The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 20, 2012

Picking up pencils: St. Peter artist elevates the art of colored pencils

The Free Press

— In Jeremy Osborne’s hands, colored pencils cease being a child’s art utensil.

For some reason, the St. Peter artist has noticed a certain aversion to his medium of choice. As watercolors and pastels once were, colored pencil art is often derided as amateur and aesthetically inferior. There is even a Colored Pencil Society of America, founded in 1990, that promotes and elevates such art.

“The sad thing is, it’s not insanely respected,” said Osborne, noting that he doesn’t really know any other south-central Minnesota artists that exhibit colored pencil works. “Maybe it’s because people had colored pencils when they were a kid.”

See for yourself during tonight’s reception for Osborne’s exhibit at the Twin Rivers Council for the Arts Gallery — his pieces are no child’s play.

For technical artistry, take “Night in New Orleans.” Two young women sit in a swampy hallway, lithe legs drawn up in defensive posture. As one casts her eyes to the floor and the other gazes in doe-eyed defiance, they are bathed in the seedy tincture of dimly lit corridor lamps.

By meticulously layering and blending his colors, Osborne achieves a textured hue with shades of brown, yellow, green and orange.

Or, take “Archangel,” a delicately hewn portrait of a young girl’s face. The light on her cheeks is so soft and ethereal that it seems as if no color was applied at all. The lightness deepens into the blush on her cheek and the rust of her hair, and then retreats into the incandescence of her angel’s wings.

“At first I wasn’t that good,” said Osborne, a 29-year-old, largely self-taught artist whose interest in art was piqued after a college drawing course. “I had to practice non-stop just to be OK.”

Over time, Osborne developed the ability to calculate facial features and body positions from sight, rather than measurement. He learned how to plan the composition of his pieces in reverse from traditional painting methods (with colored pencil, the background is applied last). He learned how to blend colors and how to apply repeated shades of color to achieve a dappled effect.

But Osborne’s portraits — which very often focus on sports and celebrity subjects — move well beyond technical skill.

“In Walk to the Edge of the Ocean,” Osborne makes the rare choice to feature a subject from the rear. In it, a woman in blue jeans swings her arms lazily as she balances on a railroad rail; she is topless and the viewer’s focus is narrowed into the carefree swing of her shoulders. One doesn’t need to see the subject’s face to know her eyes are closed, turned toward the sun and envisioning a road that leads out of nowhere.

In other pieces, Osborne captures the proud bearing and stubborn convictions of a smoking coal miner. In another, the joyful exhaustion of a ballerina.

Many of his pieces are enhanced by handmade frames that deepen the content of the artwork.

“I try to capture the emotion of my subject and magnify it,” Osborne said.

Though Osborne has exhibited works in the past in various galleries, including the Prairie Lakes Regional Juried Art Show, this represents his first solo exhibit.