Sitting in front of a rainbow array of pastels spread across her desk, Anna (Lowely) Finnerty examined a photograph of a bright sun pouring down a dirt road. She picked out a brown pastel and scratched it on the sanded paper on the easel in front of her.

“Too dark,” she said, choosing a lighter pastel and rubbing it on the paper. His hand moved in quick motions, leaving a curved rectangle of pigment. Mrs. Finnerty was working on the underpainting, a broad wash of color smoothed with alcohol applied with a brush. It provides a roadmap for painting in basic colors of oranges, purples, yellows, and browns.

In an art studio-turned-bay window in her Vineyard Haven living room, Ms Finnerty explained that the cobble-sanded paper catches the pigment in soft pastels and allows for layering of colors that was nearly impossible in pastels a while ago. At 25 years.

The artist’s growing collection of dry pastels. — Alison L. Mead

Ms. Finnerty has been a serious pastellist for nearly four years now. A selection of his off-island off-season paintings are on display at the West Tisbury Library until the end of the month.

Paintings of snow-capped Tashmoo, a river in Vermont, trees in Yosemite and cliffs in Ireland adorn the library’s lecture hall. Mrs. Finnerty revels in the colors that emerge from the snow and says winter is her favorite season to paint.

“Snow reflects light, depending on the time of day and what’s going on with the sun, you can have pinks and purples and blues and you actually have a much more fun color than green, green , the greens of summer,” she said.

She discovered pastel at Featherstone in 2002, but has been artistic since a young age. She spent her childhood painting on a roll of newspaper that her mother, also an artist, kept under a piano in a bedroom.

“She encouraged us to come and paint whenever we wanted,” Ms. Finnerty recalls. “She would roll it up like a parchment for you to paint, roll, paint, roll.” Every weekend they would go to a different museum and have a conversation about art.

When she was 17, her first job was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. At Hampshire College, she studied art and photography. But believing she needed a more practical career, she pursued a master’s degree in education and taught elementary school.

“Then married, then kids and it all went off the rails for about 20 years,” she laughed. “And then I picked up.”

Ms Finnerty said winter was her favorite season to paint. — Alison L. Mead

Her children were grown, she had free time, and Ellen McCluskey offered a pastel course at Featherstone. Ms. Finnerty signed up.

“It resonated one hundred percent with me because of its immediacy,” she said. “You can just pick it up and put it in your hands. There’s no brush between your fingers and the surface, it’s almost childlike, like finger painting, you’re really involved.

But the biggest draw for Ms. Finnerty was the flush. The same natural and synthetic pigments are used to make most mediums – what is mixed with the pigment makes it a watercolor, acrylic or oil.

“With pastel, you have compressed pigments in these sticks,” Finnerty said. “There’s very little in there other than pure pigment.” The crystalline structure of pastel reflects light, making the pigment even more vibrant. This is also why it is not recommended to rub pastels.

“Generally, the more you rub it, the more you rub the sharp edges of the crystals and it can dull the final look,” Ms Finnerty said.

Since pastels can’t blend like other paints, it’s best to have a pastel for every shade imaginable. It took Ms. Finnerty years to build her collection and it continues to grow. She works in dry pastels (which actually vary in firmness) as opposed to oil pastels.

The key to building a pastel painting is layering, she explained. “You layer and you layer and you layer.”

Pastel is both the medium and the tool. The pastel side is ideal for broad strokes and large swaths of color, while the pastel edge is used for detailed lines and dark areas. Although the usual practice is harder pastels at the bottom, softer at the top, a hard pastel can be used to scrape a softer pastel, revealing the color below.

Mrs. Finnerty’s deep dive into working with pastels coincided with her 60th birthday. As she considered leaving her 50s behind, she spoke with her friend and fellow artist Margo Datz about what the coming years might hold for her – as an artist and as a person. She decided to devote time to something she had left behind.

“What can you do with your life that you always wanted to do, but didn’t do because you were busy with kids, career and all the other stuff that takes up life,” he said. she declared. “I’ve always wanted to make art.”

As a birthday present, friends and family pooled their funds to send her off-island to pastel painting workshops.

“That’s when things really exploded for me,” she said. “It gave me permission to really dive in. It’s been three and a half years of the most incredible process.”

Now she has studied with some of the nation’s top pastel painters, been sworn in as a member of the Pastel Society of America, and joined the Pastel Painters Society of Cape Cod. As a member of Martha’s Vineyard Art Association, she exhibited at the Old Sculpin Gallery. Ms Finnerty is also part of an outdoor group, but she said her box had toppled over one too many times, spilling hundreds of dollars worth of pastels on the floor, so she could continue painting at home. ‘outside. Now she relies on her photography skills to capture the natural world, which will then be translated with pastels from the safety of her home.

“It’s a starting point,” she says of how she works with images. “I am not necessarily a slave to photography.

She, along with other pastel artists, works to elevate the status of pastel paintings in the art world. Since pastels are done on paper, not canvas or cardboard, the medium is often placed in the realm of drawing instead of painting. But a pastel painting done on sandpaper, mounted on archival board and framed in anti-reflective glass can be just as valuable as a fine oil painting, Ms Finnerty said.

But for her, the real value lies in the simple work of pastel.

“There’s nothing that makes me happier than being at my easel where I go into zen mode and forget about everything else,” she said. “The fact that people like to watch my work is the second reward. The first reward is that I can do it.

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