Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sarah Emma Edmonds II: Transformation, Step 3

I began adding a few more branches and started extending the Tuscan Red into new territory.
Progress has been slow, as I'm still working the gallery in Gettysburg, PA through the holiday season, and also have a commission that needs to be completed by mid-December. So my attention is more on those two things than on progress with my own personal work, right now. To see the various series' of work I have developed for my gallery, please visit

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sarah Emma Edmonds: Transformation, Step 2

Not a lot of new information to report; I've just added some additional Tuscan Red to some of the tree trunks and more patches of sky using the Light green. I have some symbolic imagery I'd like to add in the left foreground, but am currently unsure of how to do it without the viewer thinking it's part of the more literal, woods area. I'll have to experiment a bit, I think, away from the actual drawing.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sarah Emma Edmonds II: "Transformation"

Finally, I've gotten back to the second in my series about Sarah Emma Edmonds, the Canadian-born woman who took on a male identity prior to the Civil War, and as the war began, enlisted in the 2nd Michigan Volunteer Infantry as Franklin Thompson. At present, I'm calling it "Transformation", but that's just a working title.

This piece relates to the period when Emma left her home in Canada and worked on developing her male persona, hiding in the woods by day and travelling only under cover of darkness until she felt confident in her new role. I'm seeking an air of mystery and tension as I begin this piece, and those goals helped direct me to choose an apricot-colored acid-free mat board surface -- I believe the color is called Taos -- large enough for the composition I have planned. So far I'm working primarily with an Imperial Violet Prismacolor pencil, though I've also just begun adding a little Tuscan Red to see how that works on one of the darker tree trunks, and a little light green in the sky sections. It's all an experiment at this point, but I like the quality of surrealism I'm seeing.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Before I begin my posts of the stages of my latest piece in my Beyond the Battlefield series, I wanted to let you know about three miniatures that I have had accepted into an exhibition that will open this week. The show is the 26th Annual Miniature Art 2010 Exhibition at the Council for the Arts, 159 S. Main St., Chambersburg, PA. The opening reception will be held from 4 - 7 pm, Friday, November 5. The show will remain on display through January 8, and gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 am - 2 pm. (They do recommend you call 717-264-6883 to confirm hours during the holidays.)

Miniatures are something I decided to challenge myself to do, given that most of my work is very large -- my "regular" minimum size is generally about 16" x 20" and most of my work is much larger. Working in miniature is a real change of pace: controlling the pencils strokes at that scale to create a smooth surface, getting details as needed, determining an effective composition. All three of these pieces are images of various locations on the Gettysburg battlefield, and they are approximately 2 1/2" x 4" in size. The first piece shown above is entitled "Pennsylvania Monument in November"; it's done on a vellum finish bristol board. The next two, "Seeking Shelter from the Sun" and "Trostle Farm in October", are both done on a surface I've been experimenting with -- PastelMat, this one a sienna color -- and have nearly fallen in love with! Unlike traditional, sanded pastel papers, it's not gritty; it has a smooth, almost suede-like feel. But it grabs the color in a way I've never experienced on regular papers, making excessive layering unnecessary. It also seems to erase quite well. I'm anxious to try this surface for larger works as well and have found that it is available in both small tablets and large single sheets from Dick Blick.

To see more of my miniatures and other categories of work, please visit

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Time to regroup!

No image today -- just trying to catch up, get back in the flow.

It's been a trying couple of months. My 86-year-old mother passed away on August 17 after nearly a decade of struggling with Alzheimer's disease. We hated to see her go, but we also didn't want her to linger any longer in that condition. Since her wishes were to have her remains cremated, and since at this point in her life it was mostly family who would be attending any memorial service, we opted to wait until just this past weekend -- to gather family from across the country -- to have her interment and Celebration of Life. We were quite pleased to have all her living family members in attendance, and know that both of our parents would have been happy with the gathering.

On September 2 I was in a car accident, struck by a driver who ran a red light and slammed into my car at about 45 mph. Neither I nor my 9-year-old granddaughter -- who was in the car with me -- were seriously injured, but the car was totalled and as a result, I was forced to keep my Gettysburg gallery closed for several weeks.

On a happier note, this past weekend my recently-posted image of Frederick Douglass -- exhibition title "Impassioned" -- was awarded Best of Show at Midwest Color 2010, a biennial colored pencil exhibition which is being hosted this year by District Chapter 120 of the Colored Pencil Society of America and is on display at the New Union Center for the Arts in Oberlin, Ohio. Because the opening reception took place this past weekend at the same time as my family gathering, I have not yet attended the exhibition, but hope to see it before it closes November 5, and am extremely honored to receive this award!

I've tried to keep busy with my artistic pursuits as well, since my last post, and will have new images to post later this week.

Monday, August 2, 2010

New Print, Battle of Gettysburg Series

When I last posted, I had optimistically thought I would have time to post this the following day. That didn't happen, but at least not too many days went by before I had a chance to add this image. This scene, titled A Ransom for Gettysburg, depicts the events of June 26, 1863, when Jubal Early arrived in Gettysburg to make his demands on the borough council for cash and supplies. After attempting to meet with the Burgess (Mayor) of Gettysburg, Robert Martin, and learning that he had already left the area, Early makes his way south from the Diamond to the Baltimore St. home of Bourough Council President David Kendlehart. For a full description of this scene, please visit

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Two Posts in One Day!

These two pieces both relate to my Civilians of Gettysburg series. As we work our way into the 150th anniversary era of Civil War-related events, I want to be fully prepared for Gettysburg's own anniversary in July 2013. To that end I've been working on pieces related to things the local civilians would have seen and experienced during the Confederate invasion and the three-day battle. Since I'm committed to taking these events in chronological order, the things I'm currently working on in this series relate to the days leading up to the battle, as opposed to the battle itself. These two pieces both relate to the June 26, 1863 entry of Jubal Early and his Confederate troops into the borough of Gettysburg. The first is entitled "The Lesson" and relates the experiences of a local girl, Nellie Aughinbagh, and her near close-encounter with Confederate troops, due to her insistence on finishing a bonnet she was working on with her instructor, Mrs. Martin, in the Martins' Middle Street home. The second features the cupola of Christ Lutheran Church on Chambersburg Street. When the Confederates entered the town on June 26, one of their objectives was to round up all of the African Americans they saw and attempt to send them into slavery in the South. Naturally, the black population of Gettysburg had been taking measures to evacuate before this could happen, but there is a story which involves a woman known only as "Liz" who didn't quite manage to escape in time, and sought refuge in the church cupola until it was safe to come down.
Tomorrow I'll post the image I've recently completed of Jubal Early himself, the leader responsible for this particular upheaval.

Long Time, No Post!

Despite the fact that I haven't been posting, I have been working -- diligently! Other than research and rough sketches, I'll confess that I haven't done much with my next "Sarah" piece. But I've been working on many other pieces while I'm manning my Civil War Fine Art Gallery in Gettysburg, PA.

In mid- to late-June, I participated in The Gettysburg Fringe Festival in multiple ways. First, I hosted several receptions at my gallery for visitors as part of History Meets the Arts June 18 - 20. Also, I participated with the En Plein Air painters group again this year, completing a variety of works, including those shown above, top to bottom: "The Angle" and the Codori Farm, Round Barn Cupola, and Henry Culp Farm. These pieces are all fairly small, approximately 8" x 10", and were done using Derwent Inktense watersoluble pencils.
The next two posts will show other work I've completed in the past two months.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Final, Frederick Douglass

It's hard to believe that nearly a month has passed since I last posted. I guess there's been a lot going on: The Civil War Collectors Show in Mansfield, OH, then back-to-back Saturdays of teaching a class on colored pencil techniques for the Botanical Art and Illustration program at Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, followed by a workshop on paper and other surfaces for use with colored pencil in North Canton, OH and finally a one-Saturday class for a drawing group in Sewickley, PA about using solvents with colored pencil. A lot of teaching can add up to not much time for creating! But the teaching has been a very enriching experience so I don't believe I'll stop teaching anytime soon.

I was pleased to learn that a colored pencil drawing from my Gettysburg Today series -- entitled Ever-Vigilant -- was accepted into the Adams County Arts Council's 7th Annual Juried Exhibition, which will be on display at Schmucker Art Gallery on the campus of Gettysburg College, June 18 - 27. (To view the drawing now, please visit )
Next Friday, May 28, marks the opening of my seventh season in Gettysburg at my gallery, Civil War Fine Art, located at 333 Baltimore St. I'm anxious to get back into the gallery and hope to see you there!
Next month, from June 18 - 27, I'll be participating in the Gettysburg Fringe Festival with the Debut of my Civil War 150 Project (see sidebar for explanation). I'll also be involved with the Plein Air Paint Out during the Festival, along with many of my friends from the Daily Painters of Pennsylvania blog ( The Festival is a wonderful cultural event; I strongly encourage you to take a look at all it has to offer at

As you can see above, I've finished my 24" x 24" colored pencil painting of Frederick Douglass. I am now working toward having limited edition reproductions made. I'm pleased with how this piece turned out; I like the looseness and energy of the strokes, the range of color, and the expression of the eyes. So now it looks like I'd better get back to considering the next edition of "Sarah".

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Step Six, Frederick Douglass

I've had a few other distractions so I hadn't worked on this in about two weeks, but was able to get back to it earlier today. I believe I'm pretty close to being done with this, but I'm still not happy with the hair. I believe it needs more texture, primarily in the area from the upper left highlight over towards the right side. I'm also feeling that his left cheek (to our right) may be too "sunken" - I'll need to examine the photo reference better. I'll be attending the Ohio Civil War Collectors Show in Mansfield, OH this weekend, so between displaying it there, and here online, I'll get a better chance to study it more objectively. My primary concern is over-working and over "refining" it -- my tendency towards too much detail and nitpicking -- so I want to make sure I stop before that happens.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Step 5, Frederick Douglass

This portrait is moving along pretty quickly, since I've been working on it almost exclusively, rather than shifting back and forth from one piece to another. Now I just want to be careful to give it the time it needs, and not rush it in my enthusiasm to finish it. Still working only with the Artstix, though I did use a bit of odorless Turpenoid to blend some of the colors in the hair. I really don't intend to use the finer point pencils on this portrait at all. The hair looks too solid to me, particularly from his right temple upward and extending over to his left cheekbone, so I'll need to address that. I do like the way he's filling the space and the larger-than-lifesize scale adds drama to the expression.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Step 4, Frederick Douglass

Starting to get into some detail now, and this is where I want to be VERY careful: I like the intensity of the expression and the looseness of technique, and I don't want to dilute the effect by over-detailing the portrait. So far I've only added detail using the Artstix: Tuscan Red, Terra Cotta, Dark Umber, Black, Indigo Blue, Dark Green, Peach and Ultramarine. Right now I'm thinking I may not get into using any regular colored pencil at all. I also have lifted out some areas with a battery-powered eraser -- the Gessobord takes this type of eraser very effectively.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Step 3, Frederick Douglass

I'm using two entirely different "wet" techniques with the colored pencil for this painting. The background is done using the Derwent Inktense pencils, applied in a wash and allowed to run. The figure is done using a Tuscan Red Prismacolor Artstix, which contains wax, so even though the watercolor wash was applied in the background and allowed to drip, the area done with the wax-based pencils resists the wash, so it doesn't stick to the face. I've reddened the background somewhat with this wash layer. Also, the tones on the face and hair have been blended a bit using odorless Turpenoid, which has served to fill them in and intensify their color.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Frederick Douglass, Step 2

I've started to add more tonal areas now. The figure has been laid in so far with a Tuscan Red Artstix. The background is Derwent Inktense pencils, "liquefied" and applied with a two-inch brush, then allowed to run. At 24" x 24", he's a fairly imposing figure in my studio!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sarah Emma Edmonds I: Departure, final (really!)

(A professional photograph makes a huge difference, in my opinion! Many thanks to my photographer, Emily Puls.) This colored pencil/mixed media (powdered graphite, Lasertran waterslide decal) painting on Gessobord measures 18" x 24". I will be displaying it for the first time in the "Palm Sunday through Resurrection" exhibition, March 26 - April 24 at Art & Soul Gallery, 900 Market St., Lemoyne, PA. How does this piece fit that theme? I have indicated in earlier posts that my goal is to have several layers of meaning in my work. When displayed in non-Civil War venues, this painting will simply carry the title, Departure. There are several biblical passages that come to mind for me with this piece, and the Resurrection would be one of them. Also, Sarah Emma's mother was a devout Christian and Emma embraced her faith wholeheartedly. Gallery owner/director Lyn O'Neal graciously invited me to participate, and I am excited to have this as my first opportunity to display this new painting.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Taking a break from Sarah

After many days of feeling that I was finished with my most recent piece, this morning I hit upon an addition I wanted to make -- and now it really does feel finished. So it's off to the photographer's, and once I get the professional digital image I'll post the actual, final version. (As a result, I renamed my last post "Stage Seven", rather than "Final".

For Sarah Emma Edmonds II, I will be working with the stage of her life where she creates and adopts her new, male identity. I have a visual image of a shady pine forest that I think will play a strong role as a setting for this piece, since Sarah Emma travelled by night and hid in the woods by day, until she had grown accustomed to her new identity. Beyond that, I have some research and brainstorming to do. So in the meantime, I've begun a large -- 24" x 24" -- close-up portrait of Frederick Douglass. I've already completed portraits of Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Brown, two key players in the anti-slavery movement; they may be viewed on my website at But as passionate as they were for the abolitionist cause, their experiences would have been very different from those of a man who had been born into slavery and managed to escape its bonds to become a dynamic and eloquent abolitionist speaker.

There are many photographic images of Frederick Douglass, and I am nearly finished with a small piece depicting him in his later years. But for my large portrait I wanted to focus on a much earlier image, taken in the 1850's, at about the same time he would have met with John Brown in Chambersburg, PA, to discuss Brown's plan of an attack on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry. This image shows a much more intense, almost fiery expression in Douglass' eyes, and it is the eyes that I believe will be key to the success of this portrait.

I am working on Gessobord again, and began by doing an underpainting of watercolor pencil sprayed with water and allowed to drip. The basic drawing has been laid over top using a Tuscan Red Prismacolor Artstix.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Stage Seven, Sarah Emma Edmonds: Departure

I've been studying this piece and debating its merits for long enough now, without a firm conviction that there is more I should do. I keep feeling like I should be adding something more, but in thinking about my goals for it, I don't know that it would help it in any way to do that. There's really very little change that has taken place since the last step; I did even out the color along the right border, and have added some smaller details and refinements that wouldn't show up at this scale online. When I get it professionally photographed and added to my website ( ), hopefully those things will be more evident. This final version photographed darker than it really is; some of the color and detail in the lower section are lost.

When I say that I believe that I've come fairly close to meeting my goals with this, here is what I mean. Each new piece I add to my Beyond the Battlefield series, I strive to make successful on three different levels: 1) my reaction to or interpretation of a factual, historical person or event, 2) relevant and informed by my personal experience, 3) representative of a larger, universal truth. When I write my narratives for my works, I limit myself to only those things which refer to the historical person or event that inspired the piece. In this case, I mentioned earlier that I wanted the water to be present as a backdrop for this piece, because of what I believe would be the influence of Magaguadavic Lake on Sarah Emma's formative years. The image of the book represents an incident that Emma says had a tremendous impact on her when she was about thirteen. A peddler had visited their home, and as it was getting late in the day, Emma's mother invited the man to stay at their home until morning. When he was leaving the next day, as a token of appreciation for the family's kindness, the peddler gave Emma a novel, something that her strict father would never have allowed had he known about it. The novel was a melodramatic account of a young heroine who disguised herself as a man in order to rescue her lover from captivity. Emma recalled her feelings after reading the novel by saying, "I felt as if an angel had touched me with a live coal from off the altar" (reminiscent of an account in the biblical book of Isaiah). "I was emancipated. And I could never again be a slave." In my piece, the birds flying away from the book and the live coals, represent that emancipation. The water, very dark in the lower portion of the composition, brightens as the birds continue upward.
Sarah Emma Edmonds: Departure also has significance for me on a personal level, and I believe represents very well a more universal truth. But those are things I leave up to the viewer to ponder.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Stage Six, Sarah Emma Edmonds: Departure

Worked on toning down the very white pages of the open book, but I wasn't sure it was enough, so I decided to post the image and get a new look at it.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Stage Five, Sarah Emma Edmonds: Departure

With the help of my computer scanner and printer and a product called Lazertran (waterslide decal paper), I made and applied a custom "decal" of an open book to the composition. In Stage Four, I had tried to represent an open book through drawing, but I quickly saw that it wasn't having the graphic impact I wanted. On the other hand, as it currently appears, I'm much happier with the book image but I truly believe it's too strong at the moment. I will study it some more but currently plan to use drawing techniques to tone it down, make it flow into the rest of the composition a little more. It is definitely too much of a focal point at this stage.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Stage Four, Sarah Emma Edmonds: Departure

I'm finally moving closer to the composition I want. There are things still to be worked out, but I believe the main components are there. I'm really teetering on the edge between literal and symbolic and haven't quite resolved the direction. Rather than comment any further at the moment, I think I'll post this image and see how it impacts me -- hopefully that will provide the answers I need, or at least point me in the right direction.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Stage Three, Sarah Emma Edmonds: Departure

This image was shot earlier today. I have made a fair amount of progress on the water imagery since the last image posted, and have now begun to include some of the other elements; most notably, the suggestion of birds flying up out of the water and to the top and right sections of the format. As the birds are meant to be symbolic, my intention is to keep them minimally described, but I'm not yet convinced that they're as developed as I'd like them to be. Part of what I like about posting things online is that it enables me to look at the composition in a slightly different way than when I'm looking at the actual work-in-progress. So I'll study it a while and contemplate my next move.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Stage Two, Sarah Emma Edmonds: Departure

This view is from October 10, 2009. Progress has been slow, for several reasons. First, I'm experimenting by using a different type of surface -- a product called Gessobord -- for this piece, which measures 18" x 24". It's a very rough, hard surface, much different from the paper surfaces I normally use, and requires a lot of pencil pressure and many layers for the pigment to really stick to the surface. Second, while I know that I want the format to be dominated by this view of choppy water -- symbolic of Magaguadavic Lake -- on whose shores Sarah Emma grew up and whose waters and character, I feel strongly, greatly impacted her, I am uncertain of the best approach to take to convey the mood I'm hoping for. Also, there are other elements which I want to incorporate into the composition and am struggling with how best to do that. So there are a lot of unanswered questions, for me, and I have a strong tendency to let it sit and focus on other things -- commission work, new images for my Christmas card series, local Gettysburg scenes. Those things don't seem quite so demanding.

Early Stage, Sarah Emma Edmonds: Departure

The piece that is currently commanding my attention deals with the life experiences of Sarah Emma Edmonds. The view seen above is from a very early stage of its development, in early August 2009.

Born on a farm on the shores of Magaguadavic Lake in New Brunswick, Canada, Sarah Emma Edmonds grew up with the constant awareness of her father's deep resentment that she was born female rather than male. As a child, Emma tried to prove herself "worthy" by assuming many of the more difficult tasks on the farm and becoming proficient in riding horses, canoeing and other skills traditionally associated with boys. When at the age of 17 her father tried to "marry her off" to a much older neighbor in order to reduce the number of mouths he had to feed at home, she had had enough. Though specific accounts vary, the record shows that she left home and in less than a year, reappeared having assumed the clothing, mannerisms, lifestyle -- and name -- of a man. She was now living as Franklin Thompson, and became a successful traveling book salesman.

Her work eventually brought her to the United States and she was living in Flint, Michigan when the Civil War began. When the first call for Union volunteers went out, Emma (now Frank) saw many of her friends enlisting and wished to do the same. After training in Washington, Emma Edmonds (alias Frank Thompson) was assigned as a male nurse to the hospital unit of the 2d Michigan Infantry, a position she held at the time of the First Battle of Manassas.

Lest readers draw the conclusion that Emma was suffering from ambivalence toward her gender identity, or perhaps was simply a cross-dresser, they should note not only that she secretly revealed her true identity in late 1861 to a fellow hospital steward with whom she had fallen in love (only to be rejected), but that in 1863, for fear of having that identity discovered when she developed malaria, she deserted the army eventually to resurface in Oberlin, OH where she resumed her life as a woman. After the war she went on to marry and give birth to three children and adopt two more. In the 1880's she petitioned the government for, and eventually became the only woman ever awarded, a full soldier's pension for her service during the Civil War.

I am finding Sarah Emma Edmonds to be an extremely complex and sometimes mysterious character and want to create a group of works to try to understand and describe her nature at various points in her life. This first piece deals with her early years, leading up to her escape from a dicatatorial father. It is not taking the form of a literal portrait, but rather will contain elements of her early experiences to give an impression of her nature during this time.

Welcome to My Drawing Board!

Thanks for visiting this new venture. I'm very new to the concept of blogging, but have gotten "my feet wet" by being a member of the Daily Painters of Pennsylvania blog ( Through that experience, I've come to see that having my work-in-progress available for viewing and potential discussion through a blog, may be a better way to stay in touch with friends I've made either through my Gettysburg, PA gallery, through my colored pencil classes in Ohio, or by way of my botancial illustration classes through Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, PA.

If you've visited my gallery or website (, you may be aware that my body of work has been divided into several categories. On My Drawing Board will feature primarily work from my Beyond the Battlefield series, since those are the pieces that generally require a good deal of research, are larger and tend to develop slowly.