ARTIST OF THE YEAR 2021
Patricia Gauss was named the EMERALD ARTIST OF DECEMBER 2021 and was automatically entered into the first ANNUAL ARTISTS OF THE YEAR EVENT where she was then named the CRYSTAL ARTIST OF THE YEAR 2021. Meet this enthralling artist, discover her talent for detail which finds a perfect outlet in her charming but unusual subjects and be inspired by her story of perseverance and triumph in spite of surprising discouragement from an unlikely source in the following feature and interview which was created in recognition and celebration of her CRYSTAL ARTIST OF THE YEAR 2021 title.
"I don’t think of myself as “creative;” I think I’m more of a left-brained person. When people comment on my “talent,” I always try to convince them that anyone can learn the skills to draw like this; that’s why I want to become an instructor."
-- PATRICIA GAUSS
Patty Gauss is a colored pencil artist in St. Petersburg, Florida, where she has lived for most of her adult life. She has been interested in art ever since her mother told her she was incapable of drawing a stick figure. She took a few classes in high school and college, dabbling in an assortment of media but found that she preferred graphite pencils over paint due to their portability and ease of control, however, she lost interest over time because she preferred working in color. Fast forward about 20 years, she found an instructional book on realism with colored pencils and became instantly hooked! She hadn’t known that they had become a medium for serious art. In 1999 and 2000, she had drawings accepted into the CPSA’s Annual Exhibition. Unfortunately, having been something of a “serial hobbyist” during her life, she drifted off in other directions. She began drawing again toward the end of 2017 with plans to stick with it. She would like to become an online instructor in the near future.
GR - What inspired you to take the path of an artist? As a young girl your mother said that you were "incapable of drawing a stick figure". Did you view this as a challenge? Would you say your interest in art came about from a sense of rebellion?
PG - I’m not a rebellious sort of person, but it did hit a nerve for sure, especially as I still remember it after many decades. What kind of mother criticizes her kid, rather than encourages her or provides help to improve her skills? As kids, we were certainly allowed to explore our interests but we didn’t get much in the way of encouragement or tools to level up or succeed. Maybe that’s why I’ve been a “serial hobbyist” for much of my life (that’s the first time I’ve thought about it that way – I’ve been calling myself a “serial hobbyist” for years but without any understanding of why); trying new hobbies, then quitting or losing interest perhaps because the support wasn’t there to improve beyond a novice level. Also, there was no significant guidance as far as defining what interests or skills to nurture for a successful adulthood and career. I’ve never known exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up. I am now almost 61 (that seems SO ancient) and I still don’t!
Anyway, about 20 years ago, I bought an instructional book by Gary Greene (a pioneer!) on colored pencils and became instantly hooked! I hadn’t known, until that time, that they were a medium for serious art! In 1999 and 2000, I had drawings accepted into the CPSA’s Annual Exhibition but I guess the serial hobbyist kicked in at that point and I drifted off into other things. I didn't realize that I was ahead of the curve or what an enormous challenge it is to acquire signature status (just one more piece…).
GR- What do you strive for in your work and what is the desired response from your viewers?
PG - I strive for the most photo-realistic renderings that I am able to achieve, though I’m still learning to “see” details. I used to hate it when instructors said, “Draw what you see,” but in my experience, my biggest improvements have come when I start seeing details that I hadn’t noticed — or disregarded — before. I believe It’s that “seeing” that becomes the foundation for any artist’s work, from abstract to hyper-realism. When I began really working with colored pencils again (about 5 years ago), I did a few shiny beetles. I still love shiny objects! It’s not as difficult as it seems and nothing beats that feeling of reaching the point at which you know the illusion is working! That’s true of any piece, to varying degrees but it’s most obvious with something shiny, especially metallic shiny.
I do love it when people say that they thought one of my drawings was a photograph!
"ZIPPY, THE CUTEST COLUBRID"
GR - The unconventional subjects of your work surprise and delight the viewer with their fascinating features and charm. What is the story behind these choices?
PG - I’m always looking for a slightly different subject, something that not everyone else is doing. So that’s a sort of niche thing that reptiles are well suited for. From a skills standpoint, I prefer the well-defined edges, shapes and occasionally bold colors over the fuzziness and subtlety of fur.
It’s also challenge to show reptiles in a realistic manner that also conveys a sort of “personality” without departing from a realistic portrayal. Because so many people hate and fear snakes, for example, I feel I’ve been successful if I can get the viewer to look at the drawing with interest, rather than fear and loathing! I take tons of photos, trying to capture that angle or behavior that conveys a particular quality or trait that I want to create.
GR -Your art offers a rare opportunity for viewers to study and admire reptiles up close. Is it your wish this will increase appreciation for their unique beauty and will build greater acceptance for their existence?
PG -Definitely! It’s kind of a meandering path as to how I got here and now with the reptiles (and drawing them) but I like to relate this story: One day after I’d gotten home from work and let the dogs outside, I heard some commotion going on in the back yard. When I went outside to investigate, I found them surrounding a decent-sized, black racer (common here in FL, a type of harmless rat snake, essentially). I thought it was dead. Up until that very moment, I also hated snakes. I found a stick and picked it up, totally limp and covered with dirt. I didn’t see any obvious injuries, so I placed it on a bush in the front yard. A short while later, it had disappeared and I was so relieved. Later, I learned that they actually can “play dead” when threatened or attacked and this was apparently the state in which I found it. Still, I never imagined I would own snakes but it was the first step; like the Grinch, my “heart grew three sizes that day!”
GR- The personalities and sweet expressions of the animals prompt adoration from the viewer. Is it fair to say your love for them is transferred to the paper? What is it like sharing a home with these critters?
PG- I hope so! I have actually said that I fall a little bit (or a lot) in love with a subject as I’m drawing it. If I don’t, I think the piece loses something, though I’m not sure I can articulate what that is. I would also say that my skills level up when I’m working on a piece that I’m really into.
I did one piece of a roseate spoonbill last year (I had photographed it at a local park) and though it came out fine, and people have said they love it, I lost interest after drawing the bird itself. The rest of the drawing was all water, and whatever it was reflecting was mostly yellow and I was so over it after awhile. I couldn’t figure out what the yellow was (probably new foliage, as I took the photo in March) and because I didn’t entirely understand what I was trying to reproduce, I didn’t enjoy the process and I didn’t learn as much about rendering water as I would have liked. I walk past that spot every weekend but I’ve never been able to figure it out!
I think it might be an exaggeration to say I loved the alligator in the “Phantom Menace” piece (hat tip to my brother, Roger, for the title) but I was definitely in awe of it! The photo I took came out with the blue coloration, not sure why. I was fixing it to show the true colors and decided I liked the monochrome blue better.
As for sharing a home with them (reptiles), they are quiet! There are cages on practically every flat surface in the house and a couple of outdoor areas as well! I have a cute little Florida king snake named Lucy, who escaped a few months ago. Literally pushed the lid on her tank aside and got out (I hadn’t latched it closed; I’d never seen her stretch upward toward the top before; she generally lurks in her coconut shell “hide,” or under the substrate). Because they go for dark corners, I knew that I could look everywhere and still not find her, so I just hoped that she would turn up at some point. I’m sure nearly a month had passed and I’d given up hoping that I’d ever see her alive again. Then one day, I went into the little bathroom adjacent to the bedroom where her enclosure was and she was crawling across the toilet seat! Probably not too many people would be thrilled at finding a snake on their toilet…I’ve found escaped chameleons on top of curtain rods and ceiling fans (that’s probably enough on that topic).
"FASTER THAN YOU THINK"
GR- What is it about coloured pencil that is amenable to your artistic approach and goals? Are you interested in experimenting with other media?
PG- I may as well admit it, I’m kind of lazy. I love color, but I don’t like the preparation and cleanup of paints. I also like the control and portability of pencils rather than brushes. I dabble a bit with pastel pencils but always manage to smear things up, no matter how careful I am! Having said that, I’ve been loading up on watercolors and supplies for a while but haven’t found the time to really sit down and play around with them. I’ve seen some amazing realistic work being done with watercolors recently. I’m also a bit curious about work I’ve seen using ballpoint pens.
I have a lot of dead specimens I’ve collected over the years and I’m learning how to diaphonize them. I’m still a beginner and I don’t know if you would call it “art” or a “medium” but done correctly, the finished specimen is quite beautiful! I often describe myself as part MacGyver (I love DIY projects), part mad scientist (rather than “creative”), and diaphonization definitely fits nicely into my mad scientist side! I’m also planning to learn digital art asap; I have tons of content and a halfway decent tablet. I guess that would be my priority at this point.
GR- Have you considered exploring other subject matter? It would be compelling to see your talent for detail applied to the human figure for example.
PG- I actually wanted to do botanical art when I started drawing again in 2017 and I would still love to do some work in that genre. I like the conventions and scientific exactness associated with botanical art (diagrams showing roots, seeds, flowers, growth habit, etc.). It would also be a great, maybe even ideal, genre for the watercolors I’m hoarding. There’s certainly a rich history there to explore!
I would also like to become skilled at human portraits, though not necessarily specializing in them. I know it’s a fuzzy/gray area, legally speaking but I’ve done a couple of “fan art” drawings and I think that celebrities are a fantastic way to learn portraiture because everyone knows what they are “supposed” to look like.
GR- You state that you wish to become an art instructor. Would this give you a sense of completion or deeper purpose to your art? Are you looking to challenge and stretch your skills further or to possibly fulfill a yearning for connection and community?
PG- People compliment me all the time on my “talent.” Based on my own history, I’m pretty sure that it’s not talent, at least not in a major way. It’s all skills I’ve learned over the years (and not very consistently), starting with stuff like eggs and drawing boxes using 1 or 2 point perspective. I would really like to prove that I can teach people how to draw, especially those who don’t think they have the talent!
"TWIN BARRED GLIDING SNAKE"
reference photo courtesy of Patrick Quek
GR- You state that your talent is merely a skill and that you don't consider yourself creative, which is very surprising and humble. Are you open to exploring art that is less about realistic description and more about experimental and imaginative compositions or techniques? Could this be a new area for you to examine, experience and perhaps benefit from?
PG- I feel like I’m a pretty left-brained person and not terribly creative no matter what anyone tells me. I honestly don’t desire to do abstract or more impressionistic art but I believe that is what the truly creative artists are doing. I would love to have an opportunity to do realistic illustrations for something (?). Unfortunately, I think the days of hand-drawn illustrating are mostly over and done with. As I mentioned above, I intend to learn digital art but it remains to be seen if my “analog” skills will carry over in any way or if I’ll be reduced to poorly drawn stick figures again.
GR- What are you currently working on? Any new projects you wish to reveal and share?
PG- I have a ton of projects lined up and a few in progress (it can be very difficult for me to complete pieces because my brain is usually thinking about the next one as I get close to finishing). I’m currently doing a fan art piece for my brother’s birthday (2 months late already). If you are old enough to remember the ‘80s girl group, “The Bangles” and their hit “Walk Like an Egyptian,” it’s an iconic shot of Susanna Hoffs from the video. She is still performing (and looks great). If I can pull it off, he will LOVE it!
I have pictures of shoebill storks from the zoo in Tampa that I really want to do, also a clownfish swimming by an anemone (a “standard” kind of subject, but really great colors!). I want to draw jumping spiders, tarantulas and I’ve got a great snake photo from a friend that I really want to do. Also, I’ve only done one portrait of one of our dogs. There are so many more to do! So many species!
I’ve been kind of scattered over the past few years, planning to do one thing but then veering off into something else. I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to consistent practice. I think I would be a much better artist if I would do, say, a series of pieces of similar subjects.
Works in progress
GR- It is fascinating to see your works in progress. They are reminders that your artworks are not photographs and they serve to emphasize your impressive talent. What is your process? Do you begin with a graphite drawing? Do you follow a system?
PG- Once I’ve found a subject and reference photo, I print out a couple of copies in the size of the piece. Sometimes I’ll print a b&w version, too, for values. I then trace down the outlines and major features. I don’t try to trace every little thing, just the details that need to be really precise, like eyes and areas that will serve as a sort of road map for me in keeping things where they belong ( a fold of skin, locations of prominent scales or ear spots). I always start with the eyes because if I mess that up, it really ruins the piece but it’s no biggie to start over if it’s the first thing I draw. I always have a certain amount of anxiety toward the end of a drawing anyway (I even sign my name before I’m actually done), so I definitely don’t want to be doing eyes last. Also, the eyes are my favorite part of any subject.
GR- It has been wonderful getting to learn about your art and your handsome, reptilian roommates. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and congratulations on showing the world -- and your mother -- that your drawing abilities have exceeded the stick figure.
PG- Thanks so much! Being chosen as your Crystal Artist of the Year is such an honor! I love your virtual exhibitions and themes.
"WHO'S A GOOD BOY?"