoning. I always find it so interesting to watch the process that other artists employ because no matter your style you can always always learn so much from them.

Each artists sent up a station in front of the nude model from which to paint. We began by drawing the figure using charcoal and slowly built the drawings until the correct proportions were achieved. Believe it or not, prior to this workshop, I had no idea how to do live measurements so that alone was a great tool.

Next we blocked in the areas in shadow using a pastel darker than the paper and then added black to the areas that appeared to be the darkest. From there we reworked the dark areas making them lighter or darker, warmer or cooler, depending on their relationship to other values. We did the same with the lightest values and the middle tones. Margaret talked about one of her proven methods which I call “avoiding interference”. Using this method, she ensures that values are not mixed, and are instead layered in their own respective areas which prevents the painting from appearing flat. It really makes a difference!

Lastly, Margaret finishes off her paintings with “punctuation”. Punctuation is what Margret calls that last stage where you go in a add those final items which really bring out a painting. Often artists (myself being beyond guilty) are too anxious and put these punctuation items in a painting far too early!

Margaret has a wonderful spirit and I’m sure everyone enjoyed the workshop. I left Margaret’s workshop with pages of notes and feeling very inspired!

That same evening we watched the “Paint Around”, an event held every year as part of the IAPS conference. It’s amazing to watch how different artists approach the same painting. For those who are not familiar with the paint around here is how it works:

“Each artist brings a photo or sketch to work from, and is stationed at an easel with supplies (donated by vendors from the Trade Show) at hand. The Paint-Around Timekeeper, Rich Harris, gives the signal to start, and the artists have ten minutes to start a painting. When the time is up, they put down their pastels and move to the next easel, where they find out what that painting subject is and decide what needs to be done next. After ten minutes, they rotate again, finally ending up on their own starting paintings for the last ten minutes.”

IAPS Day 3

My 3rd day in Albuquerque at IAPS began with a demo and talk held by Marla Bagetta on her series known as “100 Variations“. If you have never seen this series check it out! The series is made up of 100+ (I believe it may be more than twice that now) paintings of the same composition. Marla talked about the history of the series and how it came about. What I found most valuable about Marla’s talk was that she reminded us as artists that there are no set rules, and that above all, you must paint with passion and authority,

When asked if she ever got bored or what she achieved from the series, Marla explained that she had so much fun painting that boredom was never a problem. And in terms of benefit, Marla explained that the series helped to reinforce one of the few rules she has:

The need for PERFECTION leads to PROCRASTINATION which leads to PARALYSIS.
– Marla Bagetta

I love that! I for one spend way too much time trying to perfect a piece, and I end up procrastinating and over working the piece, leading me to feel unhappy about it and then ending up feeling as though I don;t have ability to do better… it’s a cycle that’s hard to break so these types of reminders are so helpful!

Despite her free spirited approach, Marla gave a great deal of credit to the foundation upon which her art is founded. Marla explained that the foundation of painting (i.e. understanding colour theory, values, composition) is important because until an artists is comfortable in these areas such that most of it becomes habit, it can be harder to have a looser or less restricted approach. Reaching that point will be a work in progress but you have to have fun along the way right!

In the afternoon I went to a demo and talk by Christine Debrosky who primarily produces landscaping paintings. Now If you know my work and portfolio you will see there are no landscape paintings! And this is for a reason! I have tried them before, and hated what I produced so much that I did not blog about it or dare to post it online.

So my main intention for attending Christine’s demo and talk was to simply watch how she progresses through her pieces. And I learned so much from simply that, enough to try a different approach and give landscapes another go.

IAPS Day 4

My 4th day in Albuquerque at IAPS began with a William (Bill) Schneider’s demo and talk “Creating Realistic Skin Tones”. Sounds like a blast already doesn’t it? Bill’s portraits are gorgeous and I would encourage you to view his portfolio if you are not familiar with his work.

Schneider mentioned that skin is simply a translucent cover for the body. It sounds a bit odd but it’s a great way to think of it. Skin simply acts as a cover for all of our muscles, bones, organs, veins etc….but remembering that can help artists to better understand forms, shapes and colors when painting portraits or figures.

Like many of the artists teaching via demos, Schneider reminded artists not to “mix values”, meaning ensure that your darks remain dark and lights remain light, so that you don’t even up with an overworked flat image.  Schneider talked about values, shapes, temperature, edges, color… the whole nine yards and I have some great notes to now refer back to while painting. It helps so much to simply sit and watch someone else paint while you take notes and ask questions!

Most importantly Schneider noted that in order to grow you must paint, paint, paint… and paint some more. “You avoid making mistakes by gaining experience, and you gain experience  by making mistakes”… Not exactly what an emerging artist wants to hear but it’s the truth!

In the afternoon after having so much fun in Margaret Dyer’s  workshop earlier in the week I was really looking forward to watching her do another demo and discussing her process in more detail.

To our surprise Margaret had the entire audience join her in the model photoshoot and each person had the opportunity to snap reference photos of the model to later use as subject matter in their own paintings. I can’t even begin to explain how much fun I was having at IAPS and it just got better. I got some really great pics from this, so many that perhaps I will do a large series because I can’t just choose a few.

Margaret reviewed the photos on her camera with us and explained why some would be considered great reference photos while others would not. It was helpful to hear and take part in these discussions because we all had different perspectives but regardless could come to the same conclusions as to which photos would or wouldn’t make for a great painting.

Margaret progressed through the demo and discussed each step along the way reinforcing the concepts that she taught in the workshop. I did manage to take quite a few notes while being in complete awe of her work at each stage. What I like best about Maragret’s work is that it has a lovely balance of detail and abstraction leading to what many term a “painterly” effect.

As I watched the demo, I was able to compare the processes to my own, and see which techniques I may or may not adopt to further improve my painting and get it them to where I’d like them to be. I hope I can take another one of Margret’s workshops in the near future. Especially since she’s based in one of my favourite cities Hot-lanta!!

IAPS – In Review

As IAPS winded down and I finished my last class, I admit I felt rather sad and a tear or two did fall. I had spent almost a week immersed in the pastel medium and surrounded by so many people who shared my passion. We talked about what we love, watched artists we love create amazing paintings, learned new techniques, discussed challenges, shared experiences and advice… and most importantly formed some wonderful friendships. I have quite a few notes in my journal and business cards that will bring back some wonderful memories. I could truly do this all day everyday and I am already looking forward to IAPS 2015, Lord willing.

Of course I could not leave without visiting the candy store to get a loads of goodies for all the paintings soon to come that were inspired by this trip!  In due tie I’ll provide reviews of each items. I purchased a few Terry Ludwig pastels to try out, along with the portrait set of Girault Pastels.


I treated myself to some more surfaces including Kity Wallis SandpaperColourfix, and Ampersand Pastel Board. Ooh I just can’t wait to use them!


And lastly, because I absolutely love reading about art and my medium in particular, I purchased two books: Pastel Painting Atelier by Ellen Eagle and Painting Classic Portraits: Great Faces Step by Step: Luana Luconi. Both artists were kind enough to sign their books for me and it was truly a pleasure to meet them. So many inspirational artists!

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IAPS was an experience that I’ll never forget and I’m forever grateful that I had the opportunity to be part of it! It made me realise the importance and energy of such events. Hopefully each year I can commit some time to the development of my artistic journey. Who knows what 2014 may have in store but one thing is for sure, I left IAPS thinking “In 2015, I’ll be back!”.

Thank-you Regina, Daggi, Colette, Debbie, Denise, Kathryn, Donna, Dot, Margaret L, Margaret D, Susan, Lynn, Bob, Fred, Nancy, Ellen, Bill, Luana and Ruth for making my trip so memorable!




  • Daggi Wallace June 15, 2013

    Great post, Nessa! And wonderful pictures of Old Town. I love the American Southwest and its architecture. And I agree, it’s hard not to be star struck meeting all these great artists we have admired from afar!

  • Shinhuey June 16, 2013

    Lucky you! I love Sally Strand’s paintings and have been reading Karen’s daily posts for quite a while. Can’t believe you got to meet them in person! Seeing masters’ work in person must be quite extraordinary. Thank you for sharing and keep the posts coming! 🙂

    • Vanessa December 30, 2013

      It was definitely an awesome experience Shinhuey! Maybe you can come in 2015!! Add it to your bucket list!

  • Kellee Conrad June 18, 2013

    What an amazing experience. Wish I could have been there to meet you and all the other extraordinarily talented artists.

    • Vanessa July 8, 2013

      Hi Keelee, thanks for dropping by my blog! It was certainly a wonderful experience and meeting so many people was the best part. Maybe you can aim to go to the next one in 2015!

  • Wanda Wairegi June 18, 2013

    YOur pictures of NM are very picturesque.Sure you won’t consider being a travel writer? Great post.

    • Vanessa July 8, 2013

      Hi Auntie!! Oh how I would love to travel and simply paint… maybe one day though, and perhaps when the bills are not such a priority LOL!!

  • Toni Ruppert June 25, 2013

    What a lovely post Vanessa! I feel your excitement!

    • Vanessa July 8, 2013

      Hi Toni! It was good to chat with you the other day via email. Hope you are having a wonderful time creating your new series of paintings.

  • Diane August 6, 2013

    Great to read about your visit to Albuquerque. I was sitting next to you on the ‘Two Guys and a Trolly’ tour of the city and finally am checking out your web site. Very nice art work and interesting blog! I liked Albuquerque a lot, too! It was great meeting you and it is fun to see your work.

    Diane from Minnesota

    • Vanessa August 15, 2013

      Hi Diane, what a nice surprise to see your comment on my blog! Certainly I remember you. I hope you are doing well and enjoyed Albuquerque. I began missing it the day I left. It’s a beautiful place. Do you think you will go back int he next few years sometime?

      Sending you well wishes in Minnesota!

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