Reporter meets artist: People you may know, NWA

As a reporter in Northwest Arkansas, I get a front-row seat to history… but also I just go to a lot of meetings.

These gatherings give me a great opportunity to sketch out what I am seeing. I make sketches of county and city department heads, government leaders and people attending meetings. I make a sketch of someone — even other reporters — at least once a day.

Pastel Sketch, 2016
Washington County Planning Director Juliet Richey waits at the Quorum Court. Pastel. 5 by 7.

Making a series of quick sketches helps me concentrate on what my sources are saying, but it also helps me improve my drawing and basic art skills.

Sketches can be more difficult than fully formed paintings. They require a massive amount of quick observation — something reporters strive for, too.

To the left, I sketched a department head as she waited in the Washington County Quorum Courtroom in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The sketch is done in pastels and layered with soft pinks.

I was looking for color and tonal consistency in piece, so I repeated the colors often. Notice the color in her hair is also in her lips and downcast eyes. You can also see that the green I used as my base sketch is evident in her hair.

In this portrait sketch, I attempted to capture the dramatic lighting from direct overhead lighting in the courtroom. The effect came out similar to chiaroscuro, where there is a strong contrast between the illuminated and the shaded areas.

To the left, below “Juliet,” is a sketch of another Quorum Court attendee, Lanie Miller.  This sketch is a little different because it includes ink.

Sketch, pen and pastel
The county attorney’s legal assistant is rendered in pen first and then highlighted with a light pastel. 5 by 7. Sketch.

Again, this subject interested me because of high contrast. Her blond hair and skin became extremely highlighted by the florescent lights overhead.

Miller is a regular attendee at county government meetings, and she has interesting features I don’t often see. That includes a very lovely sloped forehead. I tried to capture both the dramatic light and interesting features in her physical form and body language.

Other times when I sketch, I use only ink on Reporter’s Notebook.

Below are two examples of this technique, where I am learning the features and trying to capture the movement. None of my subjects are still for very long because they rarely know I am sketching them. These sketches must be fast, up to 5 minutes tops.

Fire Marshal, ink on paper
Washington County Fire Marshal Dennis Ledbetter attends planning meetings and advises on safety. Ink on “reporter notebook.” 2016

To the right, the county fire marshal attends planning meetings to talk about visiting sites that plan to develop and talking about safety needs.

In this rendering, I drew Ledbetter in ink over the top of my notes. To me, this is a sign of a true sketch. The work is very lose and starts by defining the planes of the face.

Two other examples (below) are from my time covering Tontitown, Arkansas.

Ink Sketch, Art
Ink and highlighter sketch of Art during a Tontitown meeting. 2015

I sketched Alderman Art Penzo on “Reporter Notebook” paper and then cut the image out of my notes. I then simply took a blue highlighter from my bag and used it to darken the shadows I had sketched out.

If you look closely, you can see that I had started sketching a different alderman and then switched when Art began became still during the meeting.

Art has an interesting way about him and that is what drew me to sketch him. He is intense but thoughtful, and I believe this comes out in the sketch.


Ink Sketch in Tontitown
Former Alderman Joe Edgmon during a meeting last year. Ink on notebook. 2015.

To the left, I used hatching to create a dramatic contrast on Joe Edgmon, who was a Tontitown alderman in 2015. Joe also has an interesting profile that is different from most of the people with Italian heritage living in Tontitown.

This sketch is also done on Reporter Notebook paper.




Lehman, purple marker on pastel paper, 5 by 7, 2016.

To the left is one of my favorite quick sketches. This one actually is longer than 5 minutes, so I had time to concentrate on the expression and deep shadows.

Lehman, 78, is done in purple marker on pastel paper, 5 by 7 inches. He is probably one of the most interesting people I’ve met, and I attempted to capture that nostalgic gaze that crosses his face often.

The key to good sketches is to just continue to sketch. I have hundreds of failed sketches. But, I can’t resist the next challenge. I look at the planes of the face, find out why I am drawn to the subject and then just… sketch.


Fascination with Trees

Mondrian Tree
Mondrian-style abstract tree with oil bar, 9 by 12 inches, $100

I never noticed how much I love trees until I realized I paint them all the time. Trees are expressive, captivating and evocative.  They symbolize strength, life, spirituality, magic and protection.

They are fascinating as models.

Lately, I’ve been experimenting with different ways to capture trees in all their beauty. To the right is an example of a tree painted in abstract with Sennelier oil bars.

The tree is a real tree growing in Prairie Grove, Arkansas. When I saw this tree, the sky was a clear blue on a cold February day. Cows grazed nearby, just beyond the tree.

To paint this tree in a Mondrian style, I limited the color pallet and kept my strokes concise but expressive. I also kept the strokes limited to either vertical or horizontal movements. The inspiration for this tree is “Evening; Red Tree” (1908-1910) by Piet Mondrian. (This painting is for sale on Etsy.)

“Dusk” is a mixed-media experiment in abstract realism.

For “Dusk,” (right) I used mixed media of watercolor (Sennieler,) marker, ink and oil pastel. The painting is a rendering in abstract realism but using a scene I saw in a dream.

The painting also has symbolism embedded into the piece. The dark trees and the light trees each represent a pillar of knowledge, similar to what you might see in the High Priestess Tarot card.

The white trees were masked and color was painted on in layers across the first three-quarters. I then dropped in vibrant yellow and red. The technique allowed the colors to naturally blend together along the bottom.

Again, in this painting, I limited the colors used to really create a vibrant and deep painting. This painting sold during a show earlier this year.

Sunset Tree, Moving
“Sunset Tree, Moving” is an abstract realism piece done in watercolor, 20 by 11 inches. $100

To the left, I used watercolor with a limited color palette to capture a sunset. I then used a hashing stroke with my paint brush to create the effect of moving leaves in the tree.

This painting is somewhat surreal because of the very intense colors, but those colors are accurate of Arkansas sunsets in October. This tree is located in a park in Springdale, Arkansas.

Trees are not always bright and playful. Sometimes they are dark and disturbing and foreboding. These dark trees create mystery and, often, death.

The “Gothic Tree” (below) is rendered on an old broken-out mirror. To achieve the reflective “mirror” quality (Think “Snow White,”) I primed the back and stained it with blue acrylic. Then, I used a painting knife to paint the metallic acrylic paint as the base. The shiny base is meant to showcase the “mirror” quality. (Mirrors often symbolize magic and inner thoughts.) I then limited the tree itself to three colors: black, red and blue. The limited color scheme adds to the darkness and creates harmony in the painting.

This painting is based on trees that grow in windy and difficult conditions. These are tenacious trees that survive no matter what. Pretty apt for 2016, right?

Gothic Tree, oil painting
“Gothic Tree,” oil paint on metallic acrylic, about 4 feet oval frame. $700