Saturday, December 31, 2016

Reflections on 2016

My parents were right. Each year goes by a little faster than the last.

2016 proved this point for me. As I look back, I can't believe how fast this year came and went. Overall, it was a good year both personally and professionally.

Before I dig into 2017, I want to reflect on some of my personal favorite paintings from 2016. Yes, I know, I'm not supposed to play favorites. But while I like to refer to my paintings as "my children," it's only a figure of speech. So, therefore, I get to play favorites at the end of the year.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the paintings from this past year that really stuck with me (for the right reasons!). Enjoy, and I'll see you in 2017.

Parallel Universe 18 x 18 pastel.

I thought that this piece from the heart of Chicago captured the woman and the brilliant summer light effectively.


Please Continue to Pull Forward 12 x 24 pastel.

I chose this piece because of its unusual subject matter and its optimistic title. What better philosophy for how to proceed through life?


Woodward Avenue, Detroit 6 x 12 pastel.

Luminous light, bright colors, and strong shapes made this piece from Detroit pop.


Skyscape No. 9, Sapphire Spring 8 x 12 pastel.

I have positive vibes about this landscape because I discovered the subject while on a bike ride.


Twilight Highway 8 x 12 pastel.

Sunset in central Wisconsin, my home state.


Follow My Gaze 16 x 30 oil on linen.

A wonderful portrait and portal into another world.


Star Gazers 36 x 36 oil on canvas.

I wanted to begin working in oils because it would allow me to work larger. Here's one of my first larger pieces in oil.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Winter and Experimentation

Yesterday was the official start of winter and today, happily, the days start to get longer. I'm already looking forward to getting out into my veggie garden in just a few short months, but I also value this time of year for the opportunity to rest and restore my creative spirit. This is the season when I experiment with my art materials and try some more ambitious motifs in my studio that I don't have time to explore during my busy summer months. After all, when the wind is howling and the snow is blowing sideways, what better time to slink into my studio with a warm cup of tea and really dive deep into a big piece or new idea?

My Palette featuring several different blues (and one green) mixed out from full strength down to lighter tints to see which one has the vibrancy that I need.

Right now, I'm doing precisely that. I'm tackling a series of larger cityscapes during these upcoming months. I have a bunch of exhibitions coming up in the spring and I'm excited by the opportunities ahead. I'm currently working on a 36" x 36" oil on canvas featuring a view along West 48th Street in midtown Manhattan. Over this past year, I've had a fairly established selection of oil paint colors that I've used in all of my works, whether they were landscapes or cityscapes. A consistent palette of colors is important to streamline the working process and maintain predictability in color mixtures.

But for this particular subject, I found that my blues were falling short of the mark. Naturally, I took to the Internet and ordered in some new colors from my favorite online suppliers (Jerrys Artarama, Dick Blick, and Utrecht). Have I mentioned that the coolest thing about being an artist is that you can paint _AND_ satisfy your compulsive shopping urges at the same time?

Anyways, I ordered in some new paints from a variety of manufacturers until I found just the right ultramarine blue for the job. Gamblin won, in case you were wondering. The big piece is still in process and you can grab a sneak peek of it via my Instagram account, but it isn't quite ready for its full-fledged debut on my web site. Instead, today I'm posting the small 8 x 8 study, "Midtown Mist" here for you to see what will come off of my easel early in 2017. Enjoy!

Study, Midtown Mist 8 x 8 oil on panel.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Custom Artwork

It's been a topsy turvy fall here with bouts of very mild weather juxtaposed with some chilly days and a few snowflakes. When the weather cools down and the allure of working outdoors on my painting or in my garden lessens, I find it easier to focus on big projects in my studio. Right now, I'm working on custom commissioned pieces for several clients and I thought I'd share with you a peek at one of the projects.

I was asked by a Penn State College of Engineering alum to create a series of works highlighting the beautiful campus in State College, Pennsylvania during the fall. Since moving to this area back in 2004, I've been dazzled by the gorgeous autumn foliage of both the town and the surrounding state parks, so this idea appealed to me.

We began working together earlier this year to identify subjects and compositions that were meaningful to him. I like to give people some options when they approach me with an idea, so in this instance I created a series of black and white sketches first. From there, we identified the best compositions and I created initial color studies. Following some minor adjustments based on client feedback, these color studies will become the basis for the larger, final paintings that I'll complete in the coming winter months.

Shown here are the initial black and white sketches for a couple of the compositions we selected: the Nittany Lion Statue on the Penn State University campus and the Old Main administrative building on campus. If you'd like to commission a custom painting, you can contact me through my web site. Happy Holidays!

Initial black and white study featuring a composition of the Penn State Nittany Lion statue.

Second black and white study featuring a composition of the Penn State Nittany Lion statue.

Color Study 12 x 18 oil on canvas of the selected composition that will serve as the basis for the larger final painting.

Initial black and white study featuring a composition of Old Main on the Penn State University campus.

Second black and white study featuring a composition of Old Main on the Penn State University campus.

Color Study 12 x 16 oil on canvas of the selected composition that will serve as the basis for the larger final painting.

Monday, October 10, 2016

What I'm Working On Now

This weekend will be my last outdoor art show for the 2016 season, the Bethesda Row Fine Art Show in Maryland. While I finish final preparations for this event, I'm already looking forward to a mini vacation to tour the Civil War national battlefield of Antietam in Sharpsburg, Maryland with a Park Service certified guide later next week. I'm an American history enthusiast and I love seeing history firsthand, which is one of the biggest benefits to living in Pennsylvania and the East Coast in general. But when I get back to my studio, it's shaping up to be a busy fall season even though my outdoor shows will be finished for this year.

In case you're wondering why you haven't seen many new additions to my portfolio of available works online, it's because I'm currently working on many different custom pieces of artwork for different clients. Some of these pieces are based on ideas close to home, such as a series inspired by the beautiful Penn State campus for a university alum. In addition, the local hospital, Mount Nittany Medical Center, asked me to help them with a landscape painting for their president. I'm also working on my largest painting ever, a cityscape, for a client in Philadelphia.

This particular piece weighs in at 3' x 6', and it's much larger than anything I could do in pastel due to the size limitations of paper and (im)practical issues associated with framing a pastel that large. This was one of the main reasons why I decided to add oil painting to my body of artwork beginning a couple of years ago: I wanted to work larger!

To tackle this painting, I bought some house painting brushes at the hardware store to help with the initial block-in of this large piece. And I'm having a blast working on it! I love working in this larger scale and I'm enjoying the rich colors of oil paint.

Study, Little Italy 8 x 12 oil on panel.

The subject of this 3' x 6' painting is the view along Mulberry Street in Lower Manhattan's Little Italy neighborhood. The idea for this painting originated out of a colorful study that I completed earlier this year, called Study, Little Italy (shown above). It's fun to take the original motif in that piece and stretch the idea larger across a vast canvas with some minor changes to tailor the artwork for my client.

This painting will take me many more weeks to complete. Following below are a few snapshots that show you the initial start. Enjoy!

The first compositional lines, painted in yellow ochre.

Large area block in of the main colors in the subject.

Initial refinements of the yellow cab and details in the heart of the composition.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Plein Air Painting in Vermont

Earlier this month, I traveled to the Green Mountains of Vermont to take a painting workshop with oil painter Mark Boedges and to spend time painting the gorgeous landscape with another artist and dear friend of mine, Lisa Mitchell. A change of scenery plus new painting insights make for a great way to finish out the summer.

Painting workshops with other artists are my form of continuing education. I earned my art degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In general, every class that I took there was excellent. I enjoyed the diversity of offerings at a major public university and I took advantage of as much as I could with classes ranging from botany to political science, economics, computer science, physics, and much more. But the studio training in art left me cold. Each class was a disappointment, epitomizing the negative stereotype of tenured professors too lazy to teach. (I write this as someone who's married to a tenured professor, so you know I mean the criticism sincerely.)

Just how bad was it, you ask? Well, my painting professor in college only showed us how to stretch our canvases. That was it! No training on how to mix colors or how to apply them. His excuse? He didn't want to "inhibit our creativity."

I was able to overcome this deficit of training by finding some excellent mentors in computer animation and in pastel painting, as well as by joining some professional arts organizations when I lived in Maryland. Through these avenues, I met full time artists and began to learn the real stock and trade of being an artist, developing skills that include photographing my work, updating my web site, framing my artwork and, oh yeah, painting! Fast forward a decade or so, and I now travel once every year or two to a painting workshop when offered by other professional artists whose work is of interest to me. I'm at a point in my career where I have enough experience in composition, color mixing, and subject selection that there are no great epiphanies. Yet I pick up a little bit here and there from each individual. Each artist has a focus and emphasis that I can take and incorporate into my own studio and painting practice.

The scenery in Vermont was fantastic, despite a drought that had the Mad River Basin at about 25% of its usual capacity for this time of year. The interesting thing about the drought was that we were able to clamber out into the middle of the waterway, climb on huge boulders, and get some unique vantage points that would have been impossible to access during a year with greater rainfall.

Above, a Postcard from the Easel: Painting along the Mad River during a beautiful summer afternoon. Click the image to enlarge.

Shown here are a couple of "Postcards from the Easel" of my plein air painting during a beautiful and enjoyable week. You may see a few of these on my web site in the Landscapes section within the next few weeks after I polish them up in my studio.

Above, a Postcard from the Easel: A plein air landscape in progress. I set up my easel on a huge boulder to capture this view of a ravine along the Mad River. Click the image to enlarge. You can also check out the finished piece, Mad River Ravine, on my portfolio site.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Recent Cityscapes

As we reach the mid-point of summer, y'know, the time of year when "Back to School" ads begin to appear and the collective mood of America's youth crashes, I'm turning my attention to my cityscapes as I prepare for several art shows this fall.

Two weeks ago, I wrapped a show in Michigan where I exhibited my pastel paintings. As I get ready for fall, I'll have more opportunities to display my oil paintings and that's where I'm beginning to focus now. You'll see another post within the next couple of weeks on my oil painting blog to showcase some of those new works. In the meantime, here are some recent pastel cityscapes, both big and small, that I recently finished.

Zip Zip 6 x 8 original pastel.

First, small but dynamic: Zip Zip is what I refer to as a "mini city" piece, and it captures one of Chicago's distinctive maroon taxi cabs as it flies across our view during a nighttime fare. One of my favorite things to do in the pastel medium is to just fuzz out the motion of color, as with the tail lights in this composition.

Chicago Lights 16 x 24 original pastel

Next, in keeping with my Chicago theme, here's a larger piece celebrating quintessential downtown Chicago called, appropriately enough, "Chicago Lights." It's been a little while since I introduced a new limited edition print of one of my cityscapes, and I chose this subject as a new print for 2016. You can find out more about this piece under the limited edition prints area of my web site.

Chicago Zig Zag 12 x 18 original pastel

Finally, there's "Chicago Zig Zag," featuring one of my favorite places to hang out in all of Chicago: right underneath the El. I enjoyed creating this piece because the composition is different from a more conventional subject with the way that the elevated train platform breaks up the pictorial plane.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Spring Plein Air Landscapes

Postcard from the Easel: "Black Moshannon No. 44, Printemps" in progress. This is my most recent addition to a series of plein air landscapes based on this park over the past decade.

By and large, it's been a cool, rainy spring here in central Pennsylvania. But when the weather has cleared, it's been really beautiful. Whenever I can, I like to get out of my studio to one of our nearby state parks and spend a day in my "outdoor office." I learn so much more by working on location. I see the effects of light more clearly and the subtleties of color in features like the clouds are much more apparent. Plus, it's a great outing for my dog, Maple, who relishes the opportunity to do something different.

My trusty guard dog, Maple. Every good guard dog needs her own flannel blanket in the woods.


In this post, I'm sharing some photos from a couple of recent outings to Black Moshannon State Park and Reeds Gap State Park. These photos show a couple of oil landscapes in progress. I'm very comfortable working on location with pastel, but I still need more practice with oil painting. I find that mixing colors slows me down a bit relative to just grabbing a pastel stick, so it's a good challenge for me to really focus and maximize the time that I have with each outing.

Of course, I also had to toss in a snapshot of my trusty studio mascot and guard dog, Maple. She really is a vicious guard dog (part Doberman), so she's the perfect companion for me when I go to some remote locations where there's no cell phone service and just bears. It's easier to paint when you know someone's got your back.

The initial sketch, usually done in yellow ochre and maybe some raw umber.


Through these "Postcards from the Easel," you'll see a little of my process on location. I like to rough in an armature of the composition using an earth tone such as yellow ochre. Then I block in the major areas of light and dark before delving into the details.

The "block in," establishing areas of light and dark to eliminate the white of the canvas.


Reeds Gap is especially challenging because it's so-o-o green. But another fringe benefit of slipping out of my studio from time to time is that I gain a greater mastery of how to cope with so much foliage.


More refinements. I try to reserve the highlights of a composition as the final frosting on the cake, but in this instance I added some of the specular highlights on the water to establish them for reference relative to the rest of the subject.


Almost done! I wasn't quite able to finish this piece out in the field, so I'll make the final refinements in my studio and you'll see the finished piece on my web site soon.

Saturday, May 21, 2016


Uff dah. It's been a while since I posted to this blog. In an era of online social media, we artists have to wear a lot of hats between web sites, blogs, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and more. Earlier this year, I finally jumped into the year 2010 by creating an Instagram presence (@sarahpollockstudio) and I've actually been pretty good about keeping that up-to-date. In fact, if you're looking for the first dibs on my new pieces, Instagram is a great way to peek in at what I'm working on in my studio.

Anyways, rather than talking about my art online, I've been making it in my studio. I've been busy getting ready for my first art show of the season, the Rittenhouse Square Fine Art Show in Philadelphia. I'll exhibit my new pastel works at this event during the weekend of June 3-5, 2016, and I recently finished several new pieces in preparation for the show. In this post, I wanted to share a little more with you about the process behind some of these new pieces.

Color motivates my choice of subjects. After more than a decade of working in the pastel medium, I've found a process that allows me to quickly evaluate whether an idea will work successfully. I call it my shorthand, in honor of my Mom who had to learn actual shorthand in high school. Indeed, her first job was as a corporate secretary for a company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. All these decades later, when she and I go to the Philadelphia Flower Show each spring, I still catch her writing in a small notepad using shorthand as she jots down ideas and inspiration.

Initial Shorthand for "Please Continue to Pull Forward," an eventual 12 x 24 pastel.

Final Piece: Please Continue to Pull Forward, 12 x 24 pastel.

My "shorthand" is a series of small color studies, some of which I've shared here. I learned this approach from Doug Dawson, a wonderful pastel artist and an outstanding teacher. He emphasized the importance of selecting just the most essential colors and values to convey a composition. And then sticking to them for as long as possible. Eliminate the superfluous and stay with the most essential ingredients.

In these initial studies, I think you'll see how just these tiny dabbles of thinking and planning link to the final, polished piece. Enjoy!

Initial Shorthand for "July Coda," an eventual 16 x 24 pastel.

Final Piece: July Coda, 16 x 24 pastel.


Initial Shorthand for "Capture," an eventual 12 x 18 pastel.

Final Piece: Capture, 12 x 18 pastel.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


What makes a good subject choice for a painting? Sometimes one's artistic process holds the answer to this age old question.

After more than a decade of painting, I'm still not always certain what will be a good subject. Sometimes the things that draw my interest fall flat with my audience. Nonetheless, I've deciphered a few clues over these years and I'll share some of them with you here.

First, if I'm on a "photo safari" in a city, there are often fleeting moments of light and shadow that just take my breath away. In an era of digital photography, I may return home from an expedition with hundreds of shots. I'm old enough to have begun my career with film (and slides for juried show applications - yuck!) and being able to work with infinite electronic files is liberating. Many of these are multiples of the same motif, taken with different exposures and slightly different angles. But the compositions that really arrested me for the moment while I captured them become the reference photos that I look at first when I offload my photographs.

Follow My Gaze 16 x 30 oil on linen.


One such example of something that attracted my immediate interest was the photo for this new piece, "Follow My Gaze." I originally caught this subject in the heart of Copenhagen, Denmark while visiting there a couple of years ago. I never forgot this moment, this play of light and shadow. But it didn't immediately resolve in my mind's eye, so I sat on the source material until just recently.

What makes a good subject choice for a painting? Well, another clue is that you have to be able to pre-visualize the final result of where you're going with a piece. And that was the challenge here. I didn't see the final resolution of this subject in my mind. It didn't come easily to me, like some subjects do. The only remedy for this is to discipline oneself and to take time to execute some initial studies before diving into the actual piece.

What makes a good subject for a painting? Sometimes the answer to this lies in the initial studies. When I taught classes for the Art Alliance of Central Pennsylvania, I used to tell my students, "If it ain't working small, then don't bother making it big." Small, thumbnail studies are a great way to jot out your thoughts and to solve any composition problems before committing to something larger and more intimidating.

Study 1 on oil painting paper.


Here, you see a couple of initial studies for "Follow My Gaze." These studies were done on small pieces of Arches Oil Painting Paper. I began my artistic career with watercolor, and the feel of this product is very familiar and comfortable to me. It lends itself well to playing around with an initial study without any pressure. And if things don't work out? On to the next! It's a tiny commitment of time and resources that is well spent if it translates into a better finished piece.

Study 2 on oil painting paper.


Finally, it's worth noting that what makes a good subject is what makes your heart sing. As I admitted earlier, some of the ideas that draw my interest don't always translate when I take the finished pieces to art shows. But it's crucial to remain true to oneself and to paint the ideas and subjects that are most meaningful to you. Even though it took me years to resolve this subject in my mind's eye, I never forgot it, and by trusting in my artistic process I was able to create it.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

An Artist's New Year's Resolutions

It's a new year, and like many other people, I'm thinking about the resolutions that I want to realize during 2016. My brother-in-law, who runs a successful insurance business out on the West Coast, scoffs at the idea of resolutions, saying that if there's something he knows he should be doing, then he's probably already doing it. Why wait until January 1 to start?

But I like to take this time of year as an opportunity to plan for the year ahead. As I've written in the past, I regard winter as a quiet season of restoration and reflection. When I'm not so busy at this time of year, I like to pause and consider perhaps not resolutions so much as professional and personal goals. Believe it or not, many of my professional goals as an artist are closely linked to an important personal goal of good physical fitness. Because I travel throughout the eastern half of the United States each summer and fall to exhibit my artwork at outdoor art shows, I have to be in reasonably good shape to get through those events because they are very physically demanding, especially during the hot summer months.

Photo Credit: Nabil K. Mark, Centre Daily Times.

So far, I'm off to a good start. Earlier this week, our local newspaper caught me working with my trainer, Gbolohan, at my local gym, One on One Fitness, in State College. I'm convinced that I was born with hamstrings about a foot too short for my body, so you see me here doing a warm up stretch.

Photo: My "cross bike" with bright orange panniers for carrying my plein air kit during a summer evening painting session near Boalsburg, Pennsylvania.

Although this may seem unrelated to the artwork that I create, it's actually pretty integral. I discover many of my landscape subjects either during road bike rides through the rolling hills of Centre County, or by hiking through some of the rugged state parks of Pennsylvania. On many occasions, I carry my plein air painting kit on my bike panniers or in a backpack on the trail so that I can set up and work on location. If I don't work at my fitness, then I won't be able to enjoy the spoils of gorgeous scenery hidden off the beaten paths of civilization. And it's those hidden gems, those moments of fleeting light, that make my work as an artist most rewarding.

Photo: The Guardians, 10 x 14 original oil painting on paper. This piece will be available for purchase through the Clearwater Conservancy's "For the Love of Art and Chocolate" fundraising auction on January 29, 2016.

Beyond the basic foundation of physical fitness, I like to look at the year ahead and break it up into (hopefully) manageable exhibition opportunities. I know I'll be busiest in the summer as I travel to outdoor art shows, so during the winter months I focus on creating new artwork and on local exhibition opportunities. For example, later this month you can meet me at the Clearwater Conservancy's "For the Love of Art and Chocolate" annual fundraising event for local environmental conservation efforts. I'm donating an original oil painting called "The Guardians," a subject that I caught while riding my bike along Old Gatesburg Road during a summer evening last year. See? There's that whole physical fitness thing again...Anyways, I've ridden my bike along this route for many years, and there are these two old pine trees that keep watch over the farm fields. I love their windswept nature, and when I noticed them with this beautiful sky as a backdrop, I was smitten.

In February and March, you can see my newest landscapes and cityscapes at the Mount Nittany Medical Center in State College, Pennsylvania. And later this spring, I'll exhibit my recent oil cityscapes at the Yellow Springs Art Show in southeastern Pennsylvania. Keep an eye on my web site schedule page for more information about my 2016 events throughout this year.

The reality is that I don't have a ton of control over my schedule because each year I apply to various shows and events, and then I wait to see where my artwork gets accepted. It's an arbitrary process. Really. And sometimes, this makes the notion of planning or goal setting difficult. But each year, the fundamentals remain the same for me: Spend as much time painting in my studio as possible, read broadly and visit art exhibitions to keep my creativity flowing, and exercise to keep Pennsylvania's delightful scenery within my reach.