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Q&A with Award Winner Wendy Donahoe

Earlier this week we brought you an interview with Elizabeth Loftis, whose pastel and watercolor painting Procession won best in show in the December All-Media Exhibit. The Second Place Marker Award went to Nicholas, a graphite portrait of the artist’s nephew by Wendy Donahoe. The juror, Linda Hafer, said she chose the “beautiful and quiet” piece for its detail and technical expertise.

We asked Wendy to tell us more about Nicholas, portraiture, and her artwork in general — read our Q&A, below, and don’t miss the opening reception today (December 13) at 6:30!

"Nicholas" by Wendy Donahoe.
“Nicholas” by Wendy Donahoe. (Click for full size.)

What’s your creative process like, from an idea to a finished piece? How long does a piece like Nicholas take?
Wendy Donahoe: Once I have a concept for a new drawing, there is much to consider before I begin. First I need to decide which medium would best suit my vision. I primarily work in graphite, charcoal, and colored pencil, each requiring a different paper selection, the next step in my process. For graphite, I generally use the Strathmore 500 series in the vellum surface, but in the case of Nicholas, I used the smooth surface for finer detail. I then determine the size and scale it needs to be, a very important consideration. Because I work differently with graphite and charcoal, a much smaller drawing such as Nicholas can take as much time to complete as a much larger drawing in charcoal. I began the drawing of Nicholas in early October with the intention of entering it into the “Small Works” show, but was not close to finishing it come receiving. I realized however that the smaller size frame requirement was not right for the piece and completed the drawing December first.

How did you develop your photorealistic style?
Although not the intention, my work has often been described as “photorealistic,” which is just one style a contemporary realist artist might strive for. I received my BFA from The University of Delaware where I was taught a “continuous tone” method of drawing, which I have worked in and developed ever since. Gradations of tone are overlapped and blended moving the sharp point of the pencil in a tight circular fashion. Keeping my highlights paper-white, I lay down my mid-tones into which I layer my darks and shadows for subtle transitions, always trying to keep a soft edge, forming lines as varying tones meet.

Read more below!

What tools do you use for a drawing like Nicholas?
Although I’ll have on hand the full range of pencils, 9H – 9B, for Nicholas, I mostly used my 4B, 2B, H, and 3H pencils. As usual for my work in graphite, the only other tool used was a kneaded eraser.

How did Nicholas come about?
Nicholas is a portrait of our nephew, a talented artist living in Burlington, Vermont. I hadn’t seen Nick in some time when he arrived on our doorstep, a stop on a long road trip. I was taken by his free spirit and unassuming good looks, a real gentle soul.

What makes a successful portrait?
If I’m able to capture something of the person, something other than just a record of their likeness, that’s what I hope to achieve in any portrait I undertake. I generally don’t refer to my drawings of people as “portraits;” recording a subject’s exact image is not necessarily my goal. I look to offer an alternative to what we think of as traditional portraiture, maybe creating some mystery, and perhaps the viewer will find cause to look deeper. For this genre, I prefer to work in graphite, but particularly charcoal because of the wide range of intense highlights and dramatic shadows it can yield.

What keeps you creating art? Where do you see your work going next?
Although very time consuming, working sometimes for months on one piece, I will continue with my drawing exclusively. Having worked for many years to find my style, it’s always gratifying to see what started as an idea slowly develop to completion, and that I will have succeeded in its original intent. Next I’ll be working on a piece for the Patrons’ Show.

A charcoal drawing of my daughter Avery, entitled Thirteen, will be on display January 5 through the 27 at the Target Gallery as part of the Exhibition “Between The Lines: Contemporary Drawing Now.” Also, my colored pencil drawing, Olivia, has been selected as an honorable mention winner of American Artist Drawing magazine’s “Shades of Gray” competition and will appear in the Spring issue. Both of these drawings were first shown at The Art League Gallery.

"Thirteen" by Wendy Donahoe won the Larry Kirstein Award in a 2009 Art League show.
“Thirteen” by Wendy Donahoe won the Larry Kirstein Award in the 2009 “Black and White” exhibit at The Art League.
"Olivia" by Wendy Donahoe won the Shayna Heisman Simkin Award in the 2010 September All-Media Show at The Art League.
“Olivia” by Wendy Donahoe won the Shayna Heisman Simkin Award in the 2010 September All-Media Show at The Art League.

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