At first glance, the charcoal drawings on exhibit at the McPherson Public Library might look like everyday, ordinary portraits.
And that would be the point.

At first glance, the charcoal drawings on exhibit at the McPherson Public Library might look like everyday, ordinary portraits.
And that would be the point.
Because for McPherson artist Julie Baldwin, she does not embed some secret message. She rather wishes to convey a relatable, simple message — a statement of real life today.
“It’s my goal to convey how it is in the 21st Century,” she said. “I look back at the pictures in the 17th and 18th century, and I look at their clothes and hair and activities, and I think, ‘Oh, that’s how it was then.’
“Even 200 years from now, they can see how we wore casual clothes, we didn’t have hair tied up in anything formal, and sometimes our haircuts were weird. Sometimes I wonder what kind of impression that would give to somebody.”
Her exhibit, on display during July in the front meeting room, is a collection of 13 works she has created during the last few years. Although watercolor is her most frequent medium, she works with oil for relief and charcoal in between.
Baldwin said she enjoys charcoal because it is flexible, versatile, has a wide range of shades, is forgiving and is good for experimentation. Although she enjoys completing the works, she said the better feeling comes later when she goes back several times to refinish and finally feels it is complete.
“(Charcoal) has to be the oldest art form when you think about sticks and a campfire and drawings on a cave,” she said. “It has to be the oldest next to taking clay and forming into a small figure or running a stick in the sand.”
The portraits at the library were mostly created during a weekly group get together called Friday Morning Artists, where individuals come in to model. She wished to show different ways charcoal can be used to depict a model.
One on display is of an Amish woman.
“I was just fascinated with her,” Baldwin said. “You see Amish people, but how many times do you get to stare for two hours at her buttons and her fabric and her bonnet strings and everything. That was really fun for me.”
Two of the drawings are of the same woman with Native American heritage, although in one portrait the hair is dark and in the other it is light.
The hardest work was of two young children that she will eventually turn into a painting.
“When you want to make it actually look like somebody it’s a lot harder,” she said. “When you get right down to resemblance.”
Baldwin enjoys the challenge. Easier art forms are boring, she said.
Those artistic roots date back to when her father drew for her as a child. He was an engineer and taught her about perspective, which she thinks helped her with her skills.
She also had two aunts who were excellent artists, and a good art teacher in elementary school. By the time she was in sixth grade, she knew she wanted to study art.
“Art was just part of our family,” she said. “I thought it was a part of everybody’s family. And music, too. We just grew up with that. It’s part of you.”
Later, while attending Kansas State University, she blossomed under professor Elmer J. Tomasch. She later graduated with an art degree from San Diego State University and also received a degree in education at McPherson College.
She is a member of the Kansas Watercolor Society, the Missouri Watercolor Society and the Hutchinson Art Center and Gallery. She has won a number of awards, most recently for her paintings of figures in motion. She also has had paintings published in the “Watercolor Studio” magazine.
Baldwin has exhibited in the library about five times in the last eight years and has plans to display more of her work in the area before the end of the year.

Contact Jenae Pauls at and follow her on Twitter @PaulsSentinel