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Meeting with an artist: Valérie Mckeehan

In its portraits, Sennelier honors his favorite artists. Artists from all over the world with singular universes. Discover today the artistic universe of Valerie Mckeehan, an American pastellist who creates artworks full of poetry.

Can you tell us about your artistic background? 

I am a lifelong creative and have been dabbling in art for as long as I can remember! My professional career started quite accidently in 2012 when I discovered a love for hand lettering and in particular lettering in chalk on a chalkboard. There was something nostalgic and magical about creating with dust on a surface. This hobby led to the creation of my business, Lily & Val, where I’ve sold my artwork commercially online and in retail stores worldwide. When the pandemic hit in 2020, I was struggling to find the words to express what was on my heart. This was a crises for a hand letterer! My mother-in-law suggested I give soft pastels a try. It was love at first layer of beautiful pigment. I enjoy painting landscapes especially as they allow me to escape into beautiful worlds of whimsical wildflower meadows and calming skies. 

Do you have a favourite or regular technique? What do you like the most about this technique? 

I really enjoy the underpainting stage. My favorite way to create an underpainting is with hard pastels on sanded paper with a brush and rubbing alcohol. This allows such beautiful drips, blooms, and textures to emerge. There is no pressure in the underpainting. It’s just fun to explore and see what happens!

In your opinion, what is the most important art material for an artist and why? 

I think the most important art material is what makes your heart beat a little faster! I’ve experimented with different mediums and although I received a deep sense of enjoyment from many of them, soft pastel has gripped me and won’t let me go! It’s worth the trial and error to find what lights you up and makes you feel a connection to the material.

Do you have a favourite colour or art material? 

I’m very drawn to peach and blush hues. Pink especially works so beautifully in a landscape with a lot of greens and peach really complements the blues in a scene.

How do you organize your palette of colours?

My husband made me a wooden tray to hold my pastels. It has eight compartments and I’ve organized them by color: reds, oranges, yellow, greens, blue-green, blue, purple and neutrals. Within each hue I have them then further organized by value – lightest to darkest.

 Tell us more about your style and your influences. 

My style is impressionistic with a whimsical quality. I desire to paint peaceful landscapes that are filled with hope. Snapshots of moving clouds, light peeking through a forest, or Queen Anne’s lace sparkling in the breeze are endlessly inspiring. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania where balmy summers were spent picking wildflowers, chasing fireflies, and eating apples straight from the tree. My nostalgia for these simpler, slow times informs much of my work. I love mixing an old world charm with a modern touch. I’m influenced by the impressionist masters Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot and Edgar Degas for his work in pastel. I’m also inspired by the landscapes of the late Elizabeth Mowry and the photographic worlds of photographer Jamie Beck. 

What’s the best thing about being an artist today? And the most challenging one? 

I would say the best part about being an artist today is the opportunity at our fingertips to reach so many people through social media. We also have such access to inspiration and a wonderful community of other artists through these channels. This is a double-edged sword, though, because I think it’s also the most challenging part. Keeping up with producing content in addition to a thriving art practice is exhausting. Sometimes I get into modes where I feel I’m creating just for social media and I have to take a step back. A bit of the magic is lost for me when I am in the middle of painting and I have to consciously think about filming a behind-the-scenes video or taking a process shot. It’s also quite difficult to insulate from the need for approval on social media and the tendency toward comparison. Our brains are wired to release dopamine for likes and positive comments. It’s all a balance determining how to best use these amazing tools for the good they provide, while also protecting your mental state and protecting the joy in creating. I also think this looks differently for everyone and it’s about finding what works for you.

Do you have an advice to share with beginners? 

It is easy to get discouraged when you are first starting out, but remember everyone started somewhere! Soak up everything you can and practice as much as you can. Don’t be as concerned with the final outcome as you are with learning something new every time you step to the easel. Be gentle with yourself, always.

Can you tell us about your actualities, your future projects? 

I am in the process of creating a commission experience to help women find their visual peaceful place and bring it to life in soft pastel. Painting landscapes has been therapeutic for me and I believe art & beauty to be powerful healers. I desire to help create that peacefulness for others. My other projects include designing for manufacturers who will be using the artwork on a number of products. Currently, I am working with a textile manufacturer to produce some lovely items I’m very excited about!

 Follow Valerie on : 

Instagram : https://www.instagram.com/valeriemckeehan/