Q&A with Award Winner Barbara Steinacker

Q&A with Award Winner Barbara Steinacker

"Bombay Hook NWR Autumn-5" by Barbara Steinacker.
“Bombay Hook NWR Autumn – 5” by Barbara Steinacker.

If you’ve visited “Flora & Fauna” since Saturday, you may not have seen the pastel above — it’s already been sold and moved on to greener pastures. But you can click the image to take a good look, and as always, artwork from Art League shows resides on our Flickr site.

The painting, Bombay Hook NWR Autumn – 5, won the Carol Bruce Pastel Award from the “Flora & Fauna” juror. We asked the artist, Barbara Steinacker, to tell us about her medium of choice, creative process, and career change.

Can you tell us a little about your art career, how you got your training and how you made the transition to full-time artist?
I started taking evening classes with Diane Tesler at The Art League School while working full time in an office environment. This went on for several years before I developed enough confidence in my painting to leave the office job and begin painting full time. Since then, I’ve taken classes with Rob Liberace, Danni Dawson, Jane McElvany Coonce, and workshops with pastelists Bob Rohm in New Mexico, Alan Flattmann in Maine, Stan Sperlak in New Jersey, Jack Pardue in North Carolina, and more locally with Richard McKinley, Susan Ogilvie, and Kim Lordier.

Why do you work in pastel?
I love the vibrancy of color that can be achieved with pastel. I learned to paint with oils, but once I picked up a pastel stick I didn’t go back to oils. Pastel is definitely my preference; however, I sometimes work in black and white on gray—especially for casual portraits.

What was your goal with Bombay Hook NWR Autumn – 5?
I wanted to share with viewers the beauty of that location. There is so much noise and chaos in the world today and many people rarely have a chance to be in nature. I strive to bring folks the peace and tranquility that I experienced while on location when they glance at the painting.

Where and what is Bombay Hook? Is this part of a series?
Bombay Hook is a National Wildlife Reserve near Dover, Delaware whose marshlands attract a variety of wildlife. As its name implies, Bombay Hook NWR-5 is fifth in a series of eight, so far. I started in the Spring of 2012, and went back to Bombay Hook for a couple of days in the Fall. I may be finished—and maybe not.

What is your artistic process like, from an idea to a finished piece?
First I have to be attracted by the scene. I start by doing a thumbnail value sketch. After checking the composition, I may either do another sketch (this is often where the fun comes in—moving mountains, trees or rivers to suit the composition) or decide what size would work best for the painting. When working en plein air I usually work small — 9 x 12 or 11 x 14 works best for me. I then roughly sketch in the image on sanded pastel paper. Sometimes I do an underpainting – this can be with watercolor, or mineral spirits or water brushed over pastel applied lightly to the sanded surface. Then it is a process of defining, refining, refining, and trying not to do too much refining. Because the light is constantly changing, I take reference photos when I start the painting, and that is the light I strive to stay with throughout the painting. Plein air pieces are then brought into my studio where I observe them in a different light and I make any additional corrections and wait a few days before putting them under glass. Lately I’ve been framing my pastels with no mat, wide frame, and museum glass.

What makes a good landscape painting — what do you try to do with a landscape that’s different from what you want to do with a portrait, for example?
It’s difficult to condense into a few words. What works for me is to keep going back to what originally attracted me to the scene (this is where the thumbnail sketch comes in handy) as I develop the composition, establish the center of interest, pay attention to color harmony, arrangement of light and dark values, aerial perspective, attention to edges.  There’s much more freedom in landscape painting than in portraiture.  If I’m doing a portrait commission, accuracy is essential, as if I’m as little as an eighth of an inch off in placement of a facial feature, the resemblance can be lost.

What are you working on now?
I’m working on landscapes for an October show at my gallery in Columbia, MD. I’m planning a trip to New Mexico in June, so I’m hoping the October show will contain Bombay Hook as well as New Mexico paintings.

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