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Meet the Artist
Nature in Colour - the Pencil Work of Corrina Thurston
- Written by Vanessa Champion Vanessa Champion
Over the years we have been able to celebrate the amazing work of artists not just here in the UK but further afield as well. One of these artists is Corrina Thurston, known as "The Coloured Pencil Artist" where she is in Vermont, which is worthy recognition of a fantastic portfolio of a wide range of animals from our natural world, full of colour and personality.
I live not far from where I grew up in Vermont, USA and I love it here…most of the time. It’s gorgeous in the summer and fall and there’s nowhere I’d rather be during that time, but there are certainly a few months of the winter when it’s below zero where I wish I was an animal that hibernated.
I’m a self-taught wildlife artist specializing in detailed, vibrant coloured pencil drawings. I’ve been drawing for almost nine years (read more about how I started in the next question) and animals continue to be my favourite subjects. I’m also an author, speaker/presenter, and business consultant for other artists and creatives. Galleries and non-profits hire me to teach workshops for other creatives about the business side of being an artist, which is also what my first two books are about (https://corrinathurston.com/books-2/).
You mentioned to me that over 10 years ago you fell chronically ill? Can you tell us briefly what happened and how art has helped you? In what way and how did you “discover” the healing power of art?
In 2008, in my freshman year of college, where I was studying Biology and Anthropology, I suddenly fell sick. Like any healthy person, I assumed it would last a few days and go away, but as weeks passed, and then months, we knew something was dreadfully wrong. Eventually I had to medically withdraw from college and was forced to go back home where I was mostly bedridden and in excruciating pain for a number of years.
With a non-stop migraine (if you can imagine), fatigue, nausea, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and much more for YEARS, I was feeling useless and like a burden on my family. Without my parents housing and feeding me, I would have died because I did not have the energy or ability to do much of anything.
With no diagnosis and therefore no light at the end of this miserable tunnel of illness, I was horribly depressed and tried to find anything I could do to distract myself. One day, that included finding a pencil and a piece of old poster board and trying to sketch while I was in bed.
It worked and I found myself distracted from my pain for the first time in two years (I started drawing in 2010). From there I turned to coloured pencils, trying to get back some of the colours that were missing from my life, while still being able to work from my bed.
My drawing ability progressed incredibly quickly. Actually, my ability progressed so quickly that there are only two drawings I’ve done that haven’t been displayed in exhibits and I’ve sold prints of many of my earliest pieces.
The best part about learning to draw was the sudden ability to do something, to distract myself from the pain I was in all the time, and to feel like I could still accomplish SOMETHING at least, which helped my depression as well.
You are known as “The Colored Pencil Artist” in the area. Which area are you? How did that come about? Your work is stunning.
I live in Vermont, USA and there aren’t a lot of people around the state and surrounding states that use coloured pencil as their preferred art medium. Actually, so few know what it can do that I’ve been turned away from a number of galleries as soon as they hear “coloured pencil,” even before they see my work. However, most people haven’t seen coloured pencil the way I do it, with the bright opaque colours and fine details that make it photo-realistic.
My favourite part of having exhibits and talking to people is to tell them after they’ve seen an example of my work, that it’s done in coloured pencil and then to see the shock and confusion snap across their faces as they ask incredulously: “How is that possible?!”
From there, when describing me to other people via word-of-mouth, people started referring to me as The Colored Pencil Artist, because it was unlike anything they’d seen before, and the nickname has stuck.
Your animal drawings are simply gorgeous. Can you tell us why you have such a wonderful connection with them and how it has shaped your professional career?
I’ve always loved animals. I get more excited to see an animal than I do anything else, like a little kid. So when I was stuck for years in a darkened room with nothing to entertain me, what I wished to see for comfort and beauty was animals. Then, as I started to draw, it was natural for me to want to draw animals and then hang the images on my walls so I could see them. Not only were the framed drawings proof that I could still do SOMETHING, but they also allowed me to have some colour and beauty and my favourite subjects back in my life.
Being an animal lover, I now also use my artwork to help bring attention to endangered species. I even donate some of my proceeds from my artwork to wildlife conservation organizations and other animal organizations like the humane societies, trying to give back and make the world a little better place for the animals that I love.
You give talks? What do you speak on?
I do give talks and presentations at places like galleries, non-profits, churches/temples/etc., schools, colleges, and more. I gave a TEDx Talk in Stowe, VT on May 9th, 2019 (https://www.tedxstowe.com/) and a talk/presentation for River Arts in Morrisville, VT on March 26th this year about Art Marketing and Social Media Marketing for creatives.
What I talk about depends on the organization requesting the talk. Sometimes it’s about my life and journey to where I am now as an inspirational talk, learning how to draw despite being chronically and debilitatingly ill. Sometimes I give presentations connected to my books about art business and marketing, artist statements, business planning made easy, communicating effectively, and what it’s like to be a working artist. And other times it’s about topics relating to learning how to push past self-doubt, manage anxiety, and things like techniques to improve one’s happiness despite your situation, which are things I had to learn the hard way.
Each talk or presentation is equal parts fun and informative, with the audience feeling motivated and empowered by the end. Part of that is because people can relate to me, even if they haven’t been through exactly the same thing. I don’t shy away from talking about the negative things I’ve been through, and I help people realize that there’s no shame or guilt in being sick or having anxiety or failing, etc. I let people know that they’re not alone, what they’re going through is valid, and that it’s a lot easier to figure out how to move forward if you accept that you have some limitations and then strategize how to work around and with those limitations, instead of trying to push through them.
Which Strathmore paper do you use the most and why? Do you use any other and why?
I started out using the heavyweight drawing paper, because what I do is draw, but I found that my type of drawing was too much for any kind of paper. So when I discovered Strathmore’s Mixed Media Board (500 series), which has the texture of the paper I liked, but could hold up and stay flat under the immense layers and pressure I put in a piece, I fell in love!
Now I use the Mixed Media Board for all of my drawing purposes. The paper would warp under so much pressure, so matting and framing it was difficult for me to do without that warp showing. Plus, while drawing in bed or on a couch, which I still do sometimes, it’s hard not to bend a corner of your paper and keep it safe from damage. The Mixed Media Board, though, is thick enough where none of those damage concerns are there and it stays flat. It’s easy to bring wherever I’m working without damage, and it’s easy to mat and frame.
Can you tell us a bit about your technique?
The most important thing about my technique is the layering. After I have a line drawing down (my least favourite part!) I then work to layer in the colours, usually light to dark, and keep layering and layering until I get the bright, vibrant, opaque colouring I want and can no longer see ANY of the white paper showing through. Then I sometimes take my x-acto knife and gently(!) etch away some of the top layers for the smallest details, like fur or making edges extra crisp. This works because I have the lightest layers on the bottom, so when you etch the top layers away, it’s not the colour of the paper that shows through, it’s the colour of your first layer you put down.
With the amount of pressure and layers and scraping and more layers I put on my Strathmore papers, I’d be scared to be one! Therefore, I’d probably be the watercolour paper. I’d rather have soft brushes used than the sharp point of a pencil and x-acto knife.
If you would like to follow Corrina’s work, have a look at these links online and follow her on social media.
Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/corrinathurstonstudios
Books Page: www.corrinathurston.com/books-2