|Denise Howard grew up on a farm in rural Missouri surrounded by animals and nature. As soon as she could hold a pencil she started drawing everything, and her world revolved around her art until she finished college. She earned a B.A. in Art and a B.S. in Math/Computer Science concurrently from Truman State University, and later an M.S. in Computer Science from Ohio State University, focused on computer graphics. She worked for several Silicon Valley companies, was one of the developers of iPhoto at Apple and earned movie credits on Antz and Shrek at PDI/Dreamworks. Software engineering left little time or energy for creating art for 25+ years.
Finally the urge to return to her art became too strong to ignore, so she began committing the time to pursue it as a second career and quickly began receiving local, national and international recognition for her realist colored pencil and graphite work. She is a signature member of the Colored Pencil Society of America (CPSA) and the UK Colored Pencil Society (UKCPS), and has Master Pencil Artist Status (MPAS) with the Pencil Art Society (PAS). She is president of the northern California chapter of the CPSA.
She lives in Santa Clara, California with her husband, an Abyssinian cat, and a garden full of native plants and hummingbirds.
February 2012 Featured Artist Interview by Betsy Jones for Colored Pencil Artists and Lovers group on Facebook
BJ: Do you work from life, photographs, imagination?
DH: I work entirely from photographs these days. I did fine with life drawing and plein air in college, but photos capture a moment in time in great detail. I then have the option of including as much or as little of that detail as I want. I don't simply copy the photo; I've exercised my "artistic license" to add, alter or omit elements in every piece I've done. For example my reference photo for "Angangueo Kitchen" has the top of someone's hat-wearing head in the lower right!
BJ: What pencils and surfaces do you typically use?
DH: I usually use Prismacolors on Stonehenge paper. However at the 2011 CPSA convention I learned a technique from Bonnie Auten that uses oil-based pencils such as Lyra Polycolors on UArt paper, and a stencil brush to work the pigment into the paper. That's how I did "Angangueo Kitchen".
BJ: From where do you gather inspiration?
DH: I find inspiration everywhere. Nature, especially, but sometimes in unexpected places like the "Angangueo Kitchen". I'm baffled when I hear someone say "I don't know what to draw"--I have enough ideas I want to do, to keep me busy for the next 150 years!
BJ: How do you stay focused and motivated?
DH: Working on a drawing puts me into a "zone" where focus is all there is. I guess it's like a "zen" thing! My only problem is finding blocks of time of at least three hours to allow it to happen. For most of 2011 I was a full-time artist and it was great, but now I'm back to being a full-time software engineer, too.
BJ: Do you work in other media?
DH: I've used a variety of media with some success, but my favorites remain colored pencil, graphite, and pastels.
BJ: Your winning image "Angangueo Kitchen" is extremely photo-realistic.... do you work in other styles?
DH: I enjoy many genres, but I'm a realist at heart. I've been glad to see a resurgence of acceptance for realism in the art world. It was sort of poo-pooed when I was in college.
BJ: When/How did you realize you wanted to be an artist?
DH: I can't remember a time before wanting to be an artist. I drew non-stop from age three or four all the way through college. Then it went dormant for 25+ years while my time and energy were totally consumed by being a software engineer. I just got back to my art about two years ago and I feel MUCH better!
BJ: What do you think an artist's role in society is?
DH: I think an artist's role in society is whatever they make of it, just like any other pursuit. Whether they want to raise awareness for societal issues or call out beauty in the mundane, there's a place and audience for it.
BJ: Who has been your biggest supporter?
DH: The person who made the biggest difference for me as an artist was my high-school art teacher, Mrs. Billington. She saw something in me right away and encouraged me with new materials and techniques, and later helped get my artwork photographed for college admission portfolios. I had to turn in five sketches per week, so it not only developed the discipline to get them done, it gave me valuable practice.
BJ: What kind of space do you work in? (Studio, Desk, Couch in Livingroom, etc)
DH: When I returned to my art two years ago, I negotiated with my husband to take over the room of our house he'd been using as an office, so I have my own little studio with lots of natural light!
BJ: What are your top 3 movies?
DH: Gattaca, A.I., The Ten Commandments
BJ: What moves you most in life, what keeps you going? (Not necessarily speaking in art terms here).
DH: I'm interested in so many subjects that I'm seldom bored. I guess that curiosity is what keeps me going!