AN INTERVIEW WITH CAROLYN BAIN
CPSC is pleased and excited to present our very first Featured Artist Interview with Ottawa coloured pencil artist, Carolyn Bain.
1. Do you have a formal art education or are you self-taught? How do you find your educational & personal background have affected you as an artist – or have they?
I have no formal training, but having a daughter who is a coloured pencil artist, seeing her work develop, and having her available to answer questions and make suggestions, etc., has been invaluable to me.
2. When and how did you first discover coloured pencil as a fine art tool and why did you choose coloured pencil as a favoured medium?
Because my daughter has used coloured pencil exclusively for so long I wanted to try something different. So I tried acrylics and oils – but I found brushes far less easy to control than the points of pencils. Also I found that I preferred layering colour to mixing it.
3. What do you most enjoy about working with coloured pencil and why?
Well, I really like the control, and the fact that mistakes are easy to correct. I like building up layer after layer, seeing the image come to life. I also love that coloured pencil is so portable and mess-free – you can work on a piece curled up in your favourite chair if you like.
4. Where do your ideas and inspiration come from?
My imagination. I just start to draw (in my sketchbook), eye-shapes if I am working on one of my pictures of faces – and see what comes next. And while I never copy photos, sometimes an image in a book or magazine will trigger an idea. And many things are suggested by the work itself as it evolves.
5. Do you ever get artist’s block and if so, how do you deal with it? What helps you to overcome it?
I am relatively new at image-making, so I don’t know if you would call it artist’s block. I tend to work in spurts – for a while I will be full of energy and ideas and I can’t get them down fast enough. Then things peter out and I need to put my pencils away for a while. Sooner or later new ideas will come … I just need the quiet times as well as the busy times.
6. On average, approximately how much of your time do you devote to your art (or art-related activities, such as research, photo-shoots, thumbnail sketches, etc.)?
Difficult to answer. Some days a lot, other days none at all. If I hit a snag, some problem I just can’t seem to resolve, no amount of trying helps. But laying it aside for a while does: I come back to it and I find a solution has presented itself in the interim, especially with the Multiples (as I call my pictures of multiple faces).
7. How would you describe your art style?
Since I work in more than one style there’s more than one answer. I guess you could describe my faces as ‘stylized surrealism’ (whatever that means) and my seascapes as ‘imagined realism.’
8. What subject matter and/or themes do you prefer to explore in your art?
Faces and the emotions they express. Sea and sky because they convey tremendous distance and I really want to be able to capture that.
9. Describe your coloured pencil technique.
I work from light to dark with light pressure, keeping the points quite sharp – but I don’t mind applying heavy pressure when it’s needed. I tend to stick to one brand of pencils for each picture, although I will mix them if necessary. I do a lot of layering.
10. Generally speaking, how much pre-planning goes into your artwork? Are you fanatical about working out all the little details ahead of time, or do you tend to work more “by the seat of your pants,” or do you fall somewhere between the two extremes?
I think somewhere in between. I don’t do much planning but I do work out my designs ahead of time, whereas I make decisions about colour and value as I go.
11. Can you describe your work process for us, from conception to completion?
My work process varies with my subject, but my favourite process takes place with my Multiples. As I said, I begin by drawing eye-shapes in my sketchbook, as many as I like, and I work until I have a placement that pleases me. Then I do the same with other features, adjusting as I go so as to keep the design balanced. Finally, I transfer the design to my support using tracing paper.
Early on, when the Multiples were evolving, I was mainly concerned with getting each face to be complete on its own, working them all into a cohesive whole, while maintaining the integrity of the individual. Now I want to give each face its own emotion (sadness, fear, pride, etc.) or “look” (sinister, sarcastic,, etc.). This is particularly difficult for me because each eye (and the eyebrow, forehead, and cheek), with the exception of the two outer ones, is shared by two different faces. How to make the same eye contain the emotions of two distinct individuals? The moods evolve with the application of colour, without any deliberate planning on my part. For example, I have no preconceived idea of whether they will be male or female, no plans about which colours I will use. I just choose a pencil and begin. Usually the eyes are left until the work is nearing completion. It is fun to have a blue eye on one end, and a brown on the other with the ones in between differing slightly so as not to have an abrupt change between any two.
It is hard to know when to stop. There comes a point when trying to improve the work is just counter-productive. I try to stop just before that point.
12. Name three coloured pencil artists whose work you greatly admire or who inspire you. What is it about them or their work that appeals to you?
Gordon Webster. His work for its powerful, inescapable mystery, and the man himself for his extraordinary generosity of praise, encouragement, interest, and sharing. I also admire the dazzling light effects that the American artist Barbara Benedetti Newton gets in her work. Last but not least, my daughter Erica Walker. She can make coloured pencil look like oil and her works are filled with heart-breaking emotion. Were it not for her constant support and love the whole world of coloured pencil would not exist for me.
13. In regards to your own work, which is your favourite piece, and why?
I don’t know that I could choose one particular favourite; however, I am extremely fond of the piece I call “The Flatheads.” I like this because of the way I got the pigment to look on the paper, and the expression (or lack thereof) in their eyes. Of course, tomorrow I’ll have another favourite!
14. What are your artistic goals?
My short-term goal is to have people look at my Multiples closely enough and long enough to see that the faces share eyes! My long-term goal is to have people see themselves.
15. Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you, the artist, or about your art?
I embarked on this “art journey” late. I’m really glad I did – I only wish I’d started sooner!
16. If you could offer a little tidbit of advice gleaned from your own experience with using coloured pencil to an artist just starting out in the medium, what would it be?
KEEP THE SURFACE CLEAN!!! Never EVER rest your arm on your work. Rest it on another sheet of clean paper and change it if it gets smudged. Do not drag this paper across the surface (support) you are working on! Some brands of coloured pencil are quite smudgey and even if they’re not, if you don’t take care, slowly and imperceptibly the lovely pristine surface you started out with will take on a blue-green-red-gray-etc. cast. Erasing the whole surface works quite well but – better to avoid that step, I think. Until you are very familiar with the application of pigment on the support, keep your pencils very sharp and apply light pressure. Unless you are experienced you will find that two heavily applied layers does NOT equal many lightly applied ones. Having said that, my daughter almost never has sharp pencils and uses heavy pressure all the time, and her work is exquisite!