I originally hail from the New Jersey shore, whose beaches I still miss. I attended college and raised my now-grown family in the Boston area and have been living in New Mexico since 1993. In 1999, after receiving my Master of Music degree from the University of New Mexico, I decided to move to Taos and improve my skiing skills. However, Taos Life had other plans. I had spent most of my adult life as a musician, vocal teacher, and a singer, but after my Taos move and really settling into the small town life, I found myself searching for a different creative outlet. With the encouragement of my husband in 2012, I began studying drawing with pastel artist, Kathleen Smith. It’s a testament to how well my husband knows me because as I look back, it became clear that drawing has always been in my blood. My father had journaled and sketched constantly while he was a POW in WWII and when I began my own journey with pencil and paper, I sent some of my first sketches to my siblings. Before they understood that they were mine, they mistook them for my father’s and wondered why they had never seen them before. The impact of that “mistake” was very profound and is with me to this day.
After a year, I was ready to experiment with color. Kathleen’s glorious talent and expertise in pastels greatly influenced my choice of that medium; I simply loved and was fascinated by how she transferred these “sticks of color” into marvelous works of art.
Basically, pastels are made of pure, dried, powdered pigment with a minimal amount of added binder, which is then shaped into usable, hand-held sticks, or blocks, depending upon the choice of the manufacturer. The amount of binder will help determine the softness or hardness of the pastel itself and will inform the way in which that particular pastel is used. Much of the beauty of pastel work is in the layering of color upon color. Crystalized, tiny particles of that stick or block of pure pigment are imparted onto the work surface. These crystals catch, reflect, and refract light, almost embodying the very life of the subject itself.
Because of the manner in which the pastel is applied to a surface, the art is often referred to as “drawing.”(article “The Pastel Medium” by Liz Haywood Sullivan) There is no brush used to apply the color. However, there exists a continuous, delightful controversy over whether using pastels is a drawing or painting medium. Oftentimes, the finished product looks like a painting and not a drawing. One definition I read in that same article implies that if the underlying surface is mostly covered by color, it is a painting. If only part(s) of the surface are covered, then it is a drawing. (Liz Haywood Sullivan article) Personally, I refer to what I do as painting, even though I may initially draw or sketch-in my work.
Portrait of my Mother: My Father’s Chair is Empty
I was working on a pastel drawing of my mother shortly after she died in early 2016. Pictured to the right is the final work titled “Portrait of my Mother”. My sister Jackie Mendez-Diez, who is a fine visual artist in her own right, had photographed her shortly before she passed away. It was from that photograph that the inspiration for this drawing was born. I remember the moment when I finally saw and felt her within the piece. In some way, I had captured her essence; it was if she was right there with me.
The “hands on” aspect of this medium, for me, is visceral and frankly, often feels like magic. And like magic, pastel work is ethereal and fragile – one unwitting swipe of the hand can steal the work of months. Yet, in a similar vein, pastels can also be very forgiving. The medium lends itself to blending, smudging, playing and even wiping it all off to begin again, but it requires intention; too much blending and smudging dulls that fragile luminosity, to which I referred above. It’s a delicate balance, with an outcome that is alive, pure and magical.
When I find that balance, I’m in flow. The pigment flows and so does time, and before I know it, the sun is setting outside my studio, and I’m shocked to look at the clock and see that I’ve been painting for 6 hours. I always feel like I’ve been doing much more than painting. I feel connected to the image(s), as if I’m part of what I’ve created; literally transported back to that place and time in my memory. And…perhaps I may have found what I have been searching for, for so long…at least for now….