A typical scene in a protected bay in Antarctica

Ann Justin decided to celebrate a big birthday by going on a spectacular painting trip to the “bottom” of the globe. What colors would be the right ones to take to paint in Antarctica? Justin was surprised by the answer. 

“Clipper Adventure in Gonzalez Bay,” by Ann Justin, 2014, pastel, 11 x 14 in.

It sounds like a trick question. The answer is white, right? But Justin did her homework, and she learned that one of the striking things about Antarctica is the variety of blues. She dutifully packed “lots of turquoise in many shades.” Justin is a pastelist, so, aside from working the angle of optically mixing two colors to create a third in the viewer’s mind, she needed to bring many sticks of various hues to capture the colors of this rarefied landscape.

Dusk produced pastel colors in Antartica.

“The Gentoos Are Back,” by Ann Justin, 2014, pastel, 11 x 14 in.

But first, Justin learned that the pedestrian answer was a right one. “White was a problem,” she says. “Everyone was telling me that there were all these amazing blues, so I didn’t take a lot of whites. I had just enough white to make it through all my pastel paintings, but it was a challenge.” Justin worked on white paper, but her white paper from Wallis is a bit gray, and anyway, Justin is a pastelist who covers her entire paper. 

“Wilhelmina Bay,” by Ann Justin, 2014, pastel, 11 x 14 in.

But the predictable and omnipresent snow was not the problem. It was elsewhere that Justin received a big surprise. “The colors were much more vivid than I ever imagined they could be,” she says. “Especially in the late afternoon, there were pale greens and pale purple on a white ground. While painting there, I really got that white can be multiple colors, reflecting the light all around it.” Justin says the landscape was surreally pristine, with white snow, bluish ice, ocean water, and sky only interrupted in rare spots by rock. The only plant life was a bit of lichen on the rocks and plants underwater. The bright pastel colors she saw were likely the effect of the earth’s atmosphere refracting sunlight.

A bay protected by outer islands boasted still waters that offered amazing reflections.

Migrating penguins marched right past Ann Justin, giving her a good look at their iridescent plumage.

Justin took the last spot on a guided ski trip to Antarctica. It was expensive, but it offered a lot of solitude, and the artist likes to paint alone. The skiers, all 100 of them, would go with the 25 ski guides up into the hills to ski, leaving Justin near the shoreline to paint. “It was so amazing to me just how pure it was,” says Justin. “Other skiers did come and go, and some people were keeping an eye on me to make sure I didn’t fall in the water or something. It was pretty quiet. The penguins are very noisy, and the water was lapping, but it’s a pretty quiet place.” 

Justin says the noisiest thing in Antarctica was the penguins.

Thousands of the tuxedoed birds were on the move toward their nests when Justin was there in early November — early spring for Antarctica, when the sea ice breaks enough for ships to navigate and the snow is still great for skiing. The penguins would come out of the water and stream right past Justin, filthy, noisy, and charming. “I only got to do one painting of the penguins coming toward me,” she says. “It was hard to capture what was so extraordinary about them: They are iridescent, pearl-like, like a peacock. They were glistening. These moving pearls were coming toward me.”

The older the ice, the bluer it was.

“Nansen Bay Skiers,” by Ann Justin, 2014, pastel, 11 x 14 in.

The artist stuck with pastels, and she worked on 11″-x-14″ surfaces. She sold two paintings to fellow travelers, but she’s keeping the rest to remember the trip. “You know how soft and voluptuous snow can be,” adds Justin. “The shapes were just beautiful. I’ve been a lot of places, but Antarctica had a beauty that I never imagined. It was a unique adventure — and one I recommend.”


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