Denice Peters, a pastel artist from Denison, took the Best of Show award at the 2021 “Local Colors” members-only competition of the MidAmerica Pastel Society, which is a national organization.
Peters has been a pastel artist for about 26 years.
“I love the richness of the color and the fact that it’s hands-on; I can get right in there and work with it with my fingers, and that’s how I paint,” she said.
Her winning entry, titled “Big Boy,” is a painting of the Union Pacific 4014 locomotive that stopped in Denison in July 2019.
“That thing was just huge,” Peters said of the locomotive, which was built in 1941.
“When they refurbished the train, somebody had scrawled in chalk on the front of the engine, “Big Boy,” so I painted a close-up of the engine.”
The painting is two feet high by three feet wide.
“I thought it turned out the way I had wanted it to,” she said. “I just thought it was unique for me and I thought it might be good to enter.”
Peters paints in a realistic style, and she coined a phrase for her technique: blended reality.
“Many pastel artists are taught not to blend, but I blend some areas of my painting to increase the level of realism; for instance, skies and smooth surfaces,” Peters said. “Also, I vary my strokes of pastel for the same reason: so it all blends together to create a realistic appearance.”
She said pastels look like sticks of chalk – but are actually dried pigment pressed into stick form.
“There are no oils, solvents or acrylics or plasticizers added to them,” Peters said.
“The colors are real and rich and true and they will stay that way for hundreds of years, and that’s one reason I really love pastel. There are some from the 1400s and 1500s that are still just as bright as when they were painted.”
“Big Boy” took about two weeks to create.
“I do a rough sketch of the basic shapes is how I start – but a lot of the detail and a lot of the shading come when I’m painting,” she said. “I start with the basic shape, so I know I’ll get my composition where I want it, and the rest of it is done as I’m painting.”
Peters is self-taught; she has been painting since she was a kid.
She has entered other competitions and has received ribbons and a best of show award for a regional competition.
“But this is the first national best of show I have received,” Peters said. “I was very shocked and happy about that.”
She is also the vice president of the Iowa Pastel Society.
Her work was featured recently in a two-day art show in Storm Lake, and can be seen at Artisan Gallery 218 in West Des Moines and at Synergy Art Gallery in Storm Lake.