Examine the details, colors, the expressions and movements of the animals that pen-and-ink artist Sherry Steele portrays, and it’s hard to believe she is self-taught. Although her talent for sketching was evident as early as second grade, her mother didn’t want her artistic style to be influenced by lessons. And as she got older, at a time when she would have perhaps pursued the arts, life simply got in the way.
“I thought when I went to college I would major in art, but I got married at age 18. From then, I could dabble, but never do what I really love,” Steele says. Even dabbling got her noticed while her husband was working as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. “The congressmen’s wives found out I did pen-and-ink, and I’d have a little trunk show out of my car,” she laughs. “That’s how I kept my art alive.”
It wasn’t until 25 years ago when her kids were grown and she was remarried that Steele pursued art for real. Her topic of choice is the wildlife she studied during the 12 visits she’s made to Africa. Along with photos, she keeps a sketch journal on hand to reference in the studio. “When I open my journal, the sight, sounds and smells of the moment are brought back instantaneously,” she says.
Using a Rapidograph drafting pen with a point no bigger than a hair, Steele mixes her own shades of inks and layers dots and strokes, taking up to three months to create a new work. “I’m not there to put every detail in, but to show the expression and texture of nature,” she says.
Steele has been a participating artist at the SCI convention for 20 years, and each year she creates a wildlife-based scratchboard for an SCI auction donation in which details are scratched onto a masonite board covered with black ink, exposing the white lines of chalk underneath.
For an untrained artist with a highly trained eye, Steele feels fortunate to have been taken in by the other established wildlife artists and collectors. “The people who collect my work consider it to be very personal,” she says. “Although it’s powerful enough to speak to you at a distance, I’ve had people say, ‘When it brings you in close, it whispers to you.’”–Corinne Garcia