Crayons and pastels may look similar to the uninitiated, but the latter are hardly child’s play. Technically an oil-based paint, pastels are soft sticks of highly pigmented color, tempting to pile on but best smudged with a soft touch.
Pastels are a medium Barb Reich has been diving into for the past 12 years, creating expressive landscapes and still lifes.
“I think Georgia O’Keeffe said it best when she said, ‘I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for,’” said the Leelanau County resident.
In the past, Reich has worked in oils, watercolors and charcoals. Her journey has been “a continuous learning experience,” she said.
“I continue to try to capture moments, subjects, and strong visual concepts, most often by painting the light,” she said.
On Sept. 25 and 26, Reich will teach a two-day workshop in pastel landscapes at Oliver Art Center in Frankfort.
HOW I GOT STARTED
I was born and raised in Michigan, and I began my adventure in fine art as an adult at the age of 30. Better late than never! I felt the need for a creative outlet and began to study painting and drawing.
I began in oil, watercolor, pastel, charcoal, and found I couldn’t stop. I had to try everything. I was fortunate to be able to study under some of the most wonderfully talented and supportive fine art instructors, several from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. They instilled in me the intense desire to draw better, paint color with more emotion, and always hunt and study the changing light.
I immediately felt a strong connection to the extraordinary medium of soft pastel, and it hooked me the moment I put pigment to paper. About 12 years ago I began to specialize, using pastel almost exclusively. Working with pure pigments is exciting and a finished pastel painting is beautifully complex.
I enjoy that pastel can be used dry or wet, allowing for an endless variety of mark making and flowing washes. It is truly a spectacular medium.
THE STORY BEHIND MY ART, MY INSPIRATION
I enjoy painting things that I hold dear: familiar places, community, nature, people, often simple things. My paintings depict a specific moment in time, and they are often as much a personal history as they are a visual recording, almost a nudge saying ‘Please look here, this is important to me.’ I am a plein air painter, studio painter, and I paint from life as often as possible. I believe my plein air studies have made me a better studio painter, and my early still life and figure work helped me to see and render form.
WORK I’M MOST PROUD OF
It is always satisfying when a painting captures the essence of the subject, emotion, and concept you are visually striving to achieve, but some paintings go beyond. Some are personal and passionate, and that is how I feel about several paintings I completed of my husband at work on our farm in Gladwin. To me, they feel significant and meaningful. Having said that, I am forever hopeful that my best work is yet to come.
YOU WON’T BELIEVE
With all my talk about soft pastel, I began as an oil painter, and to this day feel a very strong attachment to this wonderful medium. Also, after owning a farm for 18 years, I am very familiar with crops, gardens, chickens, and bees. And I worked in the insurance industry for 20 years – an occupation that isn’t exactly linked to creativity!
MY FAVORITE ARTIST
Although I don’t have a favorite artist – there are so many great ones, with so much to learn from – it should come as no surprise that Degas was truly inspirational when my love of pastel first took over my mind and touched my soul.
If I mentioned Sargent, Nicolai Fechin, Richard Schmid, and all the plein air masters who can evoke joy simply by looking at their work, my list would be overly long to say the least.
ADVICE FOR ASPIRING ARTISTS
Study, learn, and practice. Search out the best instructors you can find, teachers and mentors, whose work you admire. Then practice and study some more.
When your desire is strong, you must back it up by figuring out ways to continue moving forward. Persistence is key. Also, a few good art buddies are worth their weight in gold.
MY WORK CAN BE SEEN/PURCHASED
At Treeline Gallery in Suttons Bay, Mullaly’s Gallery in Elk Rapids, Hanni Gallery in Harbor Springs, or online at barbarareichstudio.com. To learn more about Reich’s September workshop, visit oliverartcenterfrankfort.org or call (231) 352-4151.
She will be part of a four-artist exhibition at the Oliver Center Oct. 1-Nov. 7.