For Josephine Koehne, drawing figures has been a lifelong love, starting at the age of 4. 'I drew and drew and drew,' recalls the local artist, who will show her work during the 2011 Portland Open Studios this month (see information box).
One of her early drawings, on which she had written 'Age 9,' survived decades in the drawer of her childhood desk, until her daughter was a little girl. When Koehne gave her daughter the desk, inside she found the drawing - in red ink.
While growing up in Westchester County, N.Y., Koehne, 61, eventually started to draw in charcoal. Then she attended Rhode Island School of Design, majoring in sculpture.
'It was the hippie generation, and I supported the peace movement,' she says. Many of her teachers were also very involved in anti-war activities, which may explain why she had never learned to use color and also lost interest in sculpture.
But her drawing ability served her well when she found work in computer graphics in New York just as the industry was getting off the ground. At one such job, she created computer games for, among others, Simon and Shuster, and her work revolved around figures.
'I did a lot of Muppets, game puzzles and adventure books,' she says.
But it wasn't until 1998, when her now-grown daughter drove her to Portland from the East Coast, that Koehne began to use colors and paint landscapes.
'I was afraid of color,' she says. 'I didn't know how to use it in a way that wasn't fill-in-the-color. And to me, drawing figures had the emotional impact.'
But she learned with some help from a friend - artist John Haugse. Together they would go on weekends to Sauvie Island to paint and he taught her the theory behind using colors.
'He got me over the hump of not caring what it looked like,' she says. 'And I started doing landscapes in acrylics.'
She's now settled in, having bought a 1908 house in Portland's Eliot neighborhood. 'Before I moved to Portland I did a lot of research on cities,' she says. 'I wanted one that was politically conscious, environmentally aware and close to the ocean and mountains.'
Her first job here was as a software project manager, then for three years as a website designer. But, as had occurred many times in her career, one company was bought out and the other downsized, so Koehne and others were laid off.
'I started painting landscapes after that,' she says.
Of course, it helps that the Northwest is a paradise of scenery for painters. 'I love it out here -Eastern Oregon, the coast, Sauvie Island,' she says. 'I'm just beginning to get freer with color.'
That isn't to say she's stopped drawing figures. After all, figure drawing has been a lifelong endeavor. 'I never used to draw landscapes,' she says.
But now that she does, she adds, 'Figures are harder to do well.'
PORTLAND OPEN STUDIOS
• What: Annual self-directed tour of 100 artists' studios in the Portland area.
• When: Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 8, 9, 15 and 16.
• Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (all art studios open both weekends, with the exception of two closed for Yom Kippur on Oct. 8).
• Where: 100 locations all around the area.
• Tickets: $15 for a full-color tour guide or iPhone app, or $5 for a map-only ticket. Each option includes a ticket for two adults; children under 18 get in free.
• Ticket locations: The guides are available from participating artists, Art Media, New Seasons, Muse, Powell's, Portland Center foir the Performing Arts and other outlets listed on the website.