Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pastels and Natural Light workshop with Bill Cone in the Sierra Nevadas

Sarah & Bill at final critique (Photo: Melissa King)
I don't recall how I originally stumbled upon Bill Cone's blog, must have been one of those "one link leads to another" adventures, but when I saw his landscape paintings I was blown away. His popular one-week plein air workshop in the Sierra Nevadas fills up almost immediately and although it took me more than a year to get in, I am happy to report that Pastels and Natural Light at the San Francisco State University Sierra Nevada Field Campus was even more than I'd hoped for. I joined thirteen other students--our ranks included architects, animators, and graphic artists, most of whom live in the Bay area--for five full days of painting meadows, rivers, lakes, mountains, and rocks (my personal favorite.) Our experience included camping, swimming, and hikes loaded down with plein air gear; my pack weighed about 35 lbs. (Note to self: lighten up!) At the end of the day we looked forward to a hearty, delicious meal prepared by staff, lively conversations, and a sound sleep from all the fresh air, exercise, and focused concentration on our painting. Bill taught us more than I could comprehend about painting water: surface, reflections, depth, rocks on the bottom and their shadows, what to look for where rocks emerge from the goes on and on and yes, he says, he actually is planning to write a book about it. I can't wait to go back again next year! By day Bill works at Pixar. His work is featured on the cover of the August Pastel Journal.

Light and shadow in the meadow
Me on remote location
Bill Cone's work on cover


  1. Let`s see what you did Sarah, no doubt you were brilliant!

  2. My efforts will be revealed in the next post, my friend!

  3. Hi Sarah, Did Bill review what kind of pastel's he uses? I'm looking for a professional grade pastel. I think I prefer soft, but I'm open to other suggestions. Thanks.

    1. Hello! Our materials list for Bill's plein air class suggested Terry Ludwig brand which are already the mainstay of my pastel collection. Bill named some specific colors for landscapes in the geographic area where we'd be working, and that is of course an important consideration. I, like most other pastel artists I know, have at least a few pastels from most of the lines, hard and soft. Each has advantages depending on the paper being used or the circumstances. For example, when I'm traveling internationally with a backpack I like to take mostly the harder brands like Rembrandt because they're sturdier and less likely to break. But in general, I prefer the soft ones like Ludwig, Schmincke, Great American and Mount Vision. Dakota Art Pastels at has all these brands and more plus everything else a pastel artist needs including a wide selection of paper. Dakota's prices are reasonable and the staff is great to work with. For more detailed info about Bill Cone's palette I encourage you to contact him directly through his own blog I'm glad you're interested in working with pastels--welcome to the "club"!


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