I wrapped up my painting season just after the Red Sox wrapped up their third World Series win in the past decade. (Go Sox!) As a pastelist, I must paint outdoors en plein air. Otherwise, the pastel dust would make a mess of my home studio. My painting time is thus limited to warmer weather: I begin as early as April and usually stop in October. When the temperature dips below 50, it’s simply too cold for me to stand at my easel.
I now enter my “postseason”. One of the first things I do is apply a very light coat of final fixative to all of my artwork completed during the “regular” season. There are different schools of thought about whether or not to use fixative. I use a small amount to limit the amount of pastel dust that will fall off the painting. Too much fixative will subdue the luster and vibrance of the pastel.
Then, I scan the art on my flatbed scanner, which is a Canon PIXMA (color printer/scanner combo). I don’t particularly like the way this device prints, but it does a great job scanning. If necessary, I do color corrections and retouching with Photoshop. The files are saved as high resolution (300 dpi), rgb TIFFs. The naming convention for my files identifies each piece sequentially by year of completion. I duplicate every file, reduce the resolution to 72 dpi, add a watermark, and save as JPG for use on the web.
Now I decide what to frame. It becomes a review of my painting year and I re-experience the feelings and creative energy I felt as I painted each piece. Different places come to mind, what was going on in my life that day, the spring flowers in our backyard, Omega in the summer, Kripalu in the fall, all of these wonderful moments that I tried to capture. It’s satisfying and reflective.
Most of my paintings get matted, but only the “best” get framed and displayed at art shows. Once this decision is made, I start measuring and determining the sizes for the mats and windows through which the art shows. All of the details are kept in an Excel spreadsheet. I complete 7-12 paintings per year, so it’s important to keep track of everything.
Having determined the sizes, I can then order the frames. All of my frames are either silver or gold metal, bought from Pictureframes.com. I know many artists who go to great lengths framing their artwork, but I prefer to have all of my paintings framed the same way so that they look good when hung together. I tend to use standard sizes to make it easier for buyers, who often prefer to get their own frames.
I cut my own mats, which I buy in bulk, usually from Dick Blick or Pictureframes.com: 32″ x 40″ acid-free, rag, off-white. I have a very basic mat-cutter, the 24″ Logan 424-1 Team System Plus. This works well for me, since I only cut a few mats each year. After I finish cutting the mats, I go to a local Artist and Craftsman Supply store and have them cut the glass.
When everything is ready (mats and glass are cut, and frames are in my possession), I can put the pieces together. The mat gets carefully placed on the artwork. I use hand-cut spacers around the window of the mat to offset the art a little bit from the edge. This helps reduce the amount of pastel dust that will fall on the front face of the mat. My spacers are narrow strips of the rag mat; you could also use foam core. The art is attached to the mat with archival paper tape, the glass is placed on top, and this “sandwich” is slipped into the frame. Wire is attached to the back for hanging. The pieces that get matted, but not framed, are placed inside archival clear bags.
Another major part of my “postseason” is creating non-pastel art and preparing surfaces for pastel paintings. I sketch and draw with pen and ink, colored pencils, and charcoal. Sometimes, I’ll do studies of flowers, faces, animals, etc. I love the texture of watercolor paper, but its whiteness is too stark for pastels. So, I tone watercolor paper and block in paintings with gouache. Later, I’ll use this toned paper for pastel paintings. There is this wonderful soft quality that emerges when pastel is applied on top of the gouache.
And, of course, I continue to be inspired by the natural world and ordinary people doing extraordinary things. These images remain in my mind and carry me through the winter to the next season when it’s time to paint again.