Behind the Brush: A reawakening –

Local artist, Linda Dudley, rediscovers a gift of pastels after 50 years.

Never one to sit still, Linda Dudley’s husband, Bill, decided he wanted to try his hand at drawing a few years ago. After a life full of working and raising kids, the two had settled into retirement at Reynolds Lake Oconee, spending their days traveling, writing, socializing, and now, apparently, drawing.

Bill’s excitement and enthusiasm was contagious.

“He was having so much fun with it and his face just lit up,” says Dudley. “It triggered my memory of an old set of pastels that had been a gift from my grandmother when I was in high school, so I went down to the storage room to see if I could dig them out.”

As a freshman in high school, Dudley was introduced to pastels. She had a natural knack for it, but after her father’s job brought the family to another state, her new high school “had never heard the word pastels.” And so, her art supplies remained packed away.

Now, she wanted to see if she still had it after all these years.

“I got this goofy idea to try and make pastel pictures for my kids for Christmas,” says Dudley. “It took a lot of courage to give it a try, but the kids loved them and encouraged me to continue, and even enter a few pieces in the Eatonton art show a few months later. Surprise! I won some blue ribbons and was on my way.”

With renewed inspiration, Dudley sought out local classes or workshops to develop her skills, to no avail. So, she took to YouTube, books, and magazines for any instruction or tips.

“Basically, I’m just going by the trial-and-error method,” she says, “seeing what works and what doesn’t.”

Dudley says she had to find her own starting point and decided to start experimenting with textures. “I was wondering if I could do glass, which resulted in several pictures of wine bottles,” she explains. “Wood was another texture I wanted to try, so I have done a series of violins. Fur was a challenge, thus the pictures of tigers and dogs. Horses are a subject I love! They are just so strong and beautiful, with great muscles and movement.” Other texture experiments with water, feathers, peach fuzz, and smooth apples are pinned to the wall of her makeshift home studio.

Among her easels and art supplies downstairs, she keeps a shop-vac handy, because “pastels are the messiest, dirtiest things to work with,” says Dudley. “On the other hand, because the pigments are pure color, you can get the most beautiful, rich colors of any other medium.”

Pastels are different in that the “dry” pigments must be layered to achieve the desired color as opposed to mixing or blending two or more colors like with oils, acrylics, or watercolors.

“A typical picture I make will have ten to fifteen layers of chalk on it to get that feeling of depth,” says Dudley. “I just keep going until I either turn it into a mud puddle or I find a way to add a little white here or a little green there, and it just works.”

And, so it does. Dudley recently won “Best in Show” at the eighth annual Amateur Fine Arts Show & Contest at the Plaza Arts Center in Eatonton with a piece from her violin series.

“It is interesting to think that I have spent the last 50 years of my life as somebody’s wife, mother, employee, but what my art means to me is that it is ‘me’ – it’s all mine and I never knew it was there,” says Dudley. “It’s almost like it is a reawakening of me. I know that sounds corny, but sometimes we spend so much of our lives taking care of other people and the person we are goes on the back burner. Because that’s just what life is. You go through life. So, this has been a real detour back to me. It kind of feels good to find success.”

Her husband and children are now her biggest cheerleaders, encouraging her to spend time on projects and even branch out into new territory.

“My son says I have realism down pat, so it is time to dig deep and find my ‘inner Monet’ and experiment with a looser style,” says Dudley. “Time will tell. I have only been experimenting with pastels for two years, so I’m just holding on tights and seeing where this pastel train takes me.”

Right now, she says, it’s about having fun, gaining confidence with time, and learning more and more with every picture. She isn’t afraid to admit she’s nowhere close to where she’d like to be, but she’s beginning to feel like her artistic ability is not just “dumb luck.”

“I was asked recently, ‘What do you do?’ and after a moment’s hesitation, I answered, ‘I’m an artist!’ Then I laughed out loud because for the very first time, I actually thought to describe myself that way,” says Dudley.

Her own awakening has made her reflect on life’s possibilities and potential.

“I’ll tell you, if Bill had never started working with those colored pencils, those pastels would never have been out of the box to this day,” she says. “It makes you wonder. We could be amazing cello players, but if no one ever puts a cello in our hand, how do we know?” 

Story by Julia Owens

Photographs by Kris Hopkins

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