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Pastel Artist Barbara Steinacker on Coming Apart

Coming Apart by Barbara Steinacker (click for a larger image)
Coming Apart, pastel and acrylic, by Barbara Steinacker (click for a larger image)

The last time we interviewed Barbara Steinacker, it was about a landscape painting for “Flora & Fauna” in 2013.

Lately, this pastel artist has ventured into abstract compositions like the one above, which won the Carol Bruce Pastel Award this month. We asked her what it’s like for a landscape and portrait artist to try abstraction:

How would you describe Coming Apart?  How did it come together?
Barbara Steinacker: I was doing a series of abstract paintings using tertiary triad colors. Coming Apart came out of my attraction to the blue-green/magenta/yellow-orange combination. The design of the curved lines was inspired by a garden sculpture that I saw in Florida. So I started with that and let the rest just happen.

You typically paint landscapes and portraits, so did you find this piece a radical departure for you?
Yes. I’ve been doing abstract paintings for only about a year. I became interested in doing abstract work the year before last when I met and was inspired by the work of Debora Stewart, a well-known abstract pastel painter, at the International Association of Pastel Societies convention in Albuquerque. I’ll be taking a workshop with her in Maine this coming August.

Bombay Hook NWR Autumn-5 by Barbara Steinacker
Bombay Hook NWR Autumn-5 by Barbara Steinacker

The biggest change in my process is that the information for the painting comes from within rather than from the land in front of me, as in plein air painting, or from a person modeling, or from a photo reference.  The abstract painting may start from a particular image as in Coming Apart — that was inspired by a particular garden sculpture and desire to use certain colors — but then it “takes off” from there.

Coming Apart (detail) by Barbara Steinacker
Coming Apart (detail) by Barbara Steinacker

Where does the acrylic come into this painting? Is that a new approach for you?
The acrylic enters the picture as an underpainting. And a watered-down version of acrylic paint produced the drips that I then painted over with pastel. I’ve also often used an underpainting in my landscape work consisting of acrylic paint mixed into a pumice gel medium to cover the surface before applying pastel. That combination provides texture as well as color under the pastel.

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