Helen Jennings: Painting With a Pencil

When Helen Jennings decides to draw a particular animal subject, she spends hours observing its behavior and mannerisms. Next she takes several rolls of film, focusing on various nuances and details. She looks for distinct lighting and poses that integrate the animal with the background in an interesting way. Then, armed with this body of reference information, Jennings is ready to work. “I begin by creating a contour drawing on plate-finish bristol board,” she says. “This serves as my map for the rest of the piece. When the contour lines are in, I move to the eyes, because they embody the animal’s spirit. I get an empathetic energy from the eyes that helps guide me through the piece.”
Beyond Appearances (colored pencil, 21×16).
Once the eyes are complete, Jennings begins to build the rest of her subject. Working light to dark, she starts with an underpainting of rich warm oranges, reds and yellows. Whether she’s painting a brightly plumed exotic bird, a smooth-coated giraffe or a rough-skinned rhinoceros, Jennings first breaks her subjects into shapes of color. “I then go over these large shapes to add the details?feathers, bunches of fur or wrinkle lines,” she says. “These details are really just suggestions. A few lines can describe a roll of flesh on a rhino’s skin, just as a few feathers can say a lot about the curve of a bird’s body or a cluster of lines can create the illusion of a giraffe’s mane.

As with her subject, Jennings builds the background by working light to dark, beginning with a vibrant underpainting which she then layers over with darker hues. To enhance the nebulous look of these areas, she uses a battery-operated eraser to smudge the pencil wax, blurring tone upon tone until the colors are soft and fuzzy.

Florida artist Patrick Seslar is a longtime contributing editor to The Artist?s Magazine.

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