I began writing Pastel Painting Atelier by entering my painting studio.  I looked into my work environment and the treasured tools of my trade.  My opening preface emerged naturally, and that personal statement set the tone for the whole book.  Throughout, I wrote about my inspirations and hands-on working practices.   My goal was to share my experiences and suggest to you ways you might  open up your own path, in whatever mediums you work.

I also reached beyond my studio, into the ever-evolving history of our medium.   It was very important to me to exalt the magnificent lineage of artists who, across centuries and continents and styles, continue to  bequeath to us breathtaking works in pastel, artists who daily transform powder into poetry.



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Available at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; The Boston Museum of Fine Arts; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Norton Simon Museum of Art, Pasadena, CA; Francine and Sterling Clark Art Museum, Williamstown, MA; National Portrait Gallery, London and other museums and bookstores.



Pastel Painting Atelier | Ellen Eagle

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book that deals with pastel in such breadth and depth. Watson Guptill are becoming known for their really quite serious monographs on media, subjects and techniques and they are also finding some intriguing authors to create them. The biography that appears on the back flap lists some impressive credentials, albeit many not perhaps familiar to a UK audience, and ends by describing Ellen as “a sought-after teacher”.

Having luxuriated in this splendid book, I can’t say I’m surprised.

The atelier method involved the student working in the studio of the master, initially observing and doing menial tasks, gradually working up underpainting, then perhaps body colour and, finally, the majority of a painting the great man would finish off and sign. It’s this last experts mean when they say “studio of”. In a book, you don’t have to sweep the floor and scrape the old palettes, but we do start with a lot of basic preparation. In lesser books, this is the “materials and techniques” section we’re usually tempted to skip. Here, however, it serves to introduce the medium slowly and progressively, giving you time and space to think. A whole spread (with illustrations) on storing and organizing pastels isn’t dull or over-written, but part of a longer sequence on the properties of the thing you’re going to be working with. I should say here that Ellen writes well: it’s a trait WG seem able to find in their authors, who might be expected to think more visually than verbally.

And now, finally, let’s talk about the illustrations. As I’ve lead you to believe, there are Old Masters here and also contemporary practitioners. However, the bulk of the work is Ellen’s. This isn’t just an academic treatise, but a highly practical book and the fourth chapter, The working process contains extended lessons that deal with a wide variety of topics from the technical to composition, perspective and lighting. At this point, it should be said that Ellen is primarily a figurative painter. If the book has a weakness, it is this. It’s not that she isn’t any good – she’s really, really excellent. It’s just that I’d have liked more variety of subject matter in a book like this. After all, when is anything like it going to come along again? Probably not in my lifetime.

Even with that small reservation, though, this is still the best book on pastel you’re probably ever going to find.

Practical art reviews @artbookreviews

Touched by an Eagle

I was quite taken with Ellen Eagle’s new book, Pastel Painting Atelier.  It’s a classy book, hardcover and quite beautiful, as this atelier series tends to be. Unlike most books about art, unlike most books written for creative people, this one provides several hours of quiet time with the artist at work in her studio, in her mind, with her eyes, with her hands.  She sees beauty in the tiniest of details: the curve of the silhouette of a woman’s face, the arrangement of the old pipes beneath the even older sink in the corner of a Manhattan studio, the private thoughts that take shape in a best friend’s eyes.
Here and there, the book is an instructional work for artists who wish to perfect their pastel technique, but that’s a small part of the whole. (In fact, the obligatory step-by-step demonstrations that end the book are its least essential part). The best parts are small comments that accompany the many sensitive images, often of women who might, in a glance, be dismissed as ordinary. Eagle describes her model, Mei-Chiao, as follows: “the inward gesture of the head to the chest was beautiful to me, and the backward pull of the shoulders is balanced by the triangular opening blouse neckline.” Minor details become a beautiful painting. Same girl, different painting, one that I found by exploring Ellen Eagle’s portrait website, an endeavor I recommend when you have the time to look carefully…

The artist’s use of line and color is quite masterful, and throughout the book, it’s easy to get lost in page after page of exquisite, often subtle, portraits. She has a knack for capturing women especially well, almost as if she is drawing and painting their minds as well as their fine features. One of my favorites is below, also taken from her website. She describes the painting below as follows: “In Roseangela’s flesh, I saw warm yellow-greens co-mingling with touches of cool violets and pinks. The planes that faced the light contained color pinks, blues, and greys. Warm tones ran throughout the flesh. Warm, dark burnt sienna defined the depths of her eye sockets. Where the orange dress caught the light, the colors took on a cool temperature. The weight of her clasped hands pulled the dress inward, causing a slight angle away from the light, and the cooler tones gave way to warmer ones.” It’s almost as if she’s writing a poem with colors.

This is a gentle book, an inspirational one with the promise of some instruction for the visual artist, but you need not be an artist to see what she sees, and to enjoy the way that Ms. Eagle perceives and so lovingly sees the world.
The image on the cover is another favorite. The artist was especially taken with the pose struck by the model. Be sure to visit  Eagle’s website to see the uncropped version.

Digital Insider by Howard Blumenthal
September 10, 2013

The Essence of Painting in Pastel

Artists in pastel are like any other interest group, composed of members with hugely varying backgrounds, but fiercely unified in their medium. Only they appreciate the enormous variety of expression that can be attained with what seems to the uninitiated to be fairly limited means. And make no mistake about it, among contemporary pastellists there exist great artists, and great art.
Ellen Eagle is an artist and teacher who talks lovingly and knowledgeably about her art. Her book is for the practising artist, and as such is divided into practical chapters, covering a little history, the materials, the techniques, the genres. There is something new to be gleaned even for the most experienced.
It is such a privilege to read Ellen on portrait painting. This is an artist at the height of her powers, talking about what she knows and loves best. This chapter alone justifies the book. Her patience, her stillness, her empathy – all are necessary to achieve her purpose. Read, and contemplate, and learn. If you know her work, you will realise that this artist has immersed herself in painting the human spirit; there are no trite, banal portraits in Ellen’s oeuvre. Even her smallest scale works stand out as paintings that have taken time and consideration and effort to achieve. Her subjects vary in age, gender, race, aspect, stance, dress, opinion – yes, you can see that in their faces. “My Portrait of Julie” is a case in point – a painting from a ruin at Pompeii, full of history and wisdom – the texture, the direct gaze, the jewellery!
This book deserves to become a classic. It is a major addition to the literature, written by an experienced and sensitive artist and teacher. I shall return to it again and again, and slowly savour the advice, the wisdom and the art of Ellen Eagle.

Pastel Painting Atelier: Essential Lessons in Techniques, Practices, and Materials
Niall O’Neill, May 3, 2013

A wonderful book and required reading on pastels

This is a terrific publication on the practice and history of pastels. It reflects Ellen’s intellectual focus and remarkable sensitivity as a teacher and artist, and is required reading not only for pastel artists but for all those who work from the model. Ellen is great on the medium’s historical background as well as its practical application in the contemporary setting. Most fascinating of all are her insight and honesty regarding the process. Ellen’s particular responses to her individual subjects give life to the book, as they do to the pastels themselves. This far transcends a mere academic treatise or simplistic ‘how to’ guide; ‘Pastel Painting Atelier’, is, in fact a rare gem: a fully three dimensional exploration of the craft, courtesy of one of its finest practitioners. Her work is both delicate and intense, masterful on the nuances of color, tone and atmosphere, and always respectful of the individual being portrayed. Disclosure: I’ve been an admirer of Ellen’s work since we first crossed paths over a decade ago, and am delighted to teach next door to her today.

5.0 out of 5 stars
J. N. Weiss, , October 21, 2013

Learn Pastel & Portraiture with Ellen Eagle

Author Maxine Hong Kingston writes the foreword in this intensely intimate book of pastel portraits
by Ellen Eagle. With each portrait, we’re given not just a piece of art, but a story and life to accompany it. Pastel Painting Atelier: Essential Lessons in Techniques, Practices, and Materials isn’t simply about pastel techniques, but how to truly capture a life and its full worth on paper. Read it like a novel, as Kingston’s foreword implies, and you’ll gradually pick up on Eagle’s ability to read a face and translate it to the surface. Throughout the book there are also more directly informative sections that touch on the different aspects of pastel, such as “Basic materials” and “Display and Handling.” Also helpful are the well- known artists and their works that Eagle has chosen to include, which extend her lessons.

Artists Magazine, December 2013 issue

This lavishly illustrated book with pastels by historical and contemporary artists opens with an eloquent history of the medium that is essential reading for both the serious pastel artist and the novice. This acclaimed artist and teacher guides the reader through the steps necessary to achieve mastery of the medium and to plum the depths of the more subtle insights and challenges of creating art. Thanks to Ellen Eagle’s vivid and clear writing Pastel Painting Atelier: Essential Lessons in Techniques, Practices, and Materials sets a new benchmark for instructional art books and sets the standard for books on pastel.

Jimmy Wright, PSA President