When I was a little girl, I was terribly jealous of my older sister, Lee-Ann. When Lee-Ann colored in her coloring book, she always stayed perfectly within the lines. As for me… well, I was very different. No matter how I tried, I just couldn’t limit myself to staying within those lines.
So I was pretty hopeless at coloring, but I did love to draw! If you gave me a pencil, I could do great things with it.
During my high-school years, I attended a Vo-Tech school studying computers. Why not study art? Because, they told me, you can’t make a career out of art, and anyway, computers are the next big thing. Fortunately, my instructor was a good guy who gave me permission to draw portraits after my programming work was done.
It was another teacher, the Architectural Drawing instructor, who introduced me to my first set of drafting pencils. I immediately fell in love with all the shades of gray I could get out of those soft- and hard-leaded pencils, content to live in my little black, white, and gray world. I could craft each portrait with delicate transitions of value – a skill that turned out to be valuable in the full-color world of art as well.
After high school, I went right into the working world. Unfortunately, I was too poor and too far from Philadelphia to attend art school. But it wasn’t long though before I was the “resident artist” at my job. Nancy, one of my co-workers, asked me to paint her portrait in color. I just laughed. “No, that’s not me,” I said, “but if you want, I’ll draw you!”
But Nancy wouldn’t take no for an answer. One day she brought me a gift – my very first set of pastels, 12 half sticks. (As a more mature artist, my collection is now over 2000 and still growing!) She looked at me and declared for all to hear, “Now you can paint me in color!”
I remember buying gray velour paper (a little tacky, but hey, it was the 70s…) and using a photo of her to paint from, I played with my tiny new set of pastels. I had to learn to control them, just like I learned to use a pencil. To be honest, it took some time. But before I knew it, I was hooked. And to this very day, I’m still experimenting with my pastels.
However, back in the 80s, my dream was mostly to paint portraits in oils and fill in with pastels. (Pastels weren’t as popular at that time.)
Then with my first pregnancy, I had to change course. My doctor was concerned that the fumes from the oils might be dangerous for the baby. Fortunately, I could still paint with my soft pastels.
I had just returned to painting with oils again when Brittany turned 3, when I found out I was pregnant with Alyssa… so it was back to the pastels once again. Then by the time Alyssa was old enough for me to switch back to painting with oils, it was too late! I had fallen in love with pastels and decided to stick with them from that time on.
I think what I love most about pastels is feeling like I’m in control. Because even though I’m still the little girl who won’t color in the lines, pastels let me make my own lines wherever I want to.
I recently went on an epic painting trip to New Mexico and attended an international pastel convention. I was excited about meeting masters of pastel from all over the world and seeing things from new perspectives. Better yet, there was a room at the convention full of all kinds of pastel vendors… they call it “The Candy Store.” I excitedly picked out some beautiful rich pastels to add to my collection to paint with in the coming years.
Always remember to think in color and don’t worry if you color outside of the lines!
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