written by Erica Lindsay Walker, vice president, education chair
I was on Beth Stewart’s site, browsing through a page of delicate drawings of birds, when suddenly this image appeared at the end. It was so unexpected that I did a double-take. Of course I had to look at it up close, and when I did, I fell in love
This tiny still life (just a few inches long) is, I think, the closest to “Pop Art” I have ever seen in coloured pencil work. Of course it is realism, rendered with care. But it incorporates several things you can often find in classic Pop: bright solid colours, thick black cartoonish lines and something decidedly, cheerfully artificial – in this case, jelly beans.
The first thing I noticed was the colour: flat, bold and upbeat. Stewart’s design is very good. All of the colours are quite strong, but she has balanced them with white and distributed them so that none stands out at the expense of the others. They are all loud, but they get along well together – like a bunch of people at a party, all happily talking at once.
Stewart also plays with advancing and receding colours so that shy violet sits next to assertive red and yellow elbows turquoise out of the way. We know that the jelly beans are three-dimensional, but when you look at them you realize how slight the changes are that make them so. A sliver of shadow, some small highlights and a few careful shifts of hue and value – showing that this work is more subtle than it might first appear.
Then there are the shapes. So much variety in such a tiny space! Of course, the jelly beans themselves are more or less the same shape, but Stewart has found ways to vary them: to make one longer, one rounder, and so on. The rest of the shapes are all corners and angles, as playful as a puzzle. They contrast with the smooth ovals and harmonize without ever being repetitive. Meanwhile, the black line meanders here and there among them like a conscientious host, making sure everyone is having a good time. I know I am!