Don and Joyce Nagel, now celebrating 30 years on Hilton Head Island, are uncommonly fine artists.
They are masters of the pastel medium and are highly regarded for their outcomes and their ongoing achievements in teaching and studying art, not only in the Lowcountry but throughout the U.S., Europe and Africa.
“Pastel, a powerful, elegant, versatile medium ... is perhaps not as well known as paintings in oil, acrylic or watercolor,” said Joyce Nagel on the day of our visit. “ Happily, the pastel work for which Don and I have such a passion has continued to interest and excite new appreciators,. and we are enjoying more and more interest in our paintings and in our classes.”
The pair spends hours most days painting and framing in their home studio on Hilton Head Island. Whether creating pastel pieces for the gallery of the Art League of Hilton Head or for the special challenges of the Pastel Society of America, Joyce is a master pastelist and Don an associate member. They are represented by La Petite Gallerie and the Maye River Gallery, both in Bluffton.
The other artistic passion which the Nagels share is teaching art generally, and the pastel medium specifically. The classes are offered at the Art Academy of the Art League of Hilton Head on Cordillo Roa. Artists of all levels of accomplishment are welcomed.
“Brick by brick,” said Don Nagel. “We start from the very beginning with black and white cuts of paper and look at design and composition. We move through, pen and ink, color, more about composition, textures, underpainting, layering and finalizing the piece. And through the course, we offer the opportunity to do a series of small paintings in not only pastel, but also in the mediums of their choice....”
“I came to pastel by an interesting route,” confided Don Nagel. “I had dealt with the pastel medium while I was an art student at Rochester Institute of Technology and Wayne State University.
“Then as I focused on my career in commercial art and advertising, I found myself employing pastel in the preparation of certain projects. Unfortunately, in both scenarios, there were times when I spent so much effort and energy on deadlines, concepts and a ton of professional challenges, that painting in pastel, or in fact, enjoying any kind of painting, just for the pleasure of creating a wonderful piece of fine art, seemed unrealistic...”
Happily, both artists came a time in their lives when they were able to step back from the demands of their earlier careers, and gaze at new possibilities in fine art on Hilton Head Island.
“Painting in pastel is incisive, and is so immediate,” said Don Nagel, as he offered a close-up look at recently completed work of a stunning, powerful, black locomotive. He pointed out issues of composition, perspective, underpainting, texture, but most especially he described the color.
“I never use black pigment, he added. Instead I apply other colors and shades toward the creation of the impression of black. I focus on the careful managing of blues and greens and purples ... the negative tones to bring about that dark requirement.”
From the consideration of color, we moved to issues of underpainting and the layering of color during the creation of a particular image.
The underpainting process involves the application of an initial layer of alcohol or mineral solvent ... in some cases even pigment. After the underpainting, pigment is subsequently overlaid with layer upon layer toward the application of a finishing coat.
Don Nagel works with mainly hard pastel and almost always with alcohol based underpainting. He appreciates the control it offers as he works toward his final outcome.
“When I’m focused on pastel, ” said Joyce Nagle, “in addition to my compositional considerations, the drawing, the color values, the patterns, perspective, my use or management of underpainting contributes dramatically to what I look for in my outcomes. I use mineral spirits which I believe offers a looser result, a lushness to my landscape painting, particularly.”
Joyce Nagel ventures into other mediums, too, including oil and watercolor. Clearly, elements of her work in pastel impact, dramatically, her accomplishments in these other mediums.
“Through it all, “ said Joyce Nagel, “no matter the medium, I am anxious to express more and more about the atmosphere or even the emotion of the setting.”
The Nagels’ work can be seen at the Art League of Hilton Head Gallery.
Don Nagel’s paintings can be viewed at La Petite Gallerie in Bluffton.
Joyce Nagel’s paintings can be seen at the Maye River Gallery in Bluffton.
To contact the artists:
Artist, musician, teacher and writer Nancy K. Wellard focuses on portraying and promoting the cultural arts, first in Los Angeles and, for close to 30 years, in the Lowcountry. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.