Spotlight on PACE Faculty: Ray Hassard and Painting Near and Far

“In the Train Repair Yard: The Alley,” by Ray Hassard, 2014, pastel, 16 x 12 in.

Ray Hassard, a featured instructor at the upcoming Plein Air Convention & Expo (PACE) slated for April 24-28 in San Diego, has traveled widely … and painted locally. One of his guiding lights is a provocative quote from John Constable.

Hassard has painted in various spots all over the world, including three long trips to India and near-yearly jaunts to Europe. Every winter, he returns to a specific location in Florida. And yet the Cincinnati painter says almost anything can be potent subject matter for a painting, including one’s home. “You can spend way too much energy looking for the perfect thing to paint,” says Hassard.

The artist has captured the vibrant colors of India with aplomb, and he is fond of painting the Eiffel Tower, but he also speaks fondly of a series of paintings he did on location in the parking lot of a grocery store near his house. “I want to paint the world around me,” he says. “I find most things pretty exciting. One of my favorite quotes is from John Constable; he said, ‘There is nothing ugly; I never saw an ugly thing in my life: for let the form of an object be what it may, light, shade, and perspective will always make it beautiful.’”

If anything is paint-worthy, why does Hassard travel to paint? “Because it’s the best way to see another country and meet people,” he says. “Abroad, the colors and clothes and buildings can be very different, and that’s really exciting, to see something fresh. Plus, if I paint when I travel, I can write off my expenses. Even if you return to a place several times, it can be different. I have painted in Paris a lot, and it’s like New York City — there’s always some thing different to paint there.”

“Beauty Is Where You Find It,” by Ray Hassard, 2015, pastel, 10 x 10 in.
“Beauty Is Where You Find It,” by Ray Hassard, 2015, pastel, 10 x 10 in.

We caught up with Hassard while he was in Florida. He’s been going to the same spot for 10 years, and even in that part of the country, which has less appeal to Hassard because it is flat and he’s not interested in painting the beach, he has found a gold mine of motifs. “I always had trouble with Florida landscapes, but not since I started painting the Allapattah Flats, near Lake Okeechobee,” he says. “The area was used for cattle farming, but they are converting it back into a Florida landscape. It’s grasslands right now. Every time I go there, I find something new in some corner. The same would be true in your backyard as well.”

“Dover Bridge — Between Past and Future,” by Ray Hassard, 2016, pastel, 20 x 16 in.
“Dover Bridge — Between Past and Future,” by Ray Hassard, 2016, pastel, 20 x 16 in.

Outdoors, Hassard works primarily in pastels. At PACE, Hassard says he will likely be stressing two main points.

“I always tell my students that they need to have a reason to do a painting. What is it?” asks Hassard. “I have to ask myself that. For example, painting here, the light might be flat one day. So I am looking for something. I see a line of fence posts, and a palmetto tree that is catching light in a nice way. I build the painting around that. I set the composition, then get my values down. Then it’s time for color and fine-tuning. But the trick is to not get distracted from the original idea.”

Hassard mentioned more than once that color is secondary for him. He explains that this point was driven home for him during a paint-out in Indiana several years ago. A friend invited him to paint at night, and when Hassard pointed out that he didn’t have a light to illuminate his palette or painting surface, his friend said she had a flashlight. Off he went to paint with her. Some folks were playing music in front of a fire. It was a compelling scene. But his friend merely meant she had a flashlight for her setup. Hassard painted in the dark.

“I could hardly see my colors,” Hassard recalls. “I was basically painting a value study of the band playing in front of the fire. When I finished, I carried my painting to my car, took a deep breath, and turned on the dome light … and the painting wasn’t that bad. The values carried it. The colors weren’t all that accurate — they weren’t too far off, but the values were what held it together.”

“In a Cuban Village,” by Ray Hassard, 2016, pastel, 12 x 12 in.
“In a Cuban Village,” by Ray Hassard, 2016, pastel, 12 x 12 in.

The judge at the paint-out agreed. Hassard won First Place in pastels for that piece.

Hassard has more than one painting approach. He favors Colorfix papers because of their color range, even if some of the sheets in the variety packs are toned in colors he finds virtually unusable. “In those cases, I just cover those sheets all over with pastel,” he says. “Some of those colors are really hideous.” He picks the value and color temperature of the toned paper based on the subject matter when possible. On lighter sheets, he’ll use a dark value of pastel to create something approaching a notan to start his painting process. On midtone paper, he will highlight with pastels of light value. Hassard may cover the entire sheet with pastel, as previously stated, or he could leave the entire sky the blue-gray of the toned sheet.

“Where Friends Meet,” by Ray Hassard, 2016, pastel, 20 x 16 in.
“Where Friends Meet,” by Ray Hassard, 2016, pastel, 20 x 16 in.

The painter says he looks forward to the Plein Air Convention because he loves to paint with other people. “For me, it’s important to imagine what I want to paint,” says Hassard. “But sometimes you get there and you have to adapt — or go home. I think that is one of the great things about painting with other people. If a view is not working, you can walk around and see what other people are doing with it. It’s encouraging, and you are less likely to give up, too, when with a group.”

“Been Around the Block,” by Ray Hassard, 2016, pastel, 12 x 12 in.
“Been Around the Block,” by Ray Hassard, 2016, pastel, 12 x 12 in.

Hassard will be instructing at the Plein Air Convention & Expo, which will be held April 24-28 in San Diego, California. Have you seen the list of faculty members who will be instructing participants? It includes Jeremy Lipking, Quang Ho, James Gurney, Charlie Hunter, and dozens more. The convention is already almost 90 percent filled. Go here to learn more and to register for PACE.

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