Pastel artist Heather Quay beautifully captures simple light-filled moments in everyday life. See more of her portfolio by visiting her website.
When I was in junior high, my French class had a unit on the Impressionists. I was hooked. I loved how, with just a few brushstrokes, they were able to capture a fleeting moment so perfectly that I could step right into the scene even a hundred years later.
In particular, I was drawn to the way the Impressionists could portray the quality and temperature of the light. Sunlight shining on a hardwood floor, hazy early morning light filtering through the trees, or fading light at the end of the day.
As a pastel painter, I continue to be drawn to scenes where light is the central character. I love working on all kinds of subjects, from landscapes and cityscapes to figures, objects, animals, and portraits. I’m always motivated by how to use these sticks of pure pigment to render the light I see onto the surface of the painting in a way that people can relate to viscerally.
I also love the process of painting. I tend to work from photographs, which I’m constantly taking. The first part of the journey is to choose one and to think about it. How I should crop it so that I can best emphasize or highlight a particular area of interest.
Sometimes the instant I take a picture, I know it will work as a painting. Then my fingers begin itching to get started. Other times, I come back to a photo I’ve overlooked in the past and see something new.
I frequently begin with an underpainting so I can sketch out the composition and begin to work on the values. It is a roadmap for when I start to lay down the pastel. Often, I use watercolor as an underpainting. Or I may use water soluble crayons or pastel washed down with alcohol.
I love to experiment, trying out many kinds of surfaces and different techniques. When my underpainting is finished, I begin layering on the pastel. I use a variety of brands of pastels and make sure they are all available while I am working. At times I choose one kind or another depending on the type of mark I want to make.
Some pastels are softer, some are harder, some are more intensely pigmented, and some give just a wash of color. It’s easy to lose myself in the painting as I try different approaches to get the effect I want. I work to translate a three-dimensional experience to a two-dimensional surface.
Always, I am chasing the light, striving to visually grasp a small moment in time and to share it, to make it as real to the viewer as it is to me.