Pastels at the Peninsula School of Art

“Cana Island”, a favorite painting completed on the last day of the pastel workshop.

A woman holding a ribbon in front of many paintings.
Cana Island, Bailey’s Harbor
soft pastel on board
18″ x 24

I finally made it to the Peninsula school in Door County, Wisconsin. I attended a pastel workshop with Colette Odya-Smith last week. It lasted four days and I am still absorbing so much of what I learned.

I wrote an article summarizing my experience for the Chicago Pastel Painter’s upcoming newsletter and I am sharing it here, it covers the workshop highlights and my take-away learning.

Here is what I wrote:

Summer is just beginning, and I spent four days in a workshop at the Peninsula School of Art with Colette Odya-Smith. I missed the opportunity to attend her workshop two years ago when she was the judge of awards for the Chicago Pastel Painters 8th Biennial National show. I had seen her work at IAPS last year and admit I didn’t fully understand her process. Her paintings intrigue me.

At the workshop Colette explained how she works from nature using her photographs. She looks for details… in a tree, a rock, a water reflection, and then interprets what she sees creating an abstract representation of the place or thing that inspired her. Sometimes she creates a collage from several of her photos in order to get the composition that works best. Her thumbnail sketches and notes along with her reference photos are taped to the side of the easel. She starts with a watercolor underpainting and the foundation is strong. Watching her application of pastels combined with the underpainting was a delicate balance as her colors and composition developed.

A woman holding a ribbon in front of many paintings.
Colette with her watercolor underpainting

I signed up for the workshop hoping to find a way to make my paintings more exciting. Colette was encouraging and pushed each of us to take just one step further, out of our comfort zone. We joked about how she made us crazy, and that it was her job to do so! My personal goal was to learn how to paint rocks, both in and out of water, but then she took me one step further to where I was almost able to let go of what was right in front of me and see in new ways. Color choices for me became more abstract.

Of the five paintings I completed, one was just “over the edge†for me, and made me crazy uncomfortable. I often apply transparent gesso to my painting surface to create textures before adding pastels. I decided to draw the composition using a dark Nupastel after the gesso dried, added watercolor, then started to layer with dark pastels and the painting turned to mud. I ended up washing the painting in the sink and was left with just a pastel drawing along with the textured watercolor underpainting. I wanted to throw it out but my classmates along with Colette encouraged me to see this as a beginning of a new direction for me.

A woman holding a ribbon in front of many paintings.
Study: watercolor, gesso, hard pastel

I am still trying to process everything we learned and I know it will take time. Meeting Colette and getting to know her way of thinking, how she sees the world and what makes her tick, was a highlight. Her passion for art and teaching energized all of us each day.

The newsletter will be published later this month and is available to read in it’s entirety on the CPP website –

I’ll be traveling for most of July and when I get back I’ll be exhibiting at the Evanston Art & Big Fork festival. It’s my one and only summer festival participation this summer, more information is available here:

A woman holding a ribbon in front of many paintings.

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