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written by Erica Lindsay Walker, vice president, education chair

Sue deLearie Adair’s title for this little work (chosen before the book came out) tells us immediately that this is not, first and foremost, a picture of a bird. Rather, “Shades of Gray” is about the formal qualities (such as tone and colour) that make up both abstraction and realism.

Shades of Gray

Shades of Gray

The moment I saw this image I was struck by it, because it does something very difficult: it successfully combines two very different genres. Adair sets detailed realism against stark abstraction, and brings it off. I always enjoy this kind of juxtaposition because of the tension it creates. On the one hand the artist attempts to convince us that this is three-dimensional reality. The bird is solid; its form recedes in space. But on the other hand, the artist insists that this is NOT three-dimensional. This is a design of pure shape and unshaded value, something unapologetically flat. As a result we move constantly between two visual worlds. It’s very hard to do well, because the two viewpoints are so utterly different, even opposed; but when it IS done well like this, it is so exciting.

The bridge between the two worlds is, I think, the bird’s shadow. The shape on which it is standing is as flat and unreal as the others, but the shadow convinces us that this is not only gray shape but solid surface. It makes it “lie down”. However, because this detail is so minimal, we can still read the shape as two-dimensional, which prepares us for the other shapes. They fit together as neatly as a puzzle: dark, medium, and light. Their very simplicity provides a wonderful contrast to the finely-rendered bird. And yet, in spite of its subtlety, we can also see that the bird is essentially made up of three similar basic values: white head and body, gray-blue wings, dark beak and bright black eye. It’s as if the bird itself has been abstracted into three clean, sleek shapes.

I love the textures too, especially on the wings – I can almost feel how crisp and smooth they are. The whole bird is full of delicate tones and touches, from the sheen on the wings to the white layered shingles of feathers on its back. It seems almost “photographic”, but it is not. Rather, Adair has put just the right amount of well-chosen detail, so that it seems much more detailed than it actually is. Our minds finish what the artist has begun.

For me, this work is so satisfying. I love going back and forth between the two realities. Looking at them, one could ask: which is the more enjoyable? Which would we rather have? Thanks to the artist, we can have both.


a special announcement from the Pencil Art Society

Guess what everyone? It’s membership time, and, to celebrate this event, we have something special in store for you!! For the next 3 months, at the end of each month, we’re going to hold a Membership Appreciation Draw. That means that for the next 3 months, one of our members will receive a $25 CAD gift certificate from Amazon. That’s the same value as a year’s membership! Perhaps it could go towards art supplies to create a winning drawing for our 2015 Online Member Juried Exhibition …

Are YOU gearing up for this year’s Online Member Juried Exhibition?

Our second Online Member Juried Exhibition is open to Pencil Art Society members only, so if you’ve been thinking about joining us, now’s the time! Besides our members-only exhibition, PAS membership benefits include: having your own Member Gallery page on our website, receiving our beautiful and informative bi-annual magazine Go Brushless!, and being able to apply for Master Pencil Artist Status (MPAS). Not only that, our members also pay significantly lower entry fees for our biennial International Open Juried Exhibitions! So why not join us and be a part of all the excitement!


written by Erica Lindsay Walker, vice president, education chair

Here is another work from our First International Exhibition: Allison Fagan’s “La Mattina Presto”. I had first seen it on FB and been very struck by it, so I was thrilled to be able to see it in person.

La Mattina Presto

La Mattina Presto

I am always drawn to images with strong lights and darks. Powerful value contrasts like these tend to carry a lot of emotional weight, and this work is no exception. There is something so poignant to me about the lone figure of the woman receding into the distance down a long dark corridor.

For me, this old woman (I automatically read her as old) suggests some kind of sadness or unknown hardship. Her pose has been perfectly captured so that she seems to move. She is walking ahead of us, unaware of our presence, and in another moment we know she will be gone. She walks alone, unsupported. Yet the picture is not at all depressing or gloomy, or at least I don’t find it so. The woman has not been left alone in the dark. The light shines into the corridor, glowing on the walls and spilling onto the walkway with a soft sheen. With this light comes colour, and knowledge of the surroundings. We can see that the woman is not lost or trapped; the tunnel is long, but there is an end to it.

Colour is not what this image is primarily about, and yet it is very important to the overall effect. The artist’s palette is quiet, even rather sombre – but not dull. Dark and warm balance pale and cool. At first glance the walls and ceiling seem just brown, but in a moment we see the differences, almost as if our eyes are adjusting to the light. Then we notice golden brown, burgundy, hints of dark blue, touches of rust. Together, these create an effect that is rich and subtly varied rather than monochromatic. Into this close, muted warmth the soft blue introduces a sense of spaciousness and light. The light also highlights the detail of the cobblestones, which make such an effective contrast with the large simple areas of the walls.

My eyes go from the woman to the round arch, to the warm walls, to the stony floor, and back to her again. It always seems that I am catching a glimpse of her just in time, right before she disappears. She quietly persists in her journey, and soon she will reach her goal. There is sadness here, but there is also hope: in this image, the artist has very movingly shown us the light at the end of the tunnel.


written by Erica Lindsay Walker, vice president, education chair

I got to see Gayla B. Salvati’s “Morning Rounds” in person at the 2014 PAS International Exhibition. I was immediately impressed, for I had never seen anything quite like it before.

Morning Rounds

Morning Rounds

This work has such an impact that I was surprised at how small it is. But it is surprising in many ways. For example, look at the head-and-shoulders portrait format. Such a format is certainly not unusual in itself, but see what the artist has done with it. The deer tilts its head back sharply. Its antlers, which we would normally see at the TOP, are at the side. The deer’s nose is the highest point of its head, its ear is the lowest, and its eye regards us from the middle. Everything is topsy-turvy, and in this way Salvati upsets our expectations and makes us see her subject anew.

Part of its impact also lies in the design, as one major result of this unusual presentation is the emphasis on shape. In a sense, the work consists of two differently-sized but equally important parts: a small upper half and a much bigger lower half. Large smooth shapes (e.g. the deer’s neck and body, the negative spaces on either side of it) comprise the lower half. The smaller upper half derives its visual weight from the deer’s face, antlers, and the branches, with their tangle of broken shapes. Close, subtle values counter the plain whiteness of the background while continuing to enhance the shapes. They make the animal seem both flat and three-dimensional, like a bas-relief sculpture.

Balancing this strong formal quality is a very traditional – and beautiful – rendering. Wildlife artists tend to be thrilled with the details of the subjects they love, and Salvati is no exception. Her style is crisp and precise, with a special sensitivity to texture. We can feel the deer’s coarse coat with its varied lengths of fur, the contrast of its antlers against the bark.

Personally, though, I think that the greatest impact comes from how the artist bridges human and animal worlds in this work. Of course, we tend to humanize animals anyway, attributing all kinds of our own reactions and expressions to them. But we most often do this when the animal is obviously just being itself, unconscious of us or our responses to it.

This deer, though, is very much aware of our presence. Its eye looks back at us. What exactly is it doing? Perhaps it is about to eat some of the twigs, but its mouth – with its hint of a “smile” – is closed. This sense of the deer’s awareness, both of us and of itself, puts everything on a different footing. We are observed as well as observer. We have no advantage in this encounter. There is place here for neither superiority nor self-importance; what is evoked instead is simply mutual respect.


written by Erica Lindsay Walker, vice president, education chair

I love it when artists combine Abstract Expressionism with Realism. That is probably why I responded instantly to the work of Erwin P. Lewandowski. A drawing like “Stillwater VI” is the perfect example. First I see a powerful design of shape and colour; then I see stone and water beautifully rendered.

Stillwater VI

Stillwater VI

To express abstractly is to focus on the big picture. Here, it was the bold design that struck me first. Basically it is a cruciform design, touching all four edges of the work. Moreover, it is a very elegant cruciform. The orange shape is reminiscent of an arrow, which adds a feeling of energy. There’s an inherent flowing quality to the entire work. Even though the title is “Stillwater”, the sweeping line speaks of movement. To me this movement feels calligraphic, as though the water were writing its own statement into the stone.

Now, I love earth colours; they have a special kind of warmth that is different from the brighter, clearer hues. But I’ve often found that they can seem monotonous without some strong contrast somewhere. Yet Lewandowski makes the most of this very limited palette. How does he do it?

In essence, it’s a different story that he tells with them. There are no bright blues or purples, yet the colour scheme seems rich and complete. This is partly because of all the variety in the earth tones. Vermilion, bronze, beige, deep terra-cotta just misted over with blue. Lewandowski has worked in complementary colours, but they are subtle. Look at the large areas of rock, for example: pale neutrals shadowed with bluish lavender. This is important also because the artist is working with extremely limited spatial planes. Not only does the blue add richness, it adds depth. Lewandowski has also managed to create an extra layer of depth with the transparent reflections. We can dip our hands through the water and feel the stone beneath.

Texture and shape also play important roles here. The powerful big shapes drew us in; now the details keep us interested. They balance the large areas, which are also textured with delicate striations, as if stone and water were somehow one and the same. But we know that water can wear through any rock. That’s maybe why I find myself responding to this piece emotionally as well as visually. The artist reminds us of what water can do to stone. And by extension he reminds us of what the softest and most malleable things can do to even the hardest and least yielding things, given enough time.


written by Erica Lindsay Walker, vice president, education chair

This has to be one of the most famous images in art: the magnificent “Hands of an Apostle” by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528). Also known as the “Praying Hands”, it was actually a preliminary study for an altarpiece. Tragically, the final painting was lost in a fire, so all we have is a copy and a few of Dürer’s own drawings, including this one.

Hands of an Apostle

Hands of an Apostle

We can only imagine what the finished altarpiece must have been like, if Dürer lavished this much care upon a single pair of hands. But I find that the level of observation in his work is always extremely intense, regardless of the subject. Like his counterpart Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Dürer was in many ways a kind of scientist. For him, drawing was not just a means of recording the surface of things. It was a means to deepen the understanding.

One of the most poignant details for me is how the hands are both so beautiful and so worn, with the veins and tendons standing out. Nowadays when we think of fine detail we tend to think immediately of photographs, but Dürer’s detail is not “photo-realistic” at all. It is very much drawn, with hatching and cross-hatching creating roughness and texture. They also create volume, balancing the slenderness and moving the whole from the ideal to the real. The long, upward lines of the fingers point toward Heaven, while the short horizontal strokes of the cross-hatching bring them back down to earth. Dürer has also created a strong light with white lines – by combining this with shadow, he at once conveys the idea both of sadness and of hope.

These toil-worn hands laid gently together in prayer speak of a faith that remains steadfast in spite of what must have been a fair share of adversity. It is an extraordinarily beautiful drawing, but I think what impresses me most about it is its dignity. It could so easily be sentimental, but it isn’t – rather like the artist himself. Dürer was a first-class celebrity: brilliant, extremely handsome, a rich and very successful artist who knew his own worth. Yet he was also a deeply sensitive and introspective man who suffered from depression (or “melancholia” as it was called then). He was very devout, but at the same time painfully aware of the religious issues of his day, which would soon find expression in the Protestant Reformation. He knew what he was drawing about, so to speak. So perhaps we don’t really need the altarpiece after all; perhaps this single sketch says everything he intended.


written by Erica Lindsay Walker, vice president, education chair

Oddly, still life is a rather unusual genre for a graphite artist. I say “oddly” because still life offers so much opportunity for detail and patient observation, both of which lend themselves to pencil media. So it was a special pleasure to discover the work of Teri L. Hiatt. She demonstrates how exciting still life can be in black and white, and how many visual venues it can provide for a skilled pencil artist to explore.

Collander Still Life

Collander Still Life

For me, “Collander Still Life” is a very satisfying composition. I find it fascinating because of the geometry of it – circles, ellipses, symmetry and recurring forms, all of which I love. This drawing offers not only the representational shapes of the actual subjects, but also the abstract shapes of their reflections. It is a very harmonious work; Hiatt is always conscious of shape and rhythm. The main forms (collander, cup and saucer) are curved but they are balanced by the straight-lined forms of the books and negative spaces. These areas of plain negative space provide a rest for the eye after the very detailed areas. Edges are carefully done too: sharp is countered by soft and washy.

But although this is a symmetrical design nothing is ever just repeated. Hiatt is particularly sensitive to shape and she knows how to echo shapes without copying them. For example, look at the top corners; both have similar areas of white space but both are subtly different. Every part of the work is varied and interesting, like an intelligent visual conversation.

There’s a particular challenge here because Hiatt is not working with a lot of depth. That is, this is not a landscape, this is a closeup of a still life, so the spatial planes tend to be quite limited. As a result, depth becomes all the more important. Without a convincing sense of depth, such a detailed, complex work can easily become very flat and confused. This is where her ability to handle value comes to the fore. She balances lights and darks carefully throughout the work so that no area seems too heavily “weighted” toward one or the other. The darks are a particular pleasure to look at: they sparkle like ink against the crisp whites and soft modulated grays.

No matter how familiar something may be, an artist can make us consider it in a different and surprising way. Such is the case here. Hiatt has enabled us to rediscover these simple objects, presenting them to us anew.


written by Erica Lindsay Walker, vice president, education chair

In today’s culture, with its worship of impossibly beautiful young women, Karen Hull’s portrait of a woman who is both beautiful and old comes like a breath of fresh air. But “Yvonne” isn’t beautiful because her skin is miraculously wrinkle-free, or because she’s so toned, or because she’s covered up her gray so successfully. She is beautiful because her face glows with light and joy.



I was struck right away by the close-up view, because it makes us not only see all the lines and wrinkles, it makes us appreciate them. These are the marks of a long and well-lived life. They don’t mar a face, they make it special. They are like a map of personal experience.

We sense immediately how vibrant and full of life the subject is. Which is quite something, given the portrait’s limitations – that is, Hull shows just the face and a bit of the neck and collar. There are no hands showing, no elaborate pose, no props, barely any background! Now this can be very tricky. I have seen “mug shot” portraits, completely static. But “Yvonne” is anything but static. How does the artist create such a sense of movement?

In the first place, there is her momentary expression. Laughter can be very difficult to capture realistically but when it is successful, it is wonderful. It enlivens like nothing else can. A smile can be static but laughter is an energetic thing, it moves all over the face. There is also the use of diagonals. Everything in this portrait is tilted, from Yvonne’s smile to her spectacles. Since diagonals convey energy, the result is a portrait that is youthful, because youth equals energy. This is a woman who is still young at heart.

The colours are lively too. There is nothing worn-out or faded about this palette. That is not to say that it is bright or intense. As a matter of fact, it is rather restrained; there are no fiery reds or dazzling yellows, no rich deep blues or bright greens. Instead, the colours that are used are gentle, clear and warm. Peach, cream, pink, lavender. These are all “young” colours, colours of spring. The shadows are not harsh and dark, but full of reflected light and richly coloured. So is the hair – all this gray and white is a treasure-trove of delicate hues, of soft yellow and pale violet. The quiet neutral background serves as an excellent foil. We hardly notice it, so we are free to respond to the beautiful face.

There is so much worth looking at in the faces of old people. Experience, wisdom, character: so many hard-earned qualities. Kudos to the artist for taking the time to show us this! I hope there will be many more!


written by Erica Lindsay Walker, vice president, education chair

Seeing art in person is always special, because one is able to experience the work as the artist meant it to be experienced. I was able to see Lyne Lafontaine’s drawing “Immaculée déception” at our first International Exhibition. Fascinating!

Immaculée déception

Immaculée déception

One thing that reproductions seldom give us an understanding of is a work’s scale. An artist always chooses scale carefully, because it affects how we respond to the work. For example, we can be awed by something large, whereas a very small work can create a feeling of fineness and delicacy. Here, the scale was one of the first things that struck me. It is 9 1/4 x 13”: large enough to enjoy the detail easily, but small enough to retain a feeling of intimacy.

In some ways, “Immaculée déception” is a lot like a Renaissance drawing. It gave me the impression of being both antique and contemporary. As we see, it features the figure of a woman, not a specific individual but more like an allegorical figure. A favourite with artists for centuries, allegory has great scope for symbol and interpretation. This drawing is no exception – everything seems significant. I find myself particularly intrigued by the woman’s strange, real/unreal clothing. Her dress seems to consist of a corset and a long skirt, like something out of the Victorian or Edwardian era, yet it is also sleeveless – it reminds me of the work of Alphonse Mucha. It is a frivolous-looking garment, festooned all over with gauze and ribbon, including huge bows. Yet the woman seems almost encased in these fripperies. We can’t see her feet; she is bound like a prisoner or a package.

Her pose seems significant too, rather theatrical, and with her head turned so that we see her face only in profile. This was traditionally a very formal pose, as it prevented the subject from looking the viewer in the eye. It preserved dignity as well as (in the case of a woman) modesty. This woman seems willing enough to be seen, but she also seems aloof. By turning her face away, Lafontaine prevents a dialogue from taking place – we can’t communicate with the woman as we could if she were facing us. She is there to be looked at, not to share her thoughts. The way she is standing and holding her arms reminds me both of an elegant Greek goddess-figure as well as of another unattainable ideal, a fashion model displaying a designer’s latest creation.

The more I look at this, the more interested I get; but I also enjoy looking at the work for the sake of the technique. The artist is not simply describing form with her pencil; she is not primarily reproducing forms and textures. Instead she is translating the form into pencil lines and marks that have an aesthetic life of their own. For me, it all has a lovely sensuous quality. Lafontaine obviously takes a lot of pleasure in pencil’s richness and tactility. I find that this is particularly evident in the woman’s hair, with its stylized waves and wisps. (This is also a touch of the Renaissance, as artists of the time were extraordinarily creative with hairstyles!)

I really like how Lafontaine has managed to combine two different eras. Just another example of pencil’s timelessness!


written by Erica Lindsay Walker, vice president, education chair

Well, the moment we have been waiting for so long FINALLY arrived. Our First International Open Juried Exhibition has now been well and truly launched! It took place at the beautiful Repentigny Exhibition Centre, just outside of Montreal. What a weekend!

Such a beautiful show!

Such a beautiful show!

To start we had our Meet-and-Greet, which gave us our first opportunity to meet some of our members in person. What a thrill it was to meet some of the wonderful people we have only known online. Several members travelled far to attend – from Northern Ontario to Michigan to as far away as Malaysia! Our first Annual General Meeting followed, and then, onto the workshop. It was very exciting and gratifying to be able to share a few of my techniques with such dedicated and talented artists.

The Vernissage and Award Ceremony were held the next day. The Repentigny Exhibition Centre is a gorgeous space and we were thrilled by the elegance and professionalism of the show. Everything was beautifully presented and hung; both the quality and the stylistic variety of the drawings are truly breathtaking. Some of our Award winners were able to attend and receive their prizes in person. We are thrilled that pencil has been so magnificently represented. We hope you visit our Exhibition page above to see their extraordinary work. Congratulations, all!

Everyone was so impressed ...

It was PACKED!

Vernissage 2014 pic 05

Admiring up close

We marked the occasion by signing the City’s “Golden Book”. A very special thank-you to the Mayor of Repentigny Chantal Deschamps, who honoured us with her presence and who made the time a very memorable one. We also wish to thank all those whose hard work made our show such a success! Many, many thanks to the Centre’s Art Director François Renaud, without whom none of this would have been possible. Many thanks also to our tireless Exhibition Director Alexandra Bastien, the Centre’s technicians and all the other dedicated, wonderful people who took care of all those details that make such a difference.

Last but so very far from least, we want to thank our guest judge, Richard Pedneault. Mr. Pedneault is curator of the Laurier Museum in Victoriaville, and was responsible for selecting the entire show as well as most of the award winners. I think he has summed up both this first International Exhibition and PAS itself perfectly:

My role as a judge is not easy, especially when I must choose the winners. Why? Because the word “winner” is associated de facto with the word “loser”! However, there are no “losers” for this contest and this exhibition! Because what the general public often do not realize is that between the first and last prize, there is sometimes not the slightest difference. Hard to believe, but true, and it is so very obvious here.

Thank you to the artists for your creative work; by what you do, you refresh and renew the imagination of humanity, and by this gesture you are helping to sustain life. A beautiful and fragile life.