Drawing & Pastel

During the time Kurt Wenner spent in Italy studying drawing, he learned how fundamental it is to all the visual arts. In fact, it has been used for centuries to communicate new ideas across all mediums. Wenner realized drawing should be considered a “visual art language” and has spent decades teaching it as such. Many think you need inborn talent to draw, but Wenner’s work demonstrates it can be learned along the lines of music or spoken language.

After having mastered drawing, he went on to learn about historical art materials. Through trial and error, he landed on a recipe for a beautiful palette of hand-made colored pastels, which he continues to this day. The fact that Wenner loves drawing shows through his work, and he enjoys using pastels to transform them into full-color works of art.

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Kurt Wenner's

drawing & pastel

As a young artist, Kurt Wenner wondered why everyone drew poorly when compared to the artist of the Renaissance. His curiosity led him to question the underlying cause and seek out the skills of Renaissance artists.

While he was fortunate to find a teacher, who helped him realize drawing is a systematic process, he still had a lot more questions than answers. Wenner soon headed for Italy to study since it houses more Renaissance masterpieces than any other country.

Drawing from sculpture.

Drawing

Once settled in Rome, he spent endless hours drawing from masterpieces in the Vatican Museums. The images caught the eye of passers-by and museum guards who bought them straight off his drawing board. Those he held on to served him to create large pastel images on the street. He used the pavement like a giant canvas to bring the Vatican Museum’s collection outdoors to the public. He found it was an incredible experience to be a visible and accessible artist on the streets of Rome. Having cultivated an audience for his work, he began to introduce his unique compositions.

Moses in pencil on paper
and with pastel on asphalt.
An original composition of
St. George in pencil on paper
and with pastel on asphalt.

Unfortunately, the public was not used to seeing original work and assumed Wenner’s images were copies of unfamiliar museum painting. The frustration of not having his work recognized, spurred him to create something so avant-garde that there could be no confusion with artworks from the past. With the introduction of his 3D pavement art images, the public encountered images unlike those ever seen. Wenner rejoiced in the baffled looks and long stares as he knew his audience was genuinely seeing his work and no longer attributing it to an artist from the past.

Pencil on paper detail of the image Dies Irae, and the final work in pastel on canvas.

His work on the streets of Rome led to several permanent art commissions in Italy. A private chapel for a senator, an entire church ceiling at lake Como, and a sizeable Last Judgment image for Pope Jon Paul II. To execute these substantial commissions, he first created a tonal drawing of the compositional design.

The Magic Flute, pencil on paper and oil paint on canvas, 11’ x 14’
(3.35 meters x 4.25 meters).

Wenner fell in love with classicism as a flexible tool. Not only could he create powerful illusions and beautiful sacred images, but it also enabled him to work across the continuum of historical to contemporary styles. The drawing below is from a series of three pictures commissioned for a global sportswear company. The concept was to depict the contemporary issues of stress, gluttony, and poverty in a modern style.

Office Stress, pencil on paper.

Nothing beats the principles of classicism to describe form and space. Wenner realized that if he could draw and compose original works that the same skills would transfer to sculpting as well.

Zephyr and Flora,
pencil on paper and cast stone.

Over the years, he saw more and more architectural elements creep into his work, which he enjoys combing into his paintings. Wenner finds great beauty in classicism, saying it works as a system where the individual parts can combine in an infinite amount of ways – the only limits being our imagination.

Diana’s Bath, pencil on paper,
study for an oil mural with plaster decoration.

Much of his permanent work is locked away behind the gates of private estates, although there are a few large public works on display. Clients and architects, who encountered the breadth of his work, began asking him to design large homes. Wenner’s drawings have a quality that computer programs cannot match for giving clients a genuine sense of the final project.

Villa Tramontana, pencil on paper.

Formal drawing enables Wenner to have a broader range of expression than any other approach to art. People often ask how he can work across so many mediums and be so prolific. He says the answer is all due to the magical language of classicism. By having gone in search of this missing piece of our visual heritage, his career has spanned more than 30 countries with broad popular appeal. His art extends from those who interact with it on the street to the world’s wealthiest who live with it in their homes. In addition, he is commissioned by the cream of the crop of Fortune 500 companies across the globe. Wenner says it is the universal principles embedded in classicism that he thanks for all of it.

Portrait, pencil on paper.

Pastels

Wenner always admired the great 18th century works in pastels but considered the medium to be far too messy to consider. When he saw people working on the pavement in Rome, he was curious and asked what they were doing. Coming from the United States, Wenner had never encountered pavement art and was surprised at the number of young people scattered across the sidewalks and piazzas of Rome. Finding the courage to try it for himself, he discovered he could use his drawings as a reference to create large images in full color. Wenner found transferring an image to the pavement went smoothly. He didn’t smudge or cancel his strokes since the process followed the same principles used to make the drawing. He noticed many artists applied lots of chalk to fill-in and cover the roughness of the ground, but he was captivated by the texture. Wenner preferred to barely blend his pastels, leaving each stroke visible and allowing the irregular surface to show through.

Angel, detail of pastel on paper.

After going through many expensive commercial pastels on the first couple of images, Wenner researched old recipes and experimented with making his own. Eventually, he landed on a technique that gave him the right consistency and allowed him to control his color palette. He never returned to using store-bought products.

Handmade pastels.

After going through many expensive commercial pastels on the first couple of images, Wenner researched old recipes and experimented with making his own. Eventually, he landed on a technique that gave him the right consistency and allowed him to control his color palette. He never returned to using store-bought products.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Battle of Anghiari, pencil on paper with pastel on asphalt.

Although dozens of his early images washed away, he enjoyed the process of creating large-scale paintings for the public. Answering questions and demonstrating techniques helped to demystify the process of painting. By bringing art out from behind the studio wall, people could watch the entire working process and ask questions as the image progressed. Everyone from senators and bankers in suits to baristas in aprons would stop to watch a painting develop day-by-day. As a foreigner in Italy, he treasured feeling a part of the community and being one of the many threads that made up the daily fabric of life in Rome.

Papageno from Mozart’s
The Magic Flute, pastel on paper.
Queen of the Night from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, pastel on paper.

Pastels can be used to create a fresco-like quality, that’s impossible to achieve with other mediums. They are also historically well known for their ability to render soft flesh tones, making the medium perfect for portraiture and figure studies.

Psyche, pastel on paper.

Pastels were especially popular with European nobility as they could render their luxurious fabrics and costumes. Wenner’s, Dogs Playing Poker series, pokes fun at noble portraiture by combining the beautiful antique materials with beloved breeds of dogs.

Venetian Poker dog,
pastel on paper.
Poker dogs, pastel on paper.

Gambling and card-playing was a popular pastime during the same historical period in which pastels became popular. Their sudden favor was due to the invention of plate glass in Venice as it protected the surface from damage making pastel images permanent.

Poker dogs, pastel on paper.

Wenner likes the medium of pastels, especially for sacred art images as their exquisite nature lends an exceptional quality to works of devotion and quiet contemplation.

Kwan Yin, Chinese goddess of compassion, pastel on paper.

works commissioned by