She calls them “the women.”
Around 20 drawings hang at Gallery 22 in Whitehorse for Amanda King’s Once Upon a Pen exhibit.
Almost all of them feature a female figure, and all of them have a story to tell.
“They’re kind of, like, little snapshots of situations that women are in, or put themselves in, or feel,” King said.
The complexity and detail of the work belies the materials used to create it: a basic, black, BIC ballpoint pen on textured watercolour paper.
King’s drawings seem to accentuate the wild female spirit by combining their figures with imagery of extreme weather, uncontrolled nature and animals of the sea and sky.
There are dark elements to many of the pieces, with some evoking madness, sadness and rage.
Lately, King has been exploring the lighter, although no less intense, emotion of love.
One piece called Tied to the Earth shows a pale woman’s face lying semi-prone in grass. A piece of ribbon is tied around her finger with the long end trailing off beyond the frame.
The drawing was inspired by the story of two life-long friends, one of whom was on her death bed.
As young girls, “they would tie a piece of string or ribbon around their finger and attach it to each other, so if one dies the other would find them in the afterlife,” King said.
King hurried to finish the piece so the friend could see it before she passed away. It was on display at her funeral.
King grew up in a small artistic community in New Zealand, not unlike Dawson City, she said.
In school, even math and science classes were based in art.
She came to the Yukon for a summer in 2008 with twin teenage daughters and her husband, a helicopter pilot. They never left.
The family lived in Watson Lake until January of this year, when they moved to Dawson.
Art has always been a part of King’s life, although she has recommitted herself to the practice only within the last few years.
Despite having exposure to a wide variety of mediums, the pen “feels like home,” King said.
“No matter how much I try different things, I always come back to using the pen.”
Her mother-in-law sends her boxes of her favourite pen from New Zealand, because the ones available in Canada are not quite the same, she said.
It is an appropriate medium for the work, given that pens are the quintessential tool for telling stories.
King has a very specific picture in her head of each piece before she starts it, and knows that with her trusted pen she will be able to duplicate her vision.
King usually works from a photograph of a model recreating the picture she has in mind.
If the model is too far away, King has one of her daughters pose for a photo exactly as she sees it in her head, and then gives it to the model to be redone.
In one instance, a woman had her friend over for a photo shoot to duplicate King’s vision.
The drawing was to feature a woman kneeling and screaming at the edge of a stormy ocean with thunderbolts growing from her up-turned fingertips.
The model got so into her character that neighbours called the police after hearing her screams.
This is the first time King’s work has been exhibited in the Yukon, although some of the drawings have previously been shown in Atlanta, Ga.
When she’s done with the series, King thinks she might start a new artistic adventure, this time in colour, she said.
Both originals and prints of King’s work are available for sale at Gallery 22 until Aug. 18.
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at