Sandy Marvin Uses Pastel to Capture Life’s Colorful Surprises

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You can find art all over town — not just on gallery walls. In this series, we'll be looking at some of the local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.

Pastel painting is enjoying a renaissance, and Coloradan Sandy Marvin’s right there in the thick of things. “A lot of people don’t understand what pastel really is," she says. "In this case, it doesn’t mean using light colors; pastels as an art medium are dry, and some people think of them as chalk.” But in actuality, pastels are almost pure pigment mixed with a little bit of binder, and the way artists work with pastels is more akin to painting than drawing, with broad, sweeping strokes. "The main thing people notice about pastel is the brilliant color," Marvin notes.

Keeping with that vibrant tradition, the Pastel Society of Colorado’s eleventh annual Mile High International Pastel Exhibition promises visual excitement from some of the world's best pastel artists – Marvin included – who will come together to showcase the range of styles, subjects and techniques involving pastels. Two of Marvin’s paintings were juried into this year’s show, and they’ll be hung on the seventh floor of the Denver Central Library along with 100 other pastels created by dozens of artists from nineteen states. The show opens with a gala reception this Sunday, July 12, from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m., and runs through September 25.

Each year, the Pastel Society of Colorado chooses a distinguished artist to judge the show; this year, it is internationally acclaimed landscape pastel artist Liz Haywood-Sullivan, the president of the International Association of Pastel Societies. At 6:30 p.m. tomorrow, July 7, Haywood-Sullivan will give a special painting demonstration at the Evergreen Center for the Arts; at Sunday's reception, she'll announce awards in an array of categories.

Marvin hopes to wow Haywood-Sullivan with two still lifes: “Red Chair” and “History Bequest." The former is a painting of a red Adirondack chair, and the latter a close-up of a door to a pavilion in Beulah, a town southwest of Pueblo “in this gorgeous little valley that’s a total surprise,” says Marvin.

The titles of some of her pieces – “Toast and Jam” was a favorite from last year’s show – might sound mundane, but Marvin’s work is anything but. “I do what I call 'found still lifes,'” she says. “I don’t arrange still lifes; I like them to be more intimate and everyday.” From there, Marvin focuses on abstract shapes, and the effects of natural light. “I look for arrangements of shapes, colors, shadows and light, but I look for them in everyday themes,” she explains. 

The pavilion that prompted Marvin to create “History Bequest,” for example, is “a stone building that was made in the ‘30s — it’s got a beautiful wood door with nice iron hardware on it, and a tree overhanging,” she says.
After studying art at Northwestern University, Marvin was an art teacher and then a medical illustrator. She also had a career as a calligrapher for twenty-some years, and did work for restaurants and other corporate clients, as well as individuals. Marvin ended her official career where she started: teaching, this time at Heritage High School. “That’s when I really got more into drawing and painting,” she says. “I’d always done commercial art, and I’m enjoying fine art in retirement.” 

Painting with pastel is “different and very direct," she notes. "Unlike oil painting or watercolor, where you blend colors on a palette or on your brush, with pastels you just apply color directly to a surface, and then you just keep building.” With pastels, you can work on a variety of surfaces: printmaking paper, black paper, sandpaper — “anything that will grip and hold the pastel,” she notes.

One of the pros to pastels is portability: “There are a lot of plein air artists in the pastel world,” Marvin says. The Pastel Society of Colorado even organizes monthly paint-outs in area parks.

In addition to her shows through the Pastel Society of Colorado, where Marvin is a boardmember, the artist has shown at the Art Students League of Denver Summer Art Market, as well as several local galleries. She currently has a piece up at the Framed Image, too. For more information, visit Marvin’s website

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