Colored pencil artist preserves Tacoma history

Artist Anne deMille Flood has made quite a name for herself in her hometown of Tacoma since beginning her career with a set of colored pencils in 1995. She is mostly self-taught and has never enrolled in formal art school, yet her vibrantly colored and detailed portraits of local landmarks and favorite places elicit high praise from those who admire her "retro-realism" style, as she calls it, of preserving Tacoma history through art.

Her works are on display now in an ongoing exhibit at Gallery 96 in Freighthouse Square. A reception for Flood will be held at the gallery during Third Thursday Art Walk from 5-8 p.m. on Oct. 18, where the public can come by to meet the artist and see her many portraits.

"All the places I've done drawings of have memories for me personally, as well as for a lot of people in town," she noted.

Flood said she started out intending to do historically important buildings in Tacoma, but soon expanded her artistic field of vision to include the funkier places around town that she finds interesting. Her first image was of Union Station in 1996 just after the 1911 Beaux Arts-style structure was saved from the wrecking ball and renovated. "I was struck by what a beautiful building it is," she remarked.

Not long after completing this piece, something special happened when a friend asked her to create a portrait of his classic car. "I ended up putting it in front of Frisko Freeze, and that was a very popular one for me. It got a huge response."

This led her on a journey to apply her art toward other local hotspots and gathering places familiar to those who call the South Sound home. Now, she said, "I'm as well-known for taverns as I am for history."

Thus Flood launched her "Tacoma's Favorite Places" series, for which she has completed about 50 images to date. She puts in a lot of hours selling her highly recognizable artwork at community fairs and festivals, including the Tacoma Holiday Food and Gift Festival Oct. 24-28 at the Tacoma Dome. It's at these events where Flood gets ideas. "I get many requests. I keep a mental tab of what people are asking for, and that influences me."

She said she enjoys nostalgic and off-the-beaten-path subjects the most. "I kind of tend toward those places and for some reason they mean even more to people than the historic places, probably because people spend a lot of time in them. It's their home away from home." Her portfolio includes Java Jive, Beach Tavern, the old Poodle Dog, The Spar and The Swiss, among many others.

Flood's portrait of the Top of the Ocean restaurant, which was destroyed by fire in 1977, is another one of her most popular works, she said. Flood recalled that in its heyday, Top of the Ocean was the place to go for wedding receptions and high school graduation parties. "Out of all my images, that one is probably the most sentimental because everybody I know who grew up in Tacoma remembers going there for something," she said.

Another favorite is her drawing of Harbor Lights restaurant on Ruston Way, which has been in business for more than 50 years. "This is one of my top sellers because a lot of people, including my sister and brother-in-law, have gone there to get engaged."

In her rendition of landmarks like the Rialto Theater, another Tacoma treasure saved from demolition, Flood reveals her playful side. She added a 1940s Cadillac parked in front of the theater and the familiar Rialto sign shows that a hit movie from 1942 is playing, "Road to Morocco" with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.

"I like to have fun with it," she said.

In 2005, the City of Tacoma and the Tacoma Landmarks Commission awarded Flood with an award for "Outstanding Achievement in Historic Preservation." The artist said she was pleasantly surprised by the honor. "I think I have a natural interest in history because I'm always interested in finding out about these places."

On the backs of her line of greeting cards she includes a short write-up of the history of the places she draws, information she gathers from her own research. "That is really a nice additional aspect to my business because people buy those to send to people who have moved away or to send to their kid who's serving in Iraq," she remarked.

What's just as fascinating as her subject matter is the process by which Flood creates her artistic works. All the materials she needs fit in one small tote bag - paper, pencils, sharpener and a dry brush. "You can take it anywhere," she said. "You don't need liquids or paints and tubes, and you don't have to wait for it to dry."

Line drawing is key, she said. "I have to make sure everything lines up right and is in proportion." Then, rather than mixing pigments to get desired colors, Flood takes her pencils and layers colors on top of one another to get deep, rich hues. Green trees are created by layering purples, violets, golds and reds. Shadows are made by layering red over dark green. To create reflections on chrome or highlights, she lets the pure white paper show through.

"There are so many colors underlying what you see. In every part of the picture, there's at least three to four layers of color and sometimes up to 12 or 15," Flood revealed. "I do many, many hours of layering my colors. It's a very extensive and time-consuming process." 

With a lot of practice, she perfected her technique under the guidance of several top colored-pencil artists in the region including Kim Kullberg, Barbara Newton, Sharon Pratt and Vera Curnow.

What's next for the artist? "I think my next drawing is going to be of the old and new Narrows Bridge. I've had that requested over and over again." She said she's also starting a series of historic structures in Olympia.

Flood gives classes in colored pencil art and has published a how-to book, "Realistic Pet Portraits in Colored Pencil." Information on both of these, along with a gallery of her work, is available from her web site,

Gallery 96 is located just inside the 'D' Street entrance to Freighthouse Square at 2501 E. 'D' St. For more information, call (253) 495-1830.


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