Acceptance into Art in the Wilds (AIW) is by no means easily attained. Since the festival’s inception a decade ago, Kane, PA has evolved into a reputable destination for lovers of all mediums of art. The fact that Kane has become an area that people flock to is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the many AIWvolunteers who put in countless hours each year to plan, promote, and grow the festival.
Denise Drummond is not only one of those volunteers, but she is also an award-winning AIW artist who will be once again presenting at this year’s Art in the Wilds. She is also a native of Bradford, PA, which is perhaps why she is so enthusiastic about the important role that AIWnow plays in the Kane community. Ask Denise about her childhood in relation to her artistic expression and she will tell you about growing up in an area surrounded by woods and how that, from a very young age, allowed her to develop a passion for nature; when she wasn’t outside exploring the valley that surrounded her home, more often than not she was thinking about where she would venture next. Little did she know at the time, but those childhood adventures would later become a tremendous inspiration for her career in art.
DASH: What or who are your artistic inspirations? How were you influenced to start painting?
DENISE: Nature, particularly forests and wilderness areas, are my biggest inspirations. And my work is just an attempt to capture the feeling, the mood, the love I have for these places. Like many, for years I was a lover of Andrew Wyeth's work, and also Winslow Homer. I still find myself staring in awe when I get to see one of their originals.
DASH: Have you been interested in art since your childhood? Or did it become a pursuit later on in your life?
DENISE: I was born into a family of artists. My parents said they knew right away that I would be artistic. I started drawing pretty detailed things around age 2. I was always encouraged by them to draw something. They made sure I had plenty of paper and pencils, and would either subscribe to or bring home magazines of nature and wildlife as that was my favorite subject matter at the time. My mother would find art contests for me to enter.
I have always been interested in art, particularly graphite drawing and photography. I would check out the same library books over and over that had some of my favorite drawings or photos in them.
DASH: What are your favorite subjects to paint or favorite medium to work in?
DENISE: I would say graphite has always been my favorite medium. As far back as I remember I was always drawn to pencil drawings and black and white photography; mostly landscape, and particularly forest/mountain scenery. While I studied that work, I wanted to create similar compositions in graphite.
DASH: Do you have any other hobbies that occupy your time? Do they offer any sort of added inspiration to your artwork?
DENISE: I do have many other hobbies that keep me too busy! Hiking and photography being the one(s) I enjoy most. It's tough to decide whether I enjoy the artistic process more than the exploring and finding the specific landscape subject that I want to recreate, as it usually involves adventure/travel of various degrees.
DASH: Speaking of hobbies, your mother wrote and you illustrated an award-winning children’s book by the name of My Grama’s Garden. Could you please give some detail on what inspired you to do that? Any plans to write another?
DENISE: My mother and the garden itself was the inspiration for the book. This was another attempt to capture and hold the beauty of her garden. This is a garden that she has put her heart and soul into for over 50 years. It's very well established and also contains a large selection of rare perennials and dwarf trees. It's very impressive! I am currently working on another book - a bit different - but it is also written by my mother and will include illustrations of our family land from the 1960's or so, and I think will appeal to anyone who enjoyed growing up in the country.
DASH: You are completely self-taught, correct? At what point in your life did you realize that this was the career path you wanted for yourself? And how much of a challenge was it to get started on that path?
DENISE: I'm not really sure, but it seems that artists who don't have a degree in art are thought of as self-taught. I feel I have learned so much and have been greatly influenced just by constantly studying other painters, photographers, etc. I have had very little formal instruction, but after many years of drawing in graphite, charcoal and pen and ink, I took a watercolor class at Pitt-Bradford instructed by Elga Dzirkalis (in the early 90’s). It was definitely what helped me get my start painting in watercolor.
I have to admit I was a bit of a rebellious teenager; I became very distracted with racing motocross bikes. The adrenaline rush I felt was such a contrast to my forest tranquility and my laid back personality, and for a few years I didn't create much art. In my early 20's I began traveling mostly to National Parks and wilderness areas around the country and soon resumed my drawings. It's been somewhat of a challenge to finally go 'full-time' with my artwork. I have always done some other work to supplement, but my main focus has always been living my life as an artist, whether it's creating or just learning by seeing, absorbing (by travel or visiting museums, galleries), exploring other forms of art such as music and performance, by trying to keep my children inspired by keeping them involved in their artistic endeavors.
DASH: The rebellious, motocross racing teen is something I never would’ve guessed! With all of that time spent traveling, which I’ve always felt is something that helps a lot of artists in terms of finding their creative expression, what was one of the biggest lessons you learned about yourself or your artwork while on your travels?
DENISE: Aside from the obvious - that there are just so many places to see, and that travel will always be probably my biggest source of inspiration - it has been important to me to meet other artists (or see works) from around the country and abroad, and observe them in their circles, what inspires them, what they are creating. And also being careful to stay strong and true to myself to create exactly what I choose and for whatever reason. Art is an expression meant to be individual - there are no rules.
DASH: Describe your process a little if you wouldn't mind. When you see a particular landscape or sunset, how do you go from the immediate visual to getting something on canvas?
DENISE: It depends usually on the weather or how much time I have. Some pieces are started on location, but for larger works, I photograph them and use the photos as reference. I have spent a lot of time studying photography and have invested in some nice equipment, so it's not exactly like hopping out snapping a pic and bringing it home to draw from. A lot of thought and effort goes into first finding the place, probably hiking to it, then deciding on the composition, and setting up equipment. Often I deliberately go out in the rain to photograph in the clouds and mist. For a large drawing or painting I usually lay it out with pencil (I work on Arches watercolor paper, mostly coldpress) lightly, then just start adding many layers. Sometimes I add watercolor to a drawing just for accent color.
DASH: On your website I see quite the mix of black and white themed pieces and then a total contrast of vibrant colored pieces. Do you have a favorite focus?
DENISE: I will always explore the bold color paintings of flowers. It would be hard not to want to when my mother's gardens explode every summer, but I think my favorite medium will always be graphite. It's what I started with and what I always go back to. Although I tend to get very detailed with the entire drawing, I enjoy doing studies and leaving some undeveloped areas. I would like to loosen up a bit and use that practice more in my final product.
DASH: What's your favorite piece that you've done and why?
DENISE: I think I have felt most satisfied by a graphite drawing I did entitled "Ghosts" in 2001. While living in the Asheville, NC area, I would love to drive up on the Blue Ridge Parkway especially on a misty day. Getting higher up near the tree-line always felt more like the northern woods to me, which made me feel more at home. This drawing was executed to my liking, but I think more importantly captured the deep feeling I have just looking at the layers of trees in the fog or mist.
DASH: Aside from online and Art in the Wilds, where can people find your work? What do you have in line for this year’s Art in the Wilds?
DENISE: The biggest collection of my work that is for sale is at The Mainstreet Mercantile in Bradford, PA. This summer I will be doing a few shows, but my main focus is to be getting ready for a solo show at Pitt-Bradford. The show will be a collection of national park drawings and paintings that I have been working on since the 90's. It coincides with the National Parks centennial this year (NPS turns 100 in August). As for Art in the Wilds, I will have a few sneak peek drawings for that show along with mostly area landscapes, originals and prints, a lot of them of the Allegheny National Forest.
photo/Karen Gentilman Clopp