Mr. Mclatchy picked up pastel after he took a workshop from Wolf Kahn. The immediacy of the medium and Kahn’s landscape style which lingers between representational and abstract inspired him to work on the medium for the past twelve years.
“You know the nice thing about pastel is that the values are already there. You just have to pick one.” He commented. “In oil, you don’t have such advantages.” Value is his emphasis in the workshop. He first instructed everyone to mass in white, gray and black in order to understand the shape and relationship. At that time, I wished there would be a digital camera so that I could take pictures in B&W! It was very hard for me to filter out all the color information or convert colors into grayscale.
In his demonstration, he didn’t sketch in detail: No scale calculation, no compositional planning, and no value drawing. He simply started drawing a few lines for the tree trunk, his main object in the middle of the paper and felt how to evolve afterwards. There arose at times myths where those lines ended in relationship to others, which seemed not only puzzled me but also the artist. But he quickly moved along and decided, at the same time when he was drawing, which direction to go. The more pastel pigments he laid down, the more specific the subject became, and the more clearly how the myth was going to be solved.
Unfortunately, his contemporary style didn’t fit in most of the reference books with traditional approach in minds. When I tried to mimic his style: loose strokes, scribbling lines, and most of all drawing with energy, the fundamental rules were totally forgotten. Colors are not strengthening each other, light and shade lose their suggestive meaning and layers of pastel soon dulled the Canson paper.
In his book, Wolf Kahn says artists should not paint with insights, but with instincts. Yet in workshop, insights and habits can be described and taught, yet instincts, fleeting like light, are indescribable. Kahn said it won’t work if one focuses too much on those rules. Great art comes out of artist’s hands and mind undisturbed by those established laws; although it is true that afterwards one may find those underlining rules, while never been sensed consciously during the creation of the work, do apply to it or even contribute to its success.
Such statements, which philosophizes the creation of art work, can hardly be applied to amateurs, who are as hard to remember those rules (composition, color, balance, etc) as for artists to forget them. Pragmatic tips can be better grasped in workshops, although it is true some of Kevin’s metaphorical instruction may be understood a few years later as I progress (if only I could still remember what he said by then).
But he did not force everyone to make some changes and try to show demonstration directly on participant’s work. Instead he tried to understand from everyone’s perspective and then gave some suggestions. This is really what I appreciated from the workshop. As a student of Kahn, Mr. McLatchy values the spirit of exploration. Kahn once suggests that once one begins to grasp, he should stop immediately and move on to something new. Otherwise, he falls into the trap of painting by habits. (I asked Mr. Mclatchy what he thought of some old masters who repeatedly painted the same subject with perfection. He said some works may seem perfect, but lack of emotions and energy. )
Well, my pastel drawing is far from perfection after one day workshop, but it made me excited with the medium and inspired me to try more.
Kevin Mclatchy’s website is here.