Soft Realism

How a Manchester artist turns sandpaper into luminous pastels.

Robin Frisella thinks Confucius had it right when he said "Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life."

Yes, she admits, it took her a long time to find what she loved (her youngest was in college), but it was well worth the wait. Today she is a well-regarded pastel artist; her works much sought after. And it all happened in 10 short years.

In 2000 she was working at a copy shop and trophy store and occasionally doing crafts, mostly making baskets. She had never done fine art, but she was interested enough to take a class in pastel painting from a local artist.

"I was absolutely blown away with what you can do with pastels," she says. It wasn't long before she started selling her work, enough so that her children urged her to quit her job at the copy shop and trophy store. She did four years ago.

Since then she's set up shop in a light-filled studio in Candia, and is now selling more paintings than she ever imagined possible. "It keeps snowballing," she says.

If just one word could be used to describe Frisella's pastels, it would be luminous - real objects softly and deeply rendered so that they seem suffused with light.

"I've always been fascinated with light and reflection," she says.

Creating the luminous effect is a time-consuming process. She starts with sandpaper dry mounted on acid-free mat board and then, working in natural light, adds layer after layer of pastel - up to 25 layers. That, she says, is what produces the depth and richness.

But the other element that makes her work so pleasing is the composition. She says she might do 50 setups before she's satisfied with the arrangement of the objects she's chosen.

And she spends "hours and hours" finding the objects themselves. She scours yard sales and antique shows for something that might spark a memory, something that creates what she calls timeless elegance. She also uses things she already has. "They are all things that I love, that are dear to me in some way," she says. "I have to feel a connection." If she is commissioned to do a painting, she encourages the buyer to include their treasured items.

Frisella is grateful she found what she loved in time to pursue it, though she still can't quite believe it: "I'm amazed that people are seeking me out. It really blows my mind."

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