Cynthia Sheppard has been a force to reckon with as an illustrator. For the last few years she has been putting out stunning works of art by anyone’s standards, and her fan following has been growing in leaps and bounds. Add to this her role as an Art Director with Wizards of the Coast, and you’ve got one seriously busy lady.

Here’s the catch: although well versed in traditional media, Cynthia has been working mostly digitally. Its the preferred method these days, allowing innumerable amounts of editing and cutting down drastically on the time to create a piece for publication. She is proficient in digital painting and her results are just as painterly as an actual oil painting. But, as many artists lament, “its just not the same”. The ritual of oil painting is a multisensual, zen practice and I know more than just a few artists that pine for the Good Ol’ Days of sitting at an easel, palette in hand, laying down dabs of paint on a springloaded brush.

The Ritual of Dreaming I

 When Cynthia signed on to do a show at Krab Jab, she knew she had a really intense year ahead of her. She knew she wanted to do a fully traditional show, and was excited to get down to business and create new works in oil. But as all oil painters know, the process of painting in oil can be time intensive. It takes time to set up your palette, prep your substrate, work an area of your piece (because of the way oil seams as it dries, you need to “patch in” an area so you don’t wind up with seam ridges), then clean up. It can be messy and smelly, so you need to have ventilation and lots of rags or paper towels on hand. You have to work in optimal and unchanging lighting conditions: due to it’s refractive quality, oil paintings can look really different in different lighting conditions. And of course, its not exactly portable and needs time to cure.

Working a full time job and oil painting was a challenge, but Cynthia rose up to it. The result is a body of work rich in metaphor, expertly executed, both simple in composition but complex in meaning.

The Ritual of Haunting

Her work is about the ritual of loss, of reflection on the things we no longer need and leaving them behind. Of letting go of the things that we cannot change. She addresses reflection in the piece “The  Ritual of Haunting” as a metaphor of insomniatic review of past regrets in which the female figure strides past two hulking stone figures, pausing to grasp the powerful hand of one of these guardians. Who really holds the power in this light?  In “The Ritual of Remembering”, a figure wrapped in a dark cloak holds a winged mask on a staff, ravens (or black birds) gathering around her. It’s unclear if they are attacking or protecting the figure, who is lost in a melancholic thought. She is still while the air swirls around her, indicating her frozen in time gone by.

The Ritual of Remembering

Her three still life paintings (“The Ritual of Keeping/Recording/Ending”) are set up as momento mori, objects meant to recall the passing of time, of life. The dog skull took on a deeper meaning, as Cynthia’s dog passed away during the time of painting this set (this isn’t his skull). Her palette is limited and muted but the brush strokes are wonderfully full of life, perfectly encapsulating these moments in time and space.

The Ritual of Keeping

Cynthia proves herself a talented traditional painter in this body of work; no one can dispute that. But with hardly a whisper, she also pulls us into a dark, powerless place we’ve all found ourselves in at some point in our lives, haunted by our fears and regrets, loaded with a heavy remorse, almost completely missing the power of the light, be it a tiny spark or an inner glow brushed onto the surface with a little cadmium, a little white. Cynthia points the way to hope and redemption, and in the act of release through ritual, we are freed and can once again move through time.

“Rituals: The Art of Sara Winters and Cynthia Sheppard” runs through June 4th, 2016.

~Julie Baroh