From an article / interview by Ken Gofton for the Pastel Society newsletter


Jenny Halstead of the Pastel Society spent Summer on an unusual project.

She was recording the eighteenth – possibly final – Silchester excavation. Part of the undergraduate Archaeology courses at University of Reading, the annual event is known for attracting many volunteers, also.

A book on the excavations, using Halstead’s work, is to follow. This year’s collaboration follows a hugely successful residency last year, at the University’s ‘Harris Garden’; on which she created both a book, and an exhibition, at the University’s ‘Museum of English Rural Life’.

Halstead was elected to membership of the Pastel Society in 2010 and serves as honorary secretary. Her early career was spent as a medical illustrator, requiring her to work quickly and accurately in operating theatres. About 14 years ago, she decided to return to her first love, fine art, and today she is known for loose and lively work.

“I went on a portrait course, and found myself working on a very large scale, with big, chunky oil pastels. I needed to paint by moving my whole body, not just working from the wrists. That was a very enjoyable change, reinforced by the pleasure of being able, for once, to use any colour I wanted. And when I moved to soft pastels, with an enormous colour range to choose from, everything opened up for me.”

People in every day settings are her favourite subject, and her time in medical illustration has cemented a deep knowledge of anatomy. Saying this, often she will depict a life-model, but invent a setting, using her imagination. Additionally, picking up abstract patterns in a landscape holds a particular fascination for her, to great visual effect.

She works on landscapes in the studio rather than on location, refering to sketchbooks for information. For example, it is clear that her recent travels to the US and Cuba have informed her latest work.

“Keeping a sketchbook is a wonderful discipline. The concentration required to record a scene, however briefly, means that the whole experience of being there on that day comes flooding back when the time comes to produce a painting.”