'Waterworld' by West Creston pastel artist Carol Schloss.

'Waterworld' by West Creston pastel artist Carol Schloss.

West Creston pastel artist brings objects to life in brilliant colour

Web Lead

  • Sep. 20, 2012 6:00 a.m.

At first glance, the colour pastel works of Carol Schloss are easily mistaken for photographs. Further inspection reveals them to be the creations of a highly accomplished artist, one of only 600 signature members of the Pastel Society of America worldwide.

Like so many artists, Schloss’s time is torn between art and many other interests. Our visit begins with a tour around the West Creston acreage that she and her husband, Pete, purchased five ago.

On the property, the couple who spent most of their life together in Philadelphia grow fruit and vegetables for their own use, and others for medicinal use. A patch of elderberries has been started, part of their commitment to the West Kootenay Herb Producers Co-operative. A half-dozen chickens are kept for egg laying and an old barn was, until recently, home to goats, whose milk Carol used to make cheese.

A tiny creek winds through the property, providing fresh water for the house and irrigation, and adding that special ambience that only running water can provide. It’s a bucolic life for people who have largely been city folk. But it obviously suits them well.

She was artistic as a child, and was often accused by her young schoolmates of tracing her drawings.

“I was always interested in art,” she recalls. “I don’t think there was ever any doubt in my mind that art is what I wanted to do in my life.”

Her parents were always supportive. Her dad, a banker, had been a sign painter when he returned home after the Second World War.

“Dad always supported my interest in art. I remember him getting me a commission to do an artist’s rendering of a bank building. He never put up any roadblocks.”

She is a believer that practice makes perfect, referring to the concept that 10,000 hours are required to become expert in any skill.

“I’m sure I’ve got that,” she laughs.

For all the effort she’s given to her passion, she admits that talent plays a large role in success.

“It’s a talent I feel an obligation to,” she says. “And if you are given a talent you have an obligation to give back. I feel a responsibility to my art and a drive to be creative. It’s there with most artists, I think.”

Art, she says, influences how she sees and acts.

“I have always arranged my clothes on the clothesline according to colour,” she admits. “And presentation is very important on the dinner plate when I cook — I want it to look nice, too.”

Schloss graduated from a three-year commercial art class at a technical high school with top honours, then enrolled in a five-year bachelor of arts degree program in graphic design at the Cleveland Institute of Art, minoring in photography. She went on to work as a graphic designer and art director for studios in Philadelphia, honing her skills, layout and design.

Thanks to her well-grounded training in fine arts, she added other skills to her repertoire — illustration, typography, calligraphy, photography and perspective renderings were all used in her professional life.

When Carol and Pete moved to Cody, Wyo. — “just on the other side of Yellowstone, near the Tetons” — she produced catalogues for a local company. Then she took a pastel class that inspired her to shift her emphasis back to the fine arts after decades in the commercial side. She has rarely put her pastels back in the box since.

How did the couple make the move from life in Pennsylvania and Wyoming to Canada? Pete, who owned computer businesses, was tiring of American politics. They camped a lot on their travels and fell in love with British Columbia. Five years ago they made the move northward.

“We are now proudly Canadian citizens — dual citizens, actually,” she smiles.

Her enthusiasm for pastels centres around their bright, vibrant colours, but also their forgiveness.

“If you don’t like something you can just brush it off and start again.”

Because pastels, like chalk, are by nature dusty, they can be a bit tricky to frame. Her preference is to mat her pictures in a way that any dust that drops from the surface collects behind the mat, so that it doesn’t show. And the pictures need to be glass covered to protect the delicate surface.

Schloss’s favourite subjects tend to be ordinary — everyday subjects like clothes hanging on a line, cowboys and horses at an auction, ranch scenes, landscapes and portraits. Under her deft hand, the subjects become fascinating, drawing the viewer into a world just slightly more beautiful than it might otherwise be.

With her educational and professional background, she also enjoys teaching. She has taught classes in pastels, drawing, sketchbook and field trips, and basic design in Wyoming and South Dakota, and in Creston and Riondel.

Her artist’s statement gives some insight into the way this very accomplished artist approaches her work:

“Creating art, it seems to me, is a transformative process. Draw an ordinary object and it somehow becomes extraordinary. Paint a mundane scene with a song in your heart, and it becomes a beautiful thing. This wonderful alchemy allows an artist to create a totally new and unique image from the ordinary stuff of life. A recipe that requires a lot of tending and hard work filtered through eyes, hands, heart and brain, will transform a feeling, a glimpse, an experience, into something of substance. This is pure magic, a constant source of inspiration, and what keeps me coming back.

“I approach my work with optimism and a sense of purpose; to learn, to grow, to challenge myself. I will push limits, try new techniques, break a few rules, scrape a few knees.

“The animating force of my work is colour. Drawing provides the bones and framework of an image, and even the energy, but a flicker, a movement, a sense of life, it seems, is breathed in with colour. To enhance colour, I play with values and complements, area and line, layering and underpainting, to approximate reality in an impressionistic way, a shorthand for letting your eye and distance fill in the details. Firm drawing skills and a fine sensibility for colours are the foundation of my work. Pastels, being a coloured drawing media, combine beautifully to this end. I am thankful that after a decade with this media and a lifetime of working with designers’/artist’s eyes, I have the skills and confidence to forge ahead to keep creating beautiful things. It’s pure magic.”

“I have a good time with things when I paint, but it is work,” Schloss says. “I put in a good day — maybe not eight hours, but five or six, for sure.”

Her basement studio is filled with northern light, finished pictures and supplies. But for the most part she works upstairs in a corner of the living room. A digital photo frame is clipped on to her easel, so she can use one of her photographs as a reference. It’s a sign of an artist who moves with times, using digital images where she once used photographs, taking advantage of the immediacy of the digital world.

“Artists never retire,” she says. “That’s how you keep healthy.”