California artist Terri Ford is ready for adventure in the Sonoran Desert. The pastelist will serve as a pastels basics instructor on the first day of the Plein Air Convention & Expo (PACE) this April, then will spend the rest of the week painting out in the field, helping participants. Her main message?
Ford believes that something she discovered pretty far along in her artistic development — the value of an underpainting in a pastel piece — could prove crucial to artists starting out in pastels. Her demo at last year’s PACE dealt with this extensively, and the California artist plans to make underpainting the emphasis in her Basics course, which is an additional program offered for a fee before the official start of the convention. Ford doesn’t usually teach beginners, only because it is hard to change gears in a workshop to help both intermediate and beginner students. “There’s definitely a learning curve with plein air pastel,” she says. “This will be fun, teaching a beginners course. I found this technique a long time after I had been doing it for a while. It will be exciting to share the technique I demoed last year, the idea of focusing on underpainting, to beginners. It is really a simplification for getting information down. I feel it will be very beneficial to beginners. Underpainting is a really valuable tool.”

“Barn in Morning Light,” by Terri Ford

Ford’s 90-minute Basics course will be handy for convention-goers preparing for a week of painting in the Tucson area. Southern Arizona is known for its abundant sunshine, and that means painters will need to pay attention to the sun’s traverse across the sky, and the subsequent changes to the landscape. Ford’s approach is perfect for such conditions. “With an underpainting, you have established the values in your pastel painting,” says Ford. “When the light shifts, and the shadows move or disappear, you can paint them using rocks from another place in the scene as reference. Just look for another rock that has the shadows you saw in the first place; use that color reference. That way you are still sticking to your original design, but using what’s in front of you. An underpainting lets you keep your original commitment to values. It prevents you from chasing the light.”

“ZBoat3,” by Terri Ford, 2015, pastel, 3 x 5 in. Painted as part of a series on a beach in Mexico

Ford liked having PACE in nearby Monterey, where the convention was held the last few years, but she’s glad it has moved to Tucson. She’s never been there, and she’s ready for the change of pace. “I am excited about it because it’s a different location,” she says. “I guess part of it will be about how to handle cactus. You have to decide whether it’s about detail or suggestion. You look at how they fit into the landscape. It’s all a matter of scope and scale within your painting.”

“ZBoat5,” by Terri Ford, 2015, pastel, 3 x 5 in.

The warmer climes are familiar to Ford, who goes to Mexico every February to celebrate several personal landmarks. Down south, she’s become fond of holding down a chair on the beach, painting numerous 5”-x-7” pieces and soaking in the sun. A little slice of the coast of Mexico, a bay, has become her haystack, her Rouen Cathedral. She paints it at all times of the day. “I know the shapes of the land structure and the bay,” she says. “I do these small pieces mostly for myself. I might show them to people at the hotel, but I don’t really sell them.”

 “Summer on the Seine,” by Terri Ford, pastel, 14 x 17 in

The Plein Air Convention & Expo is a five-day gathering of more than 800 plein air painters in a resort, with artists at the top of the field offering demos, lectures, and instruction. This year’s event will be held April 15-19 at El Conquistador Resort in Tucson. To see the faculty lined up for this year’s PACE, and to get more information, go here. As with previous years, the faculty will continue to expand through the winter, so check back often.


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