Monday, June 27, 2011

IAPS 2011: A Visual Recollection

(WARNING! This became a very long post. You may want to bookmark it and read in installments!)

Travel Day

Well, another IAPS (International Association of Pastel Societies) Convention has come and gone. It's already been three weeks though it feels like just yesterday. I was privileged to be asked by Mary Lopez, president of the Texas Pastel Society, to be her rep for TxPS and to let her know how it all went. So here I am at another airport on my way to Williamsburg, VA (another story) getting the beginnings of this recollection on paper, and feeling the deja vu of my trip to Albuquerque.

Sandia Mountains
It was my second IAPS convention, but four years since my first one in '07. I had registered the very moment I received the email last fall, and was determined to make up for missing '09 by scheduling a full week, including pre- and post-convention workshops!  I flew in on Tuesday, May 31. the weather was fine and I was as excited as a child to have a window seat.  I love flying!

I had just enough time Tuesday afternoon to visit the nearby zoo before my roommate Jeannette Cuevas arrived. New and unique future reference photos fell into my camera at every turn. So far it was an excellent beginning to a creative week!

The Hotel

The Convention was moved to the Hotel Albuquerque in '09. It's an ideal setting for an artists' convention. It's a lovely old hotel on the edge of historic Old Town. It perfectly combines an extensive convention center with a charming hotel steeped in old southwest style and grace. All the rooms even had balconies. We had a great view from the 10th floor.

The Exhibits

Wednesday evening was the opening reception for the 18th Juried Exhibition and the First Master Circle Exhibition, both shown conveniently in conjunction with the 9th biennial convention.
(On the shuttle to the reception, Jeannette and I were each surprised and pleased to be recognized by one of the artists in the show, Tatijana Jacenkew, who had seen our works online. It was almost like being famous!)

The Hispanic Arts Gallery at the New Mexico State Fairgrounds, host to the IAPS exhibits this year, is spacious and beautiful, with various rooms that open into each other. The juried exhibit was in the large front area, separated from the MC exhibit by the Juror's Wall.
 I was thrilled, of course, to see my work hanging on that juror's wall, right between Desond O'Hagan's and Liz Haywood-Sulivan's.

In spite of a problem with the air conditioning which had the building feeling like a large tent in the desert, the reception was very well attended. The building filled up fast. The food was delicious, but the most popular refreshment was the bottled water!

The IAPS exhibit was inspiring. Judge Liz Haywood-Sullivan declared it the finest collection of pastel works IAPS has ever shown. They had almost twice the submissions of previous exhibits. I'd love to review all the winners here, but have to admit I missed most of the awards announcements, being distracted by the show! Besides, you can see them all HERE. Instead, let me mention a few of my personal favorites (in no particular order):

"Footsteps #9" by Linda Gross Brown
Linda Gross Brown's "Footsteps" paintings, which I'd seen online before, were a total surprise in person. When reproduced online or in small print, they look like photos, but in actuality are not even really paintings but more like drawings, and quite loose with much of the paper (which is gray) showing. She had three of this series in the two exhibits.

"Which Way is Up?" by Robert Carsten
Robert Carsten's "Which Way is Up?" really appealed to me; such an intriguingly complex composition out of such a mundane subject that at first appears a random shot from some disorganized recycle bin. But the lines of edges and incredible sense of depth pulled me in for a closer inspection. That's where the shapes of lights and shadows, the rendering of the corrugated edges, the carefully placed arrows and folds, even the artist's signature on a mailing label - all combined to keep this viewer enthralled. I kept returning to this one again and again.

"Gypsy Ragamuffin" by Mimi Jungbluth
"Gypsy Ragamuffin" by Mimi Jungbluth was one that with just a bit more in my budget I would have loved to purchase! Delightfully charming, just under 9x7 inches and framed appropriately in a narrow antique style frame, mat and filet, this painting reminded me of similar (if larger) portraits by Mary Cassatt. This is a little gem of a painting that fairly breathes this little girl to life!

Judith Cutler's "Pier and Pilings" was another painting that appealed to me for the composition.  [image coming soon] You definitely don't look at this painting and think "Oh, it's a rope on a piling." That would be like viewing a painting by Albert Handell and saying "Oh, it's rocks and dead trees." I love an artist who can take such potentially boring subjects and create a compelling work of art!

"Nina" by Diana DeSantis
Another compelling work for me was "Nina" by Diana DeSantis. I've seen her portraits in various print and online media for years, and though I greatly appreciate her skill, I never really saw what all the acclaim was about. Yea, so she does a lot of profile portraits from life in dramatic lighting.
But no reproduced image can compare to seeing this painting in reality. Ms. DeSantis truly has that indefinable something that grips a viewer and pulls one into a visceral communion that is difficult to put into words.
In "Nina" you can see evidence of the live painting process in subtle lines beside the profile.
The posture breathes.
The hands alone held my attention for several minutes.

"Pools" by Willo Balfrey
Willo Balfrey, a protege of Richard McKinley and his assistant during his workshop, had a piece in the show titled "Pools" that was enthralling. I could definitely see the influence of McKinley's technique, but Willo (as McKinley even mentioned in his workshop) has surpassed her teacher when it comes to melding the underpainting with the dry strokes of pastel. This painting reminded me strongly of a work I saw recently by J. S. Sargent; an image of water flowing over rocks that was so abstracted by texture and color and light that when seen up close the reality of the scene could not be discerned. But from 20 paces across the room, the painting came alive with depth and movement of water and sunlight.
"Pools" by Willo Balfrey lacks the physical texture of Sargent's oil painting, but has the visual texture and wonderful abstraction of color and strokes that when standing close to it, the viewer looses the scene in fascination of the pastel itself.

And all of these were just in the juried exhibit! I'd be writing far too long were I to describe all my best impressions from the MC exhibit, but one painting that, for me, stood out from the others (besides Cuong Nguyen's Prix de Pastel winner) was Sally Strand's "Looking Back" (also the Silver Award winner.) It has the painterly strokes and spontaneous color that gives it the look of having been done from life, quickly, almost casually, but on further observation one sees that the arrangement of lines and elements - the window edge, her striped pants, the shoulder strap, even the handbag half out of the picture, and of course, her gaze in the mirror - all play to lead your eye around and around and prevent you from leaving any time soon. In addition, the values and colors are strategically balanced to support this journey and strengthen the composition. The darkest elements, her hair, the bag, the bracelets, and her shirt - especially in the mirror - keep the eye moving in a bouncing diagonal pattern over the scene. And what a scene! Curious, ambiguous, entrancing! There's a story here that the artist graciously allows the viewer to invent.

You can view all the MC Exhibit winners HERE.

The Pre-Convention Workshop

Wednesday and Thursday were the pre-convention workshops. If I could have split myself in two, I'd have taken both Richard McKinley's and Desmond O'Hagan's, but since I had to choose, I took Richard's. It was inspiring and fun as usual. His focus for this workshop was underpaintings.

He first showed us how using watercolor or oil to underpaint is really no different than washing pastel pigment into the paper with water or with mineral spirits. It's just pigment and medium after all. He then demonstrated the three underpaintings that we would learn during the workshop.

The first was "Notan" (a Japanese term revived by Kim Lordier referring to a monochromatic value study) washed into Wallis paper with alcohol. McKinley was excited to show us this particular method because the new binder in Wallis paper is softened by alcohol - allowing the notan to become embedded into the paper and when dry, immovable by either water or mineral spirits. Then, on top of this value study, a layer of transparent colors can be painted with watercolors or oils, creating a new and different underpainting effect.
preliminary sketch

the Notan, washed with alcohol

watercolor layered over Notan
For the two other underpaintings, he used watercolor...

the watercolor underpainting
...and oil washes:

the oil underpainting
On Thursday, we applied pastel to finish our paintings. Here's Richard's demo on his Notan/watercolor underpainting:

I know - it's amazing!! It's so hard to notice the actual progession of the pastel strokes. He's so subtle and deliberate with every mark, so that the underpainting melds seamlessly with the dry pastel, until - voila! - it's done!

For all three demos he worked from a photo, and a field study, of the scene. Here's the field study:
plein aire field study

The Paint-Around

Thursday evening was the Paint-Around.
This year's participating artists were...
Maggie Price
Urania Christy Tarbet

Jamie Markle

Liz Haywood-Sullivan
...and Fred Somers
If you've never seen a Paint-Around, you're missing out on some excellent entertainment! 5 artists each begin a painting, then every 15 minutes they all rotate to the next easel. ..Yep, you can picture it! 90 minutes later they're all back at their original paintings, fixing - er, that is, finishing up the last deatils. All of the artists sign each painting. The 5 paintings are then auctioned off to benefit the IAPS/UCT scholarship fund.
(Richard McKinley was chosen by Maggie Price to be the auctioneer at Saturday's banquet. Richard - ever the jokester - relayed his call from Maggie. "She said 'We wanted a comedian and immediately I thought of you!'" He was amusing, and it was fun and he got good prices for all of them.)

The Candy Shoppe!

Friday morning, everyone's favorite part of the convention opened -- yes, the "Candy Shoppe"! I vowed before I went that there was really nothing I needed to buy, but I did succumb to a pack of Art Spectrum Pastelmat and a few of Jack Richeson's boards in various colors. But NO pastels! I was firm! ...At least until late Sunday, when I saw the 100 half-stick set of Schmincke at a special discount.    ( ...Well, I have just about every brand made except for Schmincke and Roche, and my budget won't stretch to Roche yet...)

Anyway, for me the better part of the candy shop was the demos - and one in particular - Leslie B. DeMille had an easel in the My Art Tutor booth. Friday afternoon I caught him getting ready to start a portrait sketch with conte sticks on velour paper:

Amazing! This took him about 20 minutes. Here are a couple other samples he had up already:

When he was done, I drummed up the courage to have a conversation with him and asked if all his demos were scheduled already. (I really wanted to say I was dying to have a portrait by him and could I pleeeease?) He said I could check back the next day, but I never did have good timing after that, and couldn't catch him when he wasn't busy.

The Margaret Dyer Seminar

My most memorable seminar of the weekend was Margaret Dyer's on Friday morning. She talked about her method of conducting figure (not portrait) commissions, and then showed us, with a live model, how she photographs her client. She brought her own lamp with a 250w tungsten bulb and set it up with a chair in the corner between the door to the hall, and another door to outside. Wonderful combinations of light! When she was done, she showed us her pics on a projector, then - best yet - gave all of us 15 minutes to photograph the model for a $5 tip!

Here are some of my favorites. Very Margaret Dyer-ish. One was just blurry enough to already look like a painting.
You can see some other artists gathered around with their cameras.
Here's Margaret's arm tipping the light to a more dramatic angle for us.
 Can't wait to try this with a model of my own! (We can use these photos from the seminar for our own paintings, but can't compete with or publish the artwork)

Kim Lordier Hands-On Demo

After lunch I had a hands-on demo with Kim Lordier. The 'hands-on' demos were added to IAPS in '09. These demos focus on a specific concept involved in the painting process. Participants are not expected to create a finished work but instead concentrate on learning or improving one part of the process, all working from the same reference. The best part is all supplies are provided! (12 Terry Ludwig pastels, and more!)

Kim's demo was on atmospheric perspective. I really looked forward to this demo after hearing Richard McKinley's frequent praises of Kim's skill. Kim had this pre-prepared demo displayed as a visual guide along with the photo reference (at right):  From the back of the room this looked like a detailed painting; only up close could one see how loose and unfinished it was! This really impressed upon me how the strength and power of a painting relies on accurate values and temperatures; it's not in the details!

She then showed us each step of the way and had us work along with her, building our values and temperatures to create convincing atmospheric perspective.
initial sketch

the "Notan"

cool and warm darks

warm lights in forground

cool lights in background, progressing from turquoise to violet
If I can manage to finish my demo sometime, you might see it on my painting blog (you won't see it here yet!)

The President's Dinner

Friday evening was the President's Dinner. (Thank you, Mary, for referring me - the food was delicious, especially desert!) Friend and fellow artist Sonja Kever was also there representing the Austin Pastel Society. We sat with some ladies form the New England area and had some good conversation.

I had asked Sonja if I could borrow her notes on the dinner presentation (I'm not a note-taker!) but of course I never did get around to it. The main point made by IAPS President Maggie Price was that we will have the Hotel Albuquerque for the 2013 convention locked in at the current prices She made many other good points in favor of not moving the convention to another city, and convinced all of us that it had nothing to do with it being in her own back yard (lol!) (Peggy Breutigam paraphrases it very well HERE) One impressive point I remember is that the convention attendance this year nearly doubled from '09 and filled the entire hotel, overflowing to a nearby Best Western.

An important topic presented by IAPS V.P. Liz Haywood-Sullivan was on the ASTM-4236 and the development of a lightfastness standard for pastels.

The ASTM-4236 is the Standard Practice for Labeling Art Materials for Chronic Health Hazards, and this article from explains it very well. 

This blog post by artist and writer Katherine Tyrrell writes a comprehensive and fascinating update on the development of a lightfastness standard for pastels.

SmART Business Seminar

My Saturday classes were spent entirely with Liz Haywood-Sullivan. In the morning was her SmART Business Seminar: marketing advice for the pastel artist. She covered a ton of information in two short hours: Evaluating your artwork, promotion, pricing, shows, competitions, galleries, getting published, and more. Some of this was familiar to me from experience and from similar seminars.

What stuck in my mind the most was the idea of having a definite long-term (10 years, etc) immovable goal for your art career, and by getting there through series of short term and intermediate goals which lead one always toward the end goal. The intermediate goals remain flexible and may change depending on available opportunities and other life factors, but the long term goal never wavers, and the short term goals (1 year or less) don't change either once you commit to them. All career decisions should be made with the final long term goal in mind. This is the system that Liz uses and she admitted to us that even her participation in IAPS and her volunteering with ASTM have steps toward her long-term goal.

The importrant thing for each of us as artists, of course, is to figure out what our own long-term goal is.
(This is delicious food for thought. I'm not sure I agree with this long-term goal concept 100%, but tis is the part of her seminar I remember most so it definitely struck a chord. I may think on this and spout another journal post at some future date with my own career philosophy.)

Painting the Dramatic Sky

Saturday afternoon was Liz's hands-on demo. The best part of this for me was seeing the way she uses bold, wide strokes to lay in the main colors and values. We worked large on a simple southwest scene of land and sky.

After washing in this underpainting with alcohol, she guided us through how she layers on the colors, gradually progressing to smaller detail in the land and clouds. Special emphasis was placed on the proper value scale of the blue sky, and she showed us with another diagram how perspective and distance from the horizon affects cloud shape and temperature...

I recently posted my version of this scene on my painting blog; you can see it HERE. I was very careful to follow Liz's technique as closely as possible!

Banquet Keynote Speaker and Presentation

I almost didn't go to the Saturday banquet, but decided to purchase a ticket when I found out they keep a few 'plates' in reserve for latecomers. I'm glad I did! Kate Hersey of Unison pastels gave the Keynote presentation and an inspiring slide show about the history and manufacturing process of these luscious pastels. Hand-made by less than a dozen employees, the 'factory' is a charming old stone coach house in Northumberland, England. In spite of the death of John Hersey, and various economic pressures, these pastels are still made to the same exacting standards as when they first came on the market in the early 1980's.

Time Off...

Sunday morning was my half-day off. I was ready for some down time to relax my brain, away from what was rapidly becoming visual overload. So where did I go? The Botanical Gardens of course, with camera in hand, to capture some visual overload of a different kind! Here are just a handful of the 200+ shots I got that morning...

...imcluding the most prolific collection of (very hungry!) koi I'd ever seen

Fish, Fronds, Falls and All!

Speaking of koi,that afternoon I got to see Rae Smith at work on one of her famous koi ponds. She worked off of a photo of another of her paintings. She made it look so easy! It was wonderful to see Rae's rambling, skumbled lines, after so many painterly techniques. Her style, almost more drawing than painting, really speaks to my artistic instinct.

"Pastel Pics" Silent Auction

Saturday at 4pm, the Pastel Pics silent auction closed. By Sunday morning at 11, they were ready for the artists to sign and the winners to pick up!  The "Pastel Pics" event was new to IAPS this year. The IAPS Demonstrators and Master Circle artists were approached for donations of one small original pastel painting, unframed and... unsigned! Read here for more ...

I had checked out the collection on Friday and bid on several, expecting to be outbid (which I was.) Saturday I took my time and deliberated carefully about which one I wanted that I could still afford. (The obvious Cuong Nguyen donation having been bid way up!)

I decided to bid again on my first favorite, which turned out to be Terri Ford's (at right):

Then in the final minutes was pulled by the excitement to bid on another beauty that only had one bid so far! I couldn't resist those clouds! This one was by Sharon Will.

Here was my contribution, called "Safety Net." I was just a little miffed that it only had 2 bids(!) but I did receive a commission for a similar piece by an artist who loved it but missed out on the final bidding. That definitely made me feel better (lol.)

(I took shots of all of the "Pastel Pics"on Sunday, and will attach them all on my next post, so you all can see what you missed out on! -- Or maybe you didn't?)

I had another bit of excitement while waiting for the end of the bidding, when a woman came up to shake my hand and said "Rita Kirkman? Hi I'm Sally - I want to tell you how much I admire your work, I saw your two portraits in the show." A glance at her name tag revealed her to be "...Sally ...Strand! Wow!" I replied, "I love your work!"
It was a memorable moment!

The Post-Convention Workshop

By Monday morning the hotel was emptying fast, but there were a few of us left for Margaret Evan's plein aire workshop in the Sandia foothills. I had been waiting four years to get back to that location! It wasn't quite the same with out Maggie Price, but Margaret was charming and a pleasure to listen to (she's Scottish) and I learned a lot form her ability to adjust the landscape to suit her painting. (Too many rocks? Leave some out. Pathway too flat? Angle it!) You can see her first demo HERE.

Margaret also had us return to the hotel for your critiques in the afternoons. Getting the paintings out of their environment, she says, is important in allowing the paintings to stand alone as artwork where your eye can't instantly compare them to the reality of the landscape. It really works!

I especially admired the work of Australian artist Lyn Diefenbach, who I met at IAPS in '07 in Maggie Price's workshop. She's known for her incredibly detailed large florals but has such a fresh, loose (and fast!) plein aire sketch. She had to travel on Tuesday, so Monday she cracked out 4 paintings! here's my favorite of hers:

The End (Or The Beginning...)

There was so much to take in at IAPS '11 that by the end I felt overwhelmed, and vowed that next time I'll just pick one instructor and take all that they offer and leave the rest of the weekend for, well, resting.
...But probably I won't be able to resist scheduling just one more demo, ...then just one more seminar, ...and Oh, I won't want to miss that one!
...It's a lot like trying to resist those irresistible pastels themselves!

Until next time -- happy pastelling!

"I flew so high, the earth was round"


  1. Wow Rita, what an awesome post! Thanks for such a thorough recap and allowing me to relive every exciting moment of this incredible convention. Can't wait to see the paintings you are inspired to create from this trip!

  2. Thanks Jeannette! I can hardly wait either, but life forces delays (lol). This weekend I have 14 small animal 'portraits' prepped to work on while I'm here in Rockport.

  3. What a great post! I'm going to have to read and re-read it so I don't miss a single thing. Thanks so much for sharing!!!


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