View Full Version : An Art Changing Moment - When You Finally Got It

Kathryn Wilson
02-14-2006, 10:15 AM
Just sitting here thinking back to last year when I think I finally got it . . . I had just viewed Albert Handell's and Bob Rohm's videos and the whole world of pastel painting changed for me. I finally got it.

Each and every artist will probably have this happen to them - that turning point where everything makes more sense - and the freedom of it! When you first start out you worry so much about the technique that you forget the joy of just painting. This very moment in your art life is actually freeing yourself from that worry - you go on to something more.

I just finished reading through Elizabeth Mowry's "Landscape Meditations" and feel this might be another moment for me. Will it stand the test - we shall see in my next painting. :)

Sooooo, after this long explanation - for those of you who have experienced this "moment" - would you be willing to share? For the newbie, I dedicate this thread for you!

02-14-2006, 10:48 AM
Kat- I am still waiting......

Bill Foehringer
02-14-2006, 10:48 AM
Well, I this is a moving target for me. I have a lot of little 'moments' when I get something. Then I also have moments when I don't get something, when I see something in my work that I know is wrong. I may not know how to do it right yet but I see the need for improvement.
For instance, I see very clearly the need to work on making my values work together. I'm struggling. Someday, when I finally get the values, this will be another 'moment' when things seem to fall into place.
Another for instance. Last weekend I did three plein airs. For each one I made myself slow down and do three thumbnails. Two linear sketches and one value sketch. On the last one I did the value sketch first. From now on I will do the value sketch first. Duh! I small lightbulb moment but it should help me move toward my goal of rendering values well. When I actually started each painting I knew I had a better grasp of what I wanted to do with the composition and values. Sorry, the photos are in the camera but I've not been able to get computer time at home to post them. They are not break-through paintings, just a few more on the way to getting better. BillF

saphyre arabian
02-14-2006, 10:49 AM
i had tried pastels before and was really disappointed with them, so i put them aside and went on to something else.

i went into acrylics for a while and that was where i learned about layering. the acrylics still weren't giving me what i was searching for, so i went back to the pastels with the layering knowledge i had gotten from acrylics and there was my light bulb moment in my art! :D

pastels are now my medium of choice and they are what makes me happy in my art.


02-14-2006, 10:50 AM
Like Linda, I'm still waiting for that ephany to happen. In the meantime, I just struggle along.

Becky Foster
02-14-2006, 10:58 AM
Hi Kyle :wave: My biggest "aha! moment" came 2 years ago when I read an interview with master soft pastelist Ramon Kelly in the Pastel Journal. I'm an oil pastelist but when he talked about using "non-colors" to "knock back" colors to make a painting more realistic something just clicked within me, and it's made a huge difference in my work (portraits and wildlife art). He also uses a lot of black (a color I've read and heard NOT to use from almost everyone else) and since I love his work (and Michaelangelo's, and Da Vinci's, and Rembrandt's...) I figured black could work for me too, and I think it has.

Interesting thread, thanks!

Kathryn Wilson
02-14-2006, 11:00 AM
Saphyre_Arabian - I took care of your double posts - :)

Love all the input - thanks Bill for sharing and you too Diana. I found these little ephanys too - and they do add up. But there will be a day that it all comes together - and you say, ahhhhhh, I finally got it and your painting turns the corner. It's hard to explain and when it happens you will know it.

I think the one thing I brought away from watching Albert Handell's video was the joy he had when he was painting. He was totally immersed, talking to himself throughout the video, and that was the part that I got! I wanted that so bad I started talking to myself through my next painting - an actual conversation with my painting. It was fun and freeing at the same time.
Becky, we x-posted. Sometimes we have these moments and don't recognize them as "the" moment until we see our next painting and you wonder what you did different to make the big difference. And that is the "aha" - :)

Terry Wynn
02-14-2006, 12:00 PM
Hi, Kyle,

Thanks for starting this thread. I appreciate the input from everyone as to those "ah-ha" moments.

First off, did you think Mowry's book is something you'll refer to more in the future?

I have had one little bulb go on - I find in portrait painting I am painting the lights and darks - not an "ear" - but the values that make an ear. So I am happy with that baby step.


Kathryn Wilson
02-14-2006, 12:06 PM
Mowry's books is excellent for landscape painters - she talks about series or themed paintings in this one and I think this is the next step for me growth-wise.

Purples and dlake - continue working, learning, experimenting - it will come!

02-14-2006, 12:34 PM
Thanks Kat - for this thread. I am eagerly waiting!

02-14-2006, 01:10 PM
what are 'non-colors'.... ? would that be black, white, grey??

Deborah Secor
02-14-2006, 02:02 PM
Hmmm, the 'ah-ha' moment? Speaking about how to use pastels, I guess for me some of it started back when I was in my very first ever workshop with Albert in 1988 and he walked over, picked up a stick of charcoal and feathered some still water I'd been laboring over. All of a sudden it looked slick and wet, and I saw HOW to do it... Then he added a few little dashes of color in behind some distant trees and ZING, the thing had depth. Okay, I thought, this isn't that hard. All I needed was someone to show me a couple of technical things and I was off and running. (Oh, that it was always that simple... I was a rash youth, wasn't I?)

The 'ah-ha' moment for me comes now when I'm not slaving along, not thinking too much, just flowing with the work. It's a nice place to be but in every painting I find a portion of the process does NOT please me. If I don't get overly critical and give it a chance it often works out. I find that moment when the painting comes together is very close to the moment I stop.

And, as a teacher I have to say that I LOVE those paintings where it's so evident that the student has made a new connection! I refer to it as 'stepping off the cliff', the place where they decide that risking it is a good as making it. It takes them a long, long way. I think you have to naturally reach these epiphanies, and no one can 'make' them happen...


Kathryn Wilson
02-14-2006, 02:14 PM
Isn't it amazing how Handell can put in just a few strokes and it all makes sense. I wanna do that - :)

02-14-2006, 03:38 PM
I had been struggling along trying to get the hang of how to use pastels, especially how to build up from an underpainting to the last steps and to mix colors when one painting (hibiscus) just flowed without thought, The big one happened after doing several scratchart pieces focused on bringing out the light from the dark. I looked at my dog lying in the sun and I didn't see her. What I saw was a collection of light and dark shapes that then registered as dog. It was the first time I really saw shapes and realized how to use that in a painting. I'm anxious to try out a "puzzle piece" portrait where one starts with just a colored shape, such as the highlight on the nose, then adds an adjacent shape, maybe the shadow along the side of the nose and keeps adding until those shapes form the portrait.

02-14-2006, 05:04 PM
Add me to the list of still waiting....but I'm a newbie and I'm young....so maybe, just maybe...one day it will hit me :)

02-14-2006, 08:32 PM
i had one this past fall with donna aldridge--and after i thought, 'why did that take me sooo long, and a teacher to get it in my head?! and simple, sooo simple! i was working on a landscape, and i am thrilled that i was having the same struggle in class as i do alot at home. i had someone great to ask about it right there, oh for joy!!!! she came over, and (here's the 'duh' part) says to just add some touches of rust. now, i've done that before, but instead of 'touches', i scribbled the rusty color all over! then seeing it was too much, brushed it back off, did some more, etc., so in the end it worked, but wow, what a rough ride to get there! donna's way, of course was so much simpler and made such a nicer, cleaner piece. just some touches of rust here and there in my green landscapes. AHHH. and another 'why didn't i think of that' was the actual touch of pastel onto paper. often i was simply too heavy handed, and she taught me to, as she said over and over, 'whisper' it on. YES!! alot of donna's teaching was to add a touch of something, lightly, then re-evaluate. maybe that was all it needed, maybe you'll add more. she described it like adding salt to a dish, you add, taste, and maybe that's enough, but maybe not. it sure made it sink into my head. i will always be thankful to her!! but wasn't that a simple couple things??!!! but like so many other things, its only simple after you get it!!!

02-14-2006, 09:26 PM
One of my moments came 3 years ago upon viewing a gorgeous painting by our hugely talented Jackie Simmonds, below here, unknown to me at that time. When I saw it, I was just blown away by the sheer beauty of such an everyday scene. The flowers just strokes of brilliant color, the electric periwinkle blue of the backdrop canvas, the shadows of the people and the contrast of them against the whole scene, and the LOOSENESS of it all...just beautiful. My jaw drops looking at this every time. :) I was drawn back to my pastel passion from years ago and although it's taken me so long to get what I've done in the past year to fruition (kid years right now), I credit Jackie for jump starting my creative interest in pastels once again. Thanks, Jackie!!

K Taylor-Green
02-14-2006, 11:55 PM
For me, it was the pastels themselves. After using all the other mediums, my aha moment came with trying the first pastel sticks. With other mediums, no matter how many paintings I did, I felt the struggle. I would be doing a watercolor and thinking, maybe oil next time, and vice versa. After compleating my first piece in pastels, I felt that I had come home. I am no longer struggling to make my medium work.

02-15-2006, 12:46 AM
The first time I finished something halfway acceptable in pastels I remember standing in front of it, pastel in hand, mouth hanging open in amazement cause it was DONE already! After years of oil painting, etc. where each step of the process requires a good deal more prep and put away and where finishing a painting is worked up to like rolling a stone uphill, I had finished a mid sized painting in less than a DAY! There was nothing more to be done...it was finished! Wow!!!!!

Before that, my biggest deal was the day I realized I'd been painting stuff "like" somebody else long enough and I really WAS capable of strking out on my own and making my own art. What a POWERFUL feeling that is!

BTW, Cindy, I love that painting by Jackie too! She does wonderful outdoor scenes like that, doesn't she? Makes me wonder why I don't see the same kind of beauty when I go to the grocery store....just not the same somehow...

02-15-2006, 10:52 AM
For me, it was the pastels themselves. After using all the other mediums, my aha moment came with trying the first pastel sticks. With other mediums, no matter how many paintings I did, I felt the struggle.

I guess I did have a bit of an "aha" moment with pastels as well. I've always yearned to be an "artist". My mom was a dabbler at art, but she worked strictly with oils, acrylics and watercolors - so in my mind I guess I just felt that those mediums were "art". Yet I tried all three a few times over the years - back to when I was a kid working with my mom - but they just never clicked with me. They were never fun, and I never wound up with a piece that I was happy with.

I always assumed the problem was with me, and I was just not trying hard enough. So I still yearned to be an artist but the actual artistic process just was not fun. Then last year I took an intro to drawing class - and about five weeks into the class the instructor let us try some color with pastels, and that was truly an "aha" moment with the medium. I fell in love with pastels from that very first class, and felt I had found what I had always been looking for.

So that is just about a year now, and it's been a year of a lot of learning. I have definitely *NOT* reached an "aha" moment of feeling I have mastered the medium. :D But certainly an "aha" for having found the medium I feel is right for me.

02-15-2006, 11:48 AM
I don't think I've had that kind of moment yet. But I can see so much improvement since those first childish looking paintings.
I did have a kind of aha when I first learned about adding complement colors in items livened things up- like red in green tree leaves.
I also improved alot when I learned how a complementary background can add so much to a painting.

02-16-2006, 02:03 PM
Well, I don't know about Mastery as such...
But yesterday I recieved my copy of Richard Schmid's "Alla Prima" in the mail. He paints in oils but his writing applies to any medium. I'm on Page 11 and have had about 3 epiphanies already!

02-16-2006, 09:48 PM
I had never worked in pastel, just pencil, oils, charcoal and some watercolor-I bought the jumbo set of nupastels just because it was so pretty (I'm sure you all can relate to that) I set up some still lifes, but for some reason I couldn't get the hang of it, I had thought it would be similar to working with charcoal. So, on the shelf they went, maybe I made a few more attempts but nothing ever came out of it.

Much later ( years, I think ) I came across a library book on pastels, and instead of bothering with all the "how to" stuff, I picked a painting of fruit with a black background that I loved, and while studying and anaylizing it closely, I "copied" the piece stroke for stroke and BAM! I had it- and was off and running on my own.

I know, not very interesting, but that's what worked for me!

02-16-2006, 10:35 PM
I think it very interesting knowing you had training as a child. It's nice to know that even someone with your talent and background found the medium a challenge to learn and do for awhile. Give us heart.

02-16-2006, 11:13 PM
yes Diane, strange but true- I was using the ends/tips of the nupastels and "drawing"- I really had no idea how to "paint" with them until I analyized that fruit painting- and figured out how to layer and scumble and the whole color thing- its a bit different than mixing paint- and having the right paper makes a BIG difference...I wish I still had my first few efforts- they were soooo bad!


02-16-2006, 11:23 PM
haha. Mine first was pretty good. some poppies. I use to paint and switched not too long ago. My first was so natural. Now I'm struggling. hmmmmmmmmm. always being backwards.

Tracy Lang
02-16-2006, 11:27 PM
Great topic...for me, most of my AHA's have been pretty simple, really...a result of trying to put on canvas/paper/whatever...what's in my head. I try to do a little bit every day and some days are way better than others, but each little bit, each little aha, adds on to the ones before.

Katherine T
02-20-2006, 08:47 AM
Some of my "aha" moments:

being on a painting holiday with Jackie in 1992 in Bali and watching her produce wonderful pastel paintings - I didn't want to do watercolour any more!
trying pastel on an abrasive surface for the first time (Rembrandt Pastel Board - wonderful stuff, wonderful colours, virtually impossibole to get these days) - I found the support which suited me (I wasn't getting on with paper at all well) and my style began to emerge very quickly after that. I do think sometimes we spend too much time focusing on the pastels and not enough time on the supports. They're both an essential part of the process of painting.
working big - and that was the big one - suddenly I stopped fussing, was able to get looser and the whole process of pastel painting became an awful lot easier. And I started being able to complete two large pastel paintings a day (19.5" x 25.5") as well! :D

Donna A
02-25-2006, 09:49 PM
I still remember when I saw color for the first time! Ohhhhhh myyyyyy goshhhhhh! It was amazing. I could not move my hand fast enough to lay the color on. It was a Monday. And the year they landed on the moon the first time. Was just soooo exciting. Earlier that day----was the same-old same-old. It hit me suddenly, as I have seen it happen to one other person. Others, it comes on much more neat and tidy----and bit by bit.

And I remember the first piece I did that felt "professional." My kids were very little then and the three of us were on our own, so it had been a year since I'd been able to paint. Whatever was gestating in that year of tending to the kids and the now single-home really was surprising. Something had really changed. I had not stopped looking during that year. I guess I painted in my head and heart even though not "for real." Never looked back after that. Wow!

And then as all of us do, just kept seeing more, learning more. Pretty exciting! Donna ;-}

02-26-2006, 01:27 AM
I think my biggest Aha moment that changed my art was doing a colored pencil painting after spending time in the Colored Pencil Forum. Because of the medium, it was a necessity to use layers to build up a painting, and I had never before imagined that such realism could be gotten from colored pencils. They took forever to complete a painting, but WOW the detail!

When I picked up oils again I used the layering technique I learned from doing CP and the quality of my paintings was dramatically different.
Although I've had quite a few aha moments before and since, that was probably my biggest one. That, and learning how NOT to use black when painting, using complementary colors, and looking for unanticipated colors in objects.

-- Linda