“I always loved drawing,” says Ken O’Connell, a San Francisco Bay Area kid who arrived in Eugene in the 1950s to attend Woodrow Wilson Junior High School and South Eugene High School. “I had an amazing art teacher, Larry Goldade. He got me on a pathway to study art.” After graduating from the UO, O’Connell served two years in the Navy off Vietnam, married Gwyneth, a fellow South Eugene grad, and spent a year in Eastern Oregon, teaching art at five different high schools. He returned to Eugene for an MFA and got a job at Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario. “I taught ceramics, filmmaking, photography, painting and drawing. Gwen taught printmaking.” They had three kids by the time he joined the UO faculty in 1978. Keeper of a sketchbook journal since high school, O’Connell began to specialize in sketchbooks after he became art department head in 1984. “I didn’t have extended studio time,” he says. “I had to work in transition, in airports.” He first taught sketchbook workshops 15 years ago at the Sitka Center on the Oregon Coast.
Since retiring in 2006, he has taught 10 to 12 workshops a year through art centers and community programs. “I do have a following,” he says. “I take students to Italy.” His workshop title, “The Spirit of the Rough Sketch,” also names a small book that distills his approach to drawing and writing. It’s easy to find online, as is his blog. O’Connell goes on without his wife, who was in her 18th year of teaching art at South Eugene when she died of a sudden illness in March 2013.