This article about Rick Pas first appeared in the October 2007 issue of The” artist magazine>.
When people hear the low, measured voice of artist Rick Pas for the first time, they suggest he could have a successful career in radio broadcasting, but broadcasting’s gain would have been the art world’s loss. Pas specializes in painting nature and wildlife, but his focus is on the abstract patterns and textures visible in nature, such as in the veins of a leaf or the tracery on a moth’s wing. Much like his predecessor, John James Audubon, Pas wants people to experience the beauty of the flora and fauna of the wilderness not as an impression, but as real phenomena rendered in beautiful yet painstaking detail.
Rick Pas’s Background
Born and reared in picturesque Michigan, Rick Pas has always had a passion for the outdoor life. Canoeing, snowshoeing, skiing and camping in the wilderness—he’s done it all. It was a natural turn for him to incorporate nature into his work. “I’ve always been interested in nature,” Pas says. “I started out doing wildlife art, things like duck stamps. I got to a point where I said I don’t actually need an animal in this composition; I can work without it. So, sometimes I’ll just use leaves or twigs as a basic still life.”
Rick Pas’s greatest influences have been Georgia O’Keeffe, who painted her famous flowers as abstract forms; wildlife artist Robert Bateman who uses acrylics to play with form, light and space; and Canadian James Fenwick Lansdowne, who does detailed paintings of birds in watercolor. Pas also rather surprisingly cites Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres who countered the romantic spirit popular in the early 19th century with an exactitude that nonetheless allowed for sensuous displays of fabric and flesh.
Preference for Acrylic
Although Rick Pas has painted in oil before and liked it, he prefers to work in acrylic now because it dries so fast. He works on a drafting table and has a habit of leaning on his painting as he’s working on the details, which is something he couldn’t do with the slower-drying oils. Of course, he has to work quickly before the paint dries. What if he makes a mistake? Pas replies, “In an extreme case, I’ll have to scrape off paint, sand the area down and redo it. Otherwise I just paint over it after it dries. My style is to use smooth brushstrokes. I don’t want a lot of texture in the paint, so I don’t want to build up too much by covering over mistakes too often. The finish is pretty smooth; you can only see the brushstrokes if you look up close. To get a three-dimensional effect, I use good dark-to-light values to create shadows.”
Rick Pas often uses photographs for reference. He has an SLR (single lens reflex) film camera and a digital camera, which he has taken with him on trips throughout Michigan, Ontario, Alaska and Africa. “I’ve traveled to remote wildernesses, but sometimes I find an idea in my yard. A friend gave me a cocoon of the hyalophora cecropia, the largest moth in North America, after I did my first moth painting. When the moth emerged, I thought it was a female and set it outside, hoping it would attract a male. It did; they mated and produced eggs. I then tried to transfer the eggs to our trees. My seven-year-old son got to witness all this, but he promised not to tell the neighbors with golf-course perfect lawns that I was putting moth eggs in our trees!”
Rick Pas has also started experimenting with a computer to compose paintings, by scanning reference photos and moving things around to explore composition possibilities. He then draws a thumbnail composition. “I start out with an idea, make a sketch and gather things that I want in the painting,” Pas says. “For instance, I’ll gather leaves and arrange them the way I want. I usually take photos of that arrangement also, because if I left the leaves around, they might get broken, or wither and curl up on me.”
Process and Materials
After the thumbnail composition, Rick Pas does a detailed pencil drawing on the entire panel. He then starts building up the black-and-white underpainting, using a matte medium. The next step is to begin layering color glazes made with a gloss or satin medium. “My goal is a luminous look and feel,” he says. “Lights and darks are reinforced and the details are further defined with many more brushstrokes. Sometimes I’ll stay in an area and finish it all in color and then move on to the next section; other times I add color as I go along.” Pas uses a UV-resistant satin coating, Golden Archival spray varnish, to protect the final work. (See Rick Pas’s Acrylic Painting Demonstration, below.)
Rick Pas usually uses Golden fluid acrylics and Golden gel medium (matte and gloss) thinned with water. His palette is a butcher tray. In the past, he’s painted on a Masonite panel, but he’s been experimenting with a new kind of plastic (polyvinyl chloride) panel—Sintra board made by Alcan—that can be cut with a circular saw; it’s lighter in weight and easier to ship. “You can gesso it as you would a wood panel to ensure that the paint sticks,” he says. Pas uses thin watercolor brushes and drafting tools like French curves, templates, and technical pens filled with thinned-down acrylic paint to draw the lines on a bird’s feathers, the veins on a leaf or the details of a moth’s wings. A magnifying glass also helps him work on the more minute details.
Rick Pas’s workday starts early, and he’ll usually put in eight to ten hours every day in his studio at home. Some of that time is taken up with the business end of art, like phone calls or computer work. He tries to be disciplined, striving for uninterrupted time when he’s painting. “Painting is an addiction,” Pas says. “The initial idea and preliminary sketches give me a creative high. However, when the painting isn’t working right, I’m not getting good ideas, my technique is just not good, or the detailing becomes tedious, I get into a lull. I start to think of my next painting and I have to force myself to refocus.” Is he a patient person? “Some people would say that,” Pas replies. “But I must admit there are times when I’d like to abandon all caution and do a ‘Jackson Pollock’ and just throw the paint on the board!”
Praise for Rick Pas
Two people who have a strong appreciation for Rick Pas’s work are Jane Weinke, Curator of Collections, and Andy McGivern, Curator of Exhibitions at Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, Wisconsin. “I’m particularly fond of his magnified feather patterns,” says Weinke, “not only the idea of the beauty of the feathers, but the oversized portrayal of them.” Pas’s distinctive focus and style give viewers another perspective on birds and their inclusion in art.” McGivern adds, “Rick’s work stretched our concept of wildlife art through his unique viewpoints. He explored patterns of abstraction and revealed the rich colors of a bird’s feather pattern and taught us that there are layers of beauty in nature yet to be discovered.”
Rick Pas’s Acrylic Painting Demonstration
My tools include (1) French curves with pieces of tape that raise the curve above the painting surface so the paint won’t touch and smear the French curve, (2) technical pens filled iwth thinned acrylic paint and (3) templates that aid in drawing symmetrical shapes.
1. I start with a thumbnail sketch and proceed to a hard lead (5H) pencil drawing on a smoothly sanded gessoed board. The pencil drawing is detailed and shows some shading. Next, I do the black-and-white underpainting, using liquid black acrylic paint and an acrylic matte medium thinned with water.
2. I begin layering color glazes on the moss area. The glazes are made with liquid acrylic paints and thinned gloss or satin acrylic medium. My goal is a luminous look. I use round, flat and filbert watercolor brushes.
3. I methodically reinforce the lights and the darks. Using liner brushes from sizes 00 to 3, I further define the details with many more brushstrokes. To add to the luminosity of the surface, I sometimes apply additional glazes over these small brushstrokes.
4. Then I draw the veins in the mother’s wing, using drafting curves. I work on the overall scale pattern I’d previously drawn. Next, I add color and details with glazes and small brushstrokes. While I’m painting, I’ll often use a magnifying glass to refer to a moth specimen.
5. To render the birch bark, I use the techniques decscribed in steps one through three. In addition, I built up opaque layers of titanium white in order to suggest the chalky white look of birch bark.
6. To finish the painting, I add the antenna. After letting the paint dry, I spray Cecropia/Birch (acrylic, 20×16) with Golden archival spray varnish.
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