The Arts Barn is alive with color this holiday season as the Metro Washington Chapter of the Colored Pencil Society of America presents its “Life in Color” show. Accompanying works are ceramics by Frederick potter Shari Jacobs and multimedia sculpture by Gaithersburg artist Maduka Uduh. At the lively reception on Dec. 5, first-, second- and third-place awards were presented by juror Allen Bentley, a well-known figure painter, colorist and professor of art at Montgomery College.
Show chair and Kentlands artist and writer Betty Hafner showed her “Mirror, Mirror,” a playful self-portrait from a photograph morphed with an app and her colored pencil drawing. “I took a selfie with a quirky photo app,” she explained. “It’s a very 21st century look at ‘Life in Color.’” Hafner’s landscape drawing “comes from a photo I took on my way up to Poolesville on a beautiful fall day. I played with the color quite a bit and, as I was drawing, kept singing the ‘60s Chiffons song ‘One Fine Day,’ so that’s how it got its name,” she said.
The nuances of this medium intrigue as each work substantially differs from the previous one in both subject and technique. Many have no detectable strokes; others use them to highlight texture and depth. Hafner explained that the pencils used by the majority are artist-grade hard wax pencils that contain a high degree of wax and pigment. Most draw using a variety of stroke methods, hers being small circles. Solvents and different papers also affect style.
Bentley jokingly revealed that he was puzzled by colored pencils when initially asked to jury the show. However, he was thrilled to take it on. “At the end of the day, techniques are all makers of an image, all storytellers in some form or another. Whether figurative, landscape or abstract, one is telling a story with the single smallest instrument available—a pencil. It takes guts!” he said. His guiding thoughts in evaluating the works were: What kind of story was the artist trying to tell with color? What was said? Where did your story take me? Did you pull off color?
First-place winner Maryann DellaRocco and second-place winner Deborah Maklowski create using a French method called grisaille—laying down a background in shades of grey in an imitation of sculpture. It was commonly used by the old masters in their oils. Its most famous modern application was used by Picasso in his masterpiece “Guernica.” DellaRocco explained that grisaille simplifies the coloring process. “It takes the guesswork out of color hues—darks and lights. With grey you don’t have to think about it. Because of the translucence of colored pencils, you can see underneath colors and can mix on the surface. There are 13 to 15 layers of color in my ‘Potable Autumn.’”
DellaRocco’s “Potable Autumn” earned first place. It is an eye-catching, swirling abstract in shades of mauve, gold and blue. “The idea evolved when my son came into the kitchen in early autumn and threw a bunch of berries onto the table,” she said. Viewing the berries through a glass of water, she was inspired by the shadowy perspectives. Abstracted from reference photographs, it was worked on drafting paper, which must be colored on both sides. The subject so captivated her that she created a four-season series. “Summer Draught” is also in the show with corresponding winter and spring versions in her portfolio.
Second place went to Deborah Maklowski for her contemporary white, black and metallic “Firebird,” also created using the grisaille technique and coated drafting paper. “‘Firebird’ is one of a series of drawings inspired by the unexpected patterns and colors created when butter melts in a pan,” she explained. “I take dozens of photos, shooting until the butter is completely melted. In Photoshop, I zoom in on small sections of a photo, rotating and cropping to find the most interesting composition. I edit for color and balance, and then draw the image on drafting film. The back is done first, keeping the values about three to four steps darker than my goal. Then I turn the film over and complete the front in the final, lighter values.” Two accompanying works in the show are “Shoals” and “Sirocco.”
Third place went to Mary Ellen Geissenhainer for “Quacker Stack,” a playful look at saltine crackers and ducks with fine attention to detail and color. “Quackers and Milk” is an accompanying work.
DC artist Magruder Murray, who made a splash at the Arts Barn earlier this year in the “Musicalia” show, presented his “Froot Loops,” a lifesize toucan, inspired by the work of a wildlife photographer friend. Murray discussed the techniques of colored pencil drawing and revealed that he uses dots to fill in and a myriad of strokes to create texture—fine and delicate or bold and striking. He applies solvent with cotton that aids in smudging and shading colors and providing a smooth surface. His “Pride” is a tribute to his mother who returned from an African trip with a selection of black-and-white photos and postcards, telling him how colorful everything was. He assigned color using the photos and his imagination as guides to portray a woman in traditional dress surrounded by landscape.
Venture in from the cold and discover how these artists turned the ordinary extraordinary with their use of color. I promise you will love Amanda Spaid’s bright pink “Flamingo”—it will put you in a Florida mood! “Life in Color” is up through Jan. 27.