Painting without paint

Most artists have explored various media, but Jim Tyler only works in pastel. Even though no brushes or wet paints are involved, the process is still considered painting.

“It's said to be the purest of the media,” said Tyler, noting pastel is basically pure color with a minimum of binder to hold it together.

A lot of people think of pastels as being pale shades of blue or pink, he said. Not so. The colors are rich, allowing for the deep shadows and bold lighting he strives for.

The venue for Tyler's one-man exhibit, Body Centered Therapy, is tucked away in a courtyard and down a staircase. The walls of its spacious waiting room and alcoves are lined with Tyler's paintings, where a visitor may leisurely browse in the peaceful setting, lulled by a fountain's soothing sounds.

Mostly self-taught, as a child in North Carolina Tyler learned to use pastels from a teenage neighbor. He got serious about painting eight or nine years ago and devoted the summer to focusing on the skill. “I finally started developing that thing I dreamed about a lot.” He also took some figure drawing classes and studied works by other artists. “You know, you learn by looking at art,” Tyler said, in addition to actually doing it, with the accompanying trial and error.

Since then, he has been accepted into various juried exhibits, won awards, and been part of many group and solo shows. Also a photographer, Tyler uses his snapshots as reference.

“I work from photos all the time,” he said. “My favorite time to paint is in the evening and at night,” so plein air is out of the question, especially since he needs more than the average two hours it takes to complete a painting outdoors. “I spend a lot of time thinking and a lot of time painting.”

Tyler, who moved to San Luis Obispo County in 1998 after living in various Southern states as well as Colorado, has done some traveling to Mexico and Canada, but three years ago as a high-school graduation gift for daughter Janna took his family to a trip to a foreign land. A painting of a boy on a train in Tyler's current exhibit offers a glimpse of that experience. “That was a picture of my son, and we were in Thailand,” said Tyler. After sleeping all night on the train, through the windows in the early-morning light they watched elephants on the side of the train tracks.

“It was a great moody moment.”

Another painting, a former “Brushstrokes” award winner of a telephone booth, seems to depict a London vignette. Instead, it was shot behind the Frog and Peach Pub in downtown San Luis Obispo. “I hate to burst the bubble on the romantic notion of that being in England,” Tyler said.

He and wife Sheri, also an artist, earn a living as computer programmers. “You never hear the phrase starving computer programmer, like you do starving artist,” Tyler said with a laugh.

Nevertheless, he still hopes to sell some paintings.