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16 September 2009

A Brief Biography: Sheila Thornton

Sheila Thornton is an artist living in Los Angeles, CA. She earned her BFA in industrial design at the Columbus College of Art and Design in 2000. Since then, she has spent half of the last 9 years traveling in various parts of Europe, Africa, North and Central America, and Asia, always with a sketchbook or paint set at hand. Presently, Sheila is planning her next trip to Alaska in the fall.

Sheila has agreed to a few questions about her travel painting and below are her answers.

A Question and Answer with Sheila Thornton

What mediums do you take when you travel? Oils, watercolors, pastels, etc.? What equipment do you bring?

I usually stick to pencil, ink, watercolor, oils, and/or water soluble oils. There are four 'kits' that I take with me, in any combination, depending on where I am going and how long I plan to stay.

The first kit is what I carry with me in my purse everywhere I go. It consists of: a mechanical pencil, water brush, eraser, fountain pen with water soluble brown ink, and a small sketchbook. This allows me to quickly sketch with pencil, refine the image with the brown ink, and quickly brush in values with the water brush. Then after a few minutes, I can go back and erase any unwanted pencil once it has dried.

The second kit I will take in addition to the first kit for shorter trips lasting 1-2 weeks or less. It includes a small watercolor set, permanent fine line markers, a 6" x 8" sketchbook with thicker paper, and a blue 'shop' paper towel. Now I can add washes of color to my drawings done with pencil, fine line marker, or the water soluble ink.

The third kit is for when I plan on working outside in oils, making small 6" x 8" sketches. This is usually for domestic travel, since it is worrisome to fly internationally with oil paints. These paintings take anywhere from 1-3 hours to complete, so this trip will likely be specifically for doing several oil sketches. This is when I take my wonderful 'Belly River' Alla Prima Pochade box, lightweight tripod, 'survival items', and oil set, all contained in a small backpack. The oil set consists of oil paint, brushes, panels, Gamsol in a jar, paper towels, and a few plastic grocery bags for garbage and anything leaky. The 'survival items' include: a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, insect repellent, water bottle, snacks, and iPod.

The fourth kit is what I take for international travel, and is what I took with me to the Philippines. It includes a handmade cardboard pochade box with wet-panel carrier, a small set of water-miscible oils, a plastic water jar, brushes, a painting rag, and gessoed cardboard panels. This set is lightweight, ideal for backpacking, and best of all, everything fits inside the box and weighs less than 5 pounds!

What preparations do you make for a trip?
For my international backpacking trips, usually just book my flight online, arrange for any visas, and book my first night's stay. I'll read about and study the countries to have an idea of the places I'd like to go and paint, but for me, independent travel is about flexibility and freedom, so I don't plan a schedule. I enjoy learning about a place and it's people and painting is a fulfilling way to engage in this wonderful process.

What are your favorite subjects to paint when traveling? What is the most difficult subject you have painted?
People are my favorite subject to paint. But while traveling, I enjoy painting landscapes more because it captures the sense of the place, and it is fun to get lost and explore! People are the most difficult to paint because it is unusual to find someone willing to sit long enough to paint them.

Has travel painting presented you with any particular troubles in regard to painting itself, whether it be completion, interruptions, finding materials, etc?
I'm usually good about finishing paintings, even if they are done quickly. And, I haven't had any problems finding materials because I take everything I need with me.

Sometimes it can be irritating if people want to talk to you excessively while you are painting. Or when throngs of kids crowd so close, you can't move your arms to paint! But those are of little concern in comparison to the excitement of painting. If I get too distracted, I quickly finish up and move on. There's no point in struggling with a situation, as this will show up in the painting!

The weather sometimes pose challenges. I've had a few paintings disintegrate on me, when monsoon rains began and dissolved the water soluble oils I had just painted. Also, strong wind and cold weather can cut short a day of outdoor painting. And probably one of the biggest nuisances for me in tropical climates is mosquitoes!
What are the major differences for you between studio painting and painting in open air?
With studio painting, I have all the comforts of home, control over working conditions, and a virtually limitless time frame for painting. Since I prefer to work from life, I generally will work on still life and portraiture in the studio, which is slower paced and meditative. With painting outside, there are many variables, such as the changing light, weather, and movement of people and things. For me, this makes painting out of doors a fast and engaging activity, full of possibilities.

Because of your Filipino ancestry did your experience remarkably differ when you began to paint in the Philippines for the first time compared to other places?
Yes, there was definitely a sentimental feeling I had while painting in the Philippines. Since it is my mother's homeland, and I have such a vast amount of family there, I never know who I could be related to, so I pretend they are all relatives, which makes it that much nicer.

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