Federal Way artist fills a niche market with colored pencil drawings

Much like how the wand chooses the wizard in “Harry Potter,” veteran artist Ann Kullberg feels that color pencil chose her.

Federal Way artist Ann Kullberg works on her art using colored pencils.

Much like how the wand chooses the wizard in “Harry Potter,” veteran artist Ann Kullberg feels that color pencil chose her.

“We were supposed to be together,” Kullberg said.

With a charismatic laugh and a steady voice, the 59-year-old artist discovered color pencil in 1986 at a relative’s home, where she found herself intrigued by a drawing that used a material unlike any medium she had drawn with before.

After reading Bet Borgeson’s “The Colored Pencil,” Kullberg bought her first set of 24 colored pencils and created her first drawing with the medium.

“Once I picked [a colored pencil] up, I was just in heaven,” Kullberg said. “I loved it instantly.”

She ended up winning first place for that drawing in a local county fair, gained gallery representation within a year, and soon began receiving portrait commissions. But her career didn’t take off until she was asked by North Light Books, an art publishing company, to write a book published in 1999 called “Colored Pencil Portraits: Step by Step.”

The book — the only of its kind on colored pencil portraits — was sold all around the world, catapulting Kullberg to a prominent place in the colored pencil realm. She has since created a monthly magazine, her own website, and various other products, ranging from drawing kits and portrait tools to books and workshops.

The road to her current success hasn’t always been easy.

Because colored pencil drawing is such a slow and painstaking process, Kullberg said the most she could make from 100 hours worth of work in the beginning was a mere $400.

“I was pretty much broke for about eight years,” she said. “It’s hard to make a living at art. Very, very hard.”

But Kullberg said it was either art or welfare.

On top of caring for her autistic son, she didn’t have the means to go back to school to obtain certification for teaching in Washington, despite having been a junior high English teacher in Oregon. So colored pencil was the only viable path for Kullberg to pursue.

And pursue it she did. Fast forward decades later, Kullberg is now holding workshops to share her expertise in colored pencil with others across the United States and beyond.

She also runs a publishing company that publishes books by her fellow colored pencil artists. Two of these books have come out within the past five months and half a dozen more are currently in the works, according to Kullberg.

“Because I’ve written three books for other publishers, I felt like I knew what made a really good instructional book,” she said. “That’s when I started taking on authors and sort of shaping them so that they could write books that were really popular.”

Artist Gemma Gylling authored the second book published in February, titled “CP Cats: A Complete Guide to Wild & Domestic Cats in Colored Pencil.” Kullberg approached Gylling a few years ago and suggested that she write a book, which Gylling said served as a testament to her initiative as a businesswoman.

“Not only is she a terrific artist and a terrific individual, she’s a real entrepreneur,” the California-based artist said of Kullberg. “She’s not afraid to try something new like ‘OK, why don’t you write a book? Let’s do that. I’ll be your publisher.’”

One important aspect Kullberg insists on is that her authors show in their books why they do what they do. She strongly believes providing the rationale behind the use of different methods really helps teach readers what they set out to learn.

That’s exactly what Kullberg did when she assisted artist and author Cynthia Knox with her book called “CP Horses: A Complete Guide to Drawing Horses in Colored Pencil.”

Published last December by Kullberg’s company, the book offers instruction on how to photograph horses and how to create beautiful works of equine art with colored pencils, along with stand-alone artworks of the four-legged animal.

“For each step [of instruction], there must be text and a corresponding scan of the art in process. Ann worked with me to help me explain not only what I was doing, but how I was doing it and why I was doing it,” Knox said. “She encouraged me to use many steps and be somewhat chatty about the pencils, pencil strokes, and reasons for each step.”

Even without many competitors, Kullberg said she’s motivated to promote colored pencil purely because of her love of the medium and her drive to champion other colored pencil artists like Knox and Gylling.

“I love what people do with [colored pencil]. I find it very exciting,” she said, talking animatedly about her most recent workshop cruise in Alaska, where one of the participants showed her handmade metal jewelry adorned with colored pencil.

Drawing with colored pencils allows users the most control, according to Kullberg.

Further, the medium calls for a clean, efficient, and environmentally-friendly working space as it requires no set-up or take-down that other mediums like watercolor or oil would.

Not to mention that colored pencils are more affordable than their counterparts, which Kullberg said is how she was able to get started in the first place.

Despite these positive qualities, Kullberg said colored pencils are still viewed as holding less weight than other art mediums. She has been trying to help change that perception, in part by featuring the masterpieces of other colored pencil artists in her publications such as the CP Treasures book series to get more people interested in the medium.

The first volume in the series, Kullberg said, included artwork from 11 countries, the number of which jumped to 16 in Volume III two years later.

“If there’re more people doing it, there’ll be more respect for it,” Kullberg said.

Regardless of whether it’s colored pencils or not, she believes there’s a misconception about art overall that you have to be a good artist to engage in artistic endeavors.

“To me, that just sounds crazy. You might not be the best artist, but anybody can become an artist. I wish that people would just get over that idea that you have to be an artist to do art,” she said. “Just go do art. Just go do it.”

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Using colored pencils, Ann Kullberg created her favorite drawing titled “Not Everything is Black and White.”

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