Artist Rita Ginsberg captures the attention of Lowcountry admirers with her realistic pastel paintings of native birds, which she paints in intricate detail after spending an abundant amount of time photographing and studying them in their natural habitats. Using both soft pastels and pencil pastels, she reproduces the nuances of the colors, habits, positions and expressions of a long list of birds living in the area. Her bird paintings are so popular, they quickly sell when she refreshes the walls with new pieces every few months at Perspective Gallery in Mount Pleasant. In fact, many know her only for her pastel paintings of birdlife.
Past experience plays heavily into Ginsberg’s ability to fine-tune details. She credits her past career as a graphic designer at both a printing company and a marketing agency for helping her notice the finer points to include in her hand-drawn artwork for customers. Today, she uses this learned skill to add details to her wildlife paintings to make them extraordinarily realistic.
While long walks around the tranquil lakes and ponds in the area of Mount Pleasant where she lives provide inspiration for her bird paintings, Ginsberg finds that the meandering tidal creeks, marshes and sandy beaches stir new ideas for landscape and seascape pastel paintings. When painting landscapes, she relies on her self-created collection of high-resolution photographs to inspire the direction of a particular piece. “I don’t strive to paint a photorealistic copy but focus instead on the feeling the subject resonates within me,” Ginsberg says. “I find a connection with the subject—the deep hues of a sunset or the eyes of an animal—and use that to convey the story and create an attraction. I call my work ‘impressionistic realism.’ It has a painterly feel but includes distinctive details like a realistic photograph. Once I experienced the smooth texture and vibrant colors pastels offer, my artwork took on a new level of depth and realism unachievable with other mediums.”
The rich colors inherent in pastel painting, blended and layered through Ginsberg’s talented application techniques, make her subjects pop. “I use different grades of sanded pastel paper to add the texture inherent in beach scenes and other landscape paintings,” she says. Her desire to paint nature scenes in the most realistic way possible is a nod to the traditional definition of impressionism. The soft pastels allow her to layer pigment and provide an ideal way to add light to her scenes, such as the sunlight glinting on a breaking ocean wave.
These techniques are in contrast to Ginsberg’s pastels of birds and wildlife, where she begins with a brand of pastel mat paper that accepts many layers of pastels. This type of paper allows her to use soft pastel sticks to create the background scene while relying on harder pastel pencils to draw fine details on the top layers, which are necessary to bring her animal subjects to life on the page.
In addition to painting highly sought-after pastels of birds and Lowcountry landscapes, Ginsberg also accepts requests for commissioned pet portraits. You may not see these pieces hanging on the wall of the gallery due to their private, one-of-a-kind design, but Ginsberg devotes a significant portion of her time to painting clients’ beloved pets, using pastels and working from photos. “It is fun for me to create such personal pieces for my clients,” she says. “Early on, pet portraits provided a way for me to gain a strong understanding of texture and the special qualities of animals. This sort of art just clicks with me. Whether it’s animals, landscapes, seascapes or pet portraits, my work in using pastels is a testament to the joy and realism I find in nature.”
Dana W. Todd is a professional writer specializing in interior design, real estate, luxury homebuilding, landscape design, architecture and art.