For the past three days, Iola High School art students have studied pastels under the tutelage of visiting artist Steve Napper.
Napper shares his knowledge of the medium in steps. Day one is lectures, where students learn technique, materials and design. Days two and three involve hands-on assignments, with Napper present to coach the students.
This year marks junior Shauna Van Etten’s third year at the workshops.
“I’ve learned how to use the warm and cool colors and how to use pastels. It’s very helpful,” she said of Napper’s instruction.
In the near future, she hopes to couple her love of art with her love of cooking in pursuit of world culinary art and management, she said.
This is a first for Hannah Norris to use pastels. “It’s interesting — it’s different,” she said. “I’m normally a sketcher. I never color my drawings; I always shade them. This,” she said of the vibrant blues, greens, fuchsias and golds, “is a little out of my comfort zone.”
Sophomore Nathan Meadows, an aspiring art teacher himself, enjoyed blending blues and greens to form a hill above a paler river. He typically draws with pencils, he said, and found the pastels “messier.”
Mess is in the nature of the material, Napper said, walking across the floor of the Dale P. Creitz Recital Hall festooned with protective plastic sheets.
Pastels, Napper noted, “are really the most colorfast and permanent of all media because they’re pure pigment.”
Pigments, including metals such as aluminum and iron oxides, cadmium and mineral pigments, are ground to a paste with a binder, then rolled into sticks.
“I can grind that pastel up and mix it with oil and it’s oil paint,” Napper continued.
Chalk, on the other hand, “is dyed,” Napper said. There is no pure pigment in it. “Chalks will fade,” he said.
Chalk, he said anecdotally, is fine for sidewalk drawings. Pastel, however, will stain.
Both, however, are messy to work with, producing dust as the sticks are scraped across paper, cardboard or other surfaces.
“(Henri de Toulouse-) Lautrec painted on butcher’s paper; (Edgar) Degas painted on cardboard,” Napper said of the famous impressionists.
Napper said the reason pastels in museums are hung in low light situations is to preserve the paper the artists worked on — not the pigment.
“The paper deteriorates, not the pastel,” he told students.
Because of its soft and easily smeared nature, pastel paintings must be put behind glass, or sprayed with a fixative to prevent them smudging.
But, Napper said, “You kill the luminosity by putting a fixative on it.” In its natural state, he said, pastels paintings neither lighten nor darken over time. “You can come back in a year” and it’s the same as the day you worked on it, he said.
In addition, papers today are “museum-grade,” compared to those of the impressionistic era.
Napper also had on hand Styrofoam insulation sheets, cut into segments, to use for blending. If using fingers, oils from one’s hand alter the pigments, he said, and “kill the color.”
Emerald Rook was getting hints from Napper on how to shade a stream bank. “It makes it more life-like and gives it a forward extension,” Rook said of the changes to her drawing.
Napper also taught the students “to paint by value and not by color,” he said. “I try to teach them to paint by temperature,” he explained, selecting warm or cool tones rather than matching the colors of the photographs used as guides.
In that style, sophomore Haydn Wolf was creating “a beautiful sky” — in greens, pink, blues and black.
“I’ve learned a lot already,” Wolf said of working with the pastels — and with Napper. “I learned lights and darks put things in the foreground and background,” he said.
“This is my first time ever doing this,” Wolf added. “I think it’s fun — it’s almost like a child with finger paints.”
NAPPER’S workshops have become an annual event, thanks to former Iola elementary art teacher Steve Orcutt, whom he befriended in Estes Park, Colo.
“We were doing a big art show” one year, he said. “They happened to be staying at the same hotel.”
As fate would have it, the painters’ auctioneer “didn’t show up, and Steve volunteered his services,” Napper said.
A friendship bloomed, along with an invitation from the Orcutts for Napper, who lives in Odessa, Texas, to come share his skills with Iola’s students.
“I thought it would be just a one-time thing,” Napper said, “but it’s grown.”