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Susan Nicholas Gephart - Signature Member

What made you choose pastels as a medium?

After graduation in the early 1980's I discovered pastel painting while searching for a more immediate medium for the studio and plein air painting. I envisioned a direct process with a variety of colors, without mixing oil paint. Pastels became my go to medium for fifteen years. They were easier to set up and transport outdoors. I even painted in my car when it was raining. As a young mother, pastels were my passion medium and exclusive while raising my three young children. I also started teaching ten week pastel classes at the Art Alliance of Central PA in 1985. Around that time, my artist father, Tom Nicholas, took up pastel painting on sandpaper after an early retirement. We often painted together locally. He also was a member of CPPS. For the last ten years I was getting back to fitting in weekly classes or workshops and developing a class following at the Art Alliance. Then Covid hit and changed everything. Since I was missing doing in person classes, I explored zoom teaching for a year or so. In my heart I knew I preferred in person teaching for connections to others. My favorite way to teach is in a two to five day workshop or retreat. My teaching philosophy is: Connect, Inspire, Support.

How long have you been using pastels?

As a young teen, I loved plein air watercolor painting in nature as well as inside. I also toyed with pastels. During college while pursuing an Associate in Art degree at Montgomery County Community College in 1975, I focused on oil painting and was introduced to plein air painting. I then transferred to Penn State in 1977 to continue my education and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts, with honors in 1979. I settled in the area and joined the Art alliance to be part of an art community. I explored all mediums and found pastels to be an excellent drawing tool. It wasn't until after graduation that I discovered pastels could be like a painting medium. I found out I was able to build layers and dissolve pastels using a brush. I was then hooked on pastels.

I had finally found my medium and have never turned away! In 1989 I got a large pastel in the Pastel Society of America's annual juried show in New York City. What a thrill to be among artists such as Albert Handel and Daniel Green! Unfortunately, the large pastel was smashed on it's return home and I became fearful of shipping a precious pastel.

What are your favorite subjects to paint?

I love to be in nature plein air painting all seasons, even winter. I am drawn to the Impressionist styles and color usage. My favorite subjects have always been to capture the moving skies or the light falling on a magnificent old tree. I also enjoy experimenting with the use of colored papers or watercolor as an underpainting. The process of placing color onto color and feeling my way through to a new discovery in pastel, is so exciting! In the heat of the summer I favor woodlands, creeks, and waterslides where there is shade and cooler temperatures. But the ocean and the sky above has also been a subject I am exploring. I have a series of wetlands and ocean views with skies that I will continue to do each September on Chincoteague Island. My goal is to find a coastal gallery to carry this subject. The sounds and smells of nature are the music that pulls me to the colors of the earth, water, and sky.

How has your practice changed over time?

For almost fifteen years I worked exclusively on Canson Mi-teintes colored papers. I chose to work on the smooth side and developed a soft touch, layering thin layers of pastels and spray fixing the colors in the early stages to create a particular effect. I often worked very large. Since the mid 90's I've been experimenting with many new pastel surfaces. I've tried them all. Finally, I gravitated to the Multimedia Artboard for pastels that come in different colors. The grit of this sandpaper is rather smooth but it's surface connected well to my soft touch technique developed from years of working on Canson paper. Now I am exploring loose bright watercolor underpaintings set onto the Multimedia Artboard white surface. It is wonderful to apply many beautiful layers of soft and hard pastels over. I also enjoy working on their warm gray color Multimedia Artboard. I will always be an explorer of new products or a new process because it makes my landscape subject continually vibrant with ideas.

What is the best art related advice you’ve been given?

Enjoy the discoveries through mistakes and mix things up when you get stuck. Don't be afraid to let a piece go and move on to a new pastel. Having multiple pieces "going" at the same time frees you to let a piece rest until you figure out the answer to the next step. But of course you eventually need to focus and finish. Trying more stars in the beginning helps your learning curve, rather than only one at a time.

What do you wish you’d have known from the beginning, but took years to learn?

Do not worry so much about perfection.

Where do you find inspiration?

Nature: The Earth, water, and sky.

When is your favorite time of day to create?

Anytime I can do it. However, I enjoy late afternoons and into the evening to access my creative zone and energies. My mind gets deeply connected after three or four hour of focused painting. I love to use music as inspiration when in the studio.

Nature provides the music I need when painting outside.

How do you develop your art skills?

Paint as much as possible. Plan when to paint so it happens. I've been setting Studio Time since the mid 80's. I write it down in my hard copy calendar so I see it daily and protect that time for creating or finishing pastel work. I like to work large in the studio, but am trying to go larger in the field plein air. I am also refining my plein air backpack and easel setup.

As a national product company tester and demonstrator, I have developed my skills by being exposed to new products I could never have afforded or even had access to. It has been an exciting journey discovering and implementing exquisite products. Jack Richeson & Co, Inc., have been pivotal in my process and development as an artist. They reached out to me in 2007 to test/try their art supplies. More recently, I have been invited to create three different SNicholas signature soft pastel sets, selected from their 500 set of Hand Rolled Soft Pastels. Richeson pastels are the main pastel in my plein air boxes in the field. I also took a group to Brittany France in 2018 for Sennelier. There I taught all mediums but used their watercolors as an underpainting for both soft and hard pastels. I love Richeson Hard pastels as a substitute for Nu- pastels which are hard to get now. I am a goal setter and often have multiple goals in evolution. It makes for learning something new every day.

How do you define success as an artist?

Having a sense of purpose that drives you. Figuring out what makes you smile and feel content, is a sort of real success. Earning enough through my art creation and teachings is fulfilling, and acts as an incentive to continue to strive for excellence in my art. My "Focus on the Landscape" theme has been in existence since the mid 80's when I had a show at Penn State. This landscape theme has a reason behind. It defines my quiet voice and admiration of caring for the environment. When in nature I feel most balanced and in a sense of serenity. I also have seen how it affects my students when in nature painting. The combination of nature and art is very healing and balancing. Through fifty years of painting, I have developed confidence in my style and approach to creating. I am not so easily rocked by rejection or dislike. Because in the big picture I know I am pursuing what I dreamed and love, inspiring my students and creating landscape images that bring peace and serenity to my collectors.

Favorite surface to paint on?

Multimedia Artboard


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