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.