Layers of Light

Shades of Green (colored pencil, 9×12) is a 2001 Competition finalist.

“Light is really what does it for me. I like a lot of contrast and a lot of strong shadows, so I tend to put those in my setups,” says Hillsboro, Ohio, artist Cecile Baird. Although she sometimes works in oils, Baird primarily uses colored pencil to re-create the dramatic lighting in her still lifes. “The ability to layer colors with colored pencil is what really gives it a glow and the richness that I love,” she says.

Baird relies on her burnishing technique to achieve a realistic look in her paintings, which takes countless hours to complete. But the convenience of working in colored pencil (no preparation) allows her to work on her pieces whenever she has time. A former graphic designer, Baird now owns her own business?a company that wholesales her line of dog figurines to gift shops across the country?and doesn?t have a lot of time for painting. She credits her membership in the local art guild and a smaller group of artists that meets once a week with keeping her inspired. And she continually enters local, regional and national competitions, which she says gives her deadlines and motivates her to finish pieces.

But in addition to painting, Baird also makes time to hunt for interesting objects to put in her still lifes. “I enjoy finding the objects and setting up the still life as much I do painting it,” Baird says. “I?m always antique shopping. And I love painting fruit. I can spend hours in the produce department picking just the right pieces.” Her inspiration for Shades of Green (above) came from a jadeite plate. When she added the green fruit and then backlit the scene so the light was shining through the fruit, Baird knew she had a painting. She took several photographs, which she typically does, and then sketched it out on tracing paper. “I never sketch right onto my paper because you can indent it very easily and then have trouble filling it in,” she says. “In Shades of Green, I started with my background because I knew it would determine all of my other values. I layered a red and a green and burnished them together. I put the green on top because I knew my whole composition was going to be green and I wanted it to dominate. Then I worked through the fruit and finished with the table.”

And even though it takes hours for her to create the glowing realism of her still lifes, Baird says she wouldn?t have it any other way. “If you love to paint, you do it whether you sell it or show it or anything. It?s just something in you that has to get out,” she says. “It?s not an easy process. I love it but it?s difficult. I think that?s the challenge. If it was easy every time and you never had to work at it, I don?t think it would keep you going. Every time you start a new painting you?re learning something.”

Loraine Crouch is associate editor for The Artist?s Magazine.

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