June 29, 2017

IAPS: The Biggest Pastel Party On The Planet

Heading West

Earlier this month I travelled to attend the  IAPS convention held biennially in Alburqurque New Mexico. It’s a week long convention dedicated solely to artists who have fallen in love with the pastel medium. It’s called ‘The Biggest Pastel Party on The Planet’ for good reason!

I last went in 2013, and had a blast so of course it has been on my list to return since then. The new little addition to our family prevented me from going in 2015, however I had already made up my mind that I wasn’t going to miss out on 2017.

A Week of Inspiration

This year there was a huge lineup and so much to choose from. I signed up for four workshops and three demos all held by artists whose work I admire.

The first workshop was by Kathleen Newman and was entitled “Drawn to Water”. I took an immense amount of notes during this class. Kathleen carefully explained the value of notans (little monochromatic studies), techniques for painting water, reflections and creating stronger compositions by also taking into account colour harmony, atmosphere and mood. I was also able to watch Kathleen’s demo session later in the week which helped reinforce all of the techniques she discussed in the workshop.

The second workshop was by Sally Strand and was entitled “The Colour of Light”. From the day I signed up, I was excited about this class. Sally too discussed the importance of values in a painting while exploring the effects of light on various colours and compositions. Similar to Kathleen, I watched Sally’s workshop later in the week as well to help get a firmer understanding of what we covered in the workshop.

Third, I took a workshop by Kim Lordier entitled “Take Control of that Ephemeral Light”. I’m not a landscape painter so this workshop was more challenging than others for me but I learned a great deal which is the reason I signed up. They always say if you are comfortable then you are not learning… Kim’s workshop focused on capturing subtle hints of sunlight in the southwest landscape.

And lastly I took a workshop by Jeanne Rosier-Smith entitled “Dramatic Seascapes”. This class was tons of fun. Jeanne focused on bringing drama and mood into seascape paintings while invoking the feeling of moving water. She also explained how a powerful underpainting can do so much of the work for you. Typically I do a dry underpainting using charcoal but Jeanne introduced me to a wet underpainting technique which I will surely be using again. Like the other artists, I watched Jeanne’s demo as well, and of course took tons of notes.

In between all of this there were lots of lively dinners, chatterbox lunches, live duel painting challenges, a banquet, and the infamous candy store (aka the hall where they sell art supplies and you just want it all!) I’d like to note that I did stick to my shopping list in the candy store, well except for that “10 free pastels deal” that Richardson’s had on. I’ve never tried their pastels before so I’ll provide a review in due course…

To top off the convention as if it wasn’t amazing enough, I was afforded the opportunity to have a one on one portfolio critique done by Sally Strand. This was quite heartwarming for me as I absolutely love her work and she has such a warm spirit. Sally provided me a detailed list of things to focus on to help build my skill set. And most importantly, she urged me to “paint from life” and rely less on photos.

And Now What…

So by the end of it all, I have a book jam packed with notes, photos, explanations and recommendations. Too much info to apply all at once but it will serve as a learning guide and reference for a very long time  as I slowly begin to apply and understand… and hopefully one day it just becomes habit.

It was great to make new friends (far too many to name) and to see familiar faces from the prior convention allowing me to reconnect with friends who I never get to see otherwise. And to make it even more special, I was finally able to meet (in person) a few artists whom I’ve been friends with via instagram for some time now.

Thus far, I have always found IAPS to be a truly memorable experinece. There’s something magical that happens when hundreds of people who share a passion gather together to socialize, network and learn. Artists eat together and dream together. The energy and inspiration was beyond what you can imagine.

So of course having returned back home and now coming down off of my high, I find myself  anxious to begin painting again and to slowly being applying and reviewing all of what I learned from the fabulous artists at this convention. One of those techniques in particular is the use of an “alcohol wash” underpainting. This involves applying a faint layer of pastel followed by a wash/layer of alcohol over it. The concept was first introduced to me during Jeanne Rosier’s Seascapes Workshop at IAPS. I decided to test this process out again on a few small studies.

While at the beach I completed a rough outline/study for some small seascape pieces, trying to capture the basic shapes and shadows. It didn’t look like much at this point but if you spend enough time thinking and planning this stage it makes the remainder of the piece much easier to execute.

So after determining the basic composition, I took a small amount of alcohol on a brush and painted over the pastel. It creates what resembles a watercolor painting from which I’m able to build upon by adding the pastel layers. What I love most about this process is that it does the hard work for you. A great underpainting acts like a solid foundation and map. So I don’t have to spend as much time building up pastel layers from blank white paper and risk clogging the tooth of the paper too early.

I worked on each piece simultaneously often referring back to the reference photos I took while at the beach. I moved a bit slow on these as it didn’t come as naturally. Learning something new, no matter hold old you get is always difficult. It’s hard to break away from tried and tested habits/methods and venture off down a different path, all for the sake of growth… chartering news waters they say… but one thing I’m also learning along the way is to be more appreciative of the process and the time it takes to master a new skill set.

I often ask myself, “if you stop or give up now, will you look back and say… if only I would have kept going and allowed time to do its magic?”…. So as frustrating as new concepts may be, just keep trying, there’s really no other way to get there…And I feel that mindset is a must for most hurdles in life.

The final results are shown below. I hope you enjoy these minis escape studies and that you return to see the many more to come.


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