Jeanne Maguire Thieme

Portrait of Ruth Sterling

As an avid explorer, I take pictures of places I experience and then draw them in pastels. Most of my drawings/paintings are scenes of beautiful places I have experienced.

Q&A with Ruth Sterling

How would you describe your background?

I majored in art at Bucknell University after discovering how much art excited me in my last two years of high school. I taught private group drawing lessons to kids after college and took a job as an activities director at a nursing home network. We had drawing classes and arts and crafts and I really enjoyed the therapeutic aspects of art.

I recognized I couldn’t survive as a “starving artist painting on the beach” and knew I wanted a career in graphic design. It wasn’t easy to get started in the field but I got jobs as a paste-up artist, printing prep tech and publishing assistant before freelancing in graphic design for two years. I came to Keene to work for an international corporation as a PR assistant eventually being promoted to Communications and Training Manager. Marriage and my first child led to a four-year leave of absence from that job, during which I had another child, finished my Bachelor’s degree, started an MBA and founded my business, Sterling Design & Communications. My previous employer was my largest client for the next 18 years. It wasn’t until I was in my 60s and casting my thoughts ahead to retirement that I went back to the pastels I had fallen in love with in high school.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

My junior year of high school. But when I was 10 years old, I had a summer with relatives in Michigan and began corresponding with them afterward. The words and pictures I put together in those letters back and forth seemed to bring joy to them and me. To this day, I consider combining words and images to communicate my calling.

What would surprise people to learn about you?

I got my motorcycle license and ride a Harley Sportster. I also train for triathlons and have done four in my sixties.

How would you describe your art to someone who has never seen it?

As an avid explorer, I take pictures of places I experience and then draw them in pastels. Most of my drawings/paintings are scenes of beautiful places I have experienced.

What achievements in the area of art are you proudest of?

When I started drawing again, being accepted into Keene Artwalk was a major milestone for me.

Each year my work is accepted, I am thrilled beyond words.

When I was around 5, my aunt, a faculty member affiliated with the University of Vermont, took one of my drawings to the art department for evaluation. Someone there said I was talented and had an unusually developed sense of perspective. My aunt framed that drawing—that had a special impact on my childhood growing up as the middle child in a large family. I still have the picture, although it has been reframed a few times.

How would you describe your art process?

First, I choose a photo I have taken and print it out as reference. I may adjust colors, cropping and elements in Photoshop—but not dramatically. The first step for me is to draw the shapes in a neutral color; and, I usually finish the sky in the first session. I try to lay down background layers working down the page, planning the next layers as I go. If there are difficult things to draw (buildings, certain trees, etc.) I may try to nail those early on, or I may torture myself by putting them off so I can worry about them. I’ll only work for about an hour at a time. Refreshing in between for days—or lately—hours. Sometimes I remember to take photos of the process so I can see the progressive steps. This is fun. It’s nice to see the evolution of the drawing/painting go from abstract composition to shades and shapes to recognizable items to interesting details.

What is your usual studio/working day like?

I still spend most of my work day on other pursuits, still doing design and communications work as well as running an Airbnb. But a good day is one when I spend an hour in the morning at the
drawing board and another hour or so there later in the day.

What is the most delightful part of your life outside of work?

I have a really fun 9-year-old grandson who lets me feel like a kid again. We have a ton of fun and with him I capture the photos I will end up drawing/painting. I really enjoy sharing my finished work with my grown kids—my daughter in particular is a wonderful judge of design, an experienced and skillful critic, and I respect her feedback tremendously. My offspring are a great source of joy and pride for me.