Arts & Culture

Five Minutes With: Pam Johnson Brickell, Lowcountry artist

Pam Johnson Brickell keeps journals that record some of her favorite places in the Lowcountry and elsewhere. But they contain very little writing; they're mostly paintings.

The Bluffton resident practices the art of nature sketching. She keeps journals with pages of watercolor paintings and sketches of landscapes and wildlife. She also frequently teaches in the area, and her upcoming classes help students master the art of sketching birds, plants and other nature scenes.

Brickell describes why she prefers images to words.

Question. You have an upcoming class about sketching birds and feathers. Is it all that difficult to paint a bird?

Answer. There's a lot of detail to drawing a bird. And the proportions are also an issue. You can't have your great blue heron look like a duck (laughs). We learn a lot of pencil techniques to achieve feather shading that give a texture to the bird.

My goal is to help folks get that right brain going. When you use your right brain you're training your left brain. When you see a bird you have that image in your left brain to draw from.

Q. How long have you been in the area?

A. We've (she and husband, Robert) been here about six years. We moved down here from New England. The environment is so different. Up there, I wouldn't think twice about walking through the woods. Down here it's like, "Do I need to get snake boots?" I took a naturalist course at the Lowcountry Institute on Spring Island and really got my feet wet. I got really interested in the environment around here. Now, I'd like to get other people interested, as well.

Q. Where do you go to paint?

A. I do a lot of en plein air (open air) painting. I like my own neighborhood in The Crescent. I do some work along the May River. Pinckney Island, Sea Pines Forest Preserve, Fish Haul Creek, Newhall Preserve off Palmetto Bay Road, Spring Island. And Beaufort, of course. ... I do a lot of watercolor. For my own work, I focus on watercolor and acrylic.

Q. How do you pick your journal spots?

A. Sometimes I'll drive around and say, "Wow, I need to go back there." Sometimes I'll just have a good place in mind. We've been coming down here since the mid-'80s, so I think I have a good sense of what inspires around here.