Friday, July 22, 2016

Recent Cityscapes

As we reach the mid-point of summer, y'know, the time of year when "Back to School" ads begin to appear and the collective mood of America's youth crashes, I'm turning my attention to my cityscapes as I prepare for several art shows this fall.

Two weeks ago, I wrapped a show in Michigan where I exhibited my pastel paintings. As I get ready for fall, I'll have more opportunities to display my oil paintings and that's where I'm beginning to focus now. You'll see another post within the next couple of weeks on my oil painting blog to showcase some of those new works. In the meantime, here are some recent pastel cityscapes, both big and small, that I recently finished.

Zip Zip 6 x 8 original pastel.

First, small but dynamic: Zip Zip is what I refer to as a "mini city" piece, and it captures one of Chicago's distinctive maroon taxi cabs as it flies across our view during a nighttime fare. One of my favorite things to do in the pastel medium is to just fuzz out the motion of color, as with the tail lights in this composition.

Chicago Lights 16 x 24 original pastel

Next, in keeping with my Chicago theme, here's a larger piece celebrating quintessential downtown Chicago called, appropriately enough, "Chicago Lights." It's been a little while since I introduced a new limited edition print of one of my cityscapes, and I chose this subject as a new print for 2016. You can find out more about this piece under the limited edition prints area of my web site.

Chicago Zig Zag 12 x 18 original pastel

Finally, there's "Chicago Zig Zag," featuring one of my favorite places to hang out in all of Chicago: right underneath the El. I enjoyed creating this piece because the composition is different from a more conventional subject with the way that the elevated train platform breaks up the pictorial plane.


Saturday, May 21, 2016


Uff dah. It's been a while since I posted to this blog. In an era of online social media, we artists have to wear a lot of hats between web sites, blogs, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and more. Earlier this year, I finally jumped into the year 2010 by creating an Instagram presence (@sarahpollockstudio) and I've actually been pretty good about keeping that up-to-date. In fact, if you're looking for the first dibs on my new pieces, Instagram is a great way to peek in at what I'm working on in my studio.

Anyways, rather than talking about my art online, I've been making it in my studio. I've been busy getting ready for my first art show of the season, the Rittenhouse Square Fine Art Show in Philadelphia. I'll exhibit my new pastel works at this event during the weekend of June 3-5, 2016, and I recently finished several new pieces in preparation for the show. In this post, I wanted to share a little more with you about the process behind some of these new pieces.

Color motivates my choice of subjects. After more than a decade of working in the pastel medium, I've found a process that allows me to quickly evaluate whether an idea will work successfully. I call it my shorthand, in honor of my Mom who had to learn actual shorthand in high school. Indeed, her first job was as a corporate secretary for a company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. All these decades later, when she and I go to the Philadelphia Flower Show each spring, I still catch her writing in a small notepad using shorthand as she jots down ideas and inspiration.

Initial Shorthand for "Please Continue to Pull Forward," an eventual 12 x 24 pastel.

Final Piece: Please Continue to Pull Forward, 12 x 24 pastel.

My "shorthand" is a series of small color studies, some of which I've shared here. I learned this approach from Doug Dawson, a wonderful pastel artist and an outstanding teacher. He emphasized the importance of selecting just the most essential colors and values to convey a composition. And then sticking to them for as long as possible. Eliminate the superfluous and stay with the most essential ingredients.

In these initial studies, I think you'll see how just these tiny dabbles of thinking and planning link to the final, polished piece. Enjoy!

Initial Shorthand for "July Coda," an eventual 16 x 24 pastel.

Final Piece: July Coda, 16 x 24 pastel.


Initial Shorthand for "Capture," an eventual 12 x 18 pastel.

Final Piece: Capture, 12 x 18 pastel.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

School is Back in Session

I've been working on several new pastel cityscapes in anticipation of my final art shows later this fall. Shown here are a few new pieces fresh off the easel within this past month, including subjects from Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New York City.

South Street Rain

South Street Rain 8 x 8 original pastel.
A rainy summer day becomes a play of brilliant abstract color
along South Street in the heart of Philadelphia.

As the temperatures cool down and school resumes, it's worth highlighting that I'll teach a 6-week class for the Art Alliance of Central Pennsylvania in Lemont later this month. The class is called "Forward! Strategies for Strengthening Your Artwork" and it's suitable for both beginning and intermediate students in all 2D media.

I tailor this class to the interests of my students while we work on topics such as overcoming common creative roadblocks, choosing subjects, gathering strong source material, and resolving the challenges of color and composition. I pull materials from my background as an artist for Walt Disney Feature Animation, TED Talks, contemporary artists and my experience as a full time artist to help students set up their work spaces and focus in on the things that they want to address in their artwork as they move forward. The class will be held on Wednesday afternoons from 1-4pm beginning on September 30, 2015. Here's the full class description:

Ever feel stuck in a rut? Want to take your art to the next level?

Learn from a national award-winning fine artist and Walt Disney Feature Animation alum how to overcome the roadblocks, habits and fears that inhibit creating great art. We’ll cover topics including how to identify promising subjects; how to gather source material; overcoming the challenges of color, values and composition; what to do when you feel stuck; and how to effectively organize your workspace. This class is open to beginning and intermediate students who work in all 2-D media: acrylic, oils, watercolors, pastel, and drawing. The class will be tailored to the interests of participants. On the first day, please bring a sketchbook and your favorite drawing utensil.

For more information about this class and to register, please contact the Art Alliance of Central Pennsylvania by phone at (814) 234-2740 or through their web site:

Dynamo 18 x 18 original pastel.
A view from the High Line Park in Lower Manhattan.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Decision Making, Step-by-Step

Building an art career is a step-by-step process that requires many decisions along the way. There's no single trajectory, no designated path of promotion like there is in many other careers. Instead, each individual finds her own way. A lot of the decisions involve matching one's artwork to the right opportunities.

When I began my career over a decade ago, the pastel medium was enjoying a period of unparalleled popularity. Although the medium has been around and in use since the late 1800s, the mid-1990s and early 2000s brought with them the publication of a new magazine, The Pastel Journal, as well as dozens of new manufacturers offering pastel sticks and related products. As recently as the 1980s, it used to be that the choice to work in pastel necessarily meant that one was "settling for" a medium with few options in materials and low quality. That's no longer the case at all. Today, artists have more choices in materials and enjoy much higher quality than ever before and interested viewers can see some wonderful creations in the pastel medium.

Concurrent with this rise in popularity and availability of materials, many juried art shows geared specifically for pastel artists appeared. When I started working professionally back in 2003, I participated in several of these events. This was a decision that I made to gain some credentials and validation for my artwork. This is a fairly typical career step for many artists because juried shows and the awards that they bring give artists distinction and recognition that's difficult to obtain in the art world more broadly.

Rain Walker 16 x 20 original pastel. This piece was damaged after it returned from a national juried exhibition. Luckily, I was able to preserve the artwork after replacing the frame just a couple of days prior to a major outdoor art show


I got into shows and even won some awards. All was good, until an out-of-state show in the summer of 2011, when my cityscape, Rain Walker (pictured above), was returned to me with the frame smashed inside the shipping carton and the glass severely damaged just two days before I needed to exhibit it in my local outdoor art show, The Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts. This unfortunate outcome happened because my piece had not been properly packed for its return trip.

Around this time, juried shows for pastel artists had become quite an industry, with many pastel societies sponsoring them and using the jury fees to bolster their annual operating budgets. Having served on the board of the Maryland Pastel Society, I know how much work goes into these events, and that these jury fees are often used to defray the cost of procuring an exhibition space for the exhibition. But in addition to collecting a jury fee from each participant (whether his work is admitted or not), about five years ago shows also began to collect "handling fees" for transporting the artwork to and from the exhibition venue. On average, these extra fees range from $50 to $100 for each piece. Add in the cost of shipping original artwork to the show venue, which can easily run up to $300 for a medium-sized piece, and you end up with a rather expensive proposition if you're an artist trying to participate in one of these events.

Brown Bagging It, 18 x 18 original pastel, was accepted into an international juried exhibition, but I decided not to participate.


This past week, I made the difficult decision to withdraw from a juried show. My cityscape, Brown Bagging It, was accepted into the Pastel Painters of Maine International Juried Exhibition. Following the nightmare of having my piece damaged back in 2011, I had largely stayed away from these exhibitions because I eat the cost of such damage. But I thought I might try it again this year precisely because it's been many years since I've participated and I thought it would be good to get back in the game. I was all set to ship my cityscape to the exhibition last week when I noticed that the exhibition paperwork included a waiver to release anyone and everyone from damaging the artwork at any point. In essence, I would have no recourse if my piece was once again damaged, even after paying a $75 handling fee.

I thought to myself, "Does this make any sense?"


I'm a fan of Kevin O'Leary on the ABC TV show, "Shark Tank," and all I could hear in my head was his voice asking, "In what world would this be a good business decision?" I'm about to start a very busy summer art show schedule, and I just couldn't reconcile tying up this piece for an exhibition that runs for two months, and then risking that the work be damaged without any way to insure or protect it.

After working in this profession for many years, you may think that I've grown a bit jaded about my creative output. But I still care. I recall where most of my pieces have found homes with collectors and I remember the stories that clients have told me about why they purchased a certain piece or where they placed it in their homes. Moreover, the very act of creating a piece involves an intricate series of decisions. To gamble the final result of that series of decisions without any protection is a risk that I'm no longer willing to accept. To illustrate this decision-making process, I thought I'd share with you today the step-by-step process behind the creation of my newest cityscape, "Bleecker Street Shoppers," an 18 x 18 original pastel.

Step One: The initial charcoal sketch of my composition. This is a sunny afternoon street scene from Lower Manhattan and I chose to create this piece on a neutral grey surface.


Step Two: The initial block-in of darks. In pastels, you build from the darks forward to highlights. This is analogous to the process in oil painting, which is why so many artists work in both media.


Step Three: More colors to establish the composition.


Step Four: Some highlights to establish the boundaries of the lightest lights and darkest darks in the piece.


Step Five: Establishing the background and other figures in the composition to complement my star individual.


Step Six: Here, I'm establishing the foreground shadows and more details of the background.


Final Step: I changed the shirt color of the woman on the right to purple so that it would not be too "matchy matchy" with the other warm colors in the composition. A few refinements of details, and { tah dah }, the piece is completed.

I'll debut this new cityscape this weekend at the Rittenhouse Square Fine Art Show in Philadelphia. I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

To Boldly Go...

Uff dah! It's been a while since I updated my blog (shamefully bad artist, I know), but I've been very busy during these first months of 2015.

The first thing that I want to share with you is that I bought a new cargo van for my summer art shows. Believe it or not, I've done the past decade of art shows in a trusty Honda Odyssey mini van, affectionately known as The Clown Car of Art and / or The Marshmallow due to its whiteness. I always knew that if there was just one spare cubic inch of space on my way to an art show, then I had to be forgetting something. And there were plenty of times when I forgot things, such as the time when I left all of my packing materials in our garage on my way to an art show in Bethesda, Maryland a couple of years ago.


Anyways, I took the plunge two weeks ago and purchased a dedicated cargo van. I made this decision for a variety of reasons, not least of which were that I was sick of crawling around on my hands and knees and that I really couldn't carry all of the inventory and materials that I needed in order to do out-of-state shows. Indeed, during my first show last year in Greenville, South Carolina, a freak thunderstorm came up out of nowhere and brought 50-mph wind gusts with it. I nearly lost my entire booth and all of my artwork to kick off the season because I didn't have adequate weight to keep things anchored down. These are the perils of outdoor art shows, but I'm looking forward to another decade of adventures once I get my cargo van. Woo hoo!

Hyner Run State Park

Visiting Hyner Run State Park in central Pennsylvania earlier this month.

The second item that I want to share with you is that I'm starting on a new project here in 2015: Visiting every single one of Pennsylvania's 120 state parks. The goal, of course, will be to create a landscape painting from each one. I'm off to a slow start thanks to the brutally cold and snowy winter that we had this season, but a couple of weeks ago I got to a new location, the gorgeous Hyner Run State Park in Clinton County, about an hour and a half from our home. By virtue of living in Centre County, I figure I can take advantage of our central location and explore the state's wonderful locations from my home base. I anticipate that this project will take me many years to complete, but with my trusty canine companions, Maple and Marlon, it will be an enjoyable adventure. Besides, as I travel to various art shows, I'm usually within reach of a park, so why not double dip while traveling?

Watch for new landscape works from these beautiful locations in the coming months (and years) as I patiently tick each location off of my list. I have about 10 under my belt so far...Only 110 more to go!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Series of Small Studies

It's winter here in central Pennsylvania. Snow is gently falling outside my office window as I write this, and the temperatures are near single digits. Despite the fact that I can't hop on my bike for a relaxing ride through the beautiful countryside of Pennsylvania or get out in my garden right now, this is still one of my favorite times of year.

During these cold, desolate months I retreat to my studio, throw on all of the lights for a reasonable approximation of sunlight, and huddle around a steaming cup of hot tea while I work quietly. It's a great time of year for me to really focus, without the distraction of the great outdoors calling to me or of impending art show deadlines. The peaceful solitude is a perfect counterbalance to my more chaotic summer months of outdoor art shows and travel.

Study, Paris at Night

Study, Paris at Night


To kick off 2015, I'm working on a series of commissions. My first is for a client in Michigan, who wants several cityscapes from places that he frequents while traveling for work. Late last year, I prepared a series of small pastel studies on Canson paper for him to evaluate and use as his basis for the final selection of his commissioned pieces.

Study, Paris at Dusk

Study, Paris at Dusk


Study, Sunny Afternoon, Milan

Study, Sunny Afternoon, Milan


Study, Milan, Spring Rain

Study, Milan, Spring Rain


Study, Manhattan Lights

Study, Manhattan Lights


I don't typically work on Canson paper because I don't like its smoothness and lack of "tooth." Indeed, I make my own surfaces for most of my pastel works because I'm interested in the unique textural characteristics that I can create with this process. But in November, I took a painting workshop with artist Desmond O'Hagan in Maryland. I was somewhat surprised to learn that he works almost exclusively on this surface. I can't argue with his results; he's found a surface that is well suited to his expressive style of work.

Feeling inspired and more confident about the surface after that workshop, I returned from the workshop and made this series of urban studies for my client. I really enjoyed the process. Switching a surface like this is somewhat like getting an opportunity to drive a friend's car for a week. Everything is different even though you'll ultimately still get to your destination. I did some things differently here with flourishes of color and detail, and I plan to incorporate these subtleties in the final pieces, which will be on my own more textured surfaces. Enjoy!

Study, Winter Light, Lower Manhattan

Study, Winter Light, Lower Manhattan


Study, Black Cab Night

Study, Black Cab Night

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Figuratively Speaking

Cool Contemplation original pastel
"Cool Contemplation" 20 x 30 original pastel

I've been on a figurative kick with my recent pastel pieces, and my latest works, "Cool Contemplation" and "Brown Bagging It," continue this trend.

I enjoy the myriad stories that these subjects evoke. If I wasn't an artist, then my back up career plan would have been to become a writer (I've always been extremely pragmatic; I even started my college education as a music major). And I think that's why these subjects are so compelling to me because I have an opportunity to share a story with the viewer while diving in with bold colors and shapes.

"Brown Bagging It" 18 x 18 original pastel

I'm really enjoying creating these works, and as I dive deeper into working with oil paints, you'll start to see these themes pop up there, too. Stay tuned.