The hot noon sun beats down on a farmer as he sits on his tractor. His favorite straw hat casts crosshatched shadows, as his eyes squint against the light.
In Jeanne Ruchti's watercolor portrait, the tractor, the sun, and most of the man's body are missing. His shadowed face almost fills the picture because the painter is forcing the viewer to see what she considers the most important thing about him.
About 30 of the Gays Mills area artist's watercolor portraits and a few of her landscapes will be displayed at the Crawford County Administration Building in Prairie du Chien. ‘The Friendly Farmer’ will greet visitors at the entrance of the Crawford County Artists' Gallery beginning in mid-March.
‘The Storyteller’ is one portrait that visitors will not see. Instead, it will hang at the Transparent Watercolor Society of America's juried show in Kenosha.
When Ruchti first shifted from painting landscapes to creating portraits, she worked to include as many details as possible. Then, another artist made a comment that changedher approach.
"Why don't you just take a photograph?" the artist said to Ruchti. That made her loosen up. She started concentrating on the details that she considered the most important part of a painting and leaving the rest to the viewer's imagination.
Ruchti uses a large brush and lots of color on top of a pencil sketch. She never uses black.
"Black is a dead color," Ruchti says. Remnants of the pencil lines remain on many of the paintings because she considers them part of the design.
About ten percent of her paintings are commissioned portraits. To start that process, she has used photographs.
A creative painting usually suggests itself to her because of a feeling she has. Usually, it's the expression on a face. But for an old friend, a retired entomologist, exploring the world around himself was the important thing. "Walking" shows his full body in the center of the suggestion of a landscape. He is walking uphill, a camera hanging from his neck, his walking stick helping him along. Unlike most of Ruchti's paintings, this face occupies only a small part of the picture, and its features are not much more than suggestions.
"Doing people is a challenge,” the artist says. "You never get tired of it."
The Artists' Gallery show, "Colorful Characters," opens on Thursday, March 15, with a reception from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Crawford County Administration Building, 225 N. Beaumont Rd., Prairie du Chien. Ruchti's work will be on display through June 7.