By Sharon Teal Coray
I have been working on a new book using oils and painting one of my favorite subjects, which is the Southwest. I have had a passion for the southwest since I was very young. Living in Utah for my whole life and growing up in a canyon where I had my own horse added to my love of this beautiful area of the country. Being able to travel to the southwestern states furthered my interest.
My first book on the southwest was a big success. I found that there are a lot of people not just in the United States but also from all over the world that loves the southwest and wanted to learn how to paint it and the things that are indigenous to it.
As I was working today I looked around at my studio and noticed it looked a mess, there was not one area that was not filled with reference material.
This started me thinking about how much preparation it takes me to create a painting with American Indian pottery and blankets.
Actually I have been studying this subject for over 30 years. I have made many trips to the southwest visiting museums that feature American Indian pottery and artifacts. I have talked to archeologists to learn all I could about the subject.
I trekked all over the desert looking at petroglyphs (motifs that are pecked, ground, incised, abraded, or scratched on the rock surface) and pictographs (paintings or drawings in one or more colors using mineral pigments and plant dyes on the rock surface) and visited with some very nice American Natives.
Many hours were spent climbing the steep ladders to cliff dwellings all the while taking many photos for my reference files. My collection of reference material is so large now that I have two large file cabinets that are stuffed, not to mention the large library I have on pottery blankets, Kachinas, Storytellers, Rock Art, baskets, blankets and much more. If it is about the American Indian of the southwest I have it!
In the late 90’s I went to the University of Utah and took a class on ancient pottery making techniques of the southwestern Indians. It was a great experience, one that has enhanced my painting of the subject in many ways.
Not only giving me the know how but to help me understand how difficult it was for that culture to create beautiful pieces of pottery. They were not creating them for decoration but for everyday use, yet they had the desire to adorn them with beautiful designs. Their brushes were made from the Yucca plant and to think they could create such delicate patterns with something like this was amazing to me. We had to give it a try in the class and I could not do it! I needed a really good script liner!
To paint the pottery you not only needed to know the designs that each tribe used but the color of clay and paint. Even how they fired the pottery was important to know. Painting a pot can’t just be something you design, if you are going to paint something that is this specific you need to paint a “real” design from a real piece of American Indian pottery. My good friend Sue Hulen said that:
”I, being from Cheyenne tribe, appreciate your respect and how you honor Native American art by painting it in its pure form as it’s intended. Thank you for that!”
I do know that it is offensive to the Native American people to do otherwise and would never disrespect their art or take advantage of it in anyway. My wish has always been to honor them for their creative endeavors and introduce others to the beauty of their art.
Getting to the point of this article is that if you want to be good at what you do; and if you are reading this then it is probably being a good artist that interests you, then you need to know your subject inside and out before you try to paint it.
This applies to all subjects. Never just try to wing it because if you do it will certainly show in your painting, sorry but some things can’t be faked!
The best advise I can give any artist is to know your subject like the back of your hand before you even think of picking up a brush!
My studio today!
This is my easel, it has a lot of stuff on it I use for my reference.
Magazines on the southwest are a big help understanding the landscapes.
Some of my old slides that I use.
History books on the artists and where they live.
This is a small portion of my books, this is my reading corner in my studio
Some of the photos I have taken that I use.
Some of the pottery I have made and fired.
More pottery I have made.
This was the only Black piece of pottery that I made during my class at the U of U that survived the firing. The others I made at home and fired in my Kiln.The basket is one my collection of old Native American baskets.
There is one real eagle feather in this picture, my husband who worked at the local Zoo as an animal technician for 30 years broght this home for me from one of the eagles that had dropped it at the zoo.