Drawing on pastels

Diane Harrison, who goes by 'Sweet Pea,' selected birches for her pastel titled 'Trees.'
Diane Harrison, who goes by 'Sweet Pea,' selected birches for her pastel titled 'Trees.'

Pastel instructor Patricia Reichert encourages her students to paint subjects that they love, knowing that they’ll then do their best work.

Her philosophy has paid off in the exhibit, “The Color of Pastel,” currently at Art Central, which features work by advanced students in her private classes.

Diane Harrison, for example, a gardener also known as “Sweet Pea,” is fond of plants. Her entry “Trees” depicts a crisp close-up of birch trunks, their bark nearly tactile, based on photos that Reichert provided.

For this particular month’s topic, Reichert let class members choose between using their own subjects or photos she provided. Even if they chose the latter she encouraged them to do their own compositions, selecting colors, formats and proportions so they weren’t copying the photos.

Harrison started doing art four years ago by taking a pastel class that Reichert teaches through Cal Poly’s extended education. Since she gardens for a living, Harrison said she chose a medium that seemed messy. “I thought it sounded nice and dirty. You feel like you’re accomplishing something when your hands are covered with chalk and soot.”

During a spell when Reichert was unable to teach, Harrison took a watercolor class, then taught herself to use acrylics. One of those was accepted into the Paso Robles Art Association’s current juried show.

Reichert said students do not need drawing skills for pastels.

“I think that pastel is one of the easiest mediums to learn,” she said. “In drawing, you pay more attention to shapes; in painting, shapes fit together.”

Selecting colors with pastels is a cinch, as the entire palette is laid out in the box. “You can see if the colors are harmonizing,” she said.

Other opaque media, such as oils and acrylics, also allow for fresh starts — and moving shapes around. For a transparent media such as watercolor, being able to draw is essential.

Beatriz S. Villegas had a knack for drawing since early childhood, and her skill is revealed in the still life “Good Harvest.” Villegas started learning pastels from Reichert eight years ago, her first formal classes, and has since added watercolor to her preferred media. About four years ago one of her pastels and her only sculpture were accepted into a juried show at what was then San Luis Obispo Art Center (now San Luis Obispo Museum of Art).

When Big Sur was the monthly topic, Pamela Seeley created “One with Big Sur,” which has the quick freshness of a plein air painting.

A hairdresser, Seeley once remarked to a client that she’d always wanted to do art, and then thought: “Well, what are you waiting for?” That was about six years ago. Reichart was her first teacher.

Although Seeley has done some plein air, she doesn’t usually have the time. She does fit in frequent drives to Big Sur, however. “I have a huge place in my heart for Big Sur. It wasn’t hard to put my emotions into that painting.”