Material Honesty is a term I learned while studying architecture at the University of Washington, Seattle. They were very big on teaching us future architects how to be true to our building materials.
Although I'm not designing buildings now, I do think about material honesty quite a bit while I work. I've come to love the idea of hinting at my process and using materials in the way that works best for them.
Using the idea of Material Honesty in my art
If I'm using pastels atop a colored paper, then when I'm finished I feel that one should be able to determine that I used pastels and a colored paper for the piece.
Here are some ways that I accomplish the idea of material honesty with pastels, illustrated with details from my artwork "I Dare You".
Being expressive; not photo-realistic
For me, my art is about expressing a mood and getting at the heart of what inspired me in a subject in the first place. For the painting shown here, I had taken multiple photos of my model. In one of the photos, her eyes really drew me in. They seemed to be almost daring me, the viewer, to take her on. I absolutely love the strong, determined expression on her face. Of course, the gorgeous sunlit hair only added to my desire to paint the image.
I'm not interested in creating a photographic replica with my work. It's much more interesting to me to express myself and the media I'm using. For this piece, I used a specific set of colors and very expressive mark-making to get those original inspirations down on the paper. In the end, I do feel that I captured the ideas that prompted me to paint this image in the first place.
With each new piece I paint, I'm learning more and more about pastels and their specific abilities. I hope to continue to add to my list of ways to use them honestly.
Of course, the best thing about art is there are so many different ways to approach it! What do you think? Do you think it's important for artists to be "honest" with their materials? When is it fun to fool people by being "dishonest" with materials? 😄
I am an artist and designer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. My specialties are textiles and pastels.