Must-See Pastel Paintings

Unconventional landscapes. Contemplative portraits. Quiet interiors. Bold marks. Confident color. It’s all here in this selection of 14 pastel paintings — just a few highlights from an incredible pastel exhibition.

Every two years, when the International Association of Pastel Societies (IAPS) meets for its biennial convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico, pastel lovers are treated to the PastelWorld Exhibition — an inspiring display that combines the IAPS Annual Juried Exhibition and the IAPS Master Circle Exhibition. This year, the result was a showcase of 184 exceptional works of pastel.

You’ll find 14 of my personal favorite pastel paintings from the show. If there’s a common thread to my choices, it may be a strong sense of story. These are pastel paintings that not only caught my eye but also grabbed my heart. Some were award-winners, but most were not. This only proves the considerable talent that was represented in this exhilarating exhibition.

—Anne Hevener, editor-in-chief of Pastel Journal

Light Drama

The Ancient Houses by Boxin Zhao, China Pastel Network: In spite of the age and deterioration of the buildings Zhao depicts, the artist’s true subject here is beauty — brilliantly enhanced by his dramatic use of light and shadow.

The Ancient Houses (triptych; pastel, 15×32) by Boxin Zhao

Streetside Beauty

Hell’s Kitchen by Nancie King Mertz, Pastel Society of America: I felt that Mertz’s streetscape had a number of invitation points and lots of interesting elements to keep me in its grip.

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Hell’s Kitchen (pastel, 18×28) by Nancie King Mertz

Quiet Serenity

Owens Valley Clouds by Ann Sanders, Pastel Society of the West Coast: Sanders’ lovely landscape may be quiet, but it has the power to stop viewers in their tracks and demand that they soak in the serenity.

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Owens Valley Clouds (pastel, 16×20) by Ann Sanders

Interior Stories

The Cuban Carpenter by Ray Hassard, Pastel Society of America: I love an interior, probably because they seem especially suited to storytelling — in this case, Hassard’s depiction of a modest workplace and a deeply focused artisan, working at his craft.

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The Cuban Carpenter (pastel, 11×14) by Ray Hassard

Master Impressions

The Other Side by John Philbin Dolan, Pastel Society of New Mexico: Between the pose and the uniform, there’s a striking formality to Dolan’s portrait that evokes the Old Masters, an impression that’s enhanced by the expressive, light-struck face that bends toward the heavens.

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The Other Side (pastel, 31×25) by John Philbin Dolan

Delicate Contemplations

The Girl in White by Shuhui Long, China Pastel Network: Long’s portrait felt so delicate and yet so confident at the same time. In addition to the strong draftsmanship on display, the painting possesses an emotional core that can’t be forgotten.

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The Girl in White (pastel, 32×22) by Shuhui Long

Hitting the Mark

Red Shirt by Janice Wall, Northwest Pastel Society: I love how much Wall was able to accomplish with each and every mark, turning a simple scene into an engaging picture.

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Red Shirt (pastel, 9×12) by Janice Wall

Bold Tracks

Down By the Tracks by Carol Strock Wasson, Chicago Pastel Painters: Strock Wasson uses the power of design to direct viewers through her painting. The subject isn’t an obvious choice, which is a big part of the painting’s appeal.

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Down By the Tracks (pastel, 18×24) by Carol Strock Wasson

Unconventional Feel

Making the Final Approach by Diane Reed Sawyer, Pastel Painters Society of Cape Cod: The tilt in Sawyer’s unconventional composition adds to the impression of immense space. The painting captures well that odd feeling of detachment you can have in flight when you’re aware of not being earthbound.

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Making the Final Approach (pastel, 24×36) by Diane Reed Sawyer

Playful Composition

Napster by Sally Strand, Pastel Society of Southern California: I love a pastel that looks like a pastel. The variety of Strand’s mark-making, the playful vantage point and the delicious color add up to an altogether delightful composition.

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Napster (pastel, 16×24) by Sally Strand

Delightful Contrast

Transience of Innocence by Rita Kirkman, Pastel Society of America: Between the creative design, scrumptious color, dramatic contrasts and delightful model, I don’t know what’s not to love about Kirkman’s piece, which — incidentally — was selected for the cover of the IAPS souvenir program.

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Transience of Innocence (pastel, 26×19) by Rita Kirkman

Powerful Simplicity

One Way by Deborah Quinn-Munson, Pastel Society of America: I found Quinn-Munson’s simple but striking design utterly arresting. And lest we think that intriguing bike shadow is the main idea, we actually have an arrow pointing to our real subject. Love it!

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One Way (pastel, 17×18) by Deborah Quinn-Munson

Figurative Glow

Bartender by Aline Ordman, Pastel Society of America: Ordman sets the perfect stage for her figure with a glow of light in a boozy background. There’s not an extraneous mark to be seen in this loose and lush pastel gem.

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Bartender (pastel, 16×12) by Aline Ordman

Ethereal Expressions

Hearty Girl by Bo Wang, China Pastel Network: I’m in awe of Wang’s exquisite rendering of the girl’s skin, as well as the somewhat ethereal setting, and the serenity of expression. If I could, though, I’d like to re-translate the title to Girl With Heart, which I think expresses the emotional power of the portrait.

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Hearty Girl (pastel, 15×11) by Bo Wang

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