By Ross Blanchard
Above: Self Portrait by Ken Sellen
Readers of PDX Magazine will remember our first cover last October—an oil painting of a dresser with seemingly random objects littered across its top. We had to explain to many that, no, this was not a lightly Photoshopped photograph, but an actual painting by Ken Sellen in which he gathered ideas from each of the articles in that issue to produce the work—a visual table of contents.
Inside that same issue were watercolor paintings of crayons, that, too, looked so real you might be tempted to reach out and pick them up.
That’s what Sellen can do with oils and watercolor. Recently, however, he’s turned to a new medium—Conté crayons, which are a blend of natural pigments, kaolin clay, and graphite. His experiments with Conté started with portraits of a handful of regulars at Ford Food and Drink on Southeast Division and 11th Avenue, where he works. His first pieces using the new medium show Sellen at his best.
Sellen’s technique for painting always begins with a sketch, but he’s finding that a drawing alone can be just as satisfying to him.
“Like all artists, I have always drawn—usually sketches and first drawings for what will ultimately be a painting. [After] scribbling ideas on a napkin, [I’d] often throw them away, never giving them much thought as an art form themselves. It always had to be a painting if it was to be serious work,” says Sellen.
“With discovering and delving into a new technique of working in Conté, I realize the potential of the drawing as a stand-alone finished work, not just a sketch, and that my first love of drawing is as strong as it ever has been.”