Sally Govan (TMP Photo/K. Beck)
For one who never deliberately set out to be an artist, Sally Ham Govan is producing a handsome body of work across a swath of media.
Thirty-seven pieces of her creations are now on display at The Mill in Lebanon ranging from canine portraits to digital city landscapes to charcoal drawings. A closing reception will be held 6-8 p.m. Sept. 19.
“I have always just liked to make things. I don’t know that it was ever a conscious decision to become an artist. I just grew up making things,” said Govan, who graduated from Lebanon High School in 1977 and, after earning her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the University of Tennessee, with concentrations in drawing and graphic design, became an art director of a variety of national magazines at Whittle Communications in Knoxville.
Along the way she also designed special publications at the “Knoxville News Sentinel” and freelanced doing design and editing, including books for small publishers and some academic journals.
“I currently design and edit publications and websites for the Jones College of Business and the Business and Economic Research Center (BERC) at Middle Tennessee State University. I got a Master of Fine Arts degree in illustration from the University of Hartford,” said Govan, who lives in Murfreesboro.
Her job description reads graphic designer, illustrator, Web designer, dog artist and editor all wrapped up in one.
“I am a jack of all trades, master of none. I grew up wanting to be a Renaissance person, and I like to do a lot of different kinds of work,” said Govan, who, once fearful of dogs, curiously has evolved into a dog portrait specialist.
“I have always liked drawing the figure. Now I often draw dogs in lieu of the human figure. I used to be afraid of dogs, but several years ago I drew a dog as a gift, and then people started wanting me to draw their dogs, so now I often do that on commission,” she said.
“Drawing dogs helped me not to be afraid of them. I currently draw using a charcoal pencil, sometimes adding pastel for color. I work from photo reference.
“I always liked to create images with cut paper, and Adobe Illustrator provided a way to simulate that on the computer. I take photos for reference and draw using a stylus on a tablet connected to my computer to create colorful city scenes.”
Govan moved to the midstate at the age of 2 when her late father, Ernest “Ernie” Ham was transferred to Lebanon from Michigan for Ross Gear, now a division of TRW. Her mother, Bette Ham, and brothers, Ralph and Bill, continue to live in the Cedar City.
Her senior year at Lebanon High, Govan edited the school newspaper, and she has worked professionally in publications ever since. She notes that the school newspaper adviser Pat Climer was an influence.
“I have liked to draw as long as I can remember. I have always just drawn. My first art class was my first semester at UT. My drawing teacher encouraged me to keep drawing as much as I could,” Govan recalled, who while at Whittle Communications worked on such college publications as “Wallpaper Journal,” “Nutshell” and “Campus Voice Biweekly,” the travel magazine “Destinations,” and a humor publication, “Funnies,” that was posted in laundromats.
“I got to work with lots of cartoonists and even got to have lunch once with some ‘New Yorker’ cartoonists including Roz Chast and George Booth. I suppose now I could say Booth has influenced my work drawing dogs! Whittle was a great experience. I got to work with illustrators and photographers from all over the country,” she reflected.
Nowadays at BERC, she designs and edits the annual report for the Jones College of Business, two quarterly newsletters, “Global Commerce” (on Tennessee exporting) and “Tennessee Housing Market,” and a magazine, “Tennessee’s Business,” presenting perspectives on current business topics of regional interest. She also creates websites, including one on the latest regional economic data.
But for fun, relaxation and, hopefully, some profit, she returns to the drawing board.
“I have just naturally always liked to draw people. In my college drawing classes, I liked the figure drawing classes best. I was encouraged by my teachers to continue. I find the human figure, and now also the dog figure, the most interesting subject.”
As for how she became an artist who has painted probably somewhere between 250 and 300 portraits of man’s best friend, she said, “I drew my brother’s dog as a Christmas present in 2007 and found that it was much like drawing the figure. People started asking me to draw their dogs, so now I do that on commission. It means a lot to people and makes them happy because they love their pets so much, and I like that.
“When I created my first big dog-themed exhibit in 2008, I self-published a book, ‘Dog Show,’ through the Blurb website. I have some paperback copies available at the Mill.
“My dog portrait commissions generally start at about $150. People can e-mail me to inquire if they have specific requests. It might vary with size, number of dogs in the drawing, etc. I work from photos. People can email me their best high-resolution photos to work from. I have also drawn cats when people have asked me. There is one cat in the Mill exhibit,” she said.
For the drawings of dogs and human figures, Govan primarily uses a charcoal pencil and occasionally adds color with pastels.
“The newest drawings are the ones along the back wall of the exhibit. I am introducing more human figures into my work and sometimes depicting the interaction between two dogs or a human and a pet,” said the artist. “I have a stack of reference photos that I am starting to create my next series of drawings from now. I also have plans for two new colorful scenes: one of the Wilson County Fair and one of a Paris scene that my cousin photographed.”
She began creating city scenes while working on her Master of Fine Arts in Illustration through the University of Hartford (2009-2011). Because the program involved travel for intensive coursework in different cities, class assignments included creating an illustration of each.
Her exhibit at the Mill features three of these: Pasadena (Colorado Boulevard), Fort Worth (the rodeo) and New York (a city sidewalk scene). Later she created iconic scenes of two cities where she lived for many years: the public square in Lebanon and Market Square in Knoxville.
As for artistic influences, she said, “I loved studying all the great draftsmen throughout art history. My drawings, while certainly representational and aiming to capture a likeness and expression of personality, are not photorealistic or endeavoring to create a tight rendering of three-dimensional space. The dogs are a bit stylized and almost inhabit a world of their own.
“I made a conscious effort to devote more time to art in recent years, as I grew to appreciate the fleeting nature of time,” said the artist.
Having a full-time job and a small art business, Govan finds little time for hobbies but enjoys taking walks with her husband, Pat Govan.
“One of my classmates in the MFA program was a fashion illustrator, and we liked to walk around cities photographing people on the sidewalk, just capturing interesting poses,” she said. “I like to capture the gesture of a pose in a drawing and hope to be doing more of that in the coming year.”