Not comfortable with the teaching methods of a few professors while pursuing an art degree, Pat Averill stepped back and decided to take a different route for her art education. “Michael Gibbons, a workshop instructor I?d taken from previously, had helped awaken my sense of color, and after that I really started to enjoy landscape,” says the Oregon City, Oregon, artist. “The art professors at the university seemed limited to teaching only contemporary abstract art and I felt like a hypocrite when I followed their suggestions.” One drawing class, however, was very inspiring for Averill, and two lessons with Bet Borgeson got her started in colored pencil.
Abandoning her university studies to follow her own path, she took an eight-week beginning colored pencil class with Borgeson, and then pursued more workshops with artists she admires. Though she occasionally works with soft and oil pastels, oils and acrylics, colored pencil remains her primary medium to this day. And over the past 15 or so years, she?s honed her craft to turn out such pieces as Window Dressing (colored pencil, 11×12-5/8), which was both a finalist in The Artist?s Magazine?s annual art competition, and received an award for excellence in the Colored Pencil Society of America?s competition.
Window Dressing began with an ah-ha moment on Averill?s part: “I was attempting to look out our motor home windows one spring morning after enjoying a steaming cup of coffee and a hot shower,” she says. “The windows were all fogged up, but I began to see the landscape through the fog, and it was fascinating! I watched the smallest droplets group together and run down the window, making little rivulets. They seemed to catch all the colors at once in an iridescent display.
“I think the contrasts in this piece inspired me most: clear drops on a flat, transparent surface that only hint at what?s behind it. I like the idea of presenting the viewer with enough information to intrigue, but not enough to stop them from thinking further.”
When she comes upon an interesting subject, Averill will photograph it and then take notes about her environmentwind, temperature, smell, sounds, colorsand her reaction to the subject. “I don?t usually begin with a drawing,” she says. “Instead I try to look beyond the details to note values and a few basic action lines. This method of starting simply keeps me from feeling confined by predrawn lines and allows me the freedom of developing new directions as I work.”
The background shapes in Window Dressing reminded Averill of a nearly flattened “x,” so she drew two off-center “x” shapes on white Stonehenge paper. Before going any further, she used Lyra Splender pencil (a blending pencil that can also be used to save white space) to save space for the large droplets. Then she made the rivulets of small drops by scribbling the Splender pencil, blue, red and yellow on her paper. She continued layering colors all over until she felt the colors were fully saturated and then lifted excess color off the largest drops using an erasing shield and reusable tack.
After burnishing the colors with the Splender pencil she completed the painting by using a very sharp dark pencil to create hard edges around shadows on the drops.
Throughout it all, Averill stays open to both the joys and challenges of the artmaking process. One particular challenge she encountered was in lifting off the excess color from the larger droplets that she?d saved with the Splender pencil. She finally ended up using an electric eraser to re-create the droplets, though being initially concerned that her paper was too thin. And it worked.
“My favorite part,” she says, “was scribbling the Splender with blue, red and yellow to create an iridescent look,” she says. ” I also enjoyed working freely on the background colors while I was listening to my music. I became so involved in the music that the painting seemed to paint itself.
“I create art for the joy of its process,” Averill continues. “From start to finish, art is a discovery that helps me see and enjoy my surroundings more clearly. Simply put, life is better because of my art.”
Catherine Anderson is a Signature Member of the American Watercolor Society and the author of Basic Watercolor Answer Book. Her DVD, Creating Multiple Glazes in Your Watercolors, is available now on her web site