Judy Drew Pastel Artist - Melbourne, Australia

Between 1976 – 1984 you spent time on Bougainville Island and Papua New Guinea discuss the influence of this time on your work?

In the beginning there were limited art supplies which forced me to experiment with what was available.  I would make my own modelling paste from powder and PVA glue as a base for my oil paintings. Eventually I worked in all mediums and I did many pen and gouache drawings of the local people – especially the women and children.  I think the isolation was an advantage.  There were few influences and I was able to develop my own style.  I learned a lot from reading as many art books as I could get hold of.

What lead you to pastels?

I had worked in all mediums, oil, acrylic, watercolour and gouache while living on Bougainville Island but when I bought my first set of Pastels (Schminke) I felt a real connection.  They felt familiar like the crayons, pencils and chalks I had used as a child.  I felt in control and they suited my indecisive temperament.

Half Draed Nude in Black

Half Naked Nude in Black

You have been strongly influenced by Degas – expand on this relationship to your own work ‘The Dancer’?

When I started to use Pastel over thirty years ago I began to study the Pastel artists of the Post Impressionist Period – in particular Degas.  I have always been interested in figurative work and Degas’ portraiture with its delicate line work, tendency towards understatement and often spare use of colour appealed to me.  His works show such a powerful confidence of technique yet a highly sensitive understanding of how to capture the essence of the portrait.

Who are your models?

I have had a number of different models.  Some who have posed for group Life Drawing Sessions and others I employ as models in my studio.

Can you comment on the importance of setting and fabrics in your portaits?

The setting isn’t always important at the time of sketching the model.  I usually choose to create the setting around the model when I am working on the piece in my studio. I find that is when the magic starts. When away from the model I can concentrate on colour choices, elimination of extraneous details, paring the work back to what are the important elements.  Colours can change, certain elements can be exaggerated or understated according to what feels good to me.  Sometimes I will have the model return to complete the work.  The fabric choices are all part of this process.

The Cloche Hat

The  Cloche Hat

 Your work in Charcoal

I love working in charcoal with a life model.  I usually choose a compressed charcoal and enjoy the freedom it gives.  Achieving an accurate likeness when doing a portrait is still important to me and I like the self-discipline it presents.  However achieving a likeness should not be at the expense of the technique.  If the work becomes tight and overly ‘perfect’ there’s no soul.  Making mistakes, making a mess, reworking can add life to the work.  Allowing the process to show through – the rubbing out and the fidgety uncertain lines all help infuse the work with emotion.  You learn a lot about colour working with tone as it teaches you to closely observe the subtle changes of light and shade which need to be considered when creating a coloured work.

Working with pastel

Working directly in colour with a life model takes a lot of self-discipline.  I usually work on black and start in the centre of the face and work my way out.  I have very few lines to indicated the overall composition but usually have a good idea in my head or in sketches done beforehand.  My colour choices often develop as I progress and may change in the process.

The Pearl Earring

The Pearl Earring

Do you take commissions for portraits?

If I am asked to do a portrait it will only be from a life sitting.  I don’t like to work from photographs.  I don’t want to do an exact rendering of a photograph.  I feel a much better portrait can be achieved through the struggle of direct observation and individual interpretation.

You comment on the importance of the understatement and underplay in your work.  Discuss this using two of your works.

I think if everything is ‘described’ – if all details are put down there is no room for the imagination.  The temptation to complete in every sense takes away the spontaneity.  It’s easy to loose the essence of the work (ie not just what you see but what you feel).  So paring back to the essentials I think is important.

When working on the pastel ‘Girl in Orange and Green’ I felt a limited palette and a simple composition gave the work sensitivity. Touches of contrasting bright orange enlivened the piece. The pastel ‘Half Draped nude in Black’ is a stylised interpretation of the nude, concentrating more on the simplified shapes of the black gown and the contrasting white shape of the figure.

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‘Girl in Orange and Green’

Many of your works have a very Japanese influence expand on the use of background and clothing that gives this “Japanese” impression.

I have learned a lot from studying the influence of Japanese Art on the Impressionists.   It encouraged them to simplify the shapes, eliminate detail, distort the background, radicalise the composition, use flat unbroken colour and eliminate the shadows.  This helped drag the work out of the dour, the traditional, and the predictable style of the time. I love that and I wanted to give my work the a similar ‘lightness’. Japanese (written) characters, fabrics and clothing with their simple elements of design convey an elegant beauty.

Your mother was a dressmaker, explain how this has influenced your use of fabric in your art.

Mum worked as a dressmaker when she was young and sewed all of our clothes.   There was always visits to fabric shops and piles of fabric stored in an old Japanese Chest my dad brought home after the war.  We loved to watch The Zeigfeild Follies, or Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers on Saturday afternoon TV matinees – all the Hollywood movies of the Golden Era.  I vividly remember the colourful costumes, patterns, silks, tules, satins, and the glamour of it all.  I loved it.  However I look for Beauty rather glamour in my work.  Beauty encompasses more than just the visual.  All the emotions are involved and it’s how it makes you ‘feel’.

Gold Satin Gown

The Gold Satin Gown

How important was your time in Paris?

I was able to visit all the places I had read so much about.  The  Musee d’Orsay with its huge display of works of the Impressionists offered a good chance to see the influences each artist had upon the other.  You felt the common bond they must have felt despite their often fragile, tumultuous relationships.  I did several Life drawing studies there.  The studios had quite a serious, disciplined atmosphere and I liked it.  Perhaps naively I felt I had stepped back in time.

the Black rose

The Black Rose

How important has Mary Cassatt been to you as a woman artist?

Although I love Cassatts pastels and oils it’s probably her block prints which appeal to me most of all.  They show such a powerful Japanese influence and are still so fresh and crisp even today.   She was a good friend of Degas and they visited the galleries together.  You can see why he admired her work.  I admire her strength of character which enabled her to produce such strong work in what was still a male dominated world.

 Discuss the need for less in ‘Love of a Child, Being a parent’.

At the time I did this sketch I been watching the plight of the refugees in the news.  The woman is based on a portrait I did some time earlier and I used artistic license to incorporate the child.  I wanted to show the fear, trauma, emotion yet powerful physicality of the subject.  I felt the detail and emotion in the face was enough and the body/clothing needed only to be indicated.  To me it didn’t need any more.

Love for a child

‘Love of a Child, Being a Parent’

Expand in how you develop feelings, passion and emotion to your work?

Emotion and drama can be conveyed through lighting and can create a sense of theatre.  For example when the subject is lit from above.  Eg The Gold Satin Gown.  However when I’m working on a more light filled, simplified work where colour and shape dominate, the build up of strokes and texture can create a certain tension to the work. Eg The Cloche Hat.   When working with charcoal, I get very messy using an eraser, my hands and fingertips. That physical involvement may help give the work a sense of emotion.

Contact details.

Judy Drew

Web:  www.judydrew.com.au

Judy Drew, Melbourne, Australia,

Interview by Deborah Blakeley, August, 2016