Excited by individuality

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Goodnight shares her artistic vision through workshops and a new paint-out

On a blustery afternoon in early spring, Veryl Goodnight is in her studio painting sled dogs. There are six of them, each dog a different individual, which is why she loves them.

“Individuality of a subject excites me,” Goodnight says. “Think of your own dog, or horse, or family member. Animals are as much individuals as people are.” Goodnight says the world would be boring if we all had the same stature, facial features, hair color, and so on – and notes that this pertains to the animal world as well.

veryl goodnight workshop

Participants at a 2010 workshop by sculptor Veryl Goodnight show off their creations at her studio in Mancos, Colo. Goodnight will be offering another workshop, “Sculpting the Burro,” June 3-7. She will also take part in the new Rim to Ruins Plein Air Paint Out at Mesa Verde National Park May 20-22.

Known for her lifelike sculptures of all kinds of animals – chipmunks, deer, foxes, coyotes, grizzly cubs, bald eagles – as well as the human form, Goodnight will be offering a workshop, “Sculpting the Burro,” June 3-7 in Mancos.

The workshop provides participants with an understanding of the importance of three main foci: working from life, understanding anatomy, and learning to “see” the subject. Goodnight’s five-day workshops are limited to 10 participants and take place at her studio near Mancos, where she has a “model run” on the west side to take advantage of working with live animals even when the weather is inclement.

Beginning with the process of armature, in which artists roughly replicate a skeleton with aluminum wire, and working out from there, Goodnight personally guides participants through a complete analysis of every anatomical element, from the nose to the tail.

“I break down every aspect of the subject – head, torso, legs, etc. – with a complete discussion of the anatomy that is creating the form we see.” Proportions, planes, light and movement are all discussed. In addition to this year’s special model, DonKey the burro, live horse models will be used.

Goodnight’s technique, honed during four decades of sculpture, is precise. Each sculpture entails hours of observation and analysis, particular to that individual. After the armature, a clay model is created covering the aluminum frame. Goodnight does utilize still photography and video to supplement working from life, yet nothing replaces a live model.

“Viewing video at 23 frames per second enables me to really study the movement of a subject,” she says. “Still photos help freeze details of moving subjects. None of this, however, can replace having the model right there in front of me. Having a living, breathing model nearby not only provides information that a thousand photos couldn’t convey, it keeps me excited.”

“Excitement” is a word that Goodnight uses a lot. This is one of the things that make her workshops so special – not only do participants get individualized attention and a chance to see firsthand why and how Goodnight works – but they too can feel her enthusiasm.

And that zest bubbles over into everything she does.

People who are not students in her workshops can see Goodnight in action at the first-ever Rim to Ruins Plein Air Paint Out at Mesa Verde National Park May 20-22.

What is a renowned sculptor doing at a paint-out? “I have been sculpting for more than four decades and returning to my original medium of oil paints has re-charged my creative energy in a huge way. What excites me the most about this paint-out is the extraordinary artists who will be participating.”

Goodnight will be joined by 27 other nationally renowned artists including Curt Walters and Jim Wilcox, who according to Goodnight are two of the best landscape painters in the United States. The paint-out is sponsored by the Mesa Verde Foundation, Mesa Verde National Park, and Greenberg Traurig, LLP. All proceeds will go to the foundation.

The Rim to Ruins Paint Out is a collaborative effort, a unique event in which the National Park Service has granted artists special permission to work in exclusive areas in the park, including Wetherill Mesa, where Long House ruin is located.

Goodnight had a hand in creating this event. “Two years ago, I somehow secured permission for myself and several artists to paint on Wetherill Mesa prior to it opening to the public.”

The experience was so rewarding that Goodnight, Walters and Wilcox wanted to share it with others.

This year, the 28 artists will spend the first two days painting at Mesa Verde, alone, in a place of their own choosing. On the third day, all artists will set up in a location on Wetherill Mesa where the public is invited to attend a brunch, view the artists at work, and participate in an auction where they will have a chance to buy the “quick draw” paintings they saw the artists working on.

Marilyn Alkire, chair of the Rim to Ruins event, notes that the event highlights both the natural beauty and ancestral history of the park, a sentiment echoed by Superintendent Cliff Spencer.

Generally, the park requires permits for filming, videotaping, and photography using models and actors, professional crews, set dressing and props; any activity for purposes of advertising; use of any equipment that cannot be handcarried; and photography or filming that might damage resources, disrupt visitors, or take place outside of normal hours and public areas. However, for the paint-out, park officials offered their enthusiastic support.

The artists say it is an honor to be invited to this event. Each artist participating in the paint-out will contribute three studio paintings resulting from their time in the park to a public display at the Denver Public Library. These paintings will be then be available for sale on the evening of Oct. 22.

Goodnight speaks quietly about the event, remembering painting in the ruins last year:

“The experience of walking into Long House ruin with other artists was unforgettable. It became completely silent as everyone looked around, looked up, and slowly walked into the shadow of the overhang.

“It was like seeing the Sistine Chapel for the first time. In silence you can absorb, feel what is surrounding you and in the hands of a capable artist, that feeling can be transmitted.”

When asked where she will be painting during the first two days of the event, Goodnight says she doesn’t know yet, that it is best to enter the experience with an open mind.

“A preconceived idea can often derail a painter from seeing what is before them.”

She adds, “If you go out looking for a certain something and it’s not there, sometimes you will overlook what is there that would make a good painting. You want to stay just completely open-minded and set up to paint up where all the conditions are exciting.”

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From May 2013.