Join our Email List!





abstract pastel painting of leaves

Featured artist: The pastel painting of Colette Odya Smith

January 31, 2020  |  Topics: featured artist, Spotlight

Artist’s statement by Colette Odya Smith:

It seems to me many mysteries and miracles are lying in plain sight, patiently awaiting discovery. Such things as a fallen leaf or the clouds reflected in a still pool call out to be seen and understood.  My heart knows there is more going on than simple appearance and so I feel compelled to respond and explore what lessons are there to be learned. This desire to see and understand more clearly has taken form in my paintings, moving them beyond simple depiction into expressions of what I glimpse beyond the physical.

pastel painting of rocks and leaves
Falling into Place, 24×24, pastel/watercolor on museum board

The rocks, water, and foliage I am drawn to as my subject matter, I believe, are the material expression of structural concepts and meanings that seem to be always just below the surface, literally and metaphorically. My layering of soft pastels over watercolor addresses this idea through scenes depicting reflection, transparency and indeterminate detail.

pastel painting of tree trunks
Chance Encounter, 10×10, pastel/watercolor on museum board

I often obscure the customary references of horizon and atmospheric perspective. In this way easy identification of the landscape is downplayed. Context and scale become malleable. This allows a broader range of interpretations and frees me to move beyond the literal.  Adding to this ambiguity, I often mix reflected imagery with solid forms, begging the question of what is ‘real’ and what is illusory. These are usually ‘realistic’ images, yet often appear as abstractions.

pastel painting
Full Fade, 30×30, pastel/watercolor on museum board

 I love creating passages of paint where one can move without concern for naming and words. The surface is available for spontaneous meandering. It becomes a place for nameless knowing. Free association and personal response is encouraged. I hope my particular take on a scene can clarify or illuminate nascent insights for others as well as for me.

pastel painting of the edge of a pond
Interplay, 20×20, pastel/watercolor on museum board

Lastly, I create these paintings with pastels and watercolor and I’m charmed to be using the same elements of dust and water that inspire me to paint.

pastel painting of trees
Old Friends, 20×20, pastel/watercolor on museum board

Artist’s Bio

I guess I’ve always been an artist, even long before I could name myself that way.  As a child I was happiest in my corner making pictures and art projects; next best was exploring outdoors or reading.  I traded my cleaning chores with my brothers for the chance to tend the yard and garden. 

abstract pastel painting
Over the Line, 20×20, pastel/watercolor on museum board

Growing up in Milwaukee in a large working-class family, “staycations” were the norm.  The Midwest’s abundant water and greenery, and yes, even its austere winters instilled in me a love of landscape, even if it was found in urban puddles and wayward weeds in cracked sidewalks. Through subsequent travel I have expanded my range of inspiration and nurtured that enthusiasm.

River Crossing, 24×36, pastel/watercolor on museum board

I attended Macalester College in St. Paul, earning my degree in Fine Art, Humanities, and Education.  This was followed by a decade of teaching art in Wisconsin schools and raising two creative children while making art around the edges. It was while taking classes at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design that I met and fell in love with pastels. I have been working nearly exclusively with them since.

pastel painting of a reflection on water of trees
Spring Clean, 24×24, pastel/watercolor on museum board

For over 25 years now I have pursued this love, refining my skills and being increasingly engaged in the artistic community. I usually layer pastels over a watercolor underpainting, developing working methods that affirm the expressive range of this versatile medium.  At times I may use ripped and layered surfaces, textured elements, and gold and copper leaf.

pastel painting of water's edge
Water Ballet, 30×30, pastel/watercolor on museum board

My paintings have been featured in several art publications and exhibited widely in the United States, as well as in France, Germany, and China.  They have received many regional, national, and international awards.  I have written articles and juried for the Pastel Journal magazine. I am particularly honored by the recognition of my artist colleagues, having been named a Maître Pastelliste by the Societe des Pastellistes de France, Master Pastelist by the Pastel Society of America, Eminent Pastelist and Masters’ Circle member by the International Association of Pastel Societies, and Distinguished Pastelist by the Pastel Society of New Mexico.  My work hangs in public, corporate and private collections, including the Ming Gallery Museum of Pastel in Suzhou, China.

Waterstone, 20×20, pastel/watercolor on museum board

I feel blessed to be an artist and to be able to do this work I love.  Whether painting, teaching, judging, or writing, I offer my work in the spirit of service.

Winter Blaze, 20×20, pastel/watercolor on museum board

All the paintings shown here were inspired by locations in the Milwaukee watershed area, primarily the Milwaukee County Grounds and retention ponds, Menomonee River and Parkway, Hoyt Park and Jacobus Park.

The featured photo at the top is a detail from In it Together, 24×36, pastel/watercolor on museum board.

Editor’s note: This is the latest in a series of posts in The Natural Realm showcasing the work of photographers, artists, writers and other creative individuals in our community whose subjects or themes relate in some broad sense to nature, urban nature, people in nature, etc. ~ Eddee Daniel, Preserve Our Parks.