PH: What inspired you to become an artist?
MS: Honestly I think I was born one! I have taken different paths in my life and being an artist is always what never leaves me and what I always come back to. It's in my DNA.
PH: How did you decide pastels would be your medium?
MS: I used to swoon over the open displays of pastels in the local art store. On a whim I bought a set to try and played around with them for awhile. Eventually I found a pastel class in town and eventually they became my only medium. I fell in love with their immediacy and impulsivity. My paintings are typically completed in a single painting session to complete the artistic statement. The rest is history, as they say. Pastels to me are like shoes to most women- you can never have too many!
PH: When you sit in front of a blank canvas, how do you get started?
MS: It usually depends on my mood! I always have a subject in mind and paint from my own reference photos. The underpainting color will start off my plan. If I’m planning on a very neutral, subdued landscape then sometimes I will start with a hot pink or yellow underpainting to brighten things up and make it sparkle. I usually am working a series and will tend to stick with that for 6 months or so.
PH: How do you capture the natural light so perfectly in your pastel paintings?
MS: I like to play around with colors- specifically color temperature. The balance of warm against cool and light against dark is what creates the light- this is the eternal pursuit of every landscape artist!
PH: What is the difference in soft, hard and chalk pastels?
MS: Pastels are pure pigment mixed with only a little binder. The softer pastels have less binder, the harder pastels have more! Terry Ludwigs remain my favorite because the colors are rich and consistent, their rectangular shape lends itself to all different kinds of mark making, and they come in the most amazing sets! My favorite set is the Sunrise/Sunset palette. The softest pastels like Schminke literally feel like butter when you apply them and you can make great expressive final marks with them. There is actually no chalk in pastels
PH: What do you use to blend your pastels?
MS: Pipe foam insulation! Buy one piece at the hardware store and it lasts for years. Also it will not disintegrate on the sanded paper like paper towels will.
PH: Who is your favorite pastel artist?
MS: I love the contemporary pastel artists of today. I'm heading to New Mexico next month for the International Association of Pastel Societies (IAPS) convention and I'll spend several days watching demos and taking workshops. I'm most excited to see Aline Ordman's demo - I consider her a master impressionist. I'm also excited about Sally Strand's workshop - she paints amazing interiors with figures, sort of a modern day version of Mary Cassatt.
PH: Do you enjoy painting large or small the most?
MS: I think the ideal size for pastel paintings is 16 X 20 or 18 X 24. Pastel is an intimate medium that pulls you in to the painting. The closer you look the more marks and layers you see, and this aspect gets lost the bigger you paint. Converseley, if you paint smaller than this, the image either looks overly simplified or too tightly painted. Paintings larger than 24 X 24 rely more on the underpainting to successfully pull of the piece, simply because you have to cover more space with a tiny stick of pastel!
PH: What item in the natural landscape is the most difficult to recreate with pastels?
MS: ROCKS! I prefer to avoid them!
PH: Do you encounter any roadblocks while working?
MS: I used to run into issues with paper buckling but pre-mounted panels eliminated this problem. They cost more but they are worth it! Also with plein air painting the challenge is always changing light conditions.
PH: THANK YOU MELISSA!
Melissa Walton is a Richmond, Virginia-based artist specializing in the pastel medium. She focuses on dynamic compositions that convey the atmospheric perspective and have a strong pattern of light. In the studio she enjoys converting her plein air studies into original interpretations of familiar subjects.
Melissa has a B.S. in Business Management from Virginia Tech and is an associate member of the Pastel Society of America, Mid-Atlantic Pastel Society and American Impressionist Society.