I did not know as a girl that I would grow up to become an artist. I spent most of childhood outdoors in nature, riding horses, swimming, canoeing the rivers and working on our farm. I had the gift of growing up on a beautiful, big cattle farm at the foot of the Blue Ridge mountains, at the hearts edge of the Shenandoah valley. I was bathed in natural beauty. I lived and breathed the air and sunlight, feeling at one with the rhythms and kingdoms found in nature. I never really saw all the many colors of the fields and trees surrounding me…until I picked up a brush.
My father encouraged me to pursue a degree in environmental studies. He often stated that the environment would be a big focus of the future. He was right. I set out to get my degree in Environmental Science, but hard as I tried, I could not pass the required Calculus course. After a full surrender in flunking my mid-term Calculus exam, for the third time, I wandered over to the Art department to console with a friend. I sat down next to her in a watercolor class, picked up a brush and mindlessly painted as I talked to my friend about my dilemma of no longer having a major. The art teacher was making his rounds when he stopped next to me, picked up my painting doodle and said to the class, “Now this is what I am looking for.” The funny thing is that what he picked up was a scratch piece I was doodling on while working on the actual piece in front of me. I turned to my friend, delighted that art had found me. I now had a new major. And I have never put that brush down.
Art is a curious thing, and artists are even more curious because we delve into our hidden wild side. We are not the norm, and are often referred to as eccentric, entitled, emotional, free spirits and a bit crazy. I agree. We can be all of these. But we each come in with our own special design. Our job is to understand what that design is, just like an iris knows when it is time to bloom and show all its beauty that is different from the rose. Like the colors and textures of flowers, we humans also have personality designs that come with our appearance. The key is to blend our personality (ego) with our higher human design so that we live a life that works. I have my moments with my artistic fate since an aptitude test showed I would make a great lawyer. I chose to follow my intuition instead, my love for color and beauty.
Little did I know that choosing this path would bring me such challenges. I mean, how hard can color and beauty be? The actual immersion into it is heavenly and almost a necessity. For being an artist is a calling to give life to all that untamed passion we carry inside. It is called a luxury by some who are conditioned to view it as such. But it is a necessity once the call has been made. Artists take the powerful sea of emotions and feelings that we all share, and channel these into creative form. We would like to be more seen and understood, but after time, that falls away to just the purity of expression and the form it takes as being vital. Art is something that calls you, pulls you, grabs you and once it does, there is no going back if the call is true for you.
The painting doodles, that caught the eye of my future watercolor teacher, became my signature style. I quickly learned how to create depth with washes from light to dark, then enhancing the details with my now infamous doodles. These were nothing more than dabs of color using the same light to dark build. I struggled with oil painting , and tolerated drawing class. I couldn’t quite figure out exactly what oil paint wanted to do, plus it smelled, took forever to dry and required building a big stretcher with all kinds of prep work to the raw canvas. I was already in love with the way color and water mixed and flowed. I found drawing to be bland and boring. My drawing teacher once commented on an assignment I did saying,” It feels from your drawings that you hated doing this.” I did. I pushed hard with my adviser to replace a Realism painting class requirement for a different painting class. I just wanted to cut loose with color, no boundaries.
I was married young while in college, and became pregnant with my first child my senior year. It seemed I was the only pregnant woman on campus. I accumulated many curious stares as I waddled across campus with my ever growing belly while loaded down with big stretcher frames, or big sheets of beautiful glass as Stained Glass was my minor. After my son was born, my husband took a job as a photographer teacher at the Banff Fine Arts Institute in Alberta, Canada. During our time there, I completed my Fine Arts degree with an independent study in painting with a Canadian painter.
My Canadian Art teacher disliked the watercolor doodle technique that had changed my life. He was all about simplicity of style, minimalism and pure shape and form with color. The next thing I knew, I was painting this.
Cow Field, 1977
Now this was different. I kind of had to open to the idea since he was my teacher. I had just taken to him the best portrait I felt I had ever done, and he demolished my painting technique, pushing me to a bigger, bolder expression. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. It was early. I was still trying to find my style. He seemed to have an issue with the fact that I often showed up to class with this baby wrapped around my chest. The first time I walked into class, he looked at my chest and asked, “What’s that?” I smiled, and casually responded, “This is my son.” He just shook his head. Contrary to his reaction, at the end of the summer artist exhibition, a woman walked up to me and pointing to my baby sleeping on my chest said, “Now that is truly a work of art.”
After getting my degree, and settling in back home, I began to paint every day with works on paper. My husband and I had returned to Virginia, and were scheduled to return to Banff for the winter, but the photography department had caught on fire and burned to the ground, leaving my husband without a job. So we stayed in Virginia near my family’s farm. I was exceedingly blessed to have a peaceful, happy baby who liked to eat and sleep. As a result, I was able to produce 70 works on paper during his first year. I focused on the landscape around me, and cows were a frequent subject since most of the fields were full of them. I continued at this time to be influenced by my Canadian teacher’s eye for the simple, bold use of color while at times combining my doodles of color.