The first response you might have to Juanita Thames’ art is to laugh out loud. That’s okay, that’s what she does, too.
While her skill at accurately portraying an animal is undeniable, it is Juanita’s exquisite ability to capture their facial expressions that makes people stop and look again. Her love and appreciation of the way animals see life is contagious.
One can instantly feel a connection with her depiction of a cow’s eye roll, or a donkey’s grin.
“When I start taking the world too seriously and my nerves feel frazzled, I have always taken solace among animals,” she wrote.
Juanita Thames (pronounced temz, like the River Thames in England) first learned to draw as a result of visiting a local art gallery. She felt drawing was a natural skill, which she didn’t have by any stretch of the imagination, and therefore never dared to seriously attempt it.
However, a local artist convinced her that drawing could be taught. After learning to see value and shades of light, Juanita gave it a go and says her first attempt was “awful!”
Being tenacious as she is, she went online to study other artists’ work and how they made their marks. Integrating the marks she saw, she attempted to recreate them by drawing a rooster. When she was done, she says she was amazed that it actually looked like a rooster. Thus began her love of drawing and painting animals.
Since then, Juanita has been developing the artistic skills required for portrayals of her subjects in her medium of pastels. But her talent at capturing the subtleties of expression in the eyes and faces of animals makes her art stand out.
“The point is to see the animals for who they are,” Juanita says. The joy in her heart is the lens through which she sees them, and her viewers often cannot help but share that joy.
Visitors to the newly re-opened Allard’s Candy Store and Gift Shop in St. Ignatius will find several of Juanita’s paintings on display. A donkey laughs over the fence, a chicken ogles you in that goofy way only chickens can. An adorable dog longs to escape in a piece called “Wanderlust.”
While they are often humorous, the pictures are not cartoons.
“These are from photos of live animals,” Juanita said. “They actually do these funny things and make these silly expressions, though I do tend to take artistic license with color.”
Not every painting is likeable, she has found. One painting, a very angry looking Persian cat, turned off one viewer so much, she did not even want to look at it.
“A couple people have said they really don’t like that cat. One person even said the cat was scary. I figure, if people have that strong a reaction to the cat, I must have done a pretty good job depicting it!” she laughed.
But most of her critters bring people a warm smile.
“I strive to show that there are feelings and intelligence behind those eyes, whether it’s the cute antics of a kitten or the cold glare of a zebra,” says her artist statement. “The adoring look, playful antics, or expression of appreciation and receptivity to love never fails to lift my heart.”
“I’m reminded to live life in the moment, as animals do, and embrace a more carefree attitude.”
One can view or purchase the art of Juanita Thames at Allard’s in St. Ignatius, or contact Juanita at email@example.com to see more of her work.