Scattered throughout her house, her pieces look like photographs. The details, sharp lines and bright colors seem possible only through printing.
The clarity is startling in pictures of a baby goat resting among bright red tulips, a horse and rider moving down a grass-covered hill and two bison on the range.
But up close, examined carefully, you can see they’re not quite photographs. Some have texture; you can almost see strokes from a utensil.
If you ask, she’ll tell you. Eileen Nistler drew all of them with colored pencil.
It’s taken years for Nistler to reach this point. She wasn’t always a colored pencil artist. But, since 2004, she has won countless regional and national awards, including first place this month in the all-media competition for “The Artists Magazine.”
“I have come to expect a high level of complexity of pattern and texture from Eileen’s work,” wrote Cynthia Haas, president of the Colored Pencil Society of America. “From fine silver trays with all the engraving to glass door knobs on lace to lush florals — it’s always a subject that requires a great deal of focus and excellent drawing skills.”
Nistler works from her dining room in her ranch house tucked away between Upton and Sundance. Her grandfather built her two story white house. He bought the ranch from a man who won it in a poker game decades ago. He painted the roof red and, when Nistler and her husband began renovations, she replaced the old, painted shingles with red, metal ones.
She lived in the house until she was five years old when her family moved to Upton. She drew some of her first sketches in that house. They were mostly of cats.
She left northeast Wyoming after high school and traveled the world, living as far away as London. As an architect, she settled in Albuquerque. She worked on high profile projects like the house for the founders of makeup manufacturer Max Factor and a house in Colorado that would be featured on a cable TV show.
Nistler’s father and grandfather were builders. She figures she came by the design talent naturally.
By the early ‘90s, Albuquerque became too dangerous for her and her 5-year-old daughter. Nistler was done with city life and she moved back home, back to Upton.
Then, one day, she saw a colored pencil piece by Carrie Ballantyne.
“I had an epiphany,” she said. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
She’s taken classes in water colors and has worked in oil, but she found colored pencils offered so much more detail. It’s the architect in her that wanted precision in her art, she said.
Plus, she wanted to work in her dining room where she could watch her son play in the living room. He was two years old when she started and oil paint is toxic. Colored pencils offered a safe way to create with a toddler in the house.
She spends hours photographing her subjects, whether they’re people, animals, gardens or a still life. A bench rests near another window in her house where she builds her still-life displays. Wax paper covers some of the window panes to soften the light.
Her parents still live in Upton and her mother grows an elaborate garden each summer, which Nistler then photographs.
Her first paintings, which are what she calls her pieces, were of animals and people.
She spends up to 80 hours on each one, working diligently on her easel, sometimes with a giant magnifying glass that allows her to see in even greater detail. A massive electric eraser hangs on the side of her easel and looks like an old dentist’s drill. Books on tape play in the background while she loses herself in the shading and coloring.
The most recent piece she finished is of a golden rooster she had years ago. One section of the rooster’s neck required 30 shades of brown. She goes through two or three pencils each week.
On Mondays, Nistler runs the 1875 Art Gallery in Sundance. She is the director and has helped gather work from many other northeast Wyoming artists.
“She really wants to have this area of Wyoming to be recognized as a very artistic area,” said Rocky Courchaine, director of the Cook County Museum.
The gallery represents close to 20 artists now, including Nistler.
It’s her detail that impresses Courchaine so much. “The lights and the darks and the depth she gets with pencil is phenomenal,” Courchaine said. “Some of them you would swear were photographs.”