Pastel Artists of Hawaii
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Chinatown pastel painting

by Mark Norseth

This new section is designed with you in mind. Questions you have regarding pastel painting or art in general may be emailed to

Michael: I have often been asked for an “unframed price” on my pastel paintings. I have been reluctant to offer my paintings without a frame due to the fragile nature of pastel. I am curious as to whether or not this is an issue with other pastel artists and how you handle this request with the galleries you deal with. Maybe I'm making too much of this but I feel better about sending off my work in a secure and finished state. I also have come across many sales reps that don't understand why pastel can't be permantley fixed so that they can be handled with out smudging. Thanks for any light you can shed upon these issues.

Mark: Thanks for the good questions. It's not too unusual for clients to ask for an unframed price on a picture. Sometimes, it can be a question of style or taste on the part of the client/purchaser who may wish to suit a particular decor, or occasionally they are looking for a reduction in overall price. I have a hunch that some of the encounters you describe are with clients and dealers that don't really understand pastel, although they make think they do.

The question of why your artworks can't be "fixed" is a bit revealing as to their actual experience with the medium. I personally enjoy the responsibility of informing clients about what they are purchasing, and consider it a nice opportunity to explain the subtle mysteries of the craft. Artworks of sound quality will outlive the life of the owner and the artist as well, and many precautions on the part of the artist are part of their production.

The client, and in your case the dealers you mention, need to be aware that framing is not just a question of presentation with pastel, but also ensures it's protection and longevity. In my own case, I'm happy to make any reasonable concessions to clients who want unframed pieces of my work.

One of the things some artists do is charge an appropriate handling and packing fee for taking the frame off and repackaging the artwork so that it will make it safely to it's destination. I mark the outside of the packaging with instructions and any precautions that need to be observed. A good framer will take it from there.

Mention to the client that once you've removed the artwork from it's frame and place it in their hands, you aren't liable for damages, and any repairs will be charged for. (At this point some clients discover that the current frame is looking better to them, and that's fine.)

Candace: Living in one place for a long while, often inures one to their surroundings. As a result, many artists feel that they have to "get away" to find inspiration. This can be costly and not yield the results they are looking for. As a relative newcomer to the Islands, but one who has really taken Hawaii to heart, what would you tell artists here, who are looking for inspiration, to do?

Mark: In my own case, I do what artist's have always done...rely heavily on the artists who have gone before me for my inspiration. I read about their lives, and I look at their works as a whole, because they faced the same problems we do. They got bored, got stuck, and sometimes ran out of ideas.

As I read your question, I think of Claude Monet's garden, right outside his home. Van Gogh likely worked within walking distance of wherever he was. Certainly, Corot settled in and spent an enormous amount of time at his lakeside location, with many variations of the same subject appearing over the later years.

These are just examples from the landscape world...doesn't each branch of painting reveal the same phenomenon? We have Degas, for lovers of pastel, and his endless ballet studies. It's safe to gather from this that some of the greatest works seem to come from very limited visual resources, and some of the greatest painters gradually narrowed their range of subjects.

The key? It isn't the location or the subject for these giants (or for us), it's what they THOUGHT of the location or subject that matters. That is what I refer to as an artist's "theme"...the soul of your work. Discovering one's theme(s) is artistic maturity, gained from working through the problem of asking "what am I after?" and not letting go until you have some idea of what you want others to gain from your work.
For Vincent, an old pair of shoes could suffice for a subject. Van Gogh was emphatically not a skilled painter, as they were known in his era (and he knew it...he lamented the fact in his writings). He did, however, have an astonishingly direct connection to his themes, which is what we are touched by in his work. We have the same hope, if we are willing to work for it, that we can transform the everyday into something special.

When I get stuck, I recall that the great French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson (who's work took him all over the world) stated that he could have created his entire career within yards of his back door, or words to that effect. That idea has stayed with me as I look about and wonder what is next. I realize that while change is great, and variety is wonderful, we have a whole world right here, and our challenge is to see what we can do with it.