I always thought that pastels were just fancy chalk – just brighter in color. Soft pastels are actually soft chalky pigment and the most pure and enduring color one can find. They cannot be mixed but can be layered or placed next to one another for immediate results. Famous pastel artists include Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt and Auguste Renoir.
This month I chose Mary Bassell as artist of the month. Her work with pastels can be seen at Down Creek Gallery and smaller pieces on cards or canvas blocks can be purchased at Deepwater Pottery/Books to Be Red.
Mary’s art has been influenced by the work of some of the great impressionists, Vincent Van Gogh, Degas, Renoir and Mary Cassatt, all whom have created works in soft pastels. Also influencing her creativity are contemporary artists such as Albert Handell, Anne Templeton, Susan Ogilvie, Margaret Dyer and Wolf Kahn. These artists and many more have influenced her desire to learn more about painting with pastels. She has taken workshops with some of them and there are many more with whom she’d like to study.
Mary knew from the time she was a young child that she wanted to be an artist. With parents raised during the depression years, their advice was to pursue being a teacher, a nurse or a nun if you wanted to make a living. However, Mary’s creativity and hunger for art never diminished even though she pursued other trades and education.
By the time she reached her early 20’s Mary was driving into New York City from her home on Long Island to buy stained glass and supplies. A 6 story warehouse fill with sheets of colored glass was one of her favorite stops. At first she taught herself to work with stained glass. Soon she was taking classes from nationally known artists in construction and design with stained glass. She studied both copper foil and lead as elements to attach her glass pieces together.
Copper foil is a much more moldable, pliable substance that was used by artists like Tiffany to produce his beautiful stained glass lamps. Leaded stained glass would be more commonly used in church windows or construction that was less delicate.
Mary still has a few of her stained glass pieces at her studio but doesn’t work with that medium anymore. When she turned 50, it was time for her to follow her dream to draw and paint. She spent an entire winter driving her old blue truck up the island to the creeks where the marsh grasses dominate the blue waters of the sound. She parked the truck and sketched, day after day, capturing the nuances of shadow and light, the movement of the creeks and marshes on paper.
In February of that year, she went to Sonoma, California and by chance walked into some classes using pastels. That was a turning point, Mary had found her passion and has never looked back. She trained with other established artists and developed her abilities, learning technique and to trust her judgement.
From drawings that were realistically portraying a scene she migrated to a less controlled approach with softer more flowing strokes using the pastels to gain immediate results with the vibrant colors exploring values of color and light.
Recently she completed 17 paintings ( 18×24 ) commissioned by the Craven County Medical Center in New Bern.
Mary’s mantra has been to always push to do better. Her advice to aspiring artist is “quit thinking about it, you just have to do it”.
Her fantasy is to be a full time painter and to support herself despite what her parents told her when she was a child.