Tag Archives: contemporary pastel painting


IMG_0903.JPG Trace, 2014 – Michaela Harlow – Pastel on Cold Press, Deckle-Edge Paper, 20″ x 16″ 

Hello Daylight Standard Time. Oh, it’s so good to have morning light back in my studio at 6am. Yes, it’s odd to see the street lamps switch on in town at 5pm, but I’ve never been a fan of rising in the dark. I wake up with so many ideas these days and I am so much more productive in the early hours.

Winter-like winds blew in today —knocking down more leaves from the forest canopy and rattling my studio windows— a chilling prelude of things to come. I had a fire going the wood stove all day to warm the bones.

IMG_0908.JPGTools are great for pastel work, but sometimes nothing beats fingertips for blending


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Kettle Hole Bog

IMG_0854.JPGKettle Hole Bog, 2014 – Michaela Harlow – Pastel on Cold Press, Deckle-Edge Paper, 20″ x 16″ 

Kettle Holes are geological features formed when chunks of glacial ice separate from the main flow by breaking off and subsequently melting. New England has many ponds, swamps and bogs that originally formed in this manner, during the glacial age. I love exploring wetlands in autumn and the kettle hole bogs in Western Massachusetts —particularly those surrounded by wild laurel, native azalea and brilliant red, highbush blueberry— are some of my favorites haunts at this time of year. The combination of blue-green algae, red to rust foliage and watery reflections provides great inspiration.

IMG_0844.JPG In the studio with turquoise and rusty red reflections

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Twice Considered

IMG_0553.JPG Twice Considered, 2014 – Michaela Harlow – Pastel on Cold Press, Deckle-Edge Paper, 20″ x 16″

When working on a painting, I am constantly moving and spinning the piece around. Shifting the orientation helps me to work areas with tools and manage layers. Turning the paper will also —sometimes anyway— alter the final composition. This tends to happen more often when the painting begins with a focus on geometric shapes; in this case, leaves.

IMG_0552.JPGProcess. Process. Process. Not quite where I wanted it, but close. Turning back to where I started.

With this piece, I began with a very detailed drawing, which I then proceeded to obscure with six or seven layers of pastel and then ‘destroy’ with wire combs and bread knives. After applying a heavy coat of fixative, I continued the process of destruction, using a palette knife to smear more chunks of pastel and wayward dust. After the mutilation was complete, I spun the piece around one final time, painted areas back in with palette knife and stump, and coated the entire piece with a gauze of white. Finished? Not quite. I reconsidered and turned it on its head again. There, that’s the way I see it.

Sometimes you make up your mind. Then you change your mind. Then you end up back where you started.


Twice considered

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In Saffron Wood

IMG_0521.JPGIn Saffron Wood, 2014 – Michaela Harlow – Pastel on Cold Press, Deckle-Edge Paper, 20″ x 16″

I’ve always felt that our lovely, North American Beech is the great, unsung beauty of the New England forest. One of the last deciduous trees to color up in autumn, the Beech canopy ripens to a fine, butterscotch hue in mid to late October. Later, the leathery leaves become more transparent as they bronze to a golden, orange-brown in November. Beech trees hold their rustling leaves throughout winter as they slowly fade to a ghostly, paper white. And their gorgeous, silver-grey bark is smooth and silky to the touch; often reflecting the colors of winter skies. I love traipsing through the large stands of beech trees in my woods —especially after heavy rain forms pools in the pockets between their colonial root zones— admiring the dance of their saffron reflections.

IMG_0427.JPG Remembering a forest’s prism of reflected light

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