Finding Inspiration…the Birthplace of Ideas

How to Find Inspiration and the Birthplace of Ideas

by Laura Pollak, PSWC, PSA, PSNC, SPS

Where ideas are born…
I’m often asked where I get inspiration for some of my ‘wild’ paintings. Well there’s inspiration everywhere! Look all around you. The chair you’re sitting in or the silverware you use at your meals, someone has designed it.  Even the cracks in the pavement can offer inspiration!  Do you all remember that strange book way back in 1993, that was the wild rage called the  Celestine Prophecy? The gist of the book was that ideas and opportunities are all around us and that we just need to be receptive to recognizing them.

A newer book that I have enjoyed is THE BIG MAGIC by none other that the author of Eat, Pray, Love; Elizabeth Gilbert. Her unique philosophy is that Ideas are swirling around in the universe waiting for a human to seize them and bring them to life.   At first glance this seemed ridiculous but since reading her book [which I highly recommend for anyone in the arts] I’ve come to believe her!  She states that ‘Ideas are driven by a single impulse; to be made manifest.’   The concept is that if you don’t recognize a good idea, the idea will find another way or person to bring it to life! Gilbert states,  “Therefore, ideas spend eternity swirling around us, searching for available and willing partners.” I’ve come to really believe this ‘wooowoo’ philosophy.   Many a night I’ve sat bolt upright from sleep with a vision of what needs to be expressed on my easel, and if I don’t get to it quickly the idea will find another willing collaborator!

I keep lists of ideas on my iPad, and if on the rare occasion I run out of concepts to paint, I simply scroll through my hundreds of collected thoughts and start to play. Not only do I get inspiration from everyday objects around me but from words, phrases, lyrics, music, and of course nature where you can find fractals and fibonacci patterns.  (If you’ve never heard of those look them up and be enthralled!) Ideas are also born by making ‘connections’ between shapes and forms that are all around us. Pieces of jewelry, or architecture. When I first saw Frank Gehry’s architectural wonders, I couldn’t look away.  He carves space like no other!  Who says we cannot pull inspiration from another artist!   

In a little book that was given to me when I was in advertising called A Technique for Getting Ideas, by James Wood Young (btw, you can find this bitty 60 page book free online) the bottom line is that there are no new things under the sun but the recombination of ideas is the true creativity! So when I looked at Pinterest page and saw a beautiful pin it sparked a whole series of ideas around our current pandemic and I call this the Covid Series.  The graphic shape of the pin gave me a window to express what was going on inside my head and out in the world.   Here are a few pieces that will show the progression. I’m still not finished exploring this vein yet.   I constantly see new combinations that need to be expressed.   Whether these paintings go anywhere or not, the ideas are lingering around my psyche and until it’s on the easel it will nag me until it is finished.

So when you’re in search of your next idea, simply look around, make new connections, and listen to the universe before those ideas find a new owner.

Progression of an idea…The COVID Series

Her Future’s so Bright, She’s Gonna Need Shades!

Meet High School Junior Laura Ni from the San Francisco Bay Area. An accomplished pianist, student, and an AMAZING artist!

by Sabrina Hill, PSWC President and Editor, PSWC Magazine

Laura Ni

In the midst of the COVID-19, I had a chance to meet Laura Ni and her dad, Martin, over Zoom. She has one proud papa and with good reason! We chatted about her life, and her talents as an artist and pianist. Laura has studied art since 8th grade under Xiao Chang and also with her high school teacher, Mrs. Murphy. They have helped her develop her skills as a painter in a variety of mediums. She is going to be a name to watch for as you will see. It is important that we recognize these artists of the next generation. Their work is inspiring and innovative.

Take a look at Laura’s work below. She has written a little about each piece, but the work truly speaks for itself. (All work is the property of Laura Ni and cannot be reproduced without permission c2020)

The Crossing Paths by Laura Ni

The name of this drawing is “The Crossing Paths.” This pastel drawing is based on a photo that captures the moment when four rushed people crossed paths on the streets. I chose to recreate that moment because I found people’s interactions intriguing. This was the first and maybe the last time all four of them would ever see each other all at once. It was a magnificent moment because it happened to be these four people out of any other seven billion people in the world as if fate somehow brought them together. However, none of them realized, because they were all hurrying to get to their destination. The idea that the chances of us meeting the exact persons we have met is smaller than winning a lottery ticket made me wonder how lucky we were when we met the people we cared for and loved in our lives. To emphasize this idea, I painted the brick walls in the background extra dark which highlights the figures as that creates a contrast to the bright colors on their clothes.

Time Lapse by Laura Ni

The name of the artwork is “Time Lapse.” This art piece has an amusing creation story. It all began with me becoming incredibly confused in a class that taught logic and reasoning. I always loved doing logic puzzles, guessing riddles, and reading detective stories which was why I got enrolled in the class in the first place. However, I soon found out the class was much more than what I expected. The class got much harder quickly, and the teacher was bringing in complicated topics such as the paradox of time travel and possible solutions to the paradox. To visualize the idea, the teacher drew a timeline and many arrows in different directions on a whiteboard to show the traveler’s pathways. Sadly, the diagrams did not help me understand the problem, but instead made me more confused, as the arrows became tangled in my mind the way the earphone lines would in my pockets. Therefore, in an effort to clear my mind, I started doodling on a piece of paper, and because all I could think of at the time was “time,” and that became the theme of the new artwork.

Devotion by Laura Ni

This drawing is called “Devotion.” It is a derivative work based on a photo of an old lady. The photo was taken near a temple. When I saw the photo, the lady’s solemn and devout expressions captivated me, so I decided to emphasize her posture by drawing her head and hands in pencil only. The sharp tips of the pencils allowed me to draw with more precision and carve out every wrinkle on her face and hands. The reason I wanted to do so was that wrinkles tell stories. The wrinkles in between her eyes hinted that she regularly frowned, and the wrinkles on her hands, especially on her fingers, revealed that she did a lot of manual labor. These details formed part of the lady’s identity. For the same reason, I kept the colors on the lady’s clothes because colorful stripes were an element of the traditional clothes in Tibet, which revealed the ethnicity of the lady. After I finished drawing the lady, I decided not to draw in the background because I felt that the artwork should reflect her sacred and pure emotions. The way for me to achieve that goal was to keep it intricate but simple.

The Weaving History by Laura Ni

This drawing is called “The Weaving History.” On the left side, a mystical Chinese palace quietly stands and gazes at an ethereal German castle under a starry night sky. This drawing was inspired by a historical fiction novel I was reading at the time. I can still remember how often I held my breath as I read, when I was about to learn the result of the events. The author painted a glittering romance with her words which was so exotic that I could not help myself from needing to sketch it out and be able to visualize that ancient world. The reason I chose buildings as the main characters of this drawing was that I found that it is common and easy for people to forget that buildings are works of art. Additionally, they are more than art because they can be the only witnesses of stories that are long forgotten. The “meeting” of these architectural styles was to show some of the most remarkable art creations in the world that would never be together in real life. It was also a celebration of legacies.

Waiting by Laura Ni

This artwork is called “Waiting.” The artwork is a derivative work based on a photo that depicts an old man earnestly staring into the wilderness. While completing the work, oftentimes, I would wonder what he was trying to see. A local celebration event? A shepherd collecting his flock on the nearby hill? Or is he looking forward to seeing someone? If so, who is it? Is that person a student of his who is carrying on his beliefs as the next generation? A neighborhood kid who used to come and play with him? Or his own family who has moved to a more urban city years ago? With these thoughts in mind, I decided to sketch the old man and only color in the background. The different mediums would separate the man from his surroundings and put the man away from the chattering and vibrant world. The focus on the man faded because he is lost in his thoughts and only pondering how much longer he needs to wait.

Gypsy — My Dear Cat by Laura Ni

The drawing is called “Gypsy — My Dear Cat.” It is the portrait of an adorable cat standing under a beam of sunlight. The drawing was a gift for a friend. Gypsy is her cat, and she named the drawing. When drawing the portrait, I remember putting special attention on the eyes of the cat. Shakespeare once said, “Eyes are the windows to the soul,” and I found the eyes of Gypsy revealed how sharp she is. Her eyes seemed as if they had the ability to sparkle in the dark like aliens would in science fiction stories. That thought prompted me to choose a mainly dark blue background because that is the color of the night sky. That beam of light can be interpreted as a comet that happened to fly behind the cat or as the light that shines down from a UFO.

The Blooming Summer by Laura Ni

“The Blooming Summer” is the name of the artwork. It is based on a photo of flowers glowing in the blazing summer. The photo was taken on Lombard Street in San Francisco. The flowers were free-falling off of the exterior wall of a two-story building. The energy and vigor embodied by these flowers excited me. Furthermore, I have always wanted to draw flowers, but I did not want to draw bouquets since I found them too docile, and these flowers were perfect. While completing the work, I decided to take away all elements that might connect the flowers back to human civilization. The reason was that I hoped these flowers were more than just the decoration of a residential building but instead an important part of nature. I imagined that the flowers were growing wildly, unrestricted, and boldly in a prehistoric rainforest. I dreamed that they were spreading their branches the way the sunlight casts through the clouds, blooming as if this was the last chance before they wither.

“Star of the Show” Demo

Our Guest Bloger for June is Susan Kuznitsky. Her nostalgic painting Star of the Show will develop right before your eyes. Watch how this talented pastelist brings a memory to life. See more of her work at her at All photos and images are the property of Susan Kztnitsky and may not be used without permission from the artist.

This painting was definitely a labor of love It was a 35 mm slide from the archives of my family history that I had made into a JPG. I am the oldest of four girls, and we all took dance lessons in the home of a woman in the Chicago suburban neighborhood where I grew up. The lessons culminated at the end of each school year with a big extravagant dance recital. Lots of tutus and tap shoes! The darling little girl in the middle is my youngest sister. She was always the ‘Star of the Show.’ I just had to paint this.

Step 1

I used a 400 grit sanded paper cut to 24 x 15. I used my pastel pencils to draw out the dancers and began to indicate the darks. This is the stage (no pun intended) where I can work out my composition which went through changes as you will see in later steps. 

Step 2

I used hard and soft pastels to lay in local color and simplify values and shapes. I tend to use mostly hard pastels  at this stage. Soft pastels can be used but pay attention the amount of pressure used so as not to over fill the tooth of the paper. 

Step 3

Next, I applied denatured alcohol on a brush to moisten the pastel starting with the lighter colors. This ’sets’ the color onto the paper creating a strong base upon which to start building up layers of color. The drawing gets a bit lost during this part of the process so I used my pencils again at this point to redraw. Obviously this is a very complex subject with all the hands, arms and legs. I began getting more detail in the middle figure (my sister Penny) with the intention of working from the center of interest out.

Step 4

Next, I began adding more detail to the  girls on either side of Penny and added the reflections which are very much part of the overall composition. 

Step 5

As the painting developed, I felt there were too many arms and legs distracting from my center of interest. I removed the areas circled in red. The wonder of this technique is how forgiving and flexible it is. I took a stiff little scrub brush to brush out what I didn’t want. The result created a stronger composition. 

Final Steps

The finished painting. More layering and blending done alternating with my pastel pencils and hard and soft pastels to create the level of finish that makes me happy. I am actually inthe black leotard behind the girl in the all white tutu. So fun to travel down memory lane of my childhood to a much more innocent time. And I still love to dance!

Demo from a Quarantined Artist

Our guest Blogger is Ugo Paradiso, a wonderful artist and friend of PSWC. He is sharing some of his tricks and tips for pastel painting. He makes bold use of color and the result is a strong, powerful painting the really revs your engines! (All photos and images are the property of Ugo Paradiso and cannot be used without permission.)

Here is is a short step by step on what I did on my painting titled – Take a Ride.

I had a black and white reference photo of an old 1956 Pontiac Chief Star that I took during my travels. My job requires travel for 2-3 weeks at a time to various part of the United States. I bring my camera with me so that any chance I have I take photos of what I find interesting.

Stage 1: Planning Stage

Planning stage is very important to me. Choosing the subject and having a connection to the subject is critical. I paint what I have an emotional connection with. It becomes easier to create your own input. Also, during the planning stage, I carefully evaluate the information I see in the photo. Because I have seen this car, and I remember it very well, I cremember its warm colors. The car was asking me, “What are you waiting for? Paint me!!!”

 A. Do a pencil sketch. decided to do a  pencil and ink sketch (on an 8X10 Master multimedia Pad) to give mean idea of what strokes to use. I do a fast study of the form, stroke directions, etc. I make this a relatively quick sketch. I don’t get all the details, but I  I draw what I think is important.

Tools I used a  ruler, my o.5 ink MICRON 1 archival ink Pen and my HB pencil.

B. Decide the size. In this case if I make it smaller than 16X20, I will not get the details I want. So, I decide to go 16X20 and mount my pre-cut paper on an acid free, black board I have, and I tape to secure the corners with blue painter’s tape. (Note: I use it only for the painting. As soon I finish it I take it off as is not acid free).

C. Detemine the palette. After the sketch I am ready to think about what palette to use. I decide at this point to use warm orange colors as my main palette.

D. Prepare palette. I get my palette colors all together and quickly try these out on a piece of extra pastel mat.  I love these colors. I think it gives me a good value to work with. Knowing that I willAdd more values and colors as I go. I have Included in the photo a dealer a Rowney a lemon Yellow and a blue Ink bottle of Ink thinking I may use these In my painting as underpainting but I am not going to use them as I realized late that it didn’t work well onThe dark paper I have. 

E. Determine Painting Technique. I decided also that I am going to do a more loose approach to my painting. I want the feel of movement in my painting. So the way I make the strokes and use of edges is very important to know. I want to keep that in mind as I go.

Stage 2: Drawing

A. Starting in black and white.  I have printed out a black and white photo. Its 8X10.  I did my sketch on a 16 X 20 pastel mat paper mounted on an acid free board with tape to hold it on. I place it on my easel and accurately sketch the car using as reference my ink sketch (size 8X10) and the photo reference (8X10). I use the grid system, and I use my PROPORTIONAL DIVIDER to correct measure distances between areas as needed.

 I use my professional divider tool to accurately correct distances between the various shapes. I don’t draw everything, just what I consider the main shapes.

Note: The professional devider is a fabulous tool to draw any image from different scale: 1 to 1, 1 to .5  or 1 to 5 X etc.  It it adjustable, and I found it fabulous to accurately measure your drawings. I found it on Amazon for less that $ 20. Is made of plastic and very light. Perfect for drawing.

My approach in most of the  painting is that I draw the fine details as I go because there may be some parts of the information in the photo that I don’t want to draw or paint. I may add some parts or take some out later. IT ALL EVOLVES AS I GO.

F. Finishing the drawing. I finish the main part of the drawing and do any needed corrections. Doing a good drawing is vital for an accurate painting, especially if you’re trying to make realistic work. I use the sketch I did and the photo reference. (It is easier to see the ink sketch than the photo in drawing and this helps me tremendously  in the drawing on my canvas!)

G. Underpainting, yes or no. I usually do an acrylic or water underpainting but because the paper is dark, I decided to use pastel pencils for this.

Stage 3: Painting!

A. Starting to paint. . I am starting with pastel pencils. I want a section of the underpainting done to see how all the colors come together. I make sideway strokes. I roughly draw part of the headlight and upper part of the hood. I use at this point only few pastel pencils,  yellow. orange-red  and purple. I look at the color relation on Poker Color Wheel as a reference.

 I am adding a Rembrandt pastel and make few markings. I add a red violet on top of the fender. I know in my vision that this car will be in a closed location, so I have to consider the light source; therefore, I choose a cooler color.

 Here I did some more and so far I have pullout these pastels. 

I take a photo with my iPhone and make it black and white so I can see the value.

 I refined the headlight a bit more 

Here I decided to start working on the background because I want to see how everything comes together. I add two signs and decide that I am going to place the car in a garage. I need to decide where the light source of the background is. I know where it is in the foreground. I decided to add  another light source. I want to add three light bulbs somewhere on the ceiling with good spacing between them.

By now I know that I need to add purple and blue hues to the background. It all comes together. I decide to put a red beam on top of the ceiling and create walls with correct proportions. I can see my vision is coming to life! I love seeing the cool and warm colors together. I make strokes with pastels based on the direction of the prospective and space. The red beam I added separates the two walls, and I like to see that separation. Once I decide what warm colors to use, I clip the color swatch to the side of the painting.

Here is a photo of the pastels I have so far: Carbothello, Cretacolor, Faber Castell pencils, Rembrandt, Unison, and MYNGO pastel sticks.

Now, I  flip the painting sideway (to avoid pastel dust going to the painting) and I add some details and texture to the meta beam. 

As I continue to work, I use a paint brush to rub off the pastel in some cases to make a thin layer. I added some dark values (using dark value Rembrandt) to the grill of the car.

I decided at this point that I need to get more layers done on the background as this will determine the contrast, light source, and the general appearance of the painting. So I add layers of pastel with pastel pencils and pastel sticks and play around until I see the general tone. I see that because the car is inside, the colors in the background need to be softer with less details than the front of the car. I work more on the car, adding layers and layers of pastels going from dark values to lights. At this point, I keep adding light layers of pastels using both pastel sticks (Rembrandt) and pastel pencils. I intentionally use side strokes and keep my strokes uniform.  This gives a soft and calm feel to the painting. I am building texture. Not all the strokes are the same but try to keep UNIFORMITY. This is where the creativity of the strokes kicks in! I try to keep the colors of the car somewhat similar based on the light source. 

I continue in this way, adding layer after layer of color, making adjustments, taking value photos with my iPhone to get it just right.

NOTE: I don’t like to make any final correction at night but rather during the day with the daylight.  I have spot light I have added to my ceiling, but it is more on the warmer side of the light spectrum. (I need to change them to daylight)!! As  I feel satisfied with my painting. I can now take a picture with my Nikon camera and put it away for few days till I see if I need any corrections to be done, then I will sign it and put it away.

I clean up my work area by now as it is a mess! I also make notes on my Art NOTE BOOK of when the painting was completed, and anything I want to say about the painting. This is something that I am doing so that if one day I want to go back to that painting I have a recollections from the notes I took.. Here is the finished painting:

Art in the Time of Corona Virus

We have two Guest Bloggers this month. Ginny Burdick is an artist and Gallery owner who now finds herself dealing with Safe-at-Home practices. She touches on the new reality of living in the time of CoronaVirus.

Artist Cindy Schreck Gillett wrote a beautiful little story about her experiences with a family in Italy as they, and we, deal with the pandemic.

Ginny Burdick

An artist’s thoughts from seclusion/shelter in the studio

I am an artist, or so says the degree on my college diploma. I am Ginny Burdick and I live in the Sierra foothills in a town called Coarsegold. Through this blog I am hoping to connect with other artists and PSWC members and talk about how I am meeting this solitary challenge, and what I am doing to grow as a person and artist during this time. 

At the suggestion of my husband, I started a daily journal or diary to capture what I was doing during each day. At the end of the day I could look at my accomplishments and also see the time I wasted. When we have nothing but time it is easy to let is sneak by us. This blog will be part of my journaling. 

The first day we were here, I spent the morning wandering around my office in the studio not accomplishing much, but I was quite successful at just moving things around. The second day, it was time to tackle the studio. I set up separate work areas for pastels, oils, and watercolors. I am very fortunate, and a little spoiled, that I can get up in the morning leave the house and be in my studio in minutes, still staying within the shelter-at-home rules. Below is the house, the inside of the studio, and the view out my studio window. From this angle you can see the pastel and oil set ups. My studio is in an old barn on our property and up the hill from the house. 

Path to the Burdick Studio
In the Studio
View from the Studio

When I left corporate America to start the next phase of my life, I was determined it would all be about art. Knowing that I do not do well in isolation, I opened a fine art gallery about 45 minutes from where I live. Each day, 5 days a week, I make the trip to the gallery. I have the opportunity to not only represent some fantastic local and nationally known talent, but I also teach both pastel and watercolors. In addition, I sponsor nationally recognized artists to teach workshops in the gallery. Like so many other small businesses, the doors are closed until such time as we can safely open them again. 

Like you, I now find myself learning how to organize my day and life in a new way and still at the end of the day feel as though I have accomplished something. I have many more thoughts and ideas to keep us all motivated and creative but will save for another day. 

Another day….

The Studio Barn

Back at the desk and looking to share some more thoughts. My studio is in an old barn that we remodeled about 16 years ago to provide a separate office for my husband, and office for me, and a large studio space. The office is now cleaned and ready for work. 

Even though the gallery is now closed until we can again open it again, there is still work that needs to be done each day to support the gallery. Just because the doors are closed does not mean that there are not bills that need paying. I also maintain a web page for the gallery and have taken much of the artists’ artwork online and available for purchase. 

As artists we also have to have business insight, looking for ways to keep our names and art out there. With the current shelter-at-home I have seen so many of the artists’ workshops being cancelled all over the country meaning that artists are looking for new ways to supplement their incomes. I have enjoyed watching social media and artists talking about the challenge of being home. Even though creating art is solitary, I find myself being tested to paint when all I have is time. It feels like I am being forced to be creative. I have managed to start a couple of bad. When this happens, I go back into my office get on the computer and look at what other artists doing and get inspired. In talking with artist friends I know that I am not alone in this creative black hole. 

Another day ….

Locally there is a group of artists who have been painting in the gallery every Saturday for about 5 years. This time has become very special for us as it gets us painting, talking, and even providing some feedback to each other. Not only is the gallery closed, but our Saturdays are gone as well. We are scheduling this next Saturday to try an meet remotely.  One thing I know it will do for me is get me back at the easel again. 

I am also fortunate to be on the Executive Board, as Treasurer, of the International Association of Pastel Societies. Even though the world feels as though it has been put on hold organizations like IAPS need to still keep moving forward. We have monthly meetings via Zoom and so I have another opportunity to spend time with other artists remotely. It also gives me some important responsibility I cannot shrug off. 

Another day…..

What I am also missing, during what is feeling like solitary confinement, is my students, many of whom I have worked with for nearly 7 years. I have loved watching them gain more confidence and grow in their craft. They have also become special friends that I enjoy my 2 hours each week that I spend with them. When I opened that gallery, I also began teaching pastel. The class structure has been working with the students one-on-one. All of us learn at a different pace and in a different way. For most of my students, working with me was their introduction to the pastel world, though they all had had experience in other mediums. 

I have tried find a way that I can still spend time with my students. To that end, I have set up a virtual studio on Zoom (, and I can meet to talk about what they are working on and any challenges that I can help with. They send me a photo of their work; I post it on my desktop, and we can both share the screen and talk about the piece in real time. There are even tools available that I can mark on the work and point things that could be changed or enhanced. This is a good learning tool for us both. It gives me the ability to continue to teach and mentor, which helps me grow as well. 

The other thing that I have done to keep myself from self-pity is to give myself a schedule to follow each day. It also keeps me from always arriving at the studio in PJ’s and staying in them all day. I begin the day with exercise to keep the body and mind healthy. When I was working at the gallery, it meant leaving the house at 8:00 am and not getting home until after 6:00 pm, hence not always great food on the plates, but with all this time, I am also getting artistic with the meals I prepare. I am enjoying watching what others are posting on social media about the food they are making. I also have made cookies and muffins and shared them with neighbors. 

After breakfast it is time to go to the studio, check emails, Instagram and Facebook. It is hard not to spend too much time on social media as a way to feel connected. Then it is time to do art. I consider myself a full-time artist, but this is way too much full time. To get myself inspired, I have been watching videos of other artists I admire and reading articles and blogs they are doing as well. We need to find ways to continue to learn. Without the direct contact with other artists, we need to find other ways to get feedback on the work we are doing. I am hoping getting back with my Saturday group will continue to do that. We call ourselves the Sierra Art Collective. In fact we just hung a special show of our work at the gallery, had the artists reception, and the next day the Governor sent us all home. I did put the show online on the gallery’s web page so it could still be seen virtually. I continue to work on my own personal artist web page to make it more robust. 

What we also need to be doing is making ourselves a list of all the things we have not had time to do. Those things we have put off, with no more excuses about lack of time and could actually do now. Like finally learning how to use the camera on my new iPhone 11 Pro Max, which I have had since December and have not had the time to learn. Finding all the new features of the phone and make use of them. Learning to draw better on my iPad Pro, now with all this extra time there are no excuses. My list is now at 19 things, with no check marks yet. 

Another day …………

At 10:00 am on Saturday, the same time that we regularly meet at the gallery, the group of us met online on Zoom and painted together. It was fantastic. We all felt that we were in the same room. We all were in our home studios ready to paint, and we did. There are 6 of us that meet on a regular basis. Even if someone is out of town, whoever is in town meets to paint. We have developed such a strong comradery, and this last November went to Carmel to plein air paint together for 5 days. We then came home with the intent to hang a show of the work done there and the work inspired by the trip.

Find a group of artists that you can paint with each week, don’t worry about being at the same level or style. Our group has many different styles, one is even a print maker who does her linoleum carving at the gallery then goes home to print them. Our group started when Daniel Keys became one of the artists I represent. He wanted to meet more local artists, and so we decided to start painting on Saturday and slowly found some other artists that we would ask to join us. I think it has been about 5 years now. And I can tell you we have all gotten stronger as a result. Daniel is not there to teach us only to paint beside us. Our friendships have really grown, there is a lot of trust and confidence in each other. 

If you can put together a similar group with the goal of painting together once a week, it will help you keep on track and painting more. We critique each other, we laugh and joke with each other, and we share who we are with each other. We also share ideas about how to get our work out there. I had never done Instagram before and started posting there at the suggestion of one of the artists. Now that we are at home in our studios and not having direct contact with each, we can still paint, talk, laugh, and share. We even all managed to have lunch together over the video. Our Saturday lunches are a big deal with this group, and we were not going to let the miles stop us. There was no need for negotiating where to get lunch, we just all walked into our own kitchens and back again. 

This group has also taught me it is okay to take risks and to paint a bad painting, because we are all learning. Yesterday I painted confidently for the first time since sheltering at home. I felt really good about what I was doing, but in the middle of the night the painting came into my thoughts and I knew there was something that was not right. I came into the studio this morning and wiped off a section and now I know what the painting needs before the signature is added. Just to validate my thinking before the paper towel was in hand I photo’d the painting and sent the image to one of the artists, who agreed with my assessment. She also wants me to send another image of the painting to see what the change meant to the overall piece. I am so lucky to have a group of artists will to share and take time to help make me better at my craft. 

Cindy Schreck Gillett

Comfort Zone by Cindy Schreck Gillett

In these crazy times we all need to find our “comfort zone” while being as careful as we can regarding the pandemic that is COVID-19.  

Today I’m honoring all the pets around the world who are in isolation with us, providing more comfort than ever before. Jack, the Jack Russell terrier is currently hunkering down in Verona, Italy with his family. You can find Jack on his Instagram page: Beautiful Jack Alfonso.

That’s where I recently found his photo which inspired this painting.  I reached out to his “mom” and have instantly found a new virtual friend. Someone who is by now well versed in what it’s like being in isolation in a country besieged by this virus.

We have been messaging each other during the past few days and she has provided me a glimpse into her world…the world we are beginning to experience here in the United States, an uncertain world indeed!  So, my message would be: find your comfort zone, take care of yourself and your loved ones, reach out to a stranger and connect…social media can provide some scary information but it also can provide us hope and a way to connect with others around the world.  We can pray, connect, protect ourselves and continue to have hope that one day, we WILL dance again!

From Reflections to Revelations to Gentle Resolutions

by Sabrina Hill, President PSWC

It’s January of a new year in a new decade. Lots of reasons to reflect on the past year. My dwindling ability to engage in art has made me a little sad. I blame it on several reasons—dealing with my mother’s Alzheimer’s, helping to run a successful and very busy dental practice, and my own insecurities about my art—each which have taken a toll on my creativity.

One day recently, I was scrolling through my Facebook friends—liking a painting by Laura Pollak, and laughing at a cartoon depicting a Rhinoceros artist whose painting always include a giant horn right in the middle of the view, when I came across two posts from artist friends Ruby Silvious and Deborah Pepin (PSWC membership Chair).

Debbie’s post showed a lovely painting she had completed in pastels on watercolor paper with a coating micaceous oxide as the ground.

Painting by Deborah Pepin

I was impressed with the painting and very impressed that she created her own substrate with the micaceous oxide.

Ruby Silvious’s post showed one of her many unusual canvases. Though this brilliant artist is widely known for her paintings on teabags (she has two books on the subject), she will paint on anything— from eggshells to corks to acorns—you name it. Here we see what she does with a roll of adding machine tape at breakfast every morning.

Adding Machine Canvases by Ruby Silvious

“Why can’t I do this? Why am I not this creative?” I reflected. I thought about these posts all day and into the night. And then it hit me: they were experimenting, having fun, taking chances. They were playing!

Numerous scientific studies have proven the advantages of playing. Playing is a stress reducer, a creativity enhancer, and a communication builder. It improves reasoning skills, problem-solving, and the ability to focus. Plus, playing is fun! Often as adults, we cast aside this important human activity in deference to the responsibilities of adult life. 


Fun. I forgot the fun of art. For years, I have been creating emotional art, commissionable art, and the perfecting of an art technique. I was doing the work of art. Now, I love being an artist, and I love being able to make a living working as an artist.. As a professional, I always have commissions in the works. I also do calligraphy, so there’s always a wedding or shower or piece that must be done in a certain way by a certain date. And it’s not that these pieces are not fun, but they are not play. They can’t be experimental or quirky or have a surprise ending. But I haven’t allowed time for the other pieces that can flop or fail but also soar with new possibilities for techniques and materials and joyous play.

I haven’t made time for the sheer fun of making art.

Have you?

But what to do next?


Luckily, it’s January 2nd.  2020. Time for a new vision and a maybe a gentle resolution or two or three. Here are mine:


This one is the big one for me in 2020. My art supply cupboards are Armageddon-ready. (If the world experiences a shortage in art supplies…call me, I can fix it). I don’t even need to leave the house to come up with a new use for a tool or material.

My first order of play is to experiment with calligraphy and pastels—my two art loves. And I am going to try incorporating Debbie’s micaceous oxide ground for this one.

I have written a children’s book that I want to illustrate with richly colored pastel paintings, but I have gotten stuck in the desire to make it perfect. And so, the book is stuck in my head. I am going to play with some techniques that will bring this to paper.


In my head there runs a news crawl that features debilitating criticism of my own self, from my weight to my art abilities. I won’t go into the painful way I speak to myself, but I am going to play with this idea a lot more as well. I am also going to expect a little less perfection—which BTW I haven’t achieved at all—and opt in for something that speaks to a sense of fun, forgiveness and love.

I still have commissions to do, projects to complete, but I am going to accept them as they relate to my changing perspective of myself and my art. If it is going to involve excessive stress, I may not take it on, at least not this year. And if the art can’t be fun, I am going to balance it out with other kinds of fun, adventurous projects. But more on that in a minute…


So, you can’t make effective change without a plan and a few goals. That’s where the SIMPLE STEPS come in. I am setting a real low bar for these resolutions so that I don’t get stuck in the failure of unattainable goals. Once I meet the first expectation, I can regroup and set the next one, just a little higher. Having lofty goals is great, but you can’t get into the loft without a ladder. I am choosing the one rung at a time method to achieve these goals.

Simple Step 1

A Doodle a Day. I must have a dozen sketch books and a least 2 rolls of adding machine tape. One doodle, each day, silly or serious, doesn’t matter.

Simple Step 2

Out of the Box. To break out of non-productive habits, I am going to experiment with new materials and techniques—one each month. January will be calligraphy on watercolor paper with micaceous oxide a la Debbie Pepin. 

This year I will also try plein air painting which scares the hell out of me. My worst nightmare is I can’t capture in a painting the things I see, and I am totally washed-up as an artist. I then retire to the garden to eat worms—as the old song says.

Simple Step 3

Change the Dialogue. Specifically, change my internal dialogue. I am turning every statement I make to myself into a positive and empowering statement. When I question my art ability, I will remind myself of the pieces I am proud of. This one will be the hardest, but I am going to do it. Every time. I want to become my own best fan.

That’s it for the moment. I don’t want to overwhelm myself early in the process. I would like to know what you think, and especially what your reflections, revelations, and resolutions are and what your plan will be as you move forward.

Why Do I Need an Art Studio?

By Sabrina Hill – President of the Pastel Society of the West Coast & Editor of the PSWC Magazine

Attention Artists! Do you have a regular job? If you answered, “Yes.” then do you GO someplace to do your job? Is there an address that you journey to so you can do your work? Chances are that like most of us, you leave home to do a job and come home at the end of the day.

As an artist, do you have a studio? If not, where do you make your art? Chances are that you are making art in a makeshift place in your house that may also be used for cooking, dining, bike repair, or storage of rowing machines and old equipment…sound familiar?

If you are an artist—even if you think it’s a hobby—I am here to tell you two things.

  1. It’s NOT a hobby. It’s a part of your soul, and you must listen to your inner voice, and
  2. You need a studio. Period. Because art is work and EVERYBODY needs a place to go for their work.

Benefits of a studio:

  • You don’t have to bring out boxes of supplies to start a project.
  • You can find everything most of the time (nothing is perfect).
  • You don’t have to pack everything up and put it away every night.
  • You can see your work in progress in changing light and multiple times a day, often making corrections on the fly throughout the day.
  • You confirm out loud to the world that you are an ARTIST.

Now, some artists live in areas where studio space is plentiful and affordable, and it’s lovely to have a place to go to make art for hours at a time, but for many of us, renting studio space is not a viable option. If you have a house with an extra room that is ideal for a studio, ‘Yay’ for you. Some of us live with more limited space. That’s why we turn to the dining room. You remember the dining room–that space where you hardly ever eat and last year’s tax returns, two weeks of mail, dry cleaning, and all those Amazon returns sit, waiting to be sorted, sent back or put away.  Most homes have a designated space for a dining room, and it is often the least used room in the house…assigned to holiday dinners and tax season—and used maybe 10 times a year. Yet, we are giving up use of this space the other 355 days of the year. Tap into this space for your studio! Imagine if you could switch this and make art 355 days, and clean it up for a couple of dinners.

I can already hear your arguments:

It’s my grandmother’s dining table!

I use it during the holidays.

Where will I put my wedding china?

Everybody can see it (then why is it a such mess, huh?)

OK, let’s go through these excuses one-by-one:

GRANDMA’S TABLE. Yes, your grandmother’s table is a lovely piece. So, protect it by covering it or wrap it up with professional packing supplies (blankets, plastic) and store it in the garage. Use the matching credenza for art supply storage—imagine your brushes and paint tubes stored in glass jars in the glass cupboard. So fancy! So pretty! So Practical!

HOLIDAY NEEDS. 10 Holiday events vs. 355 days empty. Let your sister host the events and bring her a nice painting for her efforts. Or dine alfresco in the backyard. Or have art supply carts on wheels that can be moved out for the few times you need the room.

WEDDING CHINA. When was the last time you used your wedding china? If you use it often, make some room in your kitchen cupboards—move that electric pizza oven you thought you would need and any other misfit appliances that sit silent. You can even use the china cupboard for art supply storage!

EXPOSED VIEW. If your dining room is in full view, you may have to clean it up periodically. Or maybe you can install barndoors on sliders that can be closed for “company” occasions. If you truly entertain more than once a month and this is a critical part of your life and well-being, then celebrate your parties and forget about the studio. But if you are a frustrated artist with no place to work, the dining room is calling….

The most important thing about creating your own studio is believing, KNOWING that you deserve to have it. I often hear artists say that they don’t want the house to look messy, or they don’t want their small children to get into the mess.

I hear you.

I raised three children (3 kids in 3 years, I get it!) while being an artist. They knew my studio was MY space. They knew that they needed to be INVITED to touch things. They knew that there were consequences for using materials without permission. And they knew that if they showed an interest in anything I was doing; I would happily find time to show them how to do it—or find another time if I was busy working on a commission or in the middle of a piece. Best of all, they saw a fulfilled mother/artist who was not shy about indulging in her passion for art and not afraid to share her joy for art and life.

My studio drafting table–show ready. (It’s almost NEVER this neat!)

Things to Plan for When Creating your Own Studio

I converted our open-concept dining room into my studio, and I am thrilled about it. Here’s what I took into consideration when setting things up:

  • Storage- What kind of storage will you need? I use Husky toolboxes on wheels. They are under $250 at Home Depot. They can be delivered directly to your home and only required the attachment of the wheels. They have a lock if you have a little person who could get into your supplies. There are shallow and deep drawers that can accommodate spray bottles, cans of paint and even paper. I even bought one with a wooden top for working on projects. The best thing about these storage chests is that you can wheel them out of the room in the event you need a different configuration. You also may need open, vertical shelving for frames or canvases. 
I bought on of these Husky workbenches to store my pastels supplies.
  • Workspace- I have a drafting table in my studio that I use for calligraphy projects and as a surface to hold pastels when I am at the easel. I also have a fold-away typing table and a small open cart if additional surfaces are needed.
  • Easel- I splurged on a Sorge 8 ft studio easel. It’s a great investment (about $1000) and I use it almost every day.
  • Table- As I mentioned, I have a large drafting table that I keep it in the flat position. I use it every day. It was also a great investment (about $300)
  • Chair- I use an office chair that can be raised and lowered depending on whether I am at the taller drafting table or the lower easel. It has wheels so it’s easy to move. Also, easy to tuck away. If room permits, have a comfortable chair for visitors, which you will want to have periodically. 
  • Bookshelves- I have 1000’s of books in my studio. Make sure you have room for yours and a good system for finding them.
  • Wall Space- I put a series of bulletin boards up so I can display samples, cards, ideas, magazine clippings, quotes and an occasional grocery list. 
  • Lighting- I have good natural light, a good overhead light, and lots of additional lights. I try to use natural lights since I often work at night in the space.
  • Floor covers- I have hardwood floors in my house, and since I am not doing super chemically things in my studio, I have a cheap (but cute!) area rug under my table and easel. If I am using drippy, messy materials, I put down a tarp (cotton or plastic) for the duration of the project.
  • Water Source- If you are painting, you may need a water source. I am next to the kitchen, so that’s my main water source. If you are cleaning brushes or using any for of turpentine or mineral spirits, don’t use your kitchen sink, use a bucket or utility sink and know your local laws about disposal of hazardous chemicals.
  • Dangerous Materials Storage- Although I don’t use a lot of chemicals in my work, I do use Denatured Alcohol and mineral spirits occasionally. I keep anything like this in my garage, transferring what I need to a smaller container for “as needed” use in the studio. 
  • Trash- I have a small trashcan in my studio, but because of potentially flammable material, I am in the habit of moving everything out to the garage trash every day. Most days there is no issue.
  • Dust- Pastels=Dust. I use a paper towel the length of my painting folded under the work on the easel which catches most of the extra pastel dust. I also have a shop-vac and a hand-held vacuum to get everything up after I have finished a piece. 

There is a new magazine called In Her Studio that has tons of fashionable and practical ideas for studio space.

Setting Studio Rules 

It would be helpful for you to establish a few rules for your studio space. If you taught your kids to wash their hands before dinner or how to use a hairbrush, they (and spouses or significant others) can be taught the rules of the studio. 

  • DO ask to touch art in the studio. DON’T touch work on the easel or on the bench. 
  • DO come sit in the studio to chat and ask questions. DON’T be hurt if a deadline requires some quiet time.
  • DO think about ideas you may have to create your own masterpiece. DON’T use materials until you have cleared it with the artist.
  • DO tell others about Mom’s/Dad’s/Spouse’s amazing artistic talent! DON’T tell others Mom/Dad/Spouse will create art for them without asking first.
  • DO admire the work—finished and in process. DON’T offer criticism unless SPECIFICALLY ASKED to do so. (We can be fragile in the process!)

I will leave you with one last bit of commentary. Art studios can be messy places a lot of the time. And sometimes, we want to impress the neighbors or family or friends, so we try to put our My-house-is-so-fancy-and-clean-and-so-am-I studio face on. But people love art studios. They love the creative energy of an art environment. There’s a freedom in seeing someone else’s creative mess. I do a show almost every year in my studio, and I do tidy it a little bit, but people come in and LOOK PAST THE MESS to the art. They love seeing art in process, they love looking at art materials in use. They love imagining that they could make art with crayons and brushes and ink, and chalk. Indulge them. 

Now create your own studio!

View as you enter my house. My studio is on the immediate left and these are some of my books. This was in preparation for a show.

Endorphins, Synapses and Making Art!

This is a painting of my son in 2012 when we were riding along the New River

Thoughts, Emotions, Techniques and Inspiration from the Easel

by Laura Pollak

I have a friend that I call when I get down in the dumps and just plain cranky. The first thing she asks me is ‘when was the last time you rode your bicycle?’

On our first date, my wonderful hubby of 36 years, took me on a bike ride. I’ve always loved the freedom and the wind whistling by, not to mention the gorgeous scenery. But just recently, I’ve realized that my ‘creative health’ is very dependent upon how much I exercise.

A couple of months ago, when all my paintings were turning out like doodoo, I kept trying to force myself to get some mental clarity, and everything just went downhill. I felt that exercise was a luxury I couldn’t afford. WRONG!!! Jeff (my hubby( said I needed a bike ride (he was the brunt of my general crankiness, poor guy!)

When I got outside onto my bicycle, I immediately felt the endorphins kick in (sorta like the feeling you get after a great belly laugh or eating chocolate) and a sense of well-being rushed over me. Not to mention the eye candy of the gorgeous scenery of the rolling North Carolina countryside! What was amazing…was that old and long forgotten, happy memories kept popping into my head. AND one after the other, I kept getting new ideas for paintings that I wanted to try. Mental connections were buzzing in my brain!   Like little doors opening, rapid fire! Those endorphins were letting my synapses fire and creativity was ablaze! 

Now, I try to make exercise a scheduled activity. (I know that most of you already realized this, but I’m a little late to the game.) Yesterday, I rode 35 miles in the morning! Yes, I was tired but my brain sure does feel better. And on days when I can’t take a few hours to ride, a walk in the neighborhood does the trick.

All I’m saying is our brains need to be well oiled, just like our cars. Neither performs well without stomping on the gas and cleaning out the carburetors. So, if you’re in a creative slump, hop on your bike, take a walk or a swim. Watch what happens and let those endorphins kick in!


This month’s Guest Blogger is Alain Picard. See more of his posts on his website

“How do I develop a unique style? Is there an effective way to do this?” 

Recently, while I was setting up for a morning workshop demonstration, a student asked me the following question; “How do I develop my own unique style? Is there an effective way to do this?” 

I responded to her while arranging my art materials for the morning with a handful of ideas. I want to share them with you now.  Here are five ways to cultivate your creative voice. 

1.    Establish a Rhythm. When you are working toward the development of your own artistic voice, the first pillar to establish is regular working habits. Consistent work will bring you both confidence and momentum in the development of your artistic voice. Take out your calendar and schedule weekly studio time. This is a critical step in the process that should not be ignored. Otherwise, you may end up feeling like a phony and spending valuable energy second guessing yourself. Regular work cultivates the confidence and momentum you need to continue growing.

2.     Gain Inspiration. Discovering your own creative voice requires an understanding of what inspires you. So be sure to fill up your inspiration tank! Who’s your favorite artist? What moves you about their work? Describe it, write it down. What is your favorite painting? Do you remember the way you felt when you first saw it? I remember viewing an exhibition by John Singer Sargeant at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston when I was 25. It permanently altered my creative journey. Why not try copying a favorite painting, just to understand the artist’s mindset and methodology in the work. This is a process of sensitizing yourself to your own artistic tastes, and then moving toward the subjects, textures, colors, shapes, designs, and even finish quality that moves you. Describe how you want to make others feel when they view your work. It can also be helpful to articulate what kind of art you don’t like, and stay away from it in your work! Try creating a mood board of your favorite colors and paintings, textures and surfaces, subjects and designs, and then hang it in your studio to keep you motivated. Get really clear about what you love, so you are moving toward this in your own personal work. 

3.     Be An Explorer. Your artistic voice needs space and time to engage in creative play that allows you to explore new territory. This is when you paint just for yourself. Not for the client or the exhibition or the accolades, but for the pure joy of creating. These other motivations can nurture a performance mindset that obscures our true artistic voice. Basically, we are trying to impress people instead of painting what we love. I don’t know about you, but when I’m performing for approval, I put on a mask. I hope you don’t make this mistake the same way I have. Instead, put on your favorite music, turn off Facebook Live, take off the mask and allow yourself to explore your creative passion. Be an explorer for a while instead of a performer. In time, amazing things begin to happen as you cultivate this type of creativity. Honest work emerges. Authentic expression develops. You discover your voice. 

4.     Get Feedback (from people you trust) It is very difficult to both create and critique your own work toward the development of a unique personal style. As artists, we have a tendency of getting in our own heads. What we often need is the encouragement of others! A great way to do this is to connect with other artists that share your passion and get valuable feedback from them on your work. I joined the CT Pastel Society as a young artist and made wonderful lifelong friends who have encouraged my creative development in powerful ways. Early on, I connected with a few artists at my church. We shared our work with one another, spurring each other on to develop our potential. Not only was I greatly encouraged, but I was able to provide encouragement to others as well. You could be a fantastic source of inspiration to someone else in their own creative development! Here’s the truth, you’ll often be the last one to see the genius in your work. But others will point it out right away. You’ll discount that little painting you made during your personal studio time, thinking, “It’s not even finished, what a mess!” Then your friend will see it and say, “don’t touch it, I love it!” This feedback is invaluable, and creates a trail of breadcrumbs along the way to realizing your own unique style.

5.     Be Patient. Your inner creative voice is more like a dove than a peacock early on. It’s not audacious and showy. It’s sensitive, avoids attention and can get scared away easily at first. You need to give yourself time and space to develop naturally, and trust that consistent, honest work will encourage the dove out of its cage. Forcing it is never a good idea. Give yourself permission to research, explore, create, copy, share, review, revise as well as rest and renew your senses. Before long, you’ll find yourself soaring with a unique creative voice of your own. 

I hope these five points will encourage you in the development of your own personal style. Don’t give up, keep on painting, and keep pursuing your passion!

An Affair to Remember!

My 45-year-old love affair is still going strong…

By Mary Beth Sasso

It was the summer of 1975 when I was first introduced to the love of my life. I’d just turned 15 andnever experienced such a rush of exhilaration. It was a journey that I happily embarked upon andnever once looked back even for one minute. My life would never the same from that day forward.Looking back I was very fortunate to have started this love affair at such a young age, an age whereI had no preconceived ideas of what to expect. It was a fresh new chapter filled with warmaffection, passion, and an unwavering devotion.

Today, that love affair with pastels is stronger than ever. They still remain vivid, pure and intense, but most of all never change as the years go by. It’s still a thrill when my fingers touch their scrumptious velvety soft surface.

I love the fact that they are always accessible to me at any given moment and best of all I can makechanges anytime without a major commitment. Pastels are always dependable; staying true totheir color once applied to a surface. They never let down me down. Never. I always know what toexpect.

Pastels can be slightly hard or buttery soft, round or square that allow for a wide range of strokes. My favorite way to work with them is to gently layer colors building up to a delicious, rich color combination, and then ever so gently moving the color around with my little finger creating magnificent effects. Plus I let them do the blending sometimes because they know exactly how to create the most beautiful results. Really there are no limitations on what they can accomplish. And don’t get me started on the colors.

Once you get a taste of the hundreds of colors it is easy to become addicted. It’s like going to a candy store and having to choose, it’s impossible to just pick just a few. Impossible. But I love you my beautiful pastels and will never stray to another medium.

My beautiful pastels!