If you thought the colored pencil was an artistic medium reserved for grade school, members of the Greater Cincinnati Chapter of the Colored Pencil Society of America will be quick to dissuade you.
The group has a show up at the downtown YWCA right now that features multiple works from more than a dozen artists. The styles are varied; the subject matter — usually highly realistic — can be anything from a pair of giraffes to the New York City subway.
“I gave up on oils — they’re messy and smelly,” says Jean Malicoat, creator of the giraffes, who lives in Hillsboro and says that the Cincinnati CPSA chapter is wide reaching, covering Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.
Malicoat is a 10-year member, having joined the national group before the local chapter was formed in 2006. A graphic artist friend introduced her to colored pencil.
“I still do watercolors and pen and ink,“ she says, adding that she's proud to have quickly become a coveted Signature Member of the national society.
Autumn Huron, president of the local chapter, says, “People are beginning to accept colored pencil as a true art form. The level of the work helps to overcome the impression that it’s a medium for children. Some members refer to their works in colored pencil as paintings because they work in many, many layers, very tedious and time-consuming.”
Debbie Hook, vice president of the Cincinnati chapter, agrees. She employs what in colored-pencil circles is called the “burnished style,” an all-over, many-layered approach that's well demonstrated in her large and glowing “Jessica’s Dahlia” in the Y’s exhibition.
“I think of my work as painting because it’s all a matter of the binder softening to allow the pigments to mix,” Hook says. “The binder can be oil or talc for pastels or wax or whatever. It’s still paint pigments that get mixed. I just keep pushing (the pencil). I can’t help myself.”
Hook was introduced to colored pencil by another artist, took some classes and workshops studying it, and now says “it’s become my favorite medium.” She lives in Martinsville, Ohio, has a custom framing business and also gives private art instruction. Her many-layered work hides the surface beneath the image, but not all colored pencil artists proceed in that fashion.
“In Autumn’s works, you see the texture of the paper,” she points out.
Although all the artists in the YWCA exhibition are women, several men belong to the local chapter. Thomas Kinarney, a retired newspaper graphic artist from Dayton, says he “likes the complete control you have with pencil.” Kinarney now teaches colored pencil at art centers in the Dayton area.
Vera Curnow, founder of the CPSA and a Rising Sun, Ind., resident, says she started the organization as a reaction to the snobbery of oil painters.
“It was the snob effect that got to me,” she says. “Oil rules. People didn’t know what could be achieved in colored pencil.”
Living in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula at the time, Curnow started the Society in 1990.
“I moved to Seattle because some of my board members were there," she says, "but 11 years ago I moved again to Rising Sun, because they were advertising for artists to come and live there.”
Curnow's studio gallery, the Main Artery, is located in Rising Sun.
Society membership, now international, includes chapters in Great Britain, Japan and elsewhere.
“We have 2,000 members in 11 countries and 27 chapters over the world,” Curnow says. The membership grows through word of mouth, workshops and the annual conference, this year scheduled for Los Gatos, Calif., July 27-31.
The Cincinnati chapter is preparing for a workshop April 17-18 to be taught by Pat Averill, an Oregon artist. It will be $85 per person for the two days, thanks to underwriting from a sponsor.
Meanwhile, the national organization is working actively with manufacturers in developing standards and supporting advancements in the colored pencil medium.
“Our color pencils are nothing like what the kids use,” Malicoat says.
THE COLORED PENCIL SOCIETY show continues at the YWCA (898 Walnut St., Downtown) through April 16. Get show and gallery details here.