To understand the artistry of Kaycee Chermak of Florence, one must follow a trail that begins with with mermaids.
Mystic sea maidens were a childhood fascination that found expression in her earliest drawings.
“They were pretty,” she said. “I liked to draw mermaids because that is what I wanted to be when I grew up.”
Chermak, 23, still retains a glimmer of that fascination through her medium of choice, soft pastels, which she uses to create colorful, impressionistic depictions of horses and other outdoor subjects.
“Soft pastels have a kind of crystal in them,” she said. “A soft pastel is easier to combine colors.”
She discovered soft pastels while having a difficult time in freshman art class at Buhler High School.
“The teacher had given us hard pastels to use and I just wasn’t getting it and was getting really frustrated,” Chermak said. “She ended up giving me her soft pastels to work with, and after that she said, ‘You’re working with these, you’re not working with any other material, because you’re good with it.’”
So good, in fact, that the next two years Chermak took advanced placement art classes from Hutchinson Community College.
A competition-level dancer in multiple genres growing up, Chermak drew upon that experience for her first 12-piece portfolio, which was received favorably.
“They used the word ‘dynamic,’” she said. “They said I could contrast very well and see the underlying colors. If something looked pink, I would use more orange and yellow tones to bring up the pink. I could see beyond the color.”
In her next class, where she focused on creating fairytale scenes from paper that she enhanced with colored pencil and pastels. She also discovered that art is indeed in the eye of the beholder when her portfolio was reviewed.
“They didn’t see how fairytale it was,” Chermak said. “I saw a completely different thing than what they saw. They just saw paper and glue, apparently.”
Shadow, a black quarter horse, had been Chermak’s companion since she was 4 years old, but it took her grandmother to refocus her art toward horses.
Reins of Hope, a therapeutic horsemanship program where Chermak volunteered and her mother taught, was having a charity auction, and her grandmother wanted her to donate a picture.
“She found this picture in a calendar she was in love with,” Chermak said. “It was a sunset with a dark shadow of a horse.”
That turned out to be just the beginning.
“After that, my mom said, ‘Here’s a picture I want you to draw for me,’ and my mom and sister kept finding pictures they wanted me to draw,” Chermak said.
All those requests came in handy when Chermak participated in her first arts and crafts show in Peabody this fall.
“I took a bunch of stuff off my mother’s walls, and all my walls were blank,” she said. “It was a little hard to choose what I wanted to display. Everybody is different. A lot of my stuff is based around horses, and I didn’t want people to think I could only do horses.”
In fact, Chernak’s artistic talents are expressed in a variety of ways.
There are cowboy hats on which she’s decoratively painted with acrylics, enhanced with lace and rhinestones, and treated to protect them from ultraviolet rays and soil.
She makes crosses from weathered barn wood and decorates them, and has been making wreaths for the holidays decked out in mesh, garland, and “anything and everything.”
Still, there are her pastels.
“The pastels are my go-to,” she said. “If I’m going to draw something out, I’d rather do it in pastels than anything. It kind of calms me down. Just working with pastels and seeing how creative I can be is exciting for me. I definitely like colors and the abstract nature of it.”
Chermak moved from Manhattan to Florence about a year ago to be near her boyfriend, Evan Slater, and landed a job as a paraprofessional with Marion County Special Education Cooperative. She’s also joined Slater on the Florence fire department.
While there’s not as much time as she’d like for her art, a nearly life-size pastel rendition of one of her horses that died is in the works. She will work with someone to have it matted and framed in old barn wood.
“I don’t know how I’m going to get it to Hutch,” she said.
Chermak said she’s building a network of connections for her budding business, Barnyard Beautiful. She hopes to have her own studio in a couple of years and devote more time to her art.
“It’s very exciting just to have people admire it and take interest in it,” she said.