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Pastel Art Illuminated: Cathy McIlhenny's Creative Insights and 15 Practical Tips Revealed

September 18, 2023 1:17 PM | Colleen Algeo (Administrator)

In a captivating art talk event held yesterday afternoon, local award-winning artist Cathy McIlhenny opened a window into her artistic world, offering a glimpse into her creative process, sharing invaluable tips, and even demonstrating her exceptional talent with pastels. The event, attended by a diverse audience of art enthusiasts, brought to light the beauty and depth of pastel artistry.

This Art Talk was Perk Valley Art Center's first presentation at its new meeting place at Maplewood Estates in Harleysville. Those in attendance had positive comments about the size of the room, the comfort and the elegance. A few enjoyed the offerings at the cafe that is in close proximity to the conference room. 

Cathy McIlhenny has been a PVAC member for a number of years and has participated and earned awards in both PVAC's member shows and juried shows. Her pastel works have graced galleries and exhibitions around the area like the Pastel Society of Philadelphia and the Wayne Art Center, earning her accolades and admiration for her unique style and masterful technique. The event was an opportunity for attendees to delve into her artistic mind and discover the secrets behind her stunning creations.

McIlhenny's talk began with an introduction to her journey as an artist. She shared her early inspirations, highlighting her love for nature, her hometown, and the vibrant and versatile medium of pastels. Her story of artistic growth resonated with many aspiring artists in the audience.

The highlight of the afternoon was the unveiling of McIlhenny's artistic process. Through a live demonstration, she showcased her meticulous approach to pastel art. Layer by layer, she built the beginnings of a breathtaking landscape, revealing the magic that happens when pastels meet paper. The audience watched in awe as vibrant colors blended seamlessly to create depth and atmosphere.

But it wasn't just a visual treat. McIlhenny generously shared 15 practical tips for those looking to embark on their own pastel art journey:

1. Start with quality pastels: McIlhenny emphasized the importance of investing in professional-grade pastels for better results and organizing them light to dark to simplify your process. 

2. Choose the right paper: Sanded papers with texture are ideal for pastel work, as they allow for layering and blending.

3. Prepare your workspace: A clean and organized workspace is crucial for focus and creativity.

4. Begin with a limited color palette: Limiting your colors initially can help you learn how to mix and blend effectively.

5. Understand color theory and composition: McIlhenny stressed the significance of grasping the basics of color theory and composition for achieving harmonious color balance and intrigue your viewer into the painting. Use a color wheel to find the complimentary and tertiary colors to use in your work. 

6. Master layering and blending: Start with a light touch and gradually build up layers for depth and richness working dark to light. Your fingers are your best tools for blending. Wash them well with soap and water from time to time as you are working. 

7. Experiment with different strokes: Hatching, cross-hatching, stippling, and scumbling can create various textures and effects.

8. Use fixative spray sparingly: Fixative spray (or quick drying alcohol) can help set your work in the early stages (or first pass), but use it lightly to avoid dulling colors.

9. Work from background to foreground: This technique enhances the sense of depth in your artwork. Example: begin with the sky and work your way down the painting to the land. 

10. Explore different surfaces: Don't limit yourself to one type of pastel paper; try other surfaces or sanded paper for unique effects.

11. Study and practice: McIlhenny encouraged attendees to study pastel artists they admire and practice regularly.

12. Protect finished artwork: Proper framing and the use of a spacer in your frame are essential to safeguard pastel works from touching the glass as well as protect it from dust and damage.

13. Take breaks: Pastel work can be physically demanding, so rest your hand and eyes regularly.

14. Seek feedback: Sharing your work and receiving constructive criticism can aid in growth as an artist. Attend a local art class or workshop to enjoy the social aspects of creating as well as feedback from others. 

15. Have patience and persistence: McIlhenny reminded everyone that art is a journey, and improvement comes with time and dedication.

The event concluded with a Q&A session, where attendees had the chance to engage with Cathy McIlhenny personally, gaining further insights into her artistry.

As the ART TALK drew to a close, attendees left with hearts full of inspiration and heads brimming with knowledge. Cathy McIlhenny's ART TALK and Demonstration had not only shed light on her artistic process but had also ignited a newfound passion for pastel artistry among those in attendance. 

Join us at our next ART TALK! 

Enter our next show! 

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Serving Mongtomery, Bucks & Berks Counties, PA

Perkiomen Valley Art Center  (PVAC) is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization founded in 1957 to further art appreciation and direct involvement with the arts by providing cultural programs and exhibitions by area artists.

Program presentations and show receptions are free and open to the public.

Meeting Address: Maplewood Estates, Arbor Conference Center, 2nd Floor, 815 Maplewood Dr., Harleysville PA 19438

Mailing Address:
PO Box 474  Schwenksville PA 19473
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