McNamara-Underwood Captures Passage of Winter in Pastels

Published in 2015 by The St. Ignace News

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“My favorite saying is from Picasso. He said that when imagination comes walking through your door, he’d better catch you working. I love that,” St. Ignace resident Paula McNamara-Underwood said.

She also takes the admonition seriously, and is ready and waiting with cup of coffee and a box of pastels when inspiration arrives at the crack of dawn.

On December 4, Mrs. McNamara Underwood began a series of 12 pastel sketches titled “Winter Passage.” The title indicates both her subject and the broader concept behind the project. Each pastel illustrates a winter sunrise bursting over the Round Island Passage between Mackinac Island and Round Island, visible from her studio window, but the project as a whole also captures the progression and passage of winter.

“Some people find sunrises redundant, and, in some ways, they’re right,” she said. “You always get orange and rosy hues, but they’re all different. It’s been interesting to see just how different they are and how much they change as winter goes on.”

December sunrises are the darkest. So dark, she used black paper to catch the stark contrasts between the sky, the islands, and the water of Lake Huron. Pink hues begin creeping into the images in January, as does the sunrise’s reflection on the lake ice. The light begins to best the darkness in February, and spring finally arrives in March, with brighter skies and vivid hues.

In addition to black paper, Mrs. McNamara-Underwood chose dark purple, a deep royal blue, cream, and turquoise papers as a starting point for the different images.

She can tell which paper is needed and what the day is going to hold as soon as the light begins to play across the horizon. After that first break of dawn, she only has about 10 minutes to capture the colors of the sunrise and the intensity of the light before it’s gone. Later in the morning, she defines the shape and shadows of the islands, clouds, and ice from memory.

“It’s all about the light, and the light changes in seconds,” she said. “I have to be out here, waiting, to catch it.”

A public viewing of the Winter Passage pastels will be offered at the St. Ignace Public Library Wednesday, April 29, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Light refreshments will be provided.