From a distance, Andrew, a drawing by Australian-born, Brooklyn-based artist CJ Hendry of a bobbed platinum-blond wig, looks like a study in pale golds. Yet the artist used almost no yellow when making the work. Instead, “There’s a lot of brown, a lot of black,” she commented during a recent studio visit. “But you look at the overall piece and it reads as blond.”
Hendry is known for hyperrealist drawings, executed in pen or (since 2017) colored pencil, that she posts and sells on Instagram. Operating without a gallery, she organizes and finances her own exhibitions, usually in nontraditional environments. “Rorschach,” for instance, a show of images one might encounter when taking a psychological test, was held in a bouncy castle made to look like a padded room in a mental hospital; “Monochrome,” an exhibition of drawings of crumpled Pantone chips, was hung in a series of rooms made of modular plastic bricks, each decorated in a different color. And her most recent solo show, of drawings of wigs, opened this past December in a pop-up chocolate shop.
Each of Hendry’s pieces starts with a photograph. (“A lot of people ask me if I can send them my reference images,” she says. “And I’m, like, take your own! So much effort goes into securing each object.”) The photograph is printed on paper at half the size of the finished piece—Hendry’s drawings are usually quite large—at which point the artist uses a traditional grid technique to scale up the image on her drawing paper.
Hendry works in series, her subjects—among them high-end fashion items like designer sneakers and Gucci bags, giant daubs of paint, flowers, and seafood—reflecting a fascination with colors and textures as well as the social meaning of objects. Wigs, for example, interested her because of their ability to transform the wearer. “You can become your own character,” she says. But also, she adds, “the trans community uses them; cancer patients use them.”
As far as the drawing itself goes, for Hendry it’s less about line than about lights and darks. “I really work on depth, and the coloring is generally way darker than you think.” She realized this when learning to draw with colored pencils, starting with YouTube tutorials. “There was someone drawing a [green] apple, and it didn’t look real,” she recalls, “because they were using lime green.” In reality, an apple has “a lot of brown and maybe a bit of burgundy—it isn’t bright green.” To create highlights and shadows, she applies different amounts of pressure. She can’t say how many layers of color there are in each drawing, but she has noted that for every color we see, she has used 20 different shades.
Hendry puts great stock in good materials. When she set out to turn her art into a career, she sold her collection of luxury goods—acquired while working at a Chanel boutique—to finance the purchase of quality art supplies. “I wasn’t brought up with a lot of money, but I’d rather have fewer things that are really nice than an abundance of shit,” she says. “So when I started out, I didn’t just want to make art on printer paper with a ballpoint pen. I thought, I want beautiful Japanese pens, I want beautiful cotton paper.”
For her colored pencil drawings, Hendry usually sticks to the same brand of pencil: Caran d’Ache. “I really like how smooth they are,” she says. “But because colored pencils only have a certain number of shades, I do bring different brands in just to fill the holes” in Caran d’Ache’s palette. For this she favors Prismacolor and Winsor & Newton. “When I first started, I only used Prismacolor pencils, but they are quite waxy and I couldn’t get enough detail,” she says. “So I switched to Caran d’Ache, because it has the Pablo line, which is hard and good for detail, and the softer Luminance line for covering more area.” Her studio has a shelving system made up of tiny crates, each devoted to one or two colors of pencil.
Despite her attention to process and materials, Hendry refers to her art as basic. “I am very literal,” she contends. “You can look at one of my drawings and you won’t be, like, I wonder what that could be. It’s a fucking wig.”