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Penciling a Vision

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Posted: Friday, February 27, 2009 10:00 pm

When you look at one of Ken Woodworth's brightly colored paintings for the first time, it's hard to tell just how he achieved such intensity. He doesn't use pastels or acrylics, nor does he use watercolors or oils. The calm and quiet Lodi artist creates intricate, flawless paintings with layer upon layer of colored pencils.

His craft of painting what he calls photo-realistic surrealism sprouts from a lifetime of creating black and white pencil drawings. When he first started, he drew animals and large, detailed portraits of decorated Native Americans, drawings that nearly turned the entire white paper gray with pencil lines, shading and details.

While he has mastered the art of drawing, Woodworth is gaining recognition for the colored pencil art, known as paintings, he first attempted 10 years ago. His work has been featured in Tracy galleries, the Haggin Museum and will be featured at Hutchins Street Square in September.

One of his popular pieces is "While You Were Sleeping," in which a dog - his dog, a rescue named Glassy - tells of what happens at night while his owners are asleep. Glassy is tied up by an army of miniature boys who draw Glassy on their own tabletop and canvas.

It took 140 hours at the drawing board and a lot of thinking to get "While You Were Sleeping" perfect. Glassy had to be drawn the exact same way twice - once as the actual dreaming dog, and second as a drawing by the children, which he calls "worker bees." In the billowy clouds, there are images of koi, turtles, a camel's head - images Woodworth saw while walking under cloud-filled skies in Lodi. Each of the boys are drawn from photographs he took of a friend's son standing in different positions. The painting is a tribute to Woodworth's favorite artist, M.C. Escher, who is known for his mathematically inspired woodcuts and lithographs.

"He's a god," Woodworth said.

Guide books by Escher appear in the painting that he says challenged him to use the right side of his brain.

Woodworth uses between 50 and 100 pencils for each drawing. (Brian Feulner/News-Sentinel)

Woodworth does most of his painting at home; and since he's had time off from his electrical engineering career, he's started calling himself a full-time artist. He wakes up in the morning, drinks coffee with a little cream and either thinks about a new idea or picks up where he left off on his most recent feat. Throughout the day, he spends time with the koi he started raising 22 year ago.

"It's an artform in itself," Woodworth said.

Three days a week he works in an auto body classroom at San Joaquin Delta College, where he has been restoring a Pontiac GTO for three years.

But back inside his home and studio is where he gets serious about his art. He turns up the volume, usually Reggae or techno, which helps him with pace.

"When (my wife's) at work, it's rock this place," he jokes.

Woodworth is inspired by a lot of things. By the 67 koi swimming in the backyard of his craftsman-style house. By delving deeper into Escher. By the memory of his brother, an artist and architect who died at the age of 18.

"While You Were Sleeping" is a tribute to M.C. Escher and displays the process how art happens. (Courtesy photo)

"(Watching him draw) was like watching magic," said Woodworth, who was 11 when his brother died.

Each of his influences are apparent in the colored pencil paintings hanging in his Lodi home he shares with his wife and glass artist, Mira Woodworth.

It was Mira Woodworth who urged him to create a series of koi paintings that have since become his signature pieces. The koi in his "Koi Kichi" series are bright orange, white and red. The scales seems to shimmer and each one has its own personality and purpose. Each painting portrays koi in unnatural environments: Flying between vibrant green leaves, a miniature window-washer brushing a squeegee over the viewer's lens and even inside of a light bulb.

Others show koi how most people think of them: bunched up together during feeding time. "Pencil Frenzy" was drawn from a photograph. Just one square filled with fish scales, bubbles and color took him 10 hours to complete.

The idea behind his paintings is to encourage viewers to interpret what he's presented.

"I want people to think about what they're seeing. The (paintings) are thought-provoking," he said.

Woodworth has watched his art and imagination transform. Ten years ago, he said, he never could have imagined a fish inside of a light bulb. Now, however, each piece he does is created with the purpose of making the human mind work, to think.

"It's really evolved," said Mira Woodworth, from not only the stand point of his wife, but as a fellow artist. "He's the best artist in the States, for sure - in the world."

Ken Woodworth At A Glance

Wife: Mira Woodworth, glass artist
Pets: 67 koi and two dogs, Glassy and Baxter
Hobbies: Raising koi, restoring his GTO
How He Describes His Art: Photo realistic surrealism
Hometown: Lodi
Raised: In Santa Rosa
Favorite Music: Techno and Reggae
Web Site:

Local Artists Inspire

Ken Woodworth believes local arts are important. He finds inspiration in artists who do everything from sculpting to painting and mixed media.
Here are some of his favorite Lodi-area artists:
Mira Woodworth, glass
Melvin Shaw, animator and painter
Tony Segale, muralist and painter
Samuel Bassett, sculptor
Lisa Goldman, mixed-media artist
Chris Spencer, painter
Catherine Erickson, painter

In His Studio

Ken Woodworth keeps it simple, using paper and pencil as his main tools.
Here are some of his tools:
Graphite pencil
Colored pencils (he says beginners can even start with Crayolas)
Museum matte board, which he flips over to use the reverse side.
Acres 300-pound paper
Stonehenge paper, for smaller projects

Other nationally known artists who use colored pencils

Linda Lucas Hardy
Nicole Caulfield
Gayle Mason
Janie Gildow
Janie Gildow
Elizabeth Patterson
Ann James Massey
Barbara Edidin
Graham Brace



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