MTRP’s Art in the Park exhibit features award-winning pastel artists

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Nine award-winning pastel artists are featured in the current exhibit, “Art in the Park” at Mission Trails Regional Park Visitor’s Center. The subjects of the paintings range from animals to seascapes. The artists are all members of the San Diego Pastel Society of San Diego and hosted a reception on July 23.

Nine award-winning pastel artists are featured in the current exhibit, “Art in the Park” at Mission Trails Regional Park Visitor’s Center. The subjects of the paintings range from animals to seascapes. The artists are all members of the San Diego Pastel Society of San Diego and hosted a reception on July 23.

Visitors to the exhibit will be pleasantly surprised by the beauty and detail of the artists’ work in pastels. Consisting of pure powdered pigment and a binder, pastels look like sticks of chalk. But they are completely different.

“Chalk is what little kids play with on the sidewalk. Pastels are a painter’s medium,” said Doris Bertch, an artist who began painting with pastels just seven years ago.

“We call it painting, even though it’s more like drawing,” said Tamara Stautland, who used to work more heavily in oil and watercolors.

“I like to say life is too short to work with water color. If I make a mistake in my drawing, I simply paint over it. There’s no erasing,” Stautland said.

Stautland’s friend Susan Cody admired her paintings “White Sage” and “Golden Glow,” which depict the flora of Mission Trails Park.

“I’m looking forward to retiring soon and I want to get into pastel painting. It’s like coloring, and you don’t even have to stay in the lines,” Cody said, laughing.

But there is a skill needed in drawing for pastel work, explained Cheryl Revell, treasurer of the Pastel Society.

“For realism, you definitely need to know how to draw accurately. For abstracts, drawing skills are not quite as important, but you still need to know composition and values of light along with color,” Revell said.

Pastels come in boxes, often in a huge array of colors.

“With one color, you under paint and then color over with another. Pastels are done in many layers,” Revell said.

Most of the artists whose work is the “Art in the Park” exhibit have had many years of experience in other art forms, particularly watercolor and oil painting. But one artist, in particular, Doris Bertch, had no training at all in any art form.

“I actually almost flunked art in high school. But I have always liked to dabble in things, to try them. You don’t know what you can do unless you try it and then practice,” Bertch said.

At the reception, Shirley Altieri admired Bertch’s “Carlsbad Sunset. “I’m going to buy this one. I love the way Doris has painted the ocean, the way the waves come up so natural-looking and the cumulus clouds in the distance. I was very attracted to it from the start,” Altieri said.

People also admired the animal portraits by Anita Plaks, such as the painting of a raccoon called “Looking for Trouble.”

“It’s always best to paint what you love. And I love animals. I’ve done commission work for people’s pets,” Plaks said.

Plaks had worked with watercolor for years. But when she discovered pastels, they became her new choice of art medium.

“Pastels range in texture from hard to soft. The soft is the best. Their texture is so creamy. The texture of pastels is so creamy,” Plaks said.

“You have to be willing to get your hands dusty from the pastels. Some people like it, others don’t,” Stautland explained.

A pastel artist whom both Bertch and Plaks said was “up-and-coming” is Christine Bowman, who smiled shyly at the comment. “I just got notice that my work will be in Pastel Society of America’s annual show,” Bowman said.

Bowman’s technique in pastels has a dreamy effect, such as in “Balboa Reflections,” a depiction of the lily pond in front of the park’s Botanical Building. She has painted with pastels for more than ten years.

“I just love it that I can pick up colors, especially when outside. I like to do plein-air painting,” said Bowman, who had just come back from a ten-day workshop I France.

Plein-air work usually takes place within two hours, Bowman explained. “I have to respond quickly because of the way the light changes in what I’m painting.”

“Along the Pathway” is a plein-air work she did of a trail in San Pasqual Valley.  “The Mighty Tree” was the result of a Quick Draw contest at the San Diego Botanical Garden.

“I won second place for my painting of ‘The Mighty Tree,’” Bowman said.

Framing is just as important in creating a pastel work as the actual painting. Pastel has to e framed a certain way because you don’t want the dust of the colors to fall down. You have to use spacers between the painting and the matt and the glass, too,” said Plaks, who does her own framing. 

But the joy of painting with pastels is worth the extra care needed in protecting and framing a painting.

“Just grab a color and paint. There’s no mixing. Pastels are great for travel. And I’ve never had a problem with the TSA when I have them in my carry-on,” Bertch said.

The nine artists’ work will show through August 12 at the Visitor’s Center. 

“I love showing here at the Visitor’s Center, because people discover this place often for the first time,” said Stautland, who has two pastel paintings that depict the park’s flora. 

The San Diego Pastel Society welcomes visitors to their monthly meetings, which take place at 2 p.m. on the first Sunday of the month at the Point Loma Library, 3701 Voltaire Street. At the meetings, there is always a demonstration by a pastel artist. For more information about the San Diego Pastel Society, go to www.zhibit.org/pssd.

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