Maryann DellaRocco | The Beauty of Distortion
Maryann DellaRocco is a dedicated wife and mother, a substitute teacher and friend to children with special needs, and an avid traveler. Her family visits Walt Disney World at least once a year and has a goal to visit all fifty states. She loves sharing family traditions and baking with her children. But the thing that helps her take all of these separate elements of her life and distill them into something beautiful is her art. Her abstracts in colored pencil combine a variety of everyday objects and distort them to create unique and vibrant compositions.
DellaRocco was born in Arbutus, MD, a working-class suburb of Baltimore. Even though she had a close relationship with her parents, as an only child she often turned to art as a friend and “playmate.” Her parents, who weren’t artistic at all, were surprised but supported her interest.
Convinced that she wanted to be an architect someday, DellaRocco spent many of her childhood hours designing homes on paper. She also remembers making scratch-off crayon art, creating a colorful stained-glass-like image, covering it with a thick layer of black crayon, and scratching off part of the top layer to reveal the bursts of color underneath. At one point, her father brought home a workbook filled with characters shaped like letters of the alphabet, and she loved copying them in her own drawings.
Though she enjoyed her art classes at her private Catholic school, DellaRocco wasn’t sure what kind of career she could make of her artistic talents, so she pursued her interest in math instead, taking art classes as electives. She studied mathematics at VA Tech and went on to become a software tester for a contractor at NASA. Eventually, she met and married her husband and started a family. When her first child was diagnosed with autism, she decided it was important for her to be home to help him reach his full potential.
While she was passionate about her role as a mother, she discovered after years entrenched in that world that something was missing. Trying to fight off the apathy that was creeping into her life, she decided to go back to something that used to bring her joy. “So,” she says, “I picked up a set of graphite pencils and started drawing. Eventually my love of art and creating resurfaced, and it resurfaced with vigor. It was not going to be ignored again.”
She showed her drawings to an artist friend, who suggested trying colored pencils. DellaRocco bought a 48-pencil set and “made a lovely mess!” Enamoured with the new medium, she found a skilled instructor, Deborah Maklowski, who introduced her to the Colored Pencil Society of America. DellaRocco began making connections in the colored pencil world who encouraged her as she discovered her own unique style. Along with Maklowski, she has taken workshops and classes from Tracy Frein, Ann Kullberg, and Peggy Magovern.
While most colored pencil artists focus on realism and rendering detail, DellaRocco’s work has developed in a different direction. She explains, “One day my children brought some leaves and berries home and left them on my kitchen table. I was having a drink and I noticed how lovely the light was as it reflected, danced, and was distorted by the glass and liquid. I snapped a few photos and instantly fell in love with the beauty of distortion.”
As DellaRocco began exploring this distortion in her art, she met with enthusiastic responses that encouraged her to continue down this path. “When my friend Suzanne Vigil saw my work based off these photos she told me to stop everything else and to pursue this exclusively,” she says. “She told me no one else was doing anything like this in colored pencil. I continued to work to further distort my art while still embracing the things I loved: natural elements such as leaves and flowers, light, and water.” It is the combination and abstraction of these elements that bring them to life in her work.
She continues to find inspiration in nature as well as in the man-made objects her family collects on their kitchen table. “The way light attaches itself to these objects and how simple things such as water or wine, along with glass, transform these ordinary items into extraordinary pieces of art,” she says.
Depending on whether she is using paper or drafting film as her support, DellaRocco employs different techniques to create her signature distorted effect. When she is working with paper, she uses the old masters’ technique of rendering her compositions in grisaille, a gray underpainting. “With this method the depth and contrast are created first and then color is laid over top,” she explains. When she wants to achieve a more painterly look, she uses solvents to dissolve the pigment binder in her colored pencils, allowing her to move the color freely with a paintbrush.
When she uses drafting film, on the other hand, she is limited to only a few layers of pencil, so she has to be very methodical with her color selection and blending. “What makes drafting film so interesting is light can pass through the film and color can be applied to both sides of the film,” she says. “This creates a luminosity exclusive to film.” She enjoys working with both types of supports and chooses based on the outcome she envisions for each individual piece.
DellaRocco is a signature member of the Colored Pencil Society of America. Her colored pencil abstracts have been featured in Colored Pencil Treasures andColored Pencil Hidden Treasures. Her piece Orb Weaver won the Conté de Paris/Colart America Award for Exceptional Merit at the 26th annual CPSA International Exhibition and was featured in the International Artist Magazine in the fall of 2018. She has also won a number of juror selected awards.
Now living in Ellicott City, MD, DellaRocco continues to create her unique colored pencil pieces in her home studio, which used to be her father’s room when he lived with her family. DellaRocco hung so much of her work in the room for him to enjoy that he proudly told people that he “slept in the gallery.” Now that he has passed away, spending time creating her art in this room makes her feel closer to him.
The joy her art has brought to her father and others inspires her to continue creating. She is always striving to, as she says, “bring my sense of beauty to the world.” She continues, “I want to show the innate beauty in distorted work. I think my life changed after having a child with autism. I began to see the world so differently. To see the need for light, joy, and, again, beauty in the world. My message isn’t complicated, it is simple. I want to make people happy.”
When I start a new piece, you know I have looked through hundreds of saved images I have taken looking for one that draws excitement from me, one that speaks to me because of the way it conveys the mystery of light. I am completely fascinated by the way light travels through glass and liquid. The way light, and therefore the objects it touches, is distorted, draws me in. I am drawn to the way this distortion can make man-made objects seem softer, more organic, and somehow even the most organic element becomes more so when seen through glass and liquid.
What I must then consider is how I wish to capture that softening. Should it be clean and bright? Then I settle on using drafting film which only accepts a few applications of colored pencil, but also is translucent and allows for the very light I wish to capture to pass gently through the piece. My work on drafting film conveys a luminosity only working on film can achieve. On the other hand, should the piece convey mystery, a darkness, or depth necessary to bring forth the light, then I choose a paper support. With paper I can use the old master’s technique of grisaille, a method where I render the whole piece in a dark grey or brown underpainting and add color at the end. It is truly magic when finished.