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Judith Gebhard Smith of Nightwing Studio - Revered Local Olympia Artist

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rtist profile: Judith Gebhard Smith

From her earliest memories, Judith Gebhard Smith recalls making marks on any available surface with crayons, chalk, and dirty fingers. She was an A student in traditional subjects, but always received C’s in art. She reflects it was due to her refusal to color within the lines, an art rebel in the second grade. But even so, it wasn’t long before Judith was enlisted by her teachers to decorate (with colored chalk) her homeroom blackboards with seasonal images. Some even allowed her to use her imagination. This early encouragement from teachers made an impact. Now, after more than 50 years of a successful fine art career, she shares with us her journey.


Drawing always came naturally to Judith. She describes improving her drafting abilities as a source of joy, something that never seemed difficult. Her career began in medical illustration, combining her strong academic abilities with her excellent drawing skills. Later, in the early days of her fine-art pursuit, she was heavily involved in printmaking and fascinated by the work of Leonard Baskin. She also admired the drama of Caravaggio’s paintings. While there is a dark side to her imagery -- crows and ravens and birds of prey -- there is also a playful influence in these works, demonstrating a mixed reaction to the world. However, the solvents in printmaking caused health issues, so Judith moved on to try her hand at neon sculpture and even some metal welding, which was still pretty much centered on bird imagery.


In the early ‘90s, Judith found and fell in love with pastels. Her painting style was influenced by the Nabis, Paul Gauguin, the Fauve movement painters, Franz Marc, and several of the German expressionists. Seeking to escape the precision of her early medical artwork, she pushed herself further toward the abstract expressionists—Franz Kline being a favorite.


Judith credits the invaluable support from family and friends, and especially her husband, to her success as an artist. She also credits the good fortune of being mentored by a number of very talented people, especially William McEnroe and the indomitable William Herring.


I think that artists are extremely lucky to have the ability to see things slightly different than others, and it is our responsibility to present that special sight to other people, to engage them in a different perspective. ~ Judith Gebhard Smith

In addition to Judith’s fascinating depictions of birds, her love of scuba diving opened the underwater world to her thus sparking another major theme in her artwork. In her 42 years of diving, she kept dive logs which also contained small watercolor paintings and sketches. A few years ago, a friend was perusing those small paintings and asked why she had never used them as resources for larger paintings. She did not have an answer, so she began that very afternoon.





“I believe that when people can see what is underwater through diving themselves or more practically, through art and photography, that they will do everything in their power to preserve what is there,” explains Judith. “I think that artists are extremely lucky to have the ability to see things slightly different than others, and it is our responsibility to present that special sight to other people, to engage them in a different perspective. We have the power to communicate the beauty and necessity of a healthy ocean to the rest of the world, and it is a privilege to be able to do so,” she adds.


Judith advises other artists to paint what they know, do it as often as possible, and do it with honesty, sincerity and full-bore passion. Her pastel painting “Male Mantis Shrimp Guarding Eggs” inspired by a dive in Sulawesi, Indonesia, is a great example of just that. She also believes experimentation paves the way to that next great painting.


Whether it is pastels, encaustic, or mixed media, Judith’s artwork evokes a sense of wonder for the viewer. We invite you to come to the gallery to see for yourself!




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