Colored-pencil artist spends hours doing realism right
During more than 30 years as a teacher in the Columbia, South Carolina, school system, Stephanie Eastwood counted colored pencils as a key component of her educator’s toolbox, necessary for grading student papers and other classroom activities. “I was extremely comfortable with this medium,” Eastwood says, “and my experience with it gave me confidence to try something new.”
Something new came along after Eastwood retired, moved to the mountains with her husband, and set about building a body of artwork created with the very pencils that had long been so familiar to her. Self-taught, with occasional input from others using the medium, Eastwood creates nature-themed work that’s distinctive for its depth of color and fine detail — like the individual hairs of a bear’s coat or the delicately rendered feathers of a perching Carolina Wren.
She attended a weekend class with colored-pencil artist Teresa Pennington (T Pennington Gallery in Waynesville), who’s enjoyed commercial success for her renderings of scenes at Biltmore Estate and in her native Smoky Mountains.
“That was my first immersion with colored pencils [as an art medium],” Eastwood notes. “I’ve since had folks around me who have encouraged and strengthened my mindfulness of observation and choice of technique.”
That technique involves a good deal of layering to achieve the depth and blended palette that characterize her work. When the goal is realism, “drawing with colored pencils is a very slow process,” she says. Because of the time investment, most of Eastwood’s canvases are no larger than 5” x 7”, although she has created a few bigger ones, up to 11” x 20”. “My first drawings were sketches of songbirds seen in our backyard,” she recalls. Her repertoire has now expanded to include other wildlife, domesticated animals, and landscapes.
The laborious process has deepened her understanding of her new home: “I’m learning through careful observation that each creature and object in nature is truly a gift.”
The medium also has practical advantages that offset the time investment. “A strong positive for the use of colored pencils is the easy clean-up,” Eastwood says. “There is none to speak of, and having no materials that can dry out or need water [as with watercolor] is an advantage. I can easily transport my materials when traveling, too. Drawing with colored pencils allows me to obtain the level of detail and realism I crave.”
Equally important is the canvas used, which can vary depending on the subject matter and level of detail required. Eastwood uses hot press paper, matte board, and drafting film, among other backings. “Each surface takes color differently,” she explains. “Some pencils are wax-based and others oil-based, so that’s a determining factor, too.” Also figuring in her preparation is how each surface reacts to different tools of her craft, like an embossing tool or a ceramic blade cutter, both of which she uses for detailing.
Eastwood works mostly from photographs, although an individual work may combine elements from several photos. One of her most recent depictions is a type of South American hummingbird, the Long-Tailed Sylph, a perfect subject with its emerald-colored feathering and elegant tail. Another, newer work still on the easel — a tree with an exposed root system gently lit by rays of sunshine piercing its branches — is one of her most complex pieces to date, and will require months to complete.
After seven years of drawing nature, Eastwood is beginning to enjoy notice for her work, especially after her participation in this past summer’s Western North Carolina Quick Draw, an annual live auction that benefits the Haywood County school system. The exposure brought inquiries about commissioned work and meetings with galleries like Brevard’s Blue Moon Gallery and Frame, which now displays her work.
She’s been asked to teach, too, but Eastwood prefers for now to work alone in her home studio, perched high on Balsam Knob near the Haywood/Jackson County line. “The seclusion was what beckoned us when we were looking for a homesite,” Eastwood says. “In this second part of my life, I’m finding a new discipline for my creativity, my individuality, and my joy.”
Stephanie Eastwood, Balsam. Eastwood’s colored-pencil drawings are represented by Blue Moon Gallery and Frame, 24 East Main St., Brevard. For more information, see bluemoongalleryandframe.com and “Stephanie Eastwood Art” on Facebook (also @s.eastwood.art on Instagram).