Trivium Pursuit

Interview with Johannah Bluedorn

This article first appeared in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.

Welcome to TOS magazine! I am sure you have heard this before, but your illustrations remind me of Tasha Tudor's. Were you in any way influenced by her artwork?

I remember reading A is for Annabelle, which is one of Tasha Tudor's most popular books, when I was 7 years old, and I've read most of her books many times since then. I especially liked all the many intricate details of her artwork and her old-fashioned style. She also uses lots of detailed borders in her books, surrounding the pictures, and this is something I usually try to incorporate in my paintings. Tasha Tudor includes all sorts of animals in many of her pictures, which appeals to me. Since I was six years old we have had goats, chickens, rabbits, dogs, cats, parrots, cows, and horses on our little farm, so big and little animals have been a large part of my life, too. I spend quite a bit of time watching how animals interact with each other and with the members of my family. I take pictures of the mothers with their babies and then try to copy the photos in my paintings. Sometimes I even include my brothers or sisters in the paintings if they're willing to pose. Right now my favorite model is my baby cow Toby. He appears in several of my paintings. Unfortunately he doesn't always pose the way I want him to, and at 500 pounds, he has grown a bit large for me to lead around.

Who else do you look up to in the world of art?

My favorite artists are Monet, Rembrandt, and Mary Cassatt. I also like the pen and ink drawings of Howard Pyle, the well-known children's book author.

Your Mom told me that growing up, you were given the three ingredients: time, space and materials. Tell me your perception of that. Do you have a favorite place to work? What is your favorite medium and why?

When I was young, my mom let me draw whenever I wanted to and not just at specific times. I didn't have to ask every time I wanted to draw because all our art and craft supplies were within easy reach. I remember I was quite excited when she bought me a big set of expensive colored pencils. They were very useful to me. All those colors made it easier to draw what was in my mind.

Oil painting is now my favorite, but oils take more time to finish. Several of the book covers I've done for my parents have been in oils, and I love to do miniatures in oil on ivorine. Most of my work over the past couple of years has been done in watercolor and colored pencil over pen and ink. I usually am working on two paintings at one time -- two matching paintings which will be facing each other in a book. I first sketch the picture with pencil, and then, using pen and ink, draw it fully in, with all the details. I do all this at my desktop up in my bedroom near a south window where I have plenty of natural sunlight. After the picture is drawn, I tape the two pictures to a large board and start painting. I will either do the painting in my room if the lighting is right or downstairs in the dining room. Getting the correct lighting is very important when you paint, so sometimes I have to "follow the light" around the house as I paint, finding the best lighting at the moment. If I'm doing a large oil painting on a canvas, I'll work at an easel which sits in my room.

The website says that you won an award when you were 14, can you tell me about that?

I first started entering my art in the 4-H contests at the Mercer County, Illinois fair, and often advanced to the Illinois State Fair. I entered many different kinds of media -- nature craft, stitchery, drawing, and painting. My favorite when I was young was nature craft -- that's where you produce some kind of art using only materials found in nature. One year I took half of a Mississippi pearl clam shell and glued hundreds of minuscule size shells onto the clam shell in a geometric pattern. Another year I took a 6 inch horizontal slice of a tree trunk, smoothed the surface and, using bark, twigs, and rocks, made a rustic farm scene. One year I took a purple spiderwort and some ferns, pressed them and arranged them onto a piece of matting board and then framed the whole thing. I won a purple ribbon at the state fair for this picture.

Life seems to be so full for you at such a young age, writing and illustrating, working on the farm and helping with the family business. Are there goals ahead of you or are you pretty content?

I have several projects ahead of me. I would like to continue the series of children's picture books based on the psalms. I also plan to convert my booklet "Alphabet for Biblical Greek," which I wrote several years ago, into a children's board book, and there are some free-lance jobs waiting for me to finish. I would like to do some more oil paintings when I have the time.

Can you give any tips for young artists?

I learned a lot from copying the famous paintings of Monet and Renoir. Pick a painting you like, set it up in front of you along with your sketch book, sketch it in pencil first, then color it in with colored pencils. If you like how it turns out, you can ask your parents to matte and frame the finished picture.

I would suggest that you also learn to draw from real life by setting on a table some flowers, fruit, a book, or whatever else you like, and try drawing this from different positions so the light is coming from different directions on your subject.

Having art supplies readily available for your children can encourage them. Buy a nice set of colored pencils for them. Then encourage them to draw what they see around them.

Study how different artists painted the sky or water, and then try to copy each artist's style.

Go outside and draw from nature. If you have any animals, try to draw them. You can take photographs first so you can get the pose you want. When I was young I used Readers Digest North American Wildlife to learn how to draw wildflowers, and I often used one of the many Dover art books to learn the basics of drawing animals.