With Her Eyes to the Skies: Pastelist Barbara Shakal

Whitefish Dunes State Park has long been considered a sacred space for those who walk its winding trails and seemingly endless sandy beach. It is particularly so for anyone who has spent a morning along its dunes watching the sunrise over Lake Michigan.

Artist Barbara Shakal counts herself among that crowd. A daily witness of the first peeks of sunlight to hit the dunes, Shakal brings these mental screenshots to her studio where she replicates the changing skies and landscapes with pastels.

“Most of the color that you’ll see in my pastels is because of morning light,” Shakal said. “As the sun rises, there is many times a cloudbank above Lake Michigan. As the sun comes up, it is shining underneath the clouds and lighting up the clouds from underneath, and it changes so rapidly that using my pastels, I can catch that really quickly.”

Her desire to capture the colors and motions of these daily excursions was inspired by Impressionist artists Edgar Degas and Claude Monet, who “sought to capture fleeting moments.” In particular, Shakal points to Monet’s use of repetition in his work (his Haystacks series, for example), which was his way of showing how light changes at various times of day, seasons and types of weather.

“Afternoon Delight.”

“As I take the same walks each morning, I see striking color shifts seasonally as well as on a daily basis,” Shakal said. “Door County landscapes continue to excite me and inspire fresh new paintings.”

These paintings are characterized by Shakal’s bold use of color and texture achieved through a mixed media approach by first applying acrylic underpainting to rag matboard and then covering the acrylic with either soft or hard pastels.

The acrylic foundation is usually done in contrasting colors to what the overlaying pastels will be, she explained. Water scenes of blues, whites and greens often have a warm and earthy underpainting, like burnt sienna. Traces of the acrylic foundation often peek through the pastels, adding depth and texture to her land, sea and skyscapes. Shakal also regularly incorporates acrylic modeling paste into her paintings, applying it with a palette knife to replicate the motion caused by Lake Michigan winds.

“Rough Waters” by Barbara Shakal.

“When you’re looking at the waves when they’re coming in or when I’m looking at the fields that have been plowed and the grasses that are laying down in a field, all those different things, I get the motion of what the wind does to the fields and to the water,” Shakal said.

A selection of Shakal’s pastels are currently on display in the Hope Church Art Alcoves through the end of April. Shakal’s work has also been exhibited at The Hardy, The Women’s Fund of Door County’s ARTrageous benefit, the Sturgeon Bay Holiday Art Crawl and at her gallery, Wisconsin Arts Gallery and Framing in Green Bay.


Hope Church is located at 141 S. 12th Ave. in Sturgeon Bay. For more information call 920.743.2701 or visit

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