Maryland Pastel Society newsletter


Susan E. Klinger

Susan E Klinger

Lobster Buoys

I began my journey as an artist, not with pastel, but in watercolor.  I actually stumbled into pastel while taking a grad course in plein air painting in 1991.  I had been painting successfully in watercolor for several years. We were painting at an Amish farm and dragging along the accrouterment needed for watercolor was bad enough, but the intense sun and heat made working with watercolor very different from what I had been comfortable with in the studio.  The resulting paintings were disappointing to say the least.  The class had been instructed to purchase some Rembrandt pastels for the course, so for week two of the class I figured I bought the pastels, I might as well try them.  The passion for pastel was powerful and immediate.  My paintings in that second week of class were fresh and lively and I was hooked!  

To rewind a bit, I always had a love for art and I graduated from Millersville University with a degree in art education.  I earned my masters degree in art ed as well from Kutztown University (where I took that first dreaded plein air class – no bathroom facilities available, just a girls cornfield and a boys cornfield!)  I have been teaching art at Perkiomen Valley High School for 29 years while also working on my own career as an artist.  Although full time teaching in a public high school limits the time I can devote to my own art, the energy, excitement and creativity of teenagers excited about art has also kept me looking at art in fresh ways.  

Marsh Reflections

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I continued to work in both pastel and watercolor after that first plein air class, but swore I would not become a plein air painter – that would change too. I enjoy working in the studio and taking my time with each piece.  With my work schedule, the studio pieces allow me to start and stop and complete a piece over a period of weeks.  My paintings tend toward realism with attention to detail.  Whether in the studio or on location, I typically seek subjects with a strong sense of light. For my studio work, I will complete thumbnail sketches and a value plan to establish a strong light/dark pattern. Continuing coursework is required for teachers in PA, so in 2005 I once again I had the opportunity to take a plein air painting class, this time with artist Joe Sweeney.  Joe's approach to plein air work clicked with me.  He shared many tips for making the plein air experience enjoyable.  The paintings that resulted from that class showed me that I could complete a painting in one session and fueled my desire to do more plein air work.  These pieces were different from my studio work, yet I enjoyed the freedom to work in a less structured way.  Since that time, I continue to work on pieces in my studio that entail the preplanning, careful sketching and layered rendering that I enjoy.  Yet I also look forward to the warm weather when I can pack up for a day of plein air painting. I believe the two different approaches have each become stronger as a result of also working in the other.  For the past 3 years, I have taken my Advanced Placement art students on a plein air field trip and it is an experience that they talk about for months.  Pastel continues to be one of the favorite units of my students.

Sentry at Hawk Watch
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My early pastel work utilized Canson paper, but now my preferred surface is Wallis.  I always underpaint the surface with gouache, sometimes in a complementary hue of the dominant color of the scene, or for my plein air work, a very dark burgundy or even black.   The dark surface is great for plein air work, helping to quickly establish areas of shadow.  I use a variety of pastel brands with some of my favorites being Unison and just recently Terry Ludwig.  The square shape makes it easy to lay in large areas of color, or to render a detail.  I also still paint in watercolor from time to time as well as in gouache.  Although I live in PA, many of my subjects are found in Maryland where we boat along the Chesapeake Bay.  I show my work regularly at Hardcastle Gallery in Centreville, DE and Off the Wall Gallery in Skippack, PA.

Waterfall at Newlin Mill