With 20 instructors, hundreds of miles of beautiful, rugged countryside, and 150 friends to paint with, no one is going to experience all the great offerings at an SKB workshop. There’s not nearly enough time. But a group of savvy participants at the 2014 workshop have latched onto John Ruthven, an internationally acclaimed wildlife painter who, at age 89, has a storehouse of knowledge.
Ruthven can wow a crowd with his memories of daring expeditions, he can inform a group on bird behavior and anatomy, he can offer the long view on a vexing artistic problem. And he can sketch for you.
On the first afternoon of the Susan Kathleen Black Foundation 2014 workshop, in Dubois, Wyoming, Ruthven led a group to nearby Torrey Canyon to see 900-year-old petroglyphs and to show how his working method is based on several elements, including direct observation, imagination, and spontaneity. The Cincinnati-based artist came across an engraving by the Sheep-Eater people that looked like a bird, perhaps with a pointed tail. He grabbed a stick of pure graphite and a very large notepad and created a design that used the lines of the rock, the thematic weight of the petroglyph, and the commanding presence of a pileated woodpecker to map out a composition in 10 minutes. It seemed likely, given his enthusiasm at the end, that Ruthven would take home the sketch and produce a painting from it.
Ruthven continually stressed the importance of drawing, and he repeated his own mantra, “with a crayon in one hand, a piece of paper in the other, and my heart in the middle, I create art.” The artist seemed moved by the notion that we were gazing at ancient drawings, watching Ruthven work today, and learning to create art tomorrow. At the end, he agreed to share his thoughts on film—see the short clip on SKB’s YouTube channel. Ω