by Karen Smith
Every colored pencil artist makes a different journey to colored pencil art and Lorri Dixon is no different. Her journey to CP art is most definitely a Hero’s Journey which includes many challenges, some episodes that threatened to defeat her, and a strongly held goal shining just ahead of her.
It started with a coloring book.
In May 2017, Lorri was recovering from a recent surgery and needed distraction. Her best friend bought her a coloring book along with some colored pencils. You’ll remember that 2017 was the middle of the booming adult coloring book trend; adult coloring books were everywhere: Fred Meyer, Amazon, local book-stores, even grocery stores like Safeway had coloring books designed for adults. Her friend told her how relaxing she found coloring, so Lorri gave it a try. “I had never tried doing anything artistically in my adult life, and really had no idea how to even color! I looked for books at the bookstore and got one by Gary Greene. I was fascinated by what he could create with colored pencils.”
That was Lorri’s first step on her Hero’s Journey into colored pencils and art. Her second step was a logical one for people accustomed to using computers and the internet: “I then joined Facebook groups looking for ideas as to how to fill out these beautiful coloring books. I saw the work people did with coloring book pages, and it was actually gorgeous; much more than just coloring inside the lines." Not aware of the difference, Lorri also joined Facebook groups with “actual artists, and real artwork!” These groups – Colored Pencils Tips & Techniques, Colored Pencil Pushers, The Creative Color Place for Colored Pencil Artists, and many more – offer examples and helpful ideas and solutions. “I didn’t know anything about colored pencil artwork, so just quietly observed anything that popped up in my feed. It was both intimidating and inspiring.” As with all heroes on a journey, Lorri had to acquire some skills. Luke Skywalker needed to learn the ways of the Jedi; Lorri needed to learn the ways of the colored pencil.
One of the groups Lorri joined was offering kits for members to order and complete – her first Hero’s Challenge. Lorri got one. “I tried doing it for my mom for Mother’s Day and was hooked on using colored pencils.” Needless to say, coloring books didn’t satisfy a quickly emerging enthusiasm for a journey with colored pencils. Lorri replaced Facebook groups centering on just coloring books with ones for “actual artists.”
“I then bought a white dog kit from Karen Hull and modified to make it look like my Maltese. I loved doing it so much!” Definitely the journey had started.
Lest you think Lorri just breezed into the Colored Pencil Hero’s Journey and dashed off her initial award-winning art, realize that she has some very steep challenges. Early in a career working at Microsoft as a software test engineer, she quit work to care for her children, specifically her youngest with autism and epilepsy. “I was told he would never be able to attend college; he could barely pass each grade in elementary school. I wanted him to be an independent functioning adult. So, I devoted my life to reading and learning everything I could to help him on the path to success. He is now attending a university, living on campus.
But there were more obstacles. Lorri had to overcome significant challenges related to multiple sclerosis, a degenerative spine, and other autoimmune disorders. With her determination and perseverance, she went from needing a wheelchair (now collecting dust in the garage) and canes, to eventually becoming able to use her arms and legs more frequently. Within a year of discovering colored pencils, she was attempting her own pieces. “I know that a lot of artists have disabling issues and I’m so glad that I am not alone.” Sometimes the nerve pain down her arm is too painful to even pick up a pencil. "When I can, I am in my art room. Sometimes it's harder, so I work in spurts, as fast as I can when I have mobility and vision, to do as much art as possible, until I have to take a break."
Lorri has no real art background or training; she has not dabbled in other mediums because “I love colored pencils.” Her daughter expressed some concern that colored pencils wouldn’t hold her attention in the long term so she’s been encouraging Lorri to try watercolors. The whole family is Lorri’s cheering squad. “My mom bought me the whole set of Pan Pastels, so I will also try to learn how to use those too, eventually.” Her husband is the one who encourages her to enter contests.
Lorri has spent her life admiring artists and loving what they create. Her initial attempts at art were as a very young child. “I remember drawing a portrait of my dad as he was reading a book, and also studying the angles of a room to try to accurately render them - as well as drawing a couple of horses dancing! My dad, however, was a fabulous artist, just for fun. He could draw almost anything upon request with a pen and a pad that he kept with him.”
With newfound determination and encouragement from her family, Lorri set a goal: Learn how to create art using colored pencils. She approached this goal carefully and, not wanting to “be in the middle of something and not have the right resources,” she turned to most artists’ second love: collecting art supplies!
Starting with her Gary Greene book, she filled her home with the supplies he recommended, along with any suggested by her Facebook CP groups. Over the year, Lorri added to her collection of books and tutorials. She did not immediately set up a studio or really try anything that year. Her husband laughs, “I began to think her hobby was collecting art supplies. But I knew she was an artist preparing to do great things.” And, holy Prismacolor, Batman! Once she picked up her pencils with determination, Lorri began to create, and what wondrous things she accomplished.
Confident that she had the supplies she needed, Lorri set up a corner of her bedroom as a location to work on her art. Starting with a desk and lighting, Lorri had planned to go through each tutorial she had. “…but never did accomplish that, and still haven’t,” she admits. Leaping over roadblocks, she set up a Facebook page and completed her first piece in June of 2018. “It was the date I began earnestly trying to learn and create.” Tutorials by Marian Jackson, Karen Hull, Kelly Hoerning, Gretchen Evans Parker, Sharon Shannon and Cynthia Knox followed.
Then came Lorri’s first workshop: A “ SOAR workshop in November of 2018 taught by Gemma Gylling.” Using the techniques she learned from Gemma, she practiced on a tiger. At the invitation of Vickie Lawrence (Colored Pencil Pushers) Lorri entered the Pencil Box Showcase. And won. This was her second piece of art. In December of 2018 “I entered the CPM (Colored Pencil Magazine) monthly challenge and won in the Beginner Category!” That was Lorri’s third piece of art.
You can see where this is going, can’t you? As Lorri says, “Since then, I’ve been accumulating a little list of accomplishments.” Her “little” list of accomplishments is at the end of this article.
On surfaces for her art: “I like all the drawing surfaces for different reason. I love PastelMat for the depth of color I can attain, and because I don’t have to worry about light over dark. Plus, I love scraping out bits using Slice blades – like really love it! I love Bristol Smooth paper because it takes so few layers to finish something – I especially appreciate it for the easy ability to blur things. I like Bristol Vellum, and will use it instead of Pastelmat, when I don’t want to use the more expensive paper, because I find it to be pretty similar – I just know it’s not going to be as “forgiving” as PastelMat. I like drafting film but need to create my own artwork on it still. I’ve also enjoyed other paper surfaces through tutorials.”
On the pencils she uses: “So far, since I feel like I’m still learning, I’m only using my Prismacolors. I do have other brands, but they’re so expensive to use. I figured I should just use Prismacolors until I get better.”
On her favorite subjects to draw: "I don’t have favorite subjects or a preferred style of art because I’m still trying to decide what it is I most enjoy doing! So far, I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve created. If anything, I suppose I’m mostly fascinated by realism since it seems so daunting to achieve. Plus, I really like details – I like seeking them out, so I especially like the extreme challenge of photorealism! My husband would like me to try landscapes since we will eventually be traveling in an RV – with the hope that I could then create the places we’ve visited artistically. I think it’s actually to keep me busy so that I don’t critique his driving. My son wants me to try doing portraits because he thinks that’s the best indication of skill. I plan to give everything a shot at some point, to discover what I like best! I’m praying for my brain and body to keep-on-truckin’ for as long as possible, so that I can learn much more about this thing called “art” and accomplish as much as possible along the way!"
In December 2018, when she was busy entering the Pencil Box competition, Lorri discovered CPSA. “I learned about it by searching Facebook for colored pencil groups. I was excited about having a group of people to socialize with, and who were also in love with the colored pencil medium. It’s still what I like best about it.”
Lorri’s process is pretty straightforward. “I look through my photos to get ideas for my next project, either photos I’ve taken or ones I got from the free artist sites on Facebook. So far, as I learn a new technique, I look for something that I can do using that technique. For instance, when I learned how to draw a cat from Gemma, I had a picture of a tiger, so tried to draw a tiger using the same techniques; basically using PastelMat, Gamsol, and a Slice blade (all new to me then).” That tiger was featured in the Pencil Box. She uses tracing paper to transfer her line drawing to the surface she’s chosen. “But sometimes I find that my initial tracing is gone with just a few layers, so most of my work ends up being more freehand. I always keep a photo next to my drawing paper and look at that as I work on my piece.”
Selecting the right colors isn’t a problem. Lorri looks at her pencils and picks the hue closest to the one in her reference photo. “If it’s the wrong color with one stroke, I just grab another and repeat the process. Usually, it’s only one or two attempts. Once I am satisfied that I got the right color, I tend to use it in all the adjacent areas with that same color tone or hue.”
In “Reflecting on the Past,” the subject “was something I chose to create after I had attended a workshop by Eileen Sorg. I learned her technique of using acrylic ink and wanted a project to practice that. I was also really missing my dad and grandparents at that particular time, even though they’d passed away a few years ago. My grandparents had a farm with 800 acres that had been in the family for over a hundred years. At one point, I had walked parts of the property taking pictures before some of the junk got taken out of it, and old buildings were demolished. The car was on the property and it appealed to me as something that I could use with acrylic ink.” Lorri’s art tells a story. She continues, “Initially, and as I worked on it, the title in my mind was “Shattered” because that’s how I felt, especially after losing my dad to melanoma. I decided to enter this piece into a contest, and my daughter thought the title was too dark, so I went with a title that also represented my mindset, that of thinking of the past, and fit how the landscape reflected on the broken window.”
In addition to belonging to CPSA, Lorri is also a member of United Kingdom Coloured Pencil Society (UKCPS), American Women Artists (AWA), and Allied Artists of America (AAA). As Lorri says, “Since I started, I’ve been accumulating a little list of accomplishments.”
Her work has been featured in Colored Pencil Magazine and Ann Kullberg’s COLOR Magazine, published in Color Member Show – 20 Year Celebration and the 2020 Look Book. Her work will be featured in CP Treasures, Vol VII and she has written a tutorial on how to draw birds with colored pencils, published in Ann Kullberg’s DRAW Birds book. (Hers is the sweet green parrot on the cover!) Her art was juried into CPSA 27th International Exhibition, CPSA 28th International Exhibition, and the American Women Artist’s Spring Online Show. The Camelback Gallery’s Artist Choice V judges awarded her a Merit Award and another piece took second place at Allied Artists of America 107th Exhibit, earning Lorri a Silver Medal of Honor award. Whew! That’s a basket full of recognition of Lorri’s skills!
After talking with Lorri, I think I have discovered some of her secrets to success.
1. When she takes a workshop or finishes a tutorial, Lorri almost always picks a different, but related, subject and practices the skills and techniques she’s learned.
2. Lorri enters her artwork in competitions! She’s fearless and figures if others can do this, why not me?
3. Lorri he hangs around with artists who are seasoned and have skills and advice to offer. She takes advantage of workshops whenever they’re offered and she can attend.
4. She has a very supportive family: a husband (who insists she needs a proper studio and promises one in their next house), her mother (who buys her arty gifts like Pan Pastels), and her daughter (who encourages her to branch out and try new things like watercolor). So many of us are missing that kind of unreserved encouragement.
5. Lorri is a completely awesome person and once you meet her, you can’t help but like her.
Lorri mentions “I’ve just started putting together a website (to be revealed at a future date), and I’ve been using Facebook and Instagram as my primary social media, at www.facebook.com/artbylorri and www.instagram.com/artbylorri.”
On her Hero’s Journey thus far, Lorri Dixon has gathered beautiful skills and been rewarded on the way. She’s moved quickly up the steps of success in her art, but I doubt she’ll stop now.
Recent Art Events
Due to the pandemic, several shows that Lorri’s work were in were moved to online exhibits. Currently on view:
Colored Pencil Society of America 28th International Exhibition.
American Women Artists 2020 Spring Online Juried Show.
Lorri’s Accomplishments (thus far, in chronological order)