Editor’s Letter | The Whole Story

Discovering the inspiration behind the paintings

By Kristin Hoerth

This story was featured in the December 2016 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art  December 2016 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

It’s time once again to showcase the winners of our annual Artistic Excellence competition, along with some of the 100 entries (out of about 1,500 total) that made it to the final round of judging. The features begin on page 68 of this issue. I’m always blown away by the quality of the artworks in the competition, and I’m excited to discover artists whose works I’ve never seen before. But one of my favorite things about this issue is reading the artists’ answers to the number-one question we ask each of them: What inspired your winning entry?

Their answers to this question are often full of interesting tidbits of information, and sometimes the stories they tell cast the artwork in a whole new light. Consider, for example, Sue Gombus’ colored-pencil piece featuring a zebra positioned on the far left-hand edge of the composition (see page 78). I assumed that was merely an inspired design choice, but there’s more to it: “I arrange each species on the edge of the paper because they are on the edge of extinction in their natural environments,” Gombus told us about this series she’s doing on endangered wildlife.

Another good example is Marsha Lehmann’s painting of a young boy dressed in rodeo gear, walking away from the viewer (see page 84). I was taken with the light and motion in this piece, and then I learned that Lehmann had been inspired while attending a youth rodeo on a very hot day: “This little guy had made a solid attempt to ride a steer, only to be piled into the dirt just before the buzzer. He pulled himself up, set his jaw, and walked back to the chutes with his head held high—a lesson in life.”

Even when it comes to landscape paintings, where there may not be a detailed story to tell, knowing where the scene is increases my interest. When I learn that Dan Knepper was inspired by a sunset near his home in Ohio (page 91), or that Sabrina Stiles was driving across Nebraska when she spotted her subject matter (page 92), I can associate those places with memories of my own.

Finally, sometimes discovering the inspiration behind a painting simply heightens my connection to it. Since I’m a cat lover, I was already taken with Diane Hoeptner’s painting (page 95), and that feeling intensified when I read her story about this particular shelter cat she painted. And who couldn’t identify with artist Tom Swearingen (whose whimsical interpretation of coffee and biscotti is on page 92) when he says, “Eating a cookie for breakfast is just fun to do sometimes!”

This story was featured in the December 2016 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art  December 2016 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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