By: Scott Campbell
It is of no small significance that Jill Peckelun spent much of her youth on a farm just north of Fredericksburg. Because of that early experience, the fresh air and rural environs of Lebanon County have left its mark on the Hershey woman’s impressionistic oil paintings.
“I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t do this,” she says of her vocation. “I’m an alla prima painter. Despite bugs, heat, cold, wind, rain and the rest of what goes into transporting materials and supplies to a location, there is nothing in the world like being in the vista that you are painting.”
In her cozy upstairs studio are the rudiments and the products of Peckelun’s trade. Resting on the floor is a French easel and paint box designed for on-site work. Placed around the room are dozens of finished paintings on board, their modest dimensions more characteristic of preliminary studies. An insulated nylon coat, its surface splattered and stained with color, is evidence of her year-round painting activity.
Although drawing was a childhood pastime, Peckelun did not grow up as an artist.
She earned a Bachelor of Arts from Albright College, and spent 20 years as a management analyst for the city of Allentown.
“I was a late bloomer and didn’t get into painting until my 30s,” says the youthful 58-year-old. “I studied with John Booth of Easton for a number of years. He was my primary teacher and gave me an excellent technical foundation. And, equally as important, he showed me by example to always keep evolving through experimenting and trying new ideas.”
Like all artists, those who came before her have also influenced Peckelun’s style: the use of color, paint application and range of values. Among them, she notes John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), Thomas Moran (1837-1926) and N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945).
“My style is influenced by the freedom of the Impressionists, Asian art, the arts and crafts movement of the 1890s, Art Nouveau and the immediacy of plein air work.”
As an alla prima painter, Peckelun works quickly. Accordingly, her pieces feature bold strokes, little detail and an impasto surface texture.
“I use Winsor-Newton oils, and my palette is very limited,” she says. “It consists of Winsor Yellow, Winsor Red, Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine Blue, Phthalo Blue and Titanium White.”
“In reality, the process is about portraying layers of depth, shapes of light and dark values, and color, color, color with lots of thin and thick juicy paint. No guts, no glory. Striving towards brutish elegance.” ~ Jill Peckelun
Her primary brushes are nylon bristle flats, and the surface of choice is archival Ampersand board. Peckelun’s outdoor paintings range in size from 5 x 7 inches to 12 x 16 inches. Larger ones are done in the studio.
Each painting begins with a quick sketchbook rendering. Peckelun lays out colors on a piece of freezer paper, and then uses paint to sketch in the outlines on the primed board surface. Going from dark to light, basic values are then laid down with thin washes.
Thereafter, the piece is completed with applications of thicker paint.
At that point, Peckelun pauses to assess the work and make any necessary modifications. She waits six months to apply the final varnish.
In her artist’s statement, Peckelun declares, “In reality, the process is about portraying layers of depth, shapes of light and dark values, and color, color, color with lots of thin and thick juicy paint. No guts, no glory. Striving towards brutish elegance.”
The reader can see samples of her work in a February exhibit at Lancaster’s Red Raven Gallery. Closer to home, Peckelun is an on-going exhibitor at Gallery @ Second in Harrisburg.