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Deb Gengler-CoppleDeb Gengler-Copple   PSA, AFC, BFA Deb Gengler-Copple
Arylic, Oil and Pastel Paintings

Art and Conservation
Bring together 500 talented nature
artists, and see what kind of impact they can have
on the world. That, in a nutshell, is the premise
of Artists for Conservation (formerly, Worldwide
Nature Artists Group), an international organization
founded in 1997 by Canadian artist, author,
biologist and software engineer Jeff Whiting. Artists
for Conservation (AFC) is an online community
that currently brings together artists from 27
countries to promote preservation and protection
of the natural world. To be considered for membership,
artists must not only demonstrate excellence
in their chosen medium, but also show a
genuine commitment—financial or otherwise—to
"All of our artists maintain their own online
gallery page, or portfolio, if you will, on the AFC
website," says Whiting. The site (www.natureartists.
com) gets 10,000 to 15,000 visits per day, which
offers great exposure for its members. And because
AFC requires no commission on the sales it facilitates,
artists have the option of pledging a portion
of each sale to a conservation organization of their
choice. When someone purchases a painting of a
koala, in other words, 20 percent of that sale may
wind up in the coffers of a wildlife sanctuary in
Australia. And this is only one of the many ways
member artists support the organizations near and
dear to their hearts: some assist in field research,
others spearhead publicity or education efforts, and
many donate their own art, to be auctioned off at
fund-raising events.
"I think member artists like being part of a
community that's trying to make a difference," says
Whiting. Last year, the group launched its first-ever
juried exhibition at the Hiram Blauvelt Art Museum
outside of New York City, featuring 120 works of
member artists. The exhibit was held in conjunction
with the Wildlife Conservation Society, which
received a portion of the funds raised.
Another exciting AFC program called Flag Expeditions
provides a modest stipend to artists to
assist with travel to remote parts of the globe to
draw, paint or sculpt the subject of their choice. By
telling the stories of these lesser known regions and
their inhabitants—rare seals in Russia's Lake Baikal,
painted dogs in Zimbabwe, or flora and fauna of
Bhutan, for example—member artists raise awareness
about wildlife and wild places that might otherwise
rest in obscurity.
To Whiting, art and conservation are a natural
pairing. "Art has a very special role to play in
terms of reaching out to the public in a visceral
way, in communicating with them in a nonscientific
manner," he says. "Protecting biodiversity, and the
world's habitats, needs more than science: It needs
an emotive response from the public. Our role, at
AFC, is to galvanize artistic talent and make this
Among the hundreds of AFC artists, we'd like to
share the stories of two artists who choose the medium
of pastel as way to express themselves artistically
and as a way to communicate their powerful
connection to nature and wildlife.
Art and
When it comes to enthusiasm for nature and wildlife,
artists are some of the most fervant champions—
a passion which often translates not only into their artwork
but into conservation efforts.
By tucker coombe
The Pastel Journal • October 2009
Deb Gengler-Copple
Deb Gengler-Copple's wolves can portray calm,
unassailable strength or a quiet, forlorn loneliness.
Her big horn sheep, without moving a muscle,
denote power and movement. And her bison are
formidable. The immediacy and richness of her
works derive, at least in part, from the ability to
immerse herself completely in the natural world,
closely observing every nuance about her subjects,
their behaviors and their environments. "You can
go to magazines and look at fantastic images of
wildlife," Gengler-Copple says, "but for me, what's
important is experiencing the animal, seeing how
it interacts with others, feeling the excitement of
watching it."
When Gengler-Copple travels to Yellowstone
National Park or to the Big Horn Mountains, she
takes dozens and dozens of photos. When she returns
home, she burns the photos onto a CD and
then puts them away, often for months. "It may
be half a year later," she says, "but those images
are still in my head. Later, I'll find the photo I'm
looking for—depicting, for example, a particular
wolf, and when I look at it, everything just rushes
right back—what the weather was like when I took
that picture, how the wind was blowing, how the
light was coming through the trees, how the birds
around me sounded, and what it was that grabbed
me about that animal."
Love at First Horse
Although wildlife has always been an interest, it was
horses that first lured Gengler-Copple into the realm
of drawing and painting. "I just loved horses, and
drawing them was my passion. I remember being
in second or third grade, when the teacher passed
around a test one day. I don't know where my mind
was, but I just put that test in my desk, pulled out a
blank sheet of paper and started drawing. Did I ever
get in trouble! Later, I learned that my teacher had
called my parents and said, ‘Why don't you just get
that girl a pony?' Eventually, they did.
"Drawing and painting horses was one of the
best types of training I could have given myself," she
says, "because I became really focused on anatomy."
Even today, when she draws deer, elk and sheep,
her familiarity with the horse's bone structure and
musculature stands her in good stead.
In art school, Gengler-Copple began to focus on
Western art—horses, cowboys and Native Americans.
"After college, I began to broaden my horizons
a little bit. But it was one painting—two cardinals
in a cedar tree—that changed everything for me. I
was outside one day in the middle of winter, watching
how the snow was landing on the branches of
this tree, noticing those shiny little cedar berries,
the greens, the browns, the blues … I just had to
paint it," she says. The next thing she knew, she
was travelling to Yellowstone in search of additional
inspiration to feed her passion.
These days, Gengler-Copple visits Yellowstone
National Park about three or four times a year. One
of her favorite destinations is the Grizzly and Wolf
Discovery Center, where she can observe and photograph
the animals in their natural habitat, from
a relatively close distance. The center is one of the
many organizations she supports through her AFC
Back in the Studio
The artist has two studios in her home in Nebraska.
She and her husband have made it a priority, she
says, to make the land around their house inviting
to native wildlife. Thanks to the hundreds of shrubs
and trees they've planted, the area is a haven for
regional and migrating bird species; she's awakened
by pheasant each morning, and frequently sees deer
and coyotes.
It's in her studios that she does all her sketching
and painting. Using a photo as her starting point,
she begins her drawing with vine charcoal, keeping
the sketch loose and allowing the composition
to emerge somewhat spontaneously. "I start with
the eyes, block in the shape of the animal, then
try to visualize what I want to happen around that
shape," she says. Many of her pastels are done on
Kitty Wallace sanded paper, but when she anticipates
creating a soft, out-of-focus background, she'll
use velour instead.
Gengler-Copple paints in acrylic and oil, too.
"Recently, I've started setting up an oil painting right
next to a pastel," she says. "The paintings are not of
the same subject, but what I'm hoping is that the
sense of freedom and emotion that comes when I'm
working on the pastel can flow into what I'm doing
with the oil." Of the three media, pastel is clearly the
favorite. "I love its spontaneity, and the immediate
gratification you get when you put the colors down.
It's a pretty exciting medium."
Getting a Feel for Fur
As a wildlife painter, the artist is well-practiced at
October 2009 • www.pasteljournal.com
The Pastel Journal • Month 2009
painting all kinds of animal fur, and has developed
a few tricks. "It's a matter of blocking in certain parts
of the fur, like the sunlight side and then the shadow
side," she says. "I don't usually capture fur in my
photographs, because of the distance between the
subject and myself, but I do study the way fur lies
on animals. I have friends who do taxidermy, and
I might examine one of their animals, and I might
even go look at my dogs to see how the fur lies on
them. When I paint the fur, I'll put down one layer
of base color, and then start right in on the light
areas, the dark areas and the mid-values. Often I'll
work into the fur, then move to the background,
trying out different colors." Because she wants the
background colors to support the animal and the
mood she is hoping to convey, she usually works
on both simultaneously, moving back and forth between
the animal and the background.
In terms of capturing something special, she
considers the eyes particularly important. "Near
the end of the painting process I go in and really
start working on them," she says. "And when those
eyes look back at me—when the expression tells me
what's happening in that animal's life, or what that
animal might be feeling—that's the most gratifying
point in the whole process."
Deborah Gengler-Copple (www.debcopple.com)
of Hubbard, Nebraska, has worked as a graphic
artist, but her passion for painting wildlife has redirected
her career and taken her to the national
parks to photograph and view wildlife firsthand.
The artist is a signature member of the Pastel society
of America and has won a number of awards,
including honorable mention in this year's Pastel
100 competition. Her work helps support a number
of wildlife causes, including Pheasants Forever,
Ducks Unlimited and Defenders of Wildlife. While
working on this article, she reported that she was
nurturing a newborn screech owl back to health.
First Encounter (18x24 )
Sleepy Head (15x15)
In the Lead (16x20)
On the Edge (18x24 )
Power Pack (18x24 )
Window Watcher (24 x36)
Month 2009 • www.pasteljournal.com


Direct Correspondence to:Deb Gengler-Copple
Deb Gengler-Copple
c/o Art by Nature
1117 260th Street
Hubbard, NE
USA 68741
Tel: 402-698-2158
Fax: 402-698-2158
  Worldwide Nature Artists Group
Email: deb@debcopple.com
Home Page: http://www.debcopple.com
Deb Gengler-Copple Deb Gengler-Copple

All rights reserved. All images and text © Copyright  Deb Gengler-Copple
Member of The Worldwide Nature Artists Group www.natureartists.com.