Monday, August 31, 2015

Bonus product review: PanPastels

Pan Pastels, I'm hooked

For my birthday this year, I asked for PanPastels by Colorfin  along with some Art Spectrum paper. I had been painting with soft pastels for years. In fact, I worked almost exclusively with them until I got sick back in 2005. That's when it was recommended I stay away from the medium because of the dust. But things have changed. I'm on my feet and feel great again, so I've returned to my earlier love.

Although I had these PanPastels in my drawer for several months, I didn't really play with them much. They seemed a bit hard to manage. I was used to sticks of soft pastels where I would swoosh vibrant color onto the paper and get started immediately. With this product, you don't use sticks to apply color, instead you use applicators that are sold with the pans (see photo below) and you don't use your fingers either. It was simply foreign to me.
Most kits come with applicators.

Here are a few of the "painterly" applicators

Then a few weeks ago a friend emailed me about a paint date and mentioned PanPastels. I thought gee, I should pull that stuff out and see what I can create. First, I reviewed a few videos online to see what methods were being used. Then I pulled out a square mat board, not heavy on the tooth side, drew some hollyhocks and put my first marks down.

The first thing I noticed was that lack of dust. Although there is some, and would still recommend painting with the board upright, the dust is minimal. I also noticed that if I pushed too hard on the pan of color, I would create more dust. So I had to learn to glide the applicator more gently.

While you can pick up a lot of pigment (each pan is made of pure pigment), it doesn't last very long on the applicator, enough for about two to three strokes. This was hard for me. I'm used to sticks with an endless flow of color--just like pencils--until I've used up everything. After a few clumsy tries, I finally got some sort of a rhythm going, where upon I put the pigment on the applicator and then on the painting,  then back again.

Here is my first result:

First project--Hollyhocks--on mat board.

Starting with the upper left flower and using a round tip applicator,  I found it difficult to spread the color. But if I placed the applicator on the board gently and with slight pounce, it was fine. What I discovered was that the applicator was more like a paint brush rather than a stick. This was a whole new experience for me.

Of course, I was working on a very dark mat board (maroon), which meant I had to add more layers. But in time I figured out that if I didn't press hard, either by picking up the pastel or placing it on the board, I was successful.

My next project was on a Canson Mi-Teintes paper, waffled side. I chose a grey background color and painted lemons. The problem here was not the pastel, but more the choice I made regarding the paper color. Dah. I totally forgot that yellow and black (or dark grey in this instance) create green. So my lemons were not as brilliant as I would have liked them. Because the PanPastels are more translucent than regular stick, it was hard to lighten them up to the color I wanted.

Here's the second project:

This was a challenge as yellow turns green on black or dark grey.

The tooth on this side of the paper was sufficient to hold the color, but I learned that grey and yellow don't mix well for getting shimmering yellow.

Next, I decided to use Mi-Teintes paper again but this time on the smoother side in light grey. The subject was grapes, which meant I used more reds, purples, greens and some yellows. I abandoned the painterly applicator and instead used the mini sticks. They look like the tools women use to apply shadow to their eyelids.

I could tell I was getting used to the product as the pastel seemed easier to apply. The colors mixed faster and I wasn't fighting the background color. My only difficulty was adding those last bits of highlights. I had to really load the applicators with lots of white/off-white pigments to get the effect I wanted.

More success here, although highlights were
difficult to create.
I also used the pouncing affect to create a more mottled look in the blue/green background. I think this product would also be great for creating a painting in pointillism. Perhaps another exercise down the road?

Since I had asked and received Art Spectrum paper (slighted sanded) back in February, I thought it would be appropriate that I try another project--a Croatian boat--with that. This time I selected a pale pink colored sheet of paper. Usually with any sanded type paper, the artist can instantly feel the texture and the grip it has on the stick. The colors go down spectacularly. I used the painterly applicator, the mini stick and what they call a sponge bar.
As expected the color went down very smoothly. I used the sponge bar which created a wonderful blended background. Wow, it was so much fun. Then I used the other applicators to draw and paint the boat. Because I had a little trouble on the highlights with the grapes, I decided this time to use a white pastel pencil on top of everything. It worked!

On Art Spectrum paper, used pastels pencil for highlights.

You'd think I would be tired by now but instead, I became energized. In fact, I was like a kid in a candy store who wanted to try more and more. I even bought more colors on Amazon and Dick Blick, along with a few more tools. That's when I decided to tackle a more difficult and larger piece, which ended up being even more challenging that I expected.

I pulled out a mountain/palm tree picture from the Palm Springs area. I thought I'd use a sanded paper, this time UArt 500 grade. Pretty heavy duty but cool when working with stick pastels. I wanted to see how the applicators would hold up.

So I began with creating my background, sky first and then the mountain, using the sponge bar. I was excited about how wonderfully everything laid down. The colors just seemed to paint themselves and I was only a guide. I was content beyond words.

My hand-made pastels came in handy.
The difficulty began when I started to work on the palm trees. I couldn't get the details I wanted. The applicators were also being eating up by the sanded paper. I went through three or four applicator covers in an hour. Even the mini sticks tips were falling apart. I was frustrated.

But then I realized not all paintings have to be created by the same product. I can add whatever I want, whenever I want. After all, I'm the artist. So I pulled our the hardest color stick I own, Nupastel, and started adding my palm trees. For the foliage on top, I found I could create soft lines with the PanPastels and then more distinct ones with the Nupastel. Best of all, I even added my own hand-made pastels. What fun I was having.

Although I struggled with the last project, I think it turned out rather well. I'm feeling so good about this product and it's potential, I'm hoping to put together a video soon in order to show my students how much fun it can be.

(Note: Videos can be found at:

The biggest challenge of them all. Eventually
used stick pastels for details.
Well, that's all for now. Hope you enjoyed this bonus product review. Next issue is due October 1 when I will return to Early American art.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

August/September Newsletter: Embroidery art by Faith Trumbull (Huntington)

As we’ve all learned in our studies in school, the early American woman did all of her sewing by hand. In the beginning, fabric was very hard to come by, so women would re-stitch and  re-stitch garments to make them last.

As the colonists acquired more wealth through trade, more luxurious items came their way. Sewing was still done by hand; the first, widely used sewing machine wouldn’t be invented until 1829. By the mid-1700s, the middle and upper middle classes were growing by leaps and bounds. People were going to school, owning shops, offering services, exporting and importing. And with this prosperity, came the tailor and dressmaker, although many household items were still made at home, such as:  window treatments, bed coverings, etc.

One such handmade item was the embroidered sampler. Girls were taught how to embroider, as early as five years of age, at home from either Mother or Grandmother. There were some community schools called dame schools run by a local unmarried woman (of course!), where children learned the craft.

For a wealthy family, who could send their girls to school, embroidery was part of the curriculum along with the three Rs, classical languages, music, drawing, painting, good manners and sewing.

Faith Trumbull (Huntington) was born into one of these wealthy families in 1743 in the town of Lebanon, Conn. Her father, who had studied to be a minister at Harvard College, joined his father as a merchant. He would later become governor of the Connecticut colony and also the state after Independence. He was the only governor in the colonies who sided with the rebels.

Faith was sent to boarding school twice in Boston where she learned the practice of embroidery, using patterns, either created by local teachers or from pattern books. The first pattern book was printed in Germany in 1524 and pattern pamphlets were available in France from 1586. So it was not uncommon for these wealthy girls to have access to highly-skilled patterns from which they created elaborate designs. Here is one:

There were usually two types of samplers created by the colonial girl. The first, and most important, was the traditional one we are most familiar with, illustrating the alphabet and numbers. Here a young girl would learn how to become proficient at needlework and improve her literacy. Sometimes there would be a poem as well as floral and/or animal motifs. In fact, I read one article that told of a young girl who wrote out a poem expressing her dislike of embroidery, right there for the entire world to see.

The other type of embroidery was more elaborate, which may even include a pastoral scene. This latter one was usually accomplished much later by students and under the tutelage of a teacher at a boarding school.

What sets Faith apart from most of the girls of her time was that she created her own scenes, albeit copied from 17th century Dutch engravings that made their way to the colonial shores. What she did is not unlike other artists who learned from the masters and created paintings from that knowledge. But for Faith, instead of using oil or watercolor, she used silk thread.

Her first picture was copied after the work of Nicholas Pietersz Bercham (1620-1683) and engraved by Cornelis Visscher (1629-1658). The painting was entitled, Woman Milking Cows in Landscape (1665). The original painting was hard to find on the Internet, but after a little bit of time, I did find it and here it is below:

And here is the engraving below done by Visshcer:

And lastly, here is the embroidery below done by Faith:
One can see that Faith copied off the engraving and not the painting. And she made her own changes. The piece was done mostly in satin stitch on pale blue silk. She painted the hair, face, arms, and hands in gouache. Today, the paint has cracked but not flaked. The barefooted milk maid now is wearing shoes, while the woman standing is graced with a wonderful striped dress. Instead of the baskets being filled with market food, they appear to be flowers.

Over-mantel I
The other two pictures attributed to Faith are over-mantels.  These compositions are more complex and I believe show a marked improvement from the first.

Notice how much more complicated and complex this composition is. There are houses and animals as well as the reappearance of the milk maid. In the foreground is a woman playing a flute with her dog as a companion.

Created on satin silk, the painting was done with silk thread and painted with mica (for windows) and gouache. It measures 20 3/8” x 51 1/16. While the drawing and planning for this would take some time, I can’t even image how long this would take to embroider.

Over-mantle II Three Vignettes

The third picture is another over-the-mantel and was her most ambitious. If you go from left to right in the picture you will see three vignettes. On the far left is a woman seated next to a man with a square birdcage. To his right is a shepherdess. This was inspired by Les Amours du Bocage (1730) by Nicolas de Larmessin (1694-1755), as we can see below:

The engraving:

The second vignette is a young woman milking a cow and is definitely reminiscent of the original milking scene by Bercham.

The third vignette however, comes from Landscape with Shepherds by Francesco Zuccarelli (1702-1788). Here’s his drawing done in black chalk, pen and brown ink, brown and gray wash heightened with white gouache:

Perhaps you may think, it can't be that hard to draw these pictures and add thread. After all, they're just copies. As an embroiderer and cross-stitcher in my previous life, I think it’s harder to work with fiber sometimes than any other media, save maybe clay and stone. For instance, here are two close up views of Faith’s needlework mastery:

Every bit of space is covered, except for the black shoes, pants and hat.

I guess the only process that seems as tedious and requires as much commitment would be stippling, placing one dot down at a time.

But the story isn’t over
We never know who we influence. Faith's brother John, fifteen years her junior, would admire her work on the walls in the family home. Finding inspiration from her mastery, he would later grow up to be an artist himself (one of the most celebrated in our history). As he said, “These wonders were hung in my mother’s parlor, and were among the first objects that caught my infant eye. I endeavored to imitate them.”

He went on to be the famous John Trumbull who painted the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1819. More on him next month.

A tragic ending to a talented life
Faith married into another wealthy family. Her husband Jedidiah Huntington was also a graduate of Harvard College and joined his father managing his West India trading company. They had a son, Jabez. Faith suffered from what was called melancholia  or today, clinical depression, so much so that Jedidiah’s parents often watched over Jabez.

Then came the Revolutionary War, which didn’t help her condition at all. Her husband, her father, and her two brothers were part of the Continental Army. What’s worse, on June 17, 1775, she witnessed the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Sometime later, she seemed to be getting better and was even looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving. But her husband was called away by his regiment and the next morning she hanged herself at the early age of 32.

This story truly affected me. I was so sad when I learned that such a talented and gifted person died so young and at her own hand. Her art is even more precious to me now.

Next month I’ll relate the interesting story of John Trumbull, which will conclude this series on Colonial American Art.

New Workshops and Classes planned for Fall 2015
See left sidebar for listing. For complete information and schedules 
go to Glastonbury Studios website.

Taking reservations for Sketching the English Village Workshop Now

Deadline for sign-ups with $50 deposit: September 30, 2015*
For more information go to:

*This is to reserve your spot. Full tuition ($700) is due  November 15. Deposit  and tuition are refundable if workshop is cancelled by me.