Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Plein-air Efforts of the Day ...

Plein-air / Spring Light.
10" x 10". Oil on mdo board. 2013. ©
It always amazes me with plein-air painting,
that no matter how great the desire
is to get out there and paint, paint, paint! ....
sometimes it can be such a struggle at the easel!
Needless to say - that is exactly what I've been facing
with my most recent plein-air efforts.
For things to simply flow at the easel or in life in general
one's mind must truly be at peace with the current affairs in one's life.
I'm hoping in the coming weeks my mind will find peace 
and things can get back on track and it'll be business as usual.

At the easel ...
Please stay tuned for more
what's new from the studio!
Cheers, ~ Polly ~

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Plein-air Efforts of the Day - Phase 2.

Plein-air / Early Spring Colours.
30" x 24". Oil on panel. 2013. Copyright.
Even though today has been partly cloudy and rather chilly, 
the sun come out long enough for me to continue on with
my plein-air efforts in 'Early Spring Colours'.
I decided to be adventurous and start introducing 
the palette knife into some plein-air painting.
The palette knife works best on hard surfaces, such as the panel I'm using.
The combination of the hard surface and palette knife allows for
techniques such as; pressing down, scratching, smearing, scrapping, etc;
which would otherwise make a canvas cave in or even tear.
These techniques also gives the painter freedom
to mix paint in different ways as to 'brush on canvas'.
This piece is still not quite 'finished' so it seems phase 3 is in order.
Please stay tuned for more from the studio!
Cheers, ~ Polly ~

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Plein-air Efforts of the Day - Phase 1

Plein-air - Early Spring Colours (phase 1)
30" x 24". Oil on panel. 2013. Copyright.
I've started to introduce larger formats once again into my 'plein-air efforts'
repertoire for a number of reasons, but mainly because when working with a
larger sized panels there is sense of freedom which allows for more 'playtime'
with the paints and still devote enough effort for to smaller areas without feeling
confined and becoming too tight, which tends to happen with smaller pieces.
Blocking in composition, colours and values.
The Sun came out only very briefly this morning while I was traversed
the yard looking for a place to set-up and paint, I was immediately attracted to
the light nestled on the ground in fron and behind the Honey Locust
and to mention the daffodills were looking rather sweet in the Sunshine.
Filling in and refining.
Since I haven't worked on such a large format for plein-air painting
in a long while and since the sunlight was playing peek-a-boo
I've decided to make this plein-air effort a 2 part phase.
Had a little special company today!
So, please stay tuned for Phase 2
of 'Early Spring Colours!'
Cheers, ~ Polly ~

Monday, April 1, 2013

Artist on Artist: Interview with Donna Martell.

This month I have great pleasure in featuring one of my most favourite female pastel painters of today, Donna Martell. What can I say, pastel is medium I've long admired and I just love Martell's work. Her work resonates with me on an intimate level; it elicits a sense of rapture like that of a favourite memory. Her work engages the viewer with rich colours and texture, and strong compositions along with a skilled hand and eye. 
For Martell, it was through a change in circumstances and the kind encouragement from a friend that gave her the needed push to find her new found talent in pastel painting. Martell's work has been exhibited in a number of regional galleries, art associations, and museums; including the Slater Museum of Norwich and the Maritime Gallery at Mystic Seaport. She is a member of the Lyme Art Association, the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts, and the Connecticut Pastel Society; where she won last year's honour of Award in Excellence.

In 2005, Martell had a one month Artist in Resident in the far reaches of Bulgaria through the Griffis Foundation / Orpheus Foundation.

Thank you, Donna, for these glimpses into your life and work!

And now without any further delay, here is Martell's interview along with selected images of her works. 

Donna Martell

Winter Woods.

Polly: Could you tell us about your education and training?

Donna: The shorter answer about my art education is that I took classes from disciplined artists whose work was beautiful and beautifully executed. When I saw how they drew or painted, I wanted to know what they knew. I followed where my curiosity led me.

I have no art degree. Based on my aptitude at the time, no college would have accepted me. I had always been good at writing and languages, so that’s what I studied. I wished I was able to paint every time I saw a sunset; I just knew I wasn’t any good at it. When she heard me complain about this, my friend Suzanne told me that God doesn’t give us the desire without giving us the ability, and she recommended her father as a teacher. Gerard Smith looked at my pencil scratchings and said that yes, he would take me as a student. He taught me acrylics. As time went by, I discovered Christopher Zhang, and he gave me a thorough grounding in oil painting. He also gently suggested that I learn to draw. I was buying books and reading them, especially the ones about drawing. The artist community around here (Martell referencing the Southeastern CT region) is very supportive and sympathetic, and somewhere along the line, I attended drawing classes and actually DREW IN FRONT OF STRANGERS! My teachers were Hollis Dunlop, Michael Peery, and Jack Montmeat. I also went out painting with other artists – Garnet Wrigley, Peggy Traskos, Mark Patnode, Roger Tremblay, Dave and Rhonda Weber…
I was wandering around the Waterford library, and I saw an amazing, beautiful painting hanging over the desk. I couldn’t even guess what the medium was. It was thin stripes crisscrossed to make the image. It turned out to be a pastel by Elaine Juska Joseph. When I phoned her, she asked me if I were interested in making a purchase. I told her, ”No, I’m interested in lessons.”She took me on as a private student. From her I learned the basic pastel techniques, but more important to me, I learned what magic color compliments can do. I had never heard this before, and I had never seen anybody use the information. I demanded, “Does everybody know this?!” Eventually she took me to the CT Pastel Society to drop off her work, look around, and meet other pastel lists. I knew about showing and selling my paintings, but she was my introduction to the business of art – painting, showing and selling the work as a career.
I don’t remember how I met Foster Caddell or exactly when I began taking classes with him. He dragged us all over Connecticut painting outdoors in pastel – all year long. Unless there was a blizzard or heavy rain, we painted outdoors. I can still hear his New England accent – “Don’t paint the thing! Paint the beauty! Also, “Just because a branch has a knot on it doesn’t mean you have to paint the knot!” One day we had a new student. She set up next to me and we began to paint the clothed model. The new artist was very nervous, so I was joking with her, and we were chatting – I was definitely not taking the drawing seriously. Foster came over and gently suggested how she could make her drawing of the woman’s face better. He spoke softly, offering a little color theory, and generally made her feel a little more confident. Then he whirled around, stuck his finger in front of my face and barked, “No excuse for you!” It was a learning moment.

Early Rise.

First Sight.

Polly: Would you describe your style and methods?

Donna: I work from the paper forward, meaning that I paint the big patches first then fill in the details on top. I usually lay on the colors from dark to light. I hatch one color over another in order to blend them and create the color I want, even on the first layer of big patches. I never use just one color to paint that color. I never smear colors together. I leave little bits of the under-colors, or even the paper’s color, peeping through the hatch marks above. I never use gray or black because I prefer to mix them using complimentary colors. Piling up strokes of complimentary colors, believe it or not, can make for clean, exciting shadows as long as you use pure compliments. Pastel is the only medium where you can get away with this. A pastel stroke doesn’t move on the paper. It doesn’t spread, blend, or soak in.

Lately I’ve been experimenting with limiting the color of a piece, making the whole painting from one compliment pair. I especially enjoy the blue/orange pair. Thanks to Michael Perry, I appreciate how wonderful they are for painting bare skin, and they are equally wonderful for landscapes, including snow scenes, which was a surprise to me.

Mountain View.


Polly: Many people are curious to know how artists work - What materials and mediums etc, do you prefer?

Donna: I prefer a range of pastels from hard to soft - For the softest effects I prefer Sennelier and Unison, and I use the almost creamy Schminke for the softest breath of color, although all brands have their uses. I love painting on Kitty Wallis’s sanded paper – Belgian Mist. That’s about it. I wash my hands a lot and go through bottles of hand cream. A good, sturdy easel is important. I recently had to buy a new table easel because as I stroked on the pastel, the easel slowly sank backwards…My advice is to buy the best that you can afford, and upgrade when you can afford higher quality.


Polly: What interests you most (in terms of subject and theme) as an artist and why?

Donna: I love the play of light. It doesn’t matter what it’s hitting. Light makes the shadows, and shadows are rich with color. Light will change the color of the objects that it hits, and I enjoy the challenge of blending colors to paint this. Landscapes with a minimal number of buildings (uh, minimal straight edges…) are my favorites to paint. After that, I like landscapes with people and animals in action. Landscape scenery itself provides a layering of color that is very exciting to try to capture on paper.



Polly: What does pastel painting mean to you?

Donna: It’s just dust on paper, but pastellists can create a whole world with it. I love the feel of the strokes against sanded paper. I love the vivid colors. I love blending bold, rich color to make bold, muted shadows. I love that it glows, even in the dark.

River View.
Polly: Who has been the greatest support to you as an artist and how?

Donna: My family, especially my children Dan and Kate, has been my greatest support, and not just because of cheering me on. Art supplies aren’t cheap, and I have to thank my husband at the time, Mike, for paying the art bills during my beginner years, even though back then, art couldn’t compete with the Patriots or the Red Socks. He also held down the fort while working rotating shifts when I went off to paint in Bulgaria for 4 weeks as part of the Griffis Foundation Artist Exchange.

The children participated as teachers – once in my early artist years, I had just finished an oil painting of a shoreline facing out to sea. I was very proud of it. I was leaning back and admiring myself for being so brilliant, when my little daughter came breezing in, took one look and said in a little sing-song, “Your water’s crooked.”
They participated as staff - When they were about 7 and 9 years old, they assisted materially in my process. I was painting a still life at about 10:00 one summer night, when I realized that I didn’t have a decent backdrop. I woke them up and had them hold up a blue cloth (two-man job) while I finished the painting. My last words before they went back to bed: “Don’t tell your father!” I think somebody owns this – a red strawberry on a plate in front of beautiful blue drapery…
They participated as good company - When she was older, Kate would come along to painting events, and we would paint together. Once while painting with Garnet Wrigley in a beautiful field, I said to Garnet, “I wish we had brought Kate along!” Garnet said, “Why, so she can have TWO people not talking to her?” Definition of landscape artists: people gathered in a field, ignoring each other.
Probably the most long-lasting support they have given me is by being the subjects of my work. I have an endless supply of photos of them doing what they do. I have warned my son, “Don’t ever run for public office…” You’ll see some of these at my show next March, 2014 at the Alexey von Schlippe gallery – Seated People. Kate is responsible for my having the nerve to take on such a show. I had been thinking about it, but I was a little insecure (!) at the risk involved. When I asked her if she thought it was a good idea to have a show of figures, not just landscapes, she said, “Mom, your figures are awesome!” So there you have it.

Spring Waiting Its Turn.

Polly: What has been most challenging for you as an artist?

Donna: LOL! Making painted figures that are supposed to look like the people I’m painting. I just can’t move a nose around to where I need it most.

Snow on Marsh (3).
Polly: Why do you make art? Why is it Important?

Donna: I make art because I can. It’s a miracle to me that I can. I found an old report card that had art grades of C and D…Nobody gives an F in art, so I know what those grades mean. No matter how hard I tried, whatever I drew never looked like what I was supposed to be drawing. Until I was 36, I was convinced that I could not draw or paint, and that I never would be able to. Every drawing, and every piece that I paint now, is a celebration of this miracle.

Winter Sunset (3).

Polly: And lastly, what words of wisdom would you offer to young artists?
Donna: There’s always a gap between your excitement at deciding to be an artist and your ultimate discovery of your own very real genius: that moment when you realize that everything you undertake satisfies your desire to create it. In between those two elements are training and hard work, failure and recovery – and exhilaration with every forward step.

Thank you again, Donna, for this opportunity and I wish you the very best with your art! 

Martell's work will be in the Connecticut Academy of Fine Art 102nd Juried Show held at the Mystic Arts Center. Opening reception is April 11th, 2013, 6-8pm. Show ends May 4th, 2013.

Martell is also preparing for a show entitled 'Seated People' for the Alexey von Schillppe Gallery next March 2014.

To learn more about Martell and her work, please visit her website at www.donnamartell.com