Maryland Pastel Society newsletter


Winter Meeting, 2012

Winter Meeting 2012

Stan Sperlak Provides a “Demo Plus” to Standing Room Only

by Dawn Capron

On March 24, 2012, Stan Sperlak, signature member of MPS and the Pastel Society of America, treated a standing room only crowd of our membership to an afternoon of information and inspiration. Stan encouraged his audience to ask questions and his presentation was infused with humor.

Stan’s presentation started with a 15-minute slide show that he has prepared for the next IAPS convention. It is a stunning, brief history of pastel painting. The show begins with slides of drawings that are 30,000 years old from the caves of Lascaux, France, and ends with Picasso’s paintings. From the startling caves of France to the chalk drawings of the 1400s, and then into the Renaissance, when we see the graceful figurative shadings of Leonardo, followed by Michelangelo and then Raphael, we witness an explosion in art, all in pastel. Next come the fully developed pastels of Holbein, around 1500, and then Rembrandt. After that, the slides become a beautiful cascade of realistic pastel paintings (Gainsborough, Copley, etc.), impressionistic pastels (Monet, Delacroix, Pizarro, and many more) and modern ones (yes, Picasso). Stan’s take away message to us is clear: We are so unaware of how respected the medium really is.

And next… The Demo. Stan selected a night scene for the demo. Many reported afterwards they were grateful for that selection since they have been anxious about nighttime subjects. Stan was painting on white, mounted Wallis… from memory. He selected 7 pastels to use for the painting. Several were oversized Ludwigs. One was the size of a small, elongated potato and cost $80. “Full of pigment!” Before starting, he commented, “You have to see the image” before you start." He then lightly sketched the image onto the white surface, using a pastel stump rubbed on pastel and a brush dampened with water and brushed against pastel.

Stan worked from top to bottom, to “control the process” and keep the painting clean. The sky was blocked in first, using three colors to achieve greater depth. Although it was a nighttime scene, and the sky was dark, it was the lightest value in the painting. Next came the dark verticals, the trees, “Boldly blocking in the dark masses.” Violets and greens were laid in horizontally for the field. Using a violet of a higher key helped to distinguish how the landforms lay. Stan used warm greens to mold the trees and tell the viewer where the light source was. Throughout the process, he used the little finger of his left hand (not his working hand) for blending. The finishing touch on Stan’s dark field was a gathering of fireflies. The membership was entranced.

I jotted down the following quotes of Stan’s as he worked. You may find them worthy of your sketchbook.

  • Be a student of nature. Always think of things you see as paintings.
  • Use the pastels on their sides; not their ends.
  • You’re putting paint on a surface to convey an image, not a photo.
  • Painting is not an alone sport. It’s about what you can give back.
  • If it’s an honest expression of what you’ve got in you, it’s done.

Thanks Stan for a helpful, informative, and entertaining, afternoon.