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Q&A with Award Winner Monna Kauppinen

This month’s “Play” exhibit in The Art League Gallery includes many chuckle-inducing moments. One of them is the pastel, Rasta Billy, which artist Monna Kauppinen says was the idea. But the painting didn’t earn only appreciative laughter: juror Judy Bass also chose it as the recipient of the Jane McElvany Coonce award for realism. We spoke to Monna about Rasta Billy and her work in general.

"Rasta Billy" by Monna Kauppinen

Realism is a goal in her work, Monna says: “I want people to get it on the first try. I don’t want them to have to figure it out.” Juror Judy Bass specifically praised Rasta Billy for its mastery of detail and the color in the angora goat’s nose, calling the piece “beautifully drawn.” Monna says the object was to recreate the texture of the fur with her pastels.

But while Rasta Billy was awarded for its realism, the other important goal was playfulness — the theme of this month’s show. Monna says she hopes the viewer comes away with a smile or a chuckle. The painting has its origins in childlike playfulness: Monna was at a county fair when the goat in question was brought to her attention by some children.

“It was the children’s enthusiasm that brought the subject to me,” she says. Adding to the “play” factor, some child clearly had fun giving the goat its distinctive hairstyle.

Inspiration can come from anywhere, including the county fair, Monna says. “I never understand writer’s block, because I have 18 pictures I like to be working on.”

This creative spark is the beginning of her artistic process. Monna: “Something inspires me, for one reason or another, and I decide I have to paint that. Then I decide what medium I’m going to use and try to get the drawing fairly firm” before starting. Monna does watercolors and some drawing, but mainly works in pastel. “I like the hot colors you can get from it,” she says, as well as the texturing it makes possible.

Emphasizing the importance of drawing technique, Monna makes an analogy to the fashion world: drawing is like having a model’s figure, where you can hang any clothes on it — “if you can draw, you can hang any medium on it.”

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