My Pastel 100 prize-winning profile that's just been released in the March/April 2014 issue of Pastel Journal. This article is written by Amy Leibrock.
First Place: Roberta Combs
Roberta Combs (http://artists.ca/combs) thrives on a challenge. And for an artist, Venetian masks—the subject of her prizewinning still life painting, Masquerade—is about as challenging as they come.
“I never limit myself regarding subject,” says Combs, of Pitt Meadows, British Columbia, Canada. “Extreme light with dramatic darks are key aspects that draw my attention to a subject that could lead to a potential painting. An abundance of detail will usually entice me further.” She found just those qualities in a photo taken from the street of a masquerade window display in Venice.
“Artists often will be drawn to choose a complicated image to paint, but during the planning stage will eliminate and simplify the very essence that originally enticed them to choose the subject,” says Combs, who has been painting for years in both pastel and watercolor. “Because I’m a realistic painter, drawing is essential to the success of the painting, so it really doesn’t matter if it’s a portrait or a cup. I simply draw what I see. The details are what make the finished painting so interesting.”
Category juror Deborah Bays found the details in Masquerade interesting, too. “I knew the minute I saw the painting that it would be my choice for the top prize,” she says. “It’s an intriguing subject, and the way that it’s composed and painted contributes to the drama and mysterious energy of a Carnival atmosphere.”
“Venetian masks are part fantasy, part historical, part adornment,” Combs says. “The artist in me contemplated how to approach such a busy subject and convey the mystery and excitement the image evokes.”
Combs started this painting as she does most others by resolving composition issues in a detailed, transferable drawing on paper. “In this case, there was a mishmash of bland, unclear items in the bottom left corner. I set up one of my own Venetian masks for reference and integrated it into that problem area,” she says. Drawing a detail helps Combs become more familiar and comfortable with an area before she addresses it in the painting. “The drawing period also gives me the opportunity to make decisions on how I will approach the subject, texture and light with pastel,” she says.
Once she’s got the drawing right, Combs starts painting from the top left side and moves down so her hand doesn’t smudge the pastel in a finished section. “With established areas of both ends of the value scale in the completed areas, I find it easier to see whether I’m satisfied with the development of the painting,” she says. “For this painting, the final critical scrutiny involved revving up the glitz with brighter whites, pushing back some areas with darks, and some general dits and dots.”
Combs paints just about every day on Sennelier La Carte paper. She begins with a medium-density pastel such as Rembrandt and then moves toward the more buttery textures of Sennelier, Unison, Richeson and “yummy” Terry Ludwig. “I love the hands-on control I have with pastel,” she says.