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Enjoy Magazine

Crayon Crush

01/24/2014 11:20AM ● By Melissa Mendonca
By Melissa Mendonca
Photo courtesy of Glen Donley

Glen Donley’s Crayon Art

Close your eyes and pull up that childhood memory of opening a brand new 64-pack of Crayola crayons. There’s the gentle tension as you fold the cardboard cover back for the first time. Then a rush of smell—the waxy potential of all those glorious colors! You may have sniffed a few to see if Atomic Tangerine was distinct from Raw Umber or Salmon. 

And then there was that ultimate decision: Which would you dull first? It may not have been your favorite color, for there was beauty it keeping that one new for as long as possible. Even with the sharpener on the back of the box, there would never be the same tip to your crayon once you started coloring with it. You would want to honor the color by using it on a really special project.

Now imagine being a young boy with a passion for art. Your parents have saved up to send you to a well-known art teacher in Long Beach, where you are growing up. You tell her you want to work in oils. She tells you that you will, but for the next two years you’ll be working in pencil and crayon.

She instructs you to bring a 64-box of crayons and a shoebox to your next lesson. You do.

As you hand over the almost sacred treasure, she promptly begins breaking each brand new, sharply tipped, perfectly wrapped crayon in half. The pieces get tossed into the shoe box.

“Maybe if you try hard enough you can make the crayons look like oil paint,” she says.

You are initially crushed, but you soldier on and take up the challenge. You are an artist, after all. Eventually you discover photography and put your efforts there.

This is how the early artistic experience of Glen Donley played out, and how he eventually came to be known as “The Crayon Guy” of Lake Almanor.

After a 34-year career with Southern California Edison, Donley and his wife, Kathy, moved to their retirement home from their home in Walnut, near Anaheim. They had vacationed in Lake Almanor for years once Donley discovered its beauty on work trips researching the PG&E campgrounds there.

In 2007, as they awaited completion of their new home, the Donleys found themselves in their travel trailer on Lake Almanor on a snowy evening. It was a quiet, peaceful time and Donley experienced a memory of his childhood art lessons. He found a small box of crayons and began working on a new piece. “It became a kind of challenge,” he says.

“To take crayons—regular, ordinary crayons—and bring them to a fine art level is tedious and difficult to do,” he says. 

Yet it is a skill he has mastered, much to the delight of those who come into contact with his work.

Today, with many pieces completed and several on regular exhibit at the Blue Goose Gallery in Chester, Donley derives his greatest joy from his work in the reactions of people discovering his use of crayon.

“I enjoy watching people look at my pictures and try to guess the medium,” he says. “And they don’t guess it.”

Part of the confusion comes from not only how finely detailed each piece is, but how the colors Donley manages to create often don’t look anything like what is found in a box of crayons. He has developed a way to layer and mix colors that create the exact color he needs in any given area of his canvas. “Crayon is a true test,” he says. “It’s unforgiving, somewhat like watercolors.”

“I like making it as close as I can to a unique, fine art,” says Donley. 

He tends to work late into the night on his pieces, which require just a piece of paper and a box of crayons. The sharpener on the crayon box is the one he prefers. “I think my favorite place to draw is in my easy chair with a lap board,” he says. “I like to sit where my wife is.”

By day, Donley is actively involved in the success of the Blue Goose Gallery, where his work can be found and where he finds camaraderie with other artists.

While Donley appreciates the simplicity of his medium, and the fact that it’s so readily available to anyone, he says his technique may not be for everyone. “Whether it’s for kids or adults, it’s not for someone who likes instant gratification.”

Still, he says, “Even now, everyone likes a brand new box of crayons, right?”