Artist Biography – Phil Laughlin, PSA
EVOLUTION OF A LANDSCAPE PAINTER
Phil Laughlin was born in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Like most kids, he enjoyed drawing, but you wouldn’t have guessed from his childhood that art would become his passion. At home, the idea of a career in the arts was never discussed. School offered one art course in 12 years of public education. The prevailing attitude was “Okay… We’ve checked the art box on the curriculum form, let’s move on to the real business of life.”
From Engineer to Artist
His academic strengths were math and science so it seemed like engineering would be a good course of study at college. The social upheaval of the late 1960’s collided with these well laid plans. In the second year of study at SUNY Stony Brook he began to question his career path in typical counterculture style. Doing something in the creative arts seemed more meaningful than building rockets, so he switched majors to studio arts.
When he graduated from Worcester Museum Art School, abstract impression was winding down. Several other art movements emerged in rapid succession. The ones dealing with formal abstract geometric qualities were most interesting. He moved to New York City and continued to paint. The need for employment pushed him to study applied arts and work as a graphic designer.
Creatively, commercial design work wasn’t very fulfilling, but the opportunities presented by the city itself and the exposure Manhattan offered to new ideas and new standards of artistic professionalism were their own reward. World class galleries and museums were everywhere. He passionately consumed it all.
On an eventful shopping trip to Pearl Paint’s, a popular Manhattan art store, he saw a large set of Senelier pastels showing hundreds of colors spread out on display. That was it! He bought the set and has been a devoted pastel artist ever since
Life as a Vermont Artist
In 1986, Phil moved his family to the beautiful mountain state of Vermont. Shortly afterwards desktop computers arrived. Following a period of experimentation, he found himself working with illustration software, rendering product and technical subjects. Painting time was reduced but not neglected while he worked and raised a family.
Eventually, the kids moved out, and he made a gentle transition back to working more at the easel. Along the way he discovered that Vermont has a rich tradition of landscape painting, and inspired many prominent artists past and present.
Casting aside the last bit of guilt over leaving modern abstraction behind, he made a full commitment to landscape pastel painting. Currently, he works from my his country home in Williston, Vermont where inspiring landscape subjects are just a few steps from the front door.
How to Paint a Landscape in Pastel
GO FROM PHOTO TO FINISHED PASTEL PAINTING.
[Scroll down the page to see stages of development.]
This pastel painting demonstration starts with a photo taken during a recent drive through the Vermont countryside. Photographing a painting in progress was a whim. When reviewing the photo sequence, it seemed like there was something worth sharing. For a peek into the creative process, scroll down the page and see ‘Small Town Side Street’ develop.
1. When I return from a field trip I edit the photos on my computer. I make an 8″ x 10″ print and pin it to the edge of my easel to refer to during the painting process.
2. At this stage we are working with conte crayon on Wallis museum grade paper. An outline sketch helps to place the landscape elements on the page. I have no hard and fast rule about fidelity to the photo but with the exception of the power lines and the traffic light this one follows fairly closely.
3. I continue to shade in the darker area. At some point the pigment begins to fill the tooth of the paper so I switch to a stiff bristle brush dipped in mineral spirits to distribute the pigment and consolidate the tonal masses.
4. Color development begins with a light overall application of pastel. Color choices are based loosely on the photo, however matching the photo color is less important than building color structure from within the pastel palette.
5. Often with landscape snapshots the sky is over exposed. Great opportunity! I chose a warm blue pastel for the large sky area. This choice begins to set a warm color mood and with the long cast shadows helps establish time of day. In full sunlight situations, the sky color appears in the shadows so the choice of a warm blue for the sky helps inform color choices for shadow areas.
6. Colors begin to build up and further develop the morning mood. If a color choice doesn’t fit, I brush off the offending color and try another until I am satisfied. I added more punch to certain key focal areas, made some corrections to the perspective of the red house on the left and refined certain details to make the side street stand out. At last a pastel painting that glows with morning light.