Of Pencils & Paint
By Sue Kern Fleischer
Desert Hills artists show their work in Carefree Fine Art
& Wine Festival
They were passionate about art since childhood. They both
cite their fathers as possible influencers for their artistic skills. Nature
and the outdoors fuel their creative energy. And while Desert Hills residents
Jeff Henson, a pencil artist, and Debbie Gotch, an oil painter, have never met,
they share a common bond of exhibiting their work for the first time with
Thunderbird Artists during the 26th Annual Winter Carefree Fine Art & Wine
Festival, taking place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday,
January 18, 19 and 20 along Ho Hum and Easy Streets in downtown Carefree.
Denise Colter, president of Thunderbird Artists, says Henson
and Gotch are among 150 professional artists juried into the fine art show.
“Content, quality and originality are most important to us
when we jury a show,” Colter says. “Jeff and Debbie are both exceptional
artists, and we’re excited to welcome them to our Thunderbird Artists family.”
Passionate About Pencil Art
Jeff Henson was 5 years old when his father was transferred
to Luke Air Force Base, and since then, he has called Arizona home. He
remembers when his fourth-grade teacher called his parents after he drew a
picture next to each word of a spelling test.
“We thought I was in trouble, but she was calling to tell my
parents that I should enroll in a gifted art class,” Henson says.
After high school, he took some drawing classes at community
colleges and then earned a degree in commercial art from the Al Collins Graphic
Design School. But his passion for off-road racing led him in a different
“I raced Baja, dirt bikes and ATVs back in the 1990s. My
writing and photography skills helped me land positions with ATV Sports, ATV
Illustrated, and ATV Magazine, working both as a managing editor and a senior editor,”
Henson says, adding that his photography appeared on more than two dozen
There was no time for art. His career took off as he added
television host to his resume. “I was co-host of a 30-minute show called Trail
Nation, which aired in 20 markets. I was also senior editor of their website,”
In 2010, Henson met his wife, Sydney, a television
advertising sales manager, who grew up with Arabian horses. Around the same
time, the Great Recession was taking its toll on the luxury sports toy market,
and the magazines Henson was working for eventually folded. With work drying
up, he took a full-time job as a supervisor for Costco.
When he first met Sydney, he hadn’t ridden a horse since he
was in the Boy Scouts. And he hadn’t picked up a pencil to draw in some 20
years. “Sydney is the best thing that ever happened to me. She saw me doodling
and encouraged me to take my art more seriously,” he says, adding that he
decided to pursue his career full-time as an artist two years ago.
Most of his original work is with graphite, although he
recently started experimenting with colored pencil. He credits the horses with
bringing art back into his life. “There is nothing more breathtaking than
seeing a herd of Arabian horses running,” Henson says. “Each one has a distinct
personality and spirit. Trying to put that on paper is a fun challenge.”
Whether he is drawing the scoop of a horse’s nose, the
muscles and lines of its face, or its wide-eyed curiosity, he strives to
capture emotion with each piece he creates.
“I like very fine detail,” he says. “I started with wood
pencils but moved to mechanical pencils so I could get more lead with a very
fine point. Drawing the details in the saddle, stirrups, the horse’s eyes, and
the people around them – that’s what I thrive on.”
During the Carefree festival, Henson will exhibit a variety
of pencil drawings featuring Arabian horses and Western and Americana themes.
“All of my original work is on velum Bristol board, which is
a very thick, almost cardboard-like paper stock that is porous and catches the
edge of pencil,” he says. “I’ll also have hand-signed prints available in three
sizes, two of which are limited editions that come with letters of
Finding Peace in Painting
Like Henson, Debbie Gotch would doodle in school. Born in
the rural Midwest, she had a natural affinity for color and space, and she
dreamed of going to the Art Institute in Chicago. Instead, she found herself on
an eclectic educational path, taking classes and one-on-one instruction from
several talented artists.
“It was important to me as time went on that the content, or
the artists themselves, spoke to me,” Gotch says. “I wanted to learn the
techniques that I could see influencing my visions to become reality in
whatever medium I was working in. This path hasn’t ended and may never end
for me. I will forever want to grow as an artist.”
At first, she painted with acrylics, but she changed to oil
paint about five years ago because she found the color to be more vibrant and
the blending and manipulation of colors to be a lot easier.
When she moved to Arizona, she fell in love with the desert.
“The landscape and sunsets in Arizona are breathtaking. I find so much color in
them,” she says.
She often sketches on her canvas with a diluted wash of
color, and sometimes she will have challenges with color or composition. “Some
days my brush and brain work in opposite directions,” she jokes, adding that
she may take a break from a painting or start something new.
No matter what challenges she encounters, painting brings
her peace. “My art is my way to lose myself and bring back the moments of
peace, contentment, and all the emotions I feel or felt from my rural
surroundings,” she says. “I want viewers to lose themselves in this emotion too.”
During the January Carefree show, Gotch will exhibit both
original and giclee prints of vibrant landscape paintings.
Throughout the three-day festival, patrons can take in live
music and enjoy wine tastings, microbrews and a variety of festival food. Admission
to the Carefree Fine Art & Wine Festival is $3 for adults, and free for
children 17 years or younger. Parking is free all weekend. For more
information, call 480-837-5637 or visit thunderbirdartists.com.
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