Pursuing a passion for pastel painting
George King may be short in stature, but he is powerful in his words and actions. He has a calm demeanor, a dry sense of humor – accompanied at times with a slight mischievous grin – and loves to talk about his new passion, painting. At the age of 82, he inspires others to follow their dreams. As he says, “I took a 50-year hiatus from my art, but now I am enjoying pastel painting.”
He can be spotted almost daily driving to his favorite painting venue, the studio at the Springfield Art Association. He says it is the “best painting facility between St. Louis and Chicago” because of the large north windows that diffuse the light and make it easier to get the right colors into a painting.
George retired in 2003, and “with eyes wide open,” he says, he decided to take classes in watercolor. He discovered a love for painting and then tried pastels. He was hooked, and today is known for his artwork. He has entered shows, been chosen for juried exhibitions, and sold his paintings. But, he says, “I don’t paint to sell. I paint because I love it.”
He organized other pastel painters to form the Illinois Prairie Pastel Society, now with around 50 people, even a man from Scotland who often comes to Springfield as an engineering consultant.
Organizing is what George has done during his entire career as public relations/communications director for various groups – first, the California Teachers Association, then the National Treasury Employees Union in Washington, D.C., and finally here in Springfield with the Illinois Education Association (IEA).
“Putting the union on the map” was part of his work, he says, and his PR efforts helped to organize members, promote their good work and showcase the union in new ways. One campaign, still recognized in the teacher union family, is the IEA campaign with the jingle, “We Teach the Children.” George says, “That showed that teachers are special, and helped them say, ‘I am somebody.’ And it showed the communities that teachers help children every day.”
He grew up in Arizona, and as a junior in high school took a job with a television station, “pushing a boom and a broom.” Over several years, the job developed into work as a cameraman, director and weatherman, eventually expanding into advertising and voiceovers. He didn’t finish his college degree because he was recruited by an advertising agency in Detroit. He met his wife, Lynn, who encouraged him to finish his degree. He did, and then went on to get a master’s in communications at the University of Denver. His career put art in the background, but now it is front and center.
Asked why pastel painting beats out other types of painting, he explains, “For me it is the most vivid and longest-lasting medium. It is forgiving for an artist. You don’t have to stop and wait for something to dry as in oils. And if a painting isn’t singing to you, you can take the hose to it. Then you actually get a gray under-painting to start all over again.”
All great artists, he instructs, dabbled in pastels – Degas and Whistler are two he admires.
George first started painting scenes of the Southwest and France during several trips with his wife. Sometimes he would paint outdoors – en plein air as artists say. Sometimes he would sketch a scene and come home to paint it.
Lately though, his work has evolved to more Midwest scenes, especially cornfields. “One day I stopped out on Mansion Road near Piper Glen and walked into the cornfield. It was a crisp, fall day, super quiet, and all you could hear was the rustling of the dry leaves and stalks. It was almost meditative. I took pictures and started painting in a new style called simply ‘Corn.’”
George says there is a mood or feeling that comes over him while painting. “When you’re really in the painting, you go into a zone. Sometimes the painting leads me instead of me leading it. Good painting takes a lot of cooking. You can leave it and come back to it and see it in a whole different light – figuratively and literally.”
Even though George always loved art growing up, took art classes in high school and considered majoring in art in college, he says his life took another direction. But today, he is happy to be pursuing his love. “Painting is what I enjoy the most. It is the avenue to a creative urge, social contact, meeting younger and like-interested people and an ego-satisfier when you actually sell something.”
George King’s life demonstrates that many possibilities await people after retirement. All that’s required is trying new things, pursuing your interests and enjoying life.
Cinda Ackerman Klickna, immediate past president of the Illinois Education Association, fondly remembers George King’s time as PR director with the union.