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A PAS-SING GLANCE - PAS MEMBER MARIE-FRANCE PAGEAU

written by Erica Lindsay Walker, vice president, education chair

Waiting is often a sad and lonely business, with one’s movements – and even one’s life – arrested until the thing that one is waiting for arrives. But waiting is also tempered with hope. I find that both these qualities make up the story of Marie-France Pageau’s “L’attente”.

L'attente - The Wait

L’attente – The Wait

Pageau has chosen to tell this story without fine detail. She provides just enough information to show us that this is a person waiting in a room. We see the windowsill with its triangular beam of (not very bright) light and the strange, rust-coloured shape on the wall. The figure, blue like the surroundings and light, seems to have a scarf wrapped around its neck. It is featureless except for an ear, which glows with a soft warmth, as if listening to the shape behind it.

In a picture like this, shape and colour become extremely important to get the artist’s meaning across. Pageau’s main colour is a quiet blue, balanced by complementary touches of the rusty orange. This subdued orange shimmers in the middle of the work and room like a hearth-fire. In spite of how limited the palette is the colours are very rich. The blue is luminous with hints of green and violet. It is a grayed blue but not dull, which suggests it has also been toned down with the rusty orange – not much, just enough to make it sing. Combining the two complements like this relates them to one another so that they do not clash. It is this richness and harmony that lifts the mood of the work. “L’attente” is not at all a gloomy picture. Instead, it is (at least for me) one of sadness touched with hope or expectation.

Pageau balances lights and darks throughout the work, with the figure occupying a kind of tonal middle ground – just as it occupies the “middle ground” of waiting, unable to go forward or back. The way the artist plays with space and line explores the concept of waiting still further. At first the figure seems imprisoned. But as we follow the windowsill toward us it disappears, while the far side of the window melts into the background wall. Outside becomes inside. How big is the window, and by extension, the room? Could the figure leave if it chooses? We know that waiting can be imposed upon us, and it can also be voluntary. Which is the case here?

We also see that except for those of the figure itself, most of the lines are in this work are straight. They convey (at least at first) the idea of a prison, something set and unyielding. But they are perhaps less rigid than they first appear. The straightness wavers here and there, as if the rigidity might relent. Or as if the lines themselves are weary of waiting.

Pageau’s realism has been pared down until it is almost abstraction. Such restrictions can be a real challenge. But ironically, they can also open the door to a greater freedom of expression. Sometimes less is truly more – we just have to wait for it.

CONGRATULATIONS KATE FERGUSON!! YOU HAVE WON!

a special announcement from the Pencil Art Society

Congratulations, Kate Ferguson! You have won the Pencil Art Society’s Member Appreciation Draw for the month of March!! A $25 (CAD) Amazon gift certificate will be emailed to you very soon! A big Thank you! to everyone who joined or renewed their PAS membership in March!!

MEMBER APPRECIATION DRAW FOR APRIL!

We’re holding another Member Appreciation Draw this month for another $25 (CAD) Amazon gift certificate, so if you’d like to join in on the fun, you can find out more about becoming a PAS member by visiting our “Membership” page!

A PAS-SING GLANCE - PAS MEMBER WENDY THOMPSON

written by Erica Lindsay Walker, Vice President, Education Chair

This month, I want to look at Wendy Thompson’s “Saving Time.” Again, this is a work that I loved the moment I saw it. I loved the dreamlike quality of it: the bird with its loot and the fairy-tale moon, contained and not contained within the incongruous rectangular “frame.”

Saving Time

Saving Time

But there’s a lot more to this seemingly simple little piece than meets the eye. It is a gentle work, not disturbing or sinister in any sense – at least, I don’t feel that it is. But I have many questions. This is a drawing in which three different realms come together: The natural world (the crow), the not-so-natural world (the moon) and the purely abstract world (the rectangle).

The main focus is, of course, the crow. As we see, it has a watch and chain dangling from its beak. The artist has caught it mid-flight, probably on the way to its nest. We know that magpies, crows, and ravens are all known for finding precious, glittery objects and hoarding them. They are thieves. But wait – this bird is not stealing anything. The artist tells us that it is actually saving Time – something that is borne out by the benign mood of the work. This is a positive thing. The bird is taking Time to SAVE it. What does that mean? Can you really save Time? Does it need to be rescued? Time slips away from all of us no matter what we do.

Then we come to the moon. It has a face, the familiar profile-face of a humanized crescent moon. This reminds one of Mother Goose – the storybook-moon with a human personality. But this is different from usual, in that this moon is not smiling. It is not jolly. It is simply there, quiet, like a passive observer. It is a witness to what the crow is doing, but it does not seem interested. Watch and moon both keep Time, but unlike the watch, the moon keeps Time far out of anyone’s reach.

Finally, the rectangle. Now this is very interesting because it introduces an element of the wholly abstract – perhaps like Time itself. It is flat, pure shape in a three-dimensional scene. What kind of space is really portrayed here? Where is this taking place? The moon must be far up in the sky, and yet it seems right behind the bird, and they are both contained within this same “frame.” Yet neither bird nor moon is truly contained. Both are inside and outside the rectangle, just as both occupy two different worlds: the real and the unreal.

Thompson continues this strange sense of intertwining worlds through her technique. The bird is very realistically and naturally drawn – the different textures of its feathers are beautifully handled. Its position is very interesting too: we see it in profile but twisted also, with one wing foreshortened. Although it is suspended mid-flight before us it does not seem “frozen” at all. Its realism is startling, contrasted with the rectangle and the humanized moon.

I could go on and on! The more I consider this little drawing, the more I find there is to see and think about.

JOIN PAS AND BE A WINNER!

a special announcement from the Pencil Art Society

Guess what everyone? It’s membership time, and, to celebrate this event, we have something special in store for you!! For the next 3 months, at the end of each month, we’re going to hold a Membership Appreciation Draw. That means that for the next 3 months, one of our members will receive a $25 CAD gift certificate from Amazon. That’s the same value as a year’s membership! Perhaps it could go towards art supplies to create a winning drawing for our First International Open Juried Exhibition …

Are YOU gearing up for our approaching International Exhibition?

Our First International Exhibition is open to members and non-members alike. However, benefits for our members include: having their own Member Gallery page, receiving the PAS bi-annual magazine Go Brushless!, being able to apply for Master Pencil Artist Status (MPAS), and being able to enter our Online Exhibitions. PAS members are also able to earn Signature Status. Not only that, our members also pay significantly lower entry fees for our First International Open Juried Exhibition! Join us and be a part of it!

A PAS-SING GLANCE - PAS MEMBER JULIE PODSTOLSKI

written by Erica Lindsay Walker, Vice President, Education Chair

Julie Podstolski’s “Low” captivated me the moment I saw it. A beat-up, dirty old wall (only an artist could find beauty in subject matter like this), and in the middle of it, a graceful fashion-plate of a girl. It was so startling and so poignant – like finding a flower struggling out of cracks in the pavement.

Low

Low

In her blog, Podstolski describes her fascination with the images she finds on the streets:

“It is not just the art itself which interests me but its immediate surroundings. Cracked concrete, rusty pipes, torn paper, tagging and filth all become part of my composition. Elegance and random gunk rub up against one another making for a composition of contrasts.”

“A composition of contrasts” – “elegance and random gunk” – these two phrases capture “Low” so well. Putting so many disparate things together gives it a wonderful visual and emotional punch. On a visual level, it is a fascinating gamut of textures, colours, values, and patterns. We find rough juxtaposed with smooth, neutrals with primaries, mid-tones with black-and-white. And then there’s my personal favourite: the contrast of art genres. We have a cartoon alongside a realistically rendered, gritty wall – Jackson Pollock-like lines which are actually cracks in concrete – a thin brown rectangle which also happens to be a rusty pipe – a yellow paint stain housing a glaring beetle! Pop art rubs shoulders with Abstract Expressionism, Photo-realism embraces both. Looked at separately, these genres seem completely different, and yet they co-exist quite naturally here.

But I find the work’s emotional contrast – that of the girl herself with her environment – to be the most riveting. She seems to have nothing in common with it at all. With her delicate profile and glamorous clothes, she strikes me as a kind of modern princess: a sad Snow White waiting for a prince. The trouble is that this ugly wall doesn’t just surround her, it is part of her. It is, literally, her background. She would not even exist without it. For me, this is what gives her predicament its poignancy: she is so unlike her background, but that doesn’t matter. It is still part of her. It shapes her. We see her only in relation to it, and we are not allowed to forget it. How many of us feel trapped by our surroundings? How often are we known and judged by our background, even when we have inwardly left it far behind?

The girl does not fit in, and yet she cannot escape. No wonder her head is bowed, and she looks so “low.” Podstolski’s image combines insight with technical mastery and great visual finesse. I can only hope that we will see more in this series.

PAS FIRST INTERNATIONAL OPEN JURIED EXHIBITION

a special announcement from the Pencil Art Society

The time we’ve all been waiting for has arrived … the Pencil Art Society is now accepting submissions for our First International Open Juried Exhibition!

We are so excited! Our dream has always been to showcase the work of pencil artists from around the world. Now that dream is coming true!

We’ve got some GREAT PRIZES, too, totalling over $4000 (CAD) in cash! Check out our Prospectus for more details.

ALL PENCIL ARTISTS ARE WELCOME

Our International Exhibit is open to both members and non-members. Every artist may submit up to three (3) works, keeping in mind that all three (3) could be accepted. However, application fees will be significantly lower for PAS members. Members will also have a chance to begin to earn Signature Status: those who have work accepted into five (5) of our International Exhibitions will have the right to put the initials PAS after their name.

The Exhibition will take place in the beautiful Repentigny Exhibition Centre, right on the outskirts of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Repentigny Exhibition Centre is the single major centre in Quebec’s southern Lanaudiere region promoting fine crafts and the visual arts. Our judge is the respected M. Richard Pedneault, curator of the Laurier Museum. For nearly three decades, M. Pedneault has made the Laurier Museum one of the most important centres for the arts in Canada.

GREAT NEWS!

A lot of you would like to enter, but the thought of the expense involved in shipping your work discourages you. Well, we have some wonderful news! Since this Exhibition is open to artists from all over the world, we will be accepting UNFRAMED works. (See details in our Prospectus). The Repentigny Exhibition Centre has a professional framing service available and has graciously offered to mat and frame unframed art – thus greatly reducing shipping expenses, especially for those artists who live outside of Canada! Of course, if you prefer to send framed works, you may. But if you want to take advantage of this offer, please do. Don’t let the thought of shipping deter you!

We can’t wait to see your work. Bringing together the best pencil art from all over the world is such an incredible privilege. Please join us. We know that the finest artists today are using pencil to create fantastic, profound, thought-provoking art. Now is the time to let the rest of the world know it too!

MASTER HANDS: PART I - MARY CASSATT

written by Erica Lindsay Walker, Vice President, Education Chair

We know that hands are one of the most expressive features that human beings possess. They can tell so many stories about our histories, our characters, what we like and what we do. They are also one of the most challenging and complex features to draw. Beautifully drawn hands can be a really stunning element in a portrait or figure drawing, whether finished or a sketch. Or they can be the entire subject of a work. They can be realistically portrayed or not so realistically, just as the artist wants.

Two Women

Two Women

Great artists have always realized the incredible potential of hands to express what they want to say. This study by Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) is a quietly powerful example. The artist portrays two women (actually, her mother and sister) sitting near a lamp. One is reading and the other sewing. It is a picture of togetherness – but perhaps not as much as first appears.

We see that Cassatt’s technique is fairly sketchy overall – this was, in fact, a sketch for a later finished work. She isn’t too concerned with detail: the flowery design on the lamp, for example, is merely suggested. She uses a lot of crosshatching. Some of her lines are short and heavy, while others, such as those in the tabletop, are thin and hesitant. In these lines we can read her search for the right placement.

But there is nothing hesitant about the lines in the reading woman’s hand. This is such a bold, powerful statement that it almost comes as a visual shock. It is clear and sharp, a vivid shape with strong outlines, perhaps the strongest and most vivid element in the entire work. The fingers rest or press against the woman’s head. They suggest her concentration, reminding us that there is a mind there. Now look at the hands of the other woman, engaged in the traditionally feminine work of sewing. We might not even notice them at first, they are so much less clearly and boldly drawn. The lines are lighter, less decisive. They almost fade away into their surroundings.

We can make what we will of this drawing by an artist who, as a woman from whom “womanly” pursuits were expected, had to struggle to be taken seriously. But whatever her point or protest is, she isn’t in the least aggressive about it. She says so little to express so much, and we are moved so deeply. THAT is how powerful hands can be!

A PAS-SING GLANCE - PAS MEMBER SUSAN POOLE

written by Erica Lindsay Walker, Vice President, Education Chair

Time

Time

As pencil artists, many of us love to draw what we see. But how do we draw what we DON’T see? In other words, how does a realist artist go about describing a totally abstract concept? Non-representational artists don’t need to depend on the surface appearance of things, and often love to portray abstract concepts. Realist artists, on the other hand, are bound by representation – by the look of things seen.

To represent Time, Susan Poole shows us an old-fashioned watch on a chain, the end of which is set at an angle, like a swinging pendulum. On either side of the watch is a Greek inscription – a significant choice, since Greek is a language that is both ancient and still spoken today. The watch lid is open, casting a long shadow patterned like a flower. Above it, as if the opened watch were a “cocoon” from which it had just emerged, hovers a black-and-white butterfly.

Shapes are very important in this work, not only for their design but for their symbolism. For example, the circle is repeated over and over in the watch and chain. In the context of the work the circle has a lot of meaning. In art, the circle often represents unity and completeness. It also represents eternity: it has no beginning and no end. There are several ellipses too, most noticeably the watch lid’s shadow. Ellipses are flattened circles; what is so interesting about them is that they function here as visual suggestions of how Time can seem to be stretched and distorted. We know how memory and perception can play tricks with Time. And what about the little heart shape at the top of the work? It could be a comment on love rising above all things, even Time – and it also echoes the shape of the butterfly’s wings.

A butterfly suggests transformation because it experiences such extreme change in its life. It embodies the power of Time to alter things, sometimes past recognition. Time itself is unchanging, but look what it can do! And yet there are some strange things about this particular butterfly. We generally expect butterflies – especially patterned ones – to be brightly coloured. So why is this one black and white? Why is its pattern so sharp and clear, like the sharp Roman numerals on the watch face? Does it represent a memory, something Time has altered but not destroyed? Or might it mean something entirely different? Perhaps it hasn’t emerged from the “cocoon” at all. Perhaps it is attracted to the “flower”? Has it come to sip the nectar of Time?

These are only a few of the questions that come to mind. I love how a work like this encourages us to wonder, how it invites personal interpretation. Poole’s drawing reminds us that we all have our own experiences and points of view, of Time as of everything else.

A PAS-SING GLANCE - PAS MEMBER LYETTE ROUSSILLE

written by Erica Lindsay Walker, Vice President, Education Chair

Artist Lyette Roussille states on her blog that it is her goal to create works filled with happiness and pleasure. She succeeds beautifully – we can hardly look at her work without smiling. Black outlines and relatively flat, solid colour create a kind of “picture book” effect. It looks so simple, even childlike. But simplicity is harder to achieve than it looks. As we will see, there are many careful choices behind her approach.

La petite église - The Little Church

La petite église – The Little Church

Roussille has chosen to portray a church, and to portray it as a gentle place of stability in an energetic world. There are many ways to convey stability, and symmetry is one of the most effective. Symmetry speaks of balance, of things being precisely equal. As we see, this work is extremely symmetrical at first glance. The church sits squarely in the middle of the work. It has a symmetrical door and symmetrical windows. There are symmetrical arrangements of trees and clouds, hills and shrubs, on either side of it. A symmetrical fence runs across the bottom of the paper in front of it. Everywhere we look we see things neatly mirrored.

Using this much symmetry is tricky, because if things are too balanced, we become bored. But Roussille’s work does not seem static at all. How does she create movement in a work with so much symmetry?

Looking at the work again, we find that things are not quite as regular as they seem. For example, the hills are not the same shape, nor are they the same height. The two large trees on either side of the church are not equidistant, either from each other or from the church itself. (At first glance they seem to mirror one another, but a second glance shows that one is much closer to us than the other, so much closer that part of it is actually in front of the church.) The three little trees in the distance on each side of the picture are very different in terms of shape and height. And so on. All these slight variations serve to quietly break up the symmetry, so that things are never monotonous or dull.

Roussille also places several elements outside the borders of the work. Right away this gives the impression of things not being contained, of breaking out, moving away. Then there are the scattering of flowers and butterflies, and the little stylized birds. The flowers seem to pop up unexpectedly here and there. At first it seems as though there are two to every fencepost, but look again! The birds are like winged arrows, which adds so much to their effect: it emphasizes their speed and their flight, the idea that in a moment they will be gone.

Work like this always runs the risk of becoming cutesy or sentimental and overdone. But Roussille’s aesthetic restraint and her strong understanding of design give her work a solid foundation of reality. We enter her gentle, lighthearted world, and we find our own hearts lifted.

STORYLINES: PART 6 -

written by Erica Lindsay Walker, Vice President, Education Chair

We know that line can show what we see, and how we see it. But it can also reveal what we feel about what we see. Line can have enormous expressive power, and what better artist to teach us about that than the great master of Expressionism, Vincent van Gogh?

Van Gogh (1853-1890) is famous for his emotional explorations of colour. But he was a brilliant draftsman, and he drew constantly. Loving colour as he did, it might seem rather surprising that he could produce such powerful drawings. For him, though, line could be every bit as dramatic and exciting as colour. His lines create all the “colour” a drawing could need.

Cypresses

Cypresses

Looking at his “Cypresses,” we can see why. One thing we realize almost immediately is that van Gogh is not interested in “realism,” in the sense of simply copying what he sees. He does not want to just reproduce this scene, he wants to show how he feels about it. He wants to share his excitement. So he does not render surfaces and textures exactly. Instead, he approximates them. To do this he uses a special pictorial language of line: curves, streaks, short staccato dashes. These lines suggest the surfaces and textures while always reminding us of the artist’s hand, that they are drawn. They convey the subject as well as van Gogh’s own presence.

As we look further we notice that, unusually, this drawing consists almost entirely of these short broken lines. We naturally expect longer continuous lines in a drawing. Such lines contain and stabilize an image. But there are very few long lines in this work – and very little stability! So many short, irregular ones make everything seem to be catching its breath. The whole scene constantly shifts and moves. The ground could not be less like terra firma; it is more like a restless sea.

Line also creates the drawing’s values. Some strokes are thick and dark, others are lighter and more delicate. Some parts are heavily marked, while the areas of sky have just a few. These emptier sky areas provide some breathing room – and it’s a good thing they do, or we might not be able to stand it. Everything sways and heaves. The trees are a swirling, turbulent mass. They almost seem on fire, as if van Gogh had been thinking of the “burning bush” from the book of Exodus in the Bible. So much movement! So much energy! Every part of the surface is alive. This is what line in the hands of a great artist can do!