Artist of the Month – Elena Degenhardt

Artist of the Month – Elena Degenhardt

Thank you to our guest blogger, Elena Degenhardt, winner of Septembers ‘Artist of the Month’ in association with Artists & Illustrators magazine. She won a £50 art materials voucher for her stunning pastel painting ‘Immersion’.

Here she writes about her fascination for the sea…..

Immersion by Elena Degenhardt

I am absolutely fascinated about the sea and paint it in all its moods, en plein air and in my studio, in hopes that more people will start truly appreciate its fragile beauty and take better care of it. I am exploring sea waters as a reflection of human emotions, a transcendental place and a different concept of time. 

Immersion is one of my large wave ‘portraits’ – the series I am currently working on alongside other projects. Through this work I have discovered that, although all waves have a similar anatomy, they also have very distinctive individual features and each of them is unique. I use my own plein air sketches and reference photographs which I take with a special lens enabling me to get closeup images. However, a photograph is a starting point only and I never aim to create a copy of it.

My own attitude towards the sea has always been ebbing between awe and fear I think very much due to a childhood accident when I almost drowned. Having moved to Malta a year ago, I found myself having to deal with the sea on a daily basis. I would become anxious and close to getting a panic attack as soon as I could no longer feel the bottom of the sea. I wished I were one of those people who could relax in deep waters. At some point I became so anxious that I decided to start painting the waves which both horrified and mesmerised me. While painting them, I would get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. However, with every line and hand movement, with every new wave I painted I felt my fear becoming less and less until one day I could embrace the oneness with the sea knowing the water under me was five meters deep. Immersion is very much an exploration and reflection of this fantastic feeling.

I painted this piece on UART sanded pastel paper, 400 grit, neutral colour, mostly using Unison soft pastels as I love their texture, versatility, brightness of pigments and variety of colour nuances. UART400 literally eats up pastels also producing a lot of dust at times. I therefore wear a mask while working on it. And yet I find it really good as it allows me to use different techniques and work in both painterly and graphic way. I do blending in the colours with the fingers (which leaves them sore!) and layering, create various marks with a flat side of a pastel stick or by rolling it. I often break pastels to get a sharp edge for detail and clear lines. UART allows underpainting, wet-on-wet technique and washing off a failed piece under the water tap!

Elena with one of her other artworks.

I started Immersion with a very rough drawing of the intricate wave pattern using Faber Castell hard pastel in blue and went on with Unison soft pastels. First, I painted the background sea at the top of the painting, then blocked in larger areas of the wave using sides of pastel sticks but also began adding some detail in the most intriguing middle part. To keep the composition and colour palette balanced out I worked on the whole wave simultaneously, adding energetic marks to express its sheer power. I hardly did any blending here but lots of layering to achieve final colour nuances. The foam on the left was a result of a small accident when the rests of my Sennelier giant white pastel fell on the stone floor tuning into dust. Upset, I spontaneously collected the precious dust and literally threw it onto the painting spreading it down with the palm of my hand! Working on this piece was a complete immersion in many ways!

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