Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"Columbia Gorge Vista" included in plein air exhibit

"Columbia Gorge Vista", pastel, 7x5
I recently participated in a show of plein air paintings at Cathedral Park Place in North Portland's St. Johns neighborhood. Oil painter Celeste Bergin posted a video of the event on her blog. A couple stopped in front of my "Columbia Gorge Vista" painting and excitedly told me they recognized the scene because they've hiked there many times. I was pleased that my painting stimulated happy memories for them shared my own joy in painting "en plein air" (outside in nature), especially on the Columbia Gorge. Although plein air painting is very popular these days it was revolutionary in the late 1880s when the Impressionists "invented" it. 

I was the only pastelist in the show (other works were in oil, watercolor or acrylic.) This gave me an opportunity to share information about pastels, a frequently misunderstood medium. Because pastels are hard and often cylindrical in shape, people sometimes think they are chalk but they aren't and don't contain chalk (limestone). Pastels are made of pure pigment held together with a gum or other resin binder and formed into round or square sticks. All colored art media contains pigment--it's the nature of the binder that creates the specific "kind" of paint (oil paint pigment is held together with linseed oil, for example).  Pastels are a dry medium applied by hand to a ground (paper or other surface). The artist can moisten the pastel, blend it or smudge it, and I have a friend who's currently experimenting with applying encaustic wax on top of pastel! The Pastel Society of America calls it "the most permanent of all media when applied to a permanent ground and properly framed. There is no oil to cause darkening or cracking, nor other substance or medium to cause fading or blistering. Pastels from the 16th Century exist today, as fresh and alive as the day they were painted!"


  1. That's a beautiful painting, Sarah! I don't know why I never thought to ask you about pastels when we painted together and I enjoyed your explanation. I'd love to hear how your friend's experiment with encaustic wax on top works.
    Merry Christmas!

  2. I neglected to mention how "sensual" pastels are. I suppose that's partly because they're applied by hand so there's the touch, but also the texture--many brands are silky/creamy smooth and go on like butter. And what about the ways the rods & cones in the ole eyeballs get fired up by the chroma?! I have little "bits & pieces" of pastels that I can share with you to play around with, Mary. Who knows, maybe I'll convert you!

  3. Informative post, Sarah. I know I cringe when people refer to pastels (wrongly) as "chalk". This is a beautiful painting!

  4. Thanks, Celeste. Here's to happy plein air adventures in 2012!

  5. Beautiful work Sarah! I hope to get to the Columbia Gorge one day with my paints!

  6. Thank you, Robin. It's not too hard to find a good scene to paint on the Gorge! Just be sure to anchor your easel so it doesn't go sailing off into the drink!


Thank you for your comment.