From the Artist Archive is a series of short interviews with Logan-based artists and Assorted Grains members.
In this very first episode, we chat with pastel artist, Stacey Bennett. She shares what she loves and what’s most challenging about working with pastels.
We look back at her creative journey and reflect on whether creative success is born from nature or nurture. And we chat about what her ideal project looks like.
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Find and follow Stacey Bennett’s art journey online
Assorted Grains artist directory archive: (coming soon)
Ali – 0:00:00
Hello and welcome to our series of mini interviews from our artist’s archive. My name is Ali Strachan and I’m the president of Assorted Grains. We’re an artist run not-for-profit who create bold, multidisciplinary events and experiences for the benefit of the community. Today is our first in the series of these artist spotlights, so I’d like to introduce you to our first artist, Stacey Bennett. Welcome, Stacey.
Stacey – 0:00:43
Hi, Ali. How are you?
Ali – 0:00:46
Good. Thanks for joining me today. I’ll give a quick little rundown on who Stacey is and then we can jump into our little mini interview.
So, Stacey Bennett is an award-winning regional artist based in Logan and has worked within the creative industries for over 15 years across numerous roles. Stacey works predominantly with pastels, focusing on portraiture and wildlife and experimenting between realism and expressive abstraction.
Stacey has always been interested in human faces and their stories, and her portraits are bold and empowering. She believes every life has a purpose and a unique story that needs to be captured and documented. Many of her artworks are commissioned for private collections around Australia, but she’s also interested in working on public collaborations and projects in the future. So, what do you love most about your art form?
Stacey – 0:01:38
Oh, I don’t even know where to begin. I love it so much. I could sit here for hours and hours and hours talking about pastels. But look, I mean, yes, I am mainly a pastel artist. I love pastels, if you haven’t picked up on that already. But I think if I had to pick something, I would say that it’s so versatile.
For those who don’t know much about pastels, there are so many different ways you can use it. So, for example, pastels come in pastel pencils, which are generally quite a bit of a hard pastel, which means they’re really, really great for getting the details and realistic drawings underway. They also come in a stick form, similar to a chalk. They’re not quite a chalk though, but they are soft and they can be medium and they can be hard. So that gives you a variety of different effects you can get from sticks, and you can also get them in what’s called a pan pastel.
So it is like, imagine like your compact powders for makeup, similar to that. So I literally get makeup applicators to create works by basically smudging them all over the paper and creating large areas of basically the base of my painting using pan pastels and then you can build up on top of that.
So with all the different many shapes and forms and hardness and softness that they come in, it is so versatile that you can basically achieve whatever you want to achieve, whether it’s a realistic painting or a complete expressive abstract go-wild painting. It is just, it is great and it’s so forgiving as well because it is similar to a chalk. If you do something and you make a mistake, which I do all the time, I’m able to just scrub it away, wipe it away, away and start again. So that’s what I love around working with pastels.
Ali – 0:03:40
Yeah, and there’s so much that you’ve just told me about pastels that I didn’t even know. I think it’s probably one of those things that people may not even consider when they think about art. It’s generally, like, you know, when we think about art, it’s very much like a painting visual medium. But pastels sounds really cool to work with. What are the biggest challenges?
Stacey – 0:04:02
Yeah, well look, I mean, as I said, you know, you can scrub away your mistakes, that’s great. But you could also scrub away your finished product as well. So it’s really hard to, I guess, complete a piece and then be able to store it or display it.
So, you know, look, I kind of sometimes envy painters who just paint on a canvas and then they can just straight away, you know, once it’s dried, straight away hang it up on a wall and I just think, wow, look it’s probably not that simple, but I just think, wow, wouldn’t that be great if I could do that with my work, but I can’t.
So I have to really carefully consider how I store my pieces and how I then display them. So pastel needs to, ideally, need to be behind glass to display, you know, around a gallery or if I am, you know, someone’s hanging it up in their house. But you can’t have pastel touch in the glass. It needs to be separated from the glass because it can also smudge the painting. And I think also some static as well can actually pull the pastels off the paper, which I have learned the hard way.
So it actually needs some specialist framing and, you know, without going into too much detail, essentially you need to frame the work and there needs to be space between the artwork and the glass. A specialist framer who knows how to frame pastels will be able to, you know, do that really easily and explain it, but it doesn’t come cheap.
So framing full stop is not cheap, especially if you’re getting pastels, there’s additional steps to take. So yeah, that’s the biggest challenge is being able to display my work. And you know, if I wanted to do an exhibition, for example, and having to frame numerous pieces comes with a significant cost. So like every artist, you know, funding is another challenge and many grants don’t cover framing costs, or they’ll only cover a proportion of it, which isn’t very much. So for me, that’s the biggest challenge, being able to get my work out there and still afford to be able to do it.
Ali – 0:06:15
Yeah, for sure. That sounds really challenging. Do you end up with pastel all over you when you’re creating?
Stacey – 0:06:23
Oh, yeah. Yeah, but I love it.
Ali – 0:06:26
Yeah, I can imagine. It’s one of those things, I think. I know when my kids started playing with paint and stuff like that, it’s like half of the paint would end up on them because it felt so good. So I guess in one way, you immerse yourself in the work.
Stacey – 0:06:42
Yeah, definitely. And the great thing about pastels is that you can just walk away from it. It’s not like paint where you’ve kind of got it all out, ready to go, and then if you need to walk away, you need to pack it all away, I can just leave it all there, walk away, wash my hands, get on with life and come back.
Ali – 0:06:57
Yeah, nice. Are there fixatives and stuff that you can use to help with the, I guess, the smudging?
Stacey – 0:07:06
Yeah, that’s quite a controversial topic. So a lot of pastel artists, they will swing one way or another. I am anti-fixative only because, look, you’ve potentially been burnt in the past where if you use a fixative to a pastel, so imagine pastel, it isn’t a chalk, I’ll make that clear, but it’s similar to a chalk, so you can imagine that kind of, that texture. If you’re spraying something wet over it, you are going to lose a lot of the finer detail and especially a lot of the whites and lights to your work will sometimes dull right down so you can completely ruin a piece.
For me it’s all about picking the right paper. So I use, I tend to use pastel matte. It has got, it feels really smooth, it’s such an amazing paper, it feels smooth but it’s actually got a lot of tooth to it so it can take several layers, but it doesn’t, like a lot of your work doesn’t actually kind of fall off the paper. So I use pastel matte, I get it framed and that’s the best way. I do not use a fixative, otherwise I will probably ruin my work and then cry.
Ali – 0:08:17
Fair enough. That’s totally, you know, I guess it’s one of those things that you learn the hard way.
Stacey – 0:08:24
Yes, and I am part of many Facebook groups and I have unfortunately seen a lot of people learn the hard way and I’ve seen a few comparisons between when they finished and then when they sprayed and they’re desperately seeking for people’s assistance on what to do next and it’s like, no, you’ve kind of ruined it now, sorry. So it’s really disheartening.
Ali – 0:08:45
I guess once you’ve fixed it, you can’t really work on top of that then either.
Stacey – 0:08:49
Yeah, well some people can. And the one thing that you can do, so I have done this before, you can use a fixative between layers. So if you wanted to do a base layer and kind of fix that in place, you can use a workable fixative to continue building on it, but I certainly don’t use it at the end.
Ali – 0:09:06
Yeah, fair enough. Yeah. So this seems like it’s been like a passion of yours, this medium, for a really long time. What is the first creative thing you remember making? Was it with pastels? How did this all come about?
Stacey – 0:09:21
Look, I mean, the very first creative thing I remember making was probably back when I was like eight years old. I’ve always been drawing, but I, you know, look, I’ve always drawn with just your regular coloured pencils like you do, or lead pencils. And what I vividly remember, I had this hardcover Disney book with all your Disney characters in it. And I loved Ariel, the Little Mermaid.
So I remember when I was about eight just constantly drawing her over and over and over. And I just absolutely loved drawing that. I think that was kind of like my start into, you know, portraiture, even though it’s not probably a true representation of a human being. But then I moved more into the realism and I really started using, you know, basically just all my lead pencils.
I remember all my teen magazines, Dolly, Girlfriend, grabbing out all the posters and drawing all your 90s celebrities, Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Love Hewitt. When I was about 11 years old, I was starting to draw portraiture. And I’ve still got those copies at home somewhere, and it’s a really nice reminder to kind of see that progression, I guess.
And pastels actually only came about fairly recently. So, it was actually my art teacher back in year 12 that pushed me to try charcoal, because I’d only ever used pencils prior. She sent me home with a picture of a cemetery actually, and says, come back, I want you to try charcoal and tell me what you think. And charcoal, I guess, being a similar feeling and texture to pastels, you know, I took that away, I worked with it, and I absolutely fell in love with the, you know, the way charcoal felt on the paper, the way I was able to smudge and create all these really cool effects I couldn’t do with pencils. My teacher was like, ah, this is your medium.
And so I worked a lot with charcoal. And then I guess over time, I realised that I wanted to move away from just the black and white and move into pencils. And I think someone gave me a set of cheap pastel pencils one year for Christmas and I had no idea what I was doing and the first pastel drawing I did was of Marilyn Monroe and then I was like, wow, I love this, and then started to learn.
I was, I realised I was using the wrong pastels, the wrong paper, the wrong everything, and then started to teach myself what I needed to do and then I just fell in love with it. So it’s only fairly recent. I would say maybe the last five or six years I’ve been using pastels.
Ali – 0:12:04
Yeah, okay. That’s interesting. Yeah. I love charcoal too, and I’ve never sort of delved into the realm of pastels. So I think, yeah, it’s really nice to see. I will share some images as part of this audio as well, and you can see the contrast and the beautiful brightness, even against a black background. It just all comes to life. It looks amazing.
Stacey – 0:12:29
Yeah, I love my pieces to pop where they can and I find the colour really helps with that, especially against that dark background.
Ali – 0:12:37
Yeah, yeah, for sure. So I’ve got another bit of a left-of-field question for you. So do you think being a successful creative person is more nature or nurture?
Stacey – 0:12:51
I’ve always wondered this. Look, I mean, I go back and forth all the time between nature and nurture. And I’m going to be a bit pedantic here. Let’s say I’m going to make it a 30-70 split.
So I’m going to say it’s a 30% nature. I think there needs to be a little bit of natural ability to want to be able to create. Now, I’m not saying that you need to have this amazing talent from the get-go, but it’s around your natural ability and your natural desire that you want to be able to do this. You want to pursue it. But the rest is nurture.
The rest is, you know, 70% of that is teaching yourself, understanding that you can’t just pick up a pencil and know how to create these wonderful pieces of work. There are skills, there are techniques that you need to learn. There’s also materials that you need to learn. And like anything, you’ve got to nurture that to really get from point A to point B.
I really picked up on that because when I left high school, it was 12 years before I picked up a pencil again. So I did art in year 12, did quite well, and then I guess I never really got – I really never understood how I could take that professionally. I probably needed a better mentor in my life maybe at that time. But I didn’t pick up a pencil for 12 years. And so when I did 12 years later, I decided to draw a portrait of my son when he was born. And look, I look back on it now. It’s not a terrible picture, but to kind of go, wow, I hadn’t nurtured that over that 12 years and I’d lost a lot of things.
So I kind of had to re-skill myself up and practice and learn all these things, and I’ve been doing that over the last few years now. I can certainly see that because I’ve taken the time to practice skills, you know such as how to draw wrinkles, how to draw hair, understanding, you know composition and perspective and light and all of that. That is what has made me go from A to B.
So for me, you need a little bit of desire in nature, to do it, but it’s really about nurture for the most part.
Ali – 0:15:24
Yeah, I one hundred percent agree. I think the people who end up being artists do have that I guess sort of natural inclination and a little bit of flair for the creative. Or whatever medium they choose to… because the people who feel like that don’t have that skill then feel afraid. There’s like that whole big barrier that then stops them from then nurturing that side.
Stacey – 0:15:44
Ali – 0:15:46
But it’s not to say it’s not there, it’s that it, you know it may not have come as easy as somebody else though.
Stacey – 0:15:51
Ali – 0:15:53
Or they could have just tried the wrong thing. Like I think, you know someone who might have tried to be a painter their whole life but never really got into it, and then switch medium and then has fallen in love. So…
Stacey – 0:16:05
Yeah. Exactly. Look I mean I’ve tried I’ve tried painting several times, and it’s not really for me. And look I think you’ve got to find what works for you. And also find the style that works for you. Just because may be this type of artist doesn’t mean that’s that gonna be you. You need to find what works for you, what medium works for you, and what you enjoy. Make sure you enjoy it, and then when you do, just learn as much as you can, whether that be through YouTube videos, following other artists, you know or just practicing, you’ll find that you will definitely improve. One hundred percent.
Ali – 0:16:46
Yeah, lovely. Everyone who is listening needs to take on that advice. So, I guess what does your ideal project look like then?
Stacey – 0:16:57
Mmmm. Look, I love public art, placemaking and activation of spaces and stuff like that. So, but I guess my medium being pastels doesn’t always fit quite too well in that. It’s not to say that it can’t. But I guess when you think of public art and stuff like that you generally think of stuff like sculptures, and murals and stuff like that. So, pastels typically, you know are, I guess, if you go out there live and you draw with a pastel or a chalk in the public realm it’s going to be a temporary thing.
But I just love the idea of my work, I guess, being out there in the community for heaps of people to enjoy, and for people to kind of, just stumble across it. To take it in, and understand what it is, and take their own interpretation from it. So for me, look I’m going to continue to be a pastel artist because I love it. But it would be cool if it could be shown in some way.
So that might be in a different form. It might be in a light projection on a building, it could be printed on a vinyl wrap and put on a building or a bus or something really cool, wrapped. Or what I really love is the idea of also these chalk festivals that are happening all around the world, we need some around here locally, I’ve said it many times. But I’d love to just get a whole heap of artists who are all creating this really cool works, you know even if I’m collaborating with a few other artists and doing some live chalk work, in a street, on a footpath in a place where people are wandering by and are able to just watch the process happen.
I don’t know how to do it yet, but I’d love to also learn that 3D technique, have you ever seen those chalk works, where, I understand the theory but I haven’t quite figured out how to do it. But those massive big hero pieces where they manage to kind of skew it so that when you look at the picture it looks really like stretched out, but when you stand at a certain angle it pops out like a 3D version. I’d love to collaborate with some artists and learn that skill in a massive big hero piece.
That would be great. If I had a chance to do something like that, that’s sort of what I’d love.
Ali – 0:19:38
Yeah, that sounds amazing. And I guess so for lots of councils who may be a bit hesitant, or even building owners and things like that, some chalk works might feel less risky too because it’s not necessarily permanent. It can be a feature that can then potentially be refreshed at some point.
I love the idea of a chalk festival, and watch this space too, because I have some ideas around how we can work with you in the future and kind of bring that together. But that’s a separate conversation, but yeah, lovely.
Stacey – 0:20:05
Ali – 0:20:07
Alright, thank you very much, we’ll wrap this up and we’ll talk to you soon.
Stacey – 0:20:11