Jenny Halstead PS on her 'Loose and Lively' Pastels

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.”

Robin Warnes PS on Abstracted Figurative

Suffolk Sky

Hi Robin, tell us about your work

My work, whether in pastel or in oil, draws upon my experience, whether visual or emotional. I explore relationships of colour and composition, looking for new or extreme values.

I  consider my work to be abstracted rather than abstract, as drawing from life is one of my main sources of reference. I draw continually (when I have time). My thought processes are a culmination of experience, process and development.


The colours, level of abstraction and subjects of your work vary hugely. Do you have any preferences and what would be challenging for you?

Some artists work within a particular colour range or palette; I like to stretch my boundaries and push colour and tonal relationships to their limits. This is what I find most challenging. For me it’s the culmination of subject, composition and colour, working together to unify the whole image.


Are you trying to evoke mood in the viewer through your use of colour, or are you simply laying down the colour as you see it?

I am interested in pictorial colour and engaging the viewer in the world I create. Sublime elements are of interest to me, and creating those relationships in my work, which has been referred to as ‘sonorous’. I try to create relationships between mood and colour, and enforce links between subject and viewer.


Does it matter to you whether viewers of your work see the subject you have depicted through it’s abstraction, or are you happy for them to enjoy the piece regardless of subject? 


As an artist, you hope the viewer engages in your work, which does not necessarily mean they have to understand the different facets created in the work. I feel it’s more about the viewer simply enjoying it, but taking them on a visual  journey of discovery so that they can feel part of the work, rather than just identifying the place or subject.


Do you own any works of art, except your own?

I have a collection of art from classical plaster casts, to African wooden and bronze figures, to contemporary prints, paintings and sculpture.


Tell us about your membership of the PS

I applied and was accepted into the Pastel Society in 2012, after an extensive period of illness. Unable to paint, I had decided to work in pastel again, having not done so since the nineties. I had pastels in private and public collections, including those of Lord Gowrie (former Minister for the Arts), Ipswich Borough Council (from my time as Artist in Residence) and the Richard Ellis Group in the City of London; but had chosen to focus on painting.

At present I am very busy as lecturer in Fine Art and Painting at University Campus Suffolk on the B.A and the M.A programmes, so sadly participating in workshops or any other activity for the Pastel Society is currently quite difficult.


What would you say was the benefit of commissioning a work of art from a member of the FBA?

FBA artists have proven themselves in their field. Being invited to join the PS was in itself very important in terms of recognition of my work, I also won the 2013 La Maison du Pastel Award and have a piece of work soon to be included in a book entitled ‘The Bible of Contemporary Drawing and Painting’, due to be published in 2015 in England and America.