Archives For tips

Beach Adventures

Mary Liz Ingram —  October 4, 2015 — Leave a comment

There’s this magical place where the sands are untouched, smooth and white as snow; where the sky stretches on in the vastness of blue, where the sea oats whisper and the ocean rolls, where a river of amber flows shallow and changing into the turquoise sea. If you listen, you only hear the quiet breeze and the gentle splashing of your bare feet as you tread gingerly up the river towards the lake. The dunes are safe from the traffic and trash of humans. The herons watch you approach, and the little fish dart in the skim of water.

This is where we find respite for a week each September. I take the hearty adventurers up the tidal river towards Alligator Lake several times each day, and always in the early morning when the cotton candy clouds hang lazy in the sky. With a net and eager eyes, my son watches for crab. His lithe little body, tanned by the sun, moves with patient energy. He appreciates the stillness of the place, the untouched nature. I’m proud as I watch him wonder.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure and honor to offer a pastel demonstration at one of the monthly meetings of the Mountain Brook Art Association. Just back from the most recent beach trip, I chose a picture of my son in the beach river, green net in hand, looking up at the beautiful sky with his little feet in the damp sand.

Beach Adventures, 16x20 pastel

Beach Adventures, 16×20 pastel

At the demonstration, I was able to share some of my favorite materials and techniques. Below is a list of some earlier blog posts about my favorite materials:

Sennelier, Paris... My favorite!

Sennelier, Paris… My favorite!

Sennelier Soft Pastels:

The Darker the Better

Love at First Sight

Full Circle

Spraying Pastels:

To Spray or not to Spray

SpectraFix Pastel Fixative

SpectraFix Follow up

Papers & Boards:


Pastel Ground:

Applying Pastel Ground

The Spanish Steps

Black Board with Golden Pastel Ground


Baby Brothers

Mary Liz Ingram —  April 11, 2014 — 1 Comment

Recently I had the great pleasure to do three precious portraits of baby brothers. They are such cute little babies, I just kept staring at them while they rested on my art desk!

Here’s a peek at my portrait process:

There’s always that middle point, when I begin to cover the bright colors, when I panic. And babies especially make me sweat, with their smooth little faces. You have to be so careful to keep all shadows and lines subtle, to keep their chubby cheeks chubby and their newness young.

Introducing three cute little buddies, and a huge thanks for this fun commission!

Baby Brother, 8x10 pastel

Baby Brother, 8×10 pastel

Baby Brother, 8x10 pastel

Baby Brother, 8×10 pastel


Baby Brother, 8x10 pastel

Baby Brother, 8×10 pastel


Things were whirling out of control.

Every day was an exercise in survival. Lots of take-out dinners, scrambling to complete daily tasks, to keep up with the rotating chaos of laundry, dishes and trash. I could feel life slipping through my fingers, days passing by without significance.

It made me sad.

I love life. I want to feel it, breathe it, enjoy it, relish it. To soak up the moments wherever I am.

I declared war upon stress and overload.

I formulated the first stages of a peaceful plan of attack, which has been in action for a week or two now. Small steps to get me going in the right direction, as I detail a larger front to find a more permanent peace:

1. Worst Case Scenario dismissal

Awake with anxieties, I started asking myself, “What’s the worst that can happen if…” I found that the answers were never as terrible as the stress that was boiling in my busy, responsible mind.

2. French Music & Open Windows

For the past week, each morning as I pull out of the driveway I roll down the windows and crank up Carla Bruni’s Little French Songs. It is so nice. So relaxing. To feel the cool Autumn air in my hair, on my hands, listening to music that transports me to Paris, reminding me of a bigger, wider world…happy sigh… I feel the sky open up above me, and I feel my feet more firmly planted in my place. I notice the rays of sunlight wash over me as I drive the beautiful winding roads, and I am ready to live life with my eyes open.

With my car fully loaded with kids one afternoon, I brought them into this peaceful experience. In the rear view mirror, I watched as my 5 year old son closed his eyes to “see” what the songs brought to his mind. They thought it was awesome. On one song, they felt like birds in the clouds. Then things got more elaborate. They envisioned a funny king penguin with an ice crown on his ice throne, and ice palace with penguin servants who slid down ramps on their bellies. Yep. I asked them to draw their penguins later:

A few days later, my son asked me “Mom, can you roll down the windows and turn on that music so we can breathe?”

Pretty much sums it up.

3. Vision Adjustment

When I hit the peak of stress one afternoon, I was sitting in the car waiting for my daughter’s dance class to end after two failed attempts to run errands (due to uninteresting, but irritating complications). While we waited, my son hung out the open window, singing away to the world, completely oblivious to any cares. My stress evaporated as I watched him, and I gained a new perspective.

Taking a step back from the to-do list and noticing the real, tangible situations around me has helped tremendously… looking at the clouds, the people, the fallen leaves instead of passing by on a mission to somewhere else.

“Pay attention, just for a moment. Think to yourself, This is my life, right now. I need to remember.” -Roxana Robinson

4. Up and at ’em

This one is tough. But everyday after I (or more correctly my husband) drag myself out of bed at 5:15am, have that waiting cup of coffee (my requirement for getting up an hour earlier than usual), and wake up a little, I find reward. I have about 45 minutes to just sit, sip coffee, do whatever I want or nothing at all. No getting ready, no requests from kids, no noises, no demands. My husband writes on his blog, and I sit in a leather chair in my warm robe sipping coffee. It’s nice. It starts the day in peace instead of hurry.

“Stillness in your body leads to quiet in your mind.” -Elona Landau

We’ll see if I can keep that one up…

My Favorite Chair, Ink sketch

My Favorite Chair, Ink sketch


Mary Liz Ingram —  April 15, 2013 — Leave a comment

Art desk scrubbed, pastels ready, paper cut, charcoal in hand, reference propped at just the right angle…

Deep, contemplative breath in, nervous exhale as I prepare to begin another portrait.

Grasping for my inner creative, I look at the photo reference, with the jet black backdrop behind this cute chubby baby, and I try to envision the finished product. I used to aim to be a camera: copy the image as exactly as possible. With some experience and years of art behind me, this is no longer my goal. I now try to take an image and “make it sing,” however that translates on paper.

Baby Boy, 11x14 preliminary sketch

Baby Boy, 11×14 preliminary sketch

I sketch out the sweet little boy; feel pretty good about feature placement. Now it’s time for the dreaded background. In my mind’s eye, I see a light, wispy something or other, which is not much help. Instead of agonizing over it, I just jump in.

Working on a deadline, I don’t have time to mess around.

The joy of being back at my art desk after a few busy weeks, mixed with determination to get the portrait finished, ended up surprising me with yet another evolution of my art.

I’ve found over the years, that even though you are creating art with your own hand, your own head and your own heart, the results can sometimes surprise you. Though you may have drawn something in the same way many, many times, all of a sudden the finished product is something unexpectedly and delightfully different.

With this portrait, I unknowingly used a lighter, looser hand, less defined edges, and worked the color and texture of my pastel card into the painting. I was (thankfully) quite happy with this new result, and am very glad that the new owners are as well!

Baby Boy, 11x14 pastel on card

Baby Boy, 11×14 pastel on card

Out of the Box with Mary Liz Ingram


Come discover a new side to working with soft pastels!
Join award-winning pastel artist Mary Liz Ingram, and learn how to paint stunning landscapes. Mary Liz will demonstrate techniques to move you beyond traditional light & smooth pastel drawings to pastel paintings alive with brilliant color. We will be creating two finished pastel landscapes, large and miniature. You’ll achieve great results that will have people guessing your medium! Click here for details, and visit Forstall Art Center’s website for more info.
Saturday, May 4, 10-4pm.
Forstall Art Center, Birmingham, Alabama
$85, supplies needed, lunch included.

What’s in a name?

Mary Liz Ingram —  February 27, 2013 — Leave a comment

Baby ToesYou’re expecting a baby. You toss around this name, argue over that name. You think of the ways someone could make fun of the name, what it rhymes with, how it looks in writing. For me, I knew the baby’s name as soon as the gender was discovered. For my sister, her baby had a name when they were forced to turn in the birth certificate form. It’s a big deal, naming a person!

In a different setting (or if you’re like me, with said baby on your hip), it’s time to choose another name: another “product of your labors,” if you will (ha ha).

The Clod & The Pebble

The Clod & The Pebble, 18×24 Soft Pastel on board,

Your art is complete. You stand back, considering the image, thinking of the message, the voice you hope it conveys…the mood, the feeling. It’s time to give it a name. Sometimes a name seems to come pre-attached to your artwork and is easy to choose, such as my “The Clod and the Pebble,” which was inspired by the poetry of William Blake. Sometimes extensive creativity is not required, like a friend of mine who numbers his cow paintings (Cow 1, Cow 34, etc.). Sometimes naming art can be comical, when you try to be real “artsy fartsy” and call it “Life Emerging from Heartstrings” or “Purple Mists Over the Lands of Love.” (apologies if anyone has chosen these fabulous, imaginary titles…)

At other times, you stare and stare and your mind draws a blank. This happens to me A LOT. I’ll toss names around, and finally just settle for one that I may find a bit silly. Continue Reading…

Piece by Piece

Mary Liz Ingram —  February 21, 2013 — Leave a comment

Sometimes creating art can be a lot like completing a puzzle. I have the pieces, and it’s a matter of putting them all together.

Join me for a quick step-by-step journey, as I put the pieces together to form my latest pastel, “Cotton Whispers”:

The first piece to the puzzle begins in my mind: an inspiration; an experience; a mist of a final product. The next piece comes with my references: photographs taken on a family vacation, cotton bolls saved here and there.

Beginning the sketch

Beginning the sketch

The next step is the charcoal sketch: Continue Reading…

I’d like to introduce you to a member of the family. This unique relative likes to think outside the box, does not like to be constrained, and has an oily quality.

Meet soft pastel’s cousin, the oil pastel.

regular sized oil pastels

regular sized oil pastels

Now, let me tell you how I met the oil pastel, well, good oil pastels. We can all remember those crayon-like oil pastels from school art class; how their waxy marks just make a smeary mess. Who knew there was something better out there!? It’s like the difference between blackboard chalk and good soft pastels: like a whole different art medium. But I digress… Continue Reading…

pastels & card

my pastels & card

There they are, those beautiful sticks of soft pastels. They are about the size of my pointer finger, and while mine may be a bit messy, they are full of beautiful, creamy, vibrant color.

I have my pastel card cut and I’m ready to begin.

Wow: big pastel, tiny paper. How is it to be done???

My biggest sellers are mini pastels, 2×3″ to 4×4″ pastels on card, framed. When teaching classes, one of the tricks my students are encouraged to master is the ability to hold a chunky pastel just right, in order to achieve a very fine line. It can be done!

No matter how rounded my pastels look, I can always find an edge. Sometimes I have to break them (painful, I know…but it must be done!), or use a small “crumb.” When handled correctly, I can get a thin eyelash even on a small piece of art. Continue Reading…

My Nemesis

Mary Liz Ingram —  January 24, 2013 — 3 Comments

You know the feeling: your nemesis approaches. You want to cringe away; your eyes narrow, lips compress. Your palms might begin to sweat, or you get fidgety, anxiety rising. The dreaded moment draws near when you and your adversary are forced to interact.

It’s time I confess my greatest enemy. Continue Reading…