"Art washes away from the soul, the dust of everyday life." Pablo Picasso
The Memoirs of an art school dropout: Although this profile may seem long, I feel these details of my life are important. The scenery of my childhood home, the animals who kept my secrets, the feelings of overwhelming beauty, and the DIY attitude I inherited from my mother are what shaped the foundation of who I am, what I love, and the things that still inspire me. So grab yourself a cup of coffee and read on.
Has anyone besides me ever struggled with what they want to be when they grow up? This has been a lifelong search largely because I enjoy a variety of activities, so those kinds of decisions can be difficult. Though I have had a dream job for the past few years ----doing faux finishing on luxury yachts, in other words doing art and getting paid------the winds of change have left me with less creative tasks where the greatest challenge is manhandling very large pieces of lumber.
Nowadays, faux projects are fewer and farther between and I'm not certain how much longer even these will last. As retirement looms more closely on the horizon, getting back to my roots and doing the things I love most have greater and greater appeal! So how did I get to where I currently am?
I was born up in the foothills of the Olympic Mountains, and grew up without the benefit of electricity or TV (accept when the generator was on). My siblings were much older than I. Three had left home by the time I was born, and the other two left by the time I was six.
We lived in a valley on a small farm with cows, a couple of horses, dogs, cats and chickens. We had a pretty good sized vegetable garden. Raspberries, loganberries and strawberries were the highlight of every summer. My backyard was a small mountain with babbling brooks and abundant wildlife. I played with the crawdads that lived in the creek that ran by our house.
The nearest neighbors lived two and a half miles away so my friends and playmates were the dogs, cats, horses and cows that I grew up with. There were dilapidated outbuildings scattered throughout the property. Most of them started out that way because they were built with salvaged wood. But they provided shelter for the chickens, and the hay was kept dry. It was a make-do-or-do-without world, and thanks to my moms ingenuity we didn't do without much.
It was Pablo Picasso who said that every child is an artist. I too was an artist and loved my art projects. It was in kindergarten, however, that my gift was realized. I was one of two children chosen, one boy one girl, to do a mural on the wall because of our outstanding 5 year old artistic ability.
From then on I knew I was an artist! What made me stand out in my five-year-old abilities? I was a realist. The dress the girl was wearing looked like it was blowing in the wind and the blades of grass crisscrossed instead of all standing straight up like tin soldiers at attention. I would cut out intricate designs with my dull scissors, and always stayed inside the lines when coloring! Don't anybody scribble on what I had done or you were in big trouble!
All throughout elementary school and high school I drew and did creative projects whenever they presented themselves. At ten years old I sketched a portrait of Abraham Lincoln no one would believe I drew. I also got in trouble for doing my homework in German Blackletter! I was never chosen for the basketball or baseball teams, but was always chosen when there was an art project or something creative, whatever it happened to be.
My brother and sister-in-law gave me a paint by number oil painting kit one Christmas and that catapulted me into the world of color. The Walter Foster books where my art teachers. I had books on drawing people, oil painting, pastels, drawing horses and dogs and trees, among other subjects. I still have those books.
In Jr. High I was allowed to take a portrait class in oil painting from the University of Washington. This was an extension class taught over the summer and it was the first time I painted from a live model. Everything prior to that was copied out of books.
Later, in my high school years, I created acrylic paintings of wildlife on wooden plaques, and I sold them along with commissioned portraits in oil of teachers and other people's children. And, although the smell of the oil paints bothered my mom, she insisted on building a room onto the house with a wall of windows so I would have enough natural light to paint without the smell tormenting her.
Art school dropout
I couldn't wait to go to Olympic College in Bremerton where a major in art was waiting as soon as high school was over. I didn't know where that education would lead, and nothing in my somewhat sheltered life could have prepared me for life in a college setting in the late sixties.
I was loving the art classes, but hating that english was still a requirement-----my least favorite subject! And the very first thing my drawing instructor said was "There is no such thing as talent"! Well, I know dang well that wasn't true. I knew I had a God given gift and right away we were off on the wrong foot. In retrospect it would have been better if he had said "Talent is not enough. You need a lot of perseverance and an ability to go forward even when your art is rejected, because it will be. Art may be fun, but it is a hard way to make a living" That would have been a more honest thing to say.
I was loving drawing real things, but hating them making me try to do abstract art! I did, however, learn a couple of things that have stayed with me throughout the years. Presentation is so very important. The most beautiful art in the world is degraded by a smudged mat or a slipshod frame. Another thing I learned is not to be afraid of the dark! Without the dark shadows the light won't shine! I've seen this truth time and time again both in my own and other people's work. Another thing I learned is that drawing is 80% observation and 20% drawing. After that, drawing is 20% putting pencil to the paper and 80% erasing what you shouldn't have put there.
The winds of change blew and life got hard. Art got weird, and I decided art wasn't a very practical career choice. I received a great deal of well-intended advice back then which continues still (you know about starving artists and the like).
Smartly (so I thought) I changed my major to secretarial procedures, which, aside from typing and a little bookkeeping, I've never used. The office machines used then are currently obsolete, and at that time a computer took up an entire room.
While being a commercial artist has never been a goal of mine, doing art in one form or another has always just been a way of life. When my kids were little, I moved away from oil painting to pastel. I didn't have that room mom built for me anymore, so the long drying time coupled with the smell wasn't something to have around small children.
There was a wonderful art store in Tacoma where there where hundreds of colors of pastels. I produced pastel portraits and figurative renderings which I sold mostly to my husbands Air Force buddies.
When my former husband was sent on a remote tour to Alaska for a year, I moved back to my hometown where mom and I took a woodworking class together. It was a college extension class offered at the high school I had attended years earlier. I had tried to take woodworking in high school but the powers that be wouldn't allow that.
Girls didn't do woodworking in those days (except my mom). It was exciting to me. The only tools I had used prior to that where hand tools like a jig saw and a circular saw. Now I got to learn how to use a table saw and a jointer. I learned how to square a board! Then I built a chess table for my class project and learned how to use a lathe the turn the legs.
When my husband's year in Alaska was over, we moved to Michigan and away from the wonderful art store full of hundreds of colors of pastels. Little by little my pastel palette dwindled until there was nothing left. At that time I had no knowledge of mail order art catalogues, but the new base housed a huge wood-shop with all the same tools I had just learned to use in my recent class, plus more!
I learned more from the guy who ran the shop plus the other guys who came to build there. My creativity turned toward building furniture for my home as well as other more domestic projects. Again, the winds of change blew us away from there and all of those magical, stationary power tools I had come to rely on. We moved back to Washington and the very wet town of Forks.
During this span of time my husband and I split up and I worked in the shake and shingle mills that were scattered all around Forks at the time. I was young and strong, and a girl could make some pretty good money, at least part of the year! Four years went by and I met my current husband.
He made a good living and didn't want me to work outside the home. He was also in the middle of building onto his house. (I know that's why he married me, so he would have a helper!) I started buying tools! First was a table-saw, then a bandsaw. After all, they were needed to finish the house!
Throughout the years to follow, whether making creative Halloween costumes for my kids or designing and decorating a beautiful wedding cake or designing and hand-beading a wedding dress for my daughter's wedding, color and creativity were at the forefront of every project.
A return to woodworking
Once the kids were grown and gone, and I had more time to myself, creativity was expanded into furniture and cabinet making as well as antique restoration. I learned many new skills from Fine woodworking magazine.
I built various occasional tables for our living room. Some had reeded and carved legs. I built a rocking horse for my mom one year for Christmas that the great grandchildren loved to ride!
I also did set design and construction for Christmas and Easter cantatas at my local church. I even remodeled several houses, one of which I built a beautiful staircase in.
It was after one of these house remodels that I decided I wanted to get back into real artwork. We had bought a fixer-upper in Port Angeles, and while I was living in it I was also renovating it.
Living in a much larger town also brought more opportunities, so I took a watercolor class. It took awhile to catch on, watercolor is a lot different than oils or pastels, but I loved the 'glow' of watercolor and how versatile it is. I also loved that it isn't nearly as messy or toxic as my previous mediums.
Once I got the hang of watercolor a little, I took a figure drawing class and loved it! I subscribed to The Artist's magazine and bought countless books on watercolor from North Light Bookclub.
It wasn't long before I was entering shows and winning prizes. One of the more memorable awards was an honorable mention in the Encyclopedia of Living Artists, the Rose Yheni Memorial award at the Salmagundi Club in New York City, and numerous people's choice awards.
I became a signature member of the Northwest Watercolor Society, and the Knickerbocker Artist. One of the greatest memories of that time was that Arthur Herring, (the president of Knickerbocker) said in my acceptance letter my work was “...thoughtful and stunning!" I was very honored and have never forgotten those words!
Once the house in Port Angeles was finished, we rented it out and I moved back to the now famous town of Forks, Washington that was a long way from anywhere. Trying to find a gallery in the city to represent my work was exhausting from such a long distance.
A shy country girl fighting traffic to find places that would represent my work was beyond my skill level so my energy was funneled into small local art shows where I framed small prints of my work and sold them as well as originals. I spearheaded and put considerable time and money into starting a local cooperative art gallery.
It was nice to have a place of our own to work in and interact with the public and other artists. We did artist of the month shows and once we did a "Mona Lisa" show. Mona Lisa was our gallery cat. She had shown up at one of the artists homes who already had two cats, so we took her in. She greeted people at the door and was a great addition to the gallery.
I did framing for the local customers. This managed to turn into a non-lucrative framing business. The problem with the gallery and the framing, aside from putting me into considerable debt, was that once again I became separated from my art.
Paying the price
I had to pay for all this somehow. My husband was nearing retirement age and entering that phase of our lives with that debt scared me. A friend told me about a job at the front desk of a local motel. I applied, was interviewed and hired. Yikes! That was not a good fit!
After about a week another friend convinced me to check out the cabinet shop where I am currently employed. My friend brought me in to meet the manager and tour the shop. I was in awe! Where my tools were mediocre, they had amazing tools!
A sliding table saw to die for! And what really struck me was that all of the things I had built and stuff I had done over the years were things that were done in this shop on a regular basis! Building furniture and cabinets for luxury yachts seemed like it was too good to be true!
I got the job, and the very first day, was sent to Westport to install cabinets on the boat and meet more of the crew. While there, I saw another job that interested me! There was a contractor who was faux painting a TV shroud to match the granite on the countertop it lifted out of. I took one look at that and said to myself "I could do that!" And so began the process of buying books and practicing up on faux painting.
I had done that sort of thing for sets in the past, but that was throw-away art. This needed to match whatever it was next to exactly. The guys at the shop sprayed a top coat on my granite and the owner of the company saw it and took it with him when he went back home.
They were going to give me a go! Unfortunately, they wanted me to move to Westport. I was unwilling to move back to such a wet place when I had just moved away from a town that just a few years before got 162 inches of rain.
I continued to try anyway. Crews were sent down to Westport from Port Angeles often enough. I didn't see why moving was necessary . Where I would have been continuing with my watercolor in my spare time instead I bought books and video tapes and practiced faux painting.
I went to Seattle and took a week long designer walls class. Then about 6 months later I went to Chicago and took another week long class that was on marbling. This class was taught by Pierre LeFumat, a 74 year old French faux painter who had been painting since he was 14 years old.
He had an interpreter because he didn't speak English. He was amazing! A national treasure! Still, it took 7 years, a change of management and several therapy sessions for me to finally get my shot at faux painting on the boats.
It was exhilarating to get to do wonderful faux marble and onyx columns and wood exterior doors. My goal was finally achieved! Little did I know that faux painting had pretty much been designed out of the standard boat and only one item remained that required a faux finish, and that wasn't even real faux.
By the time I was made my own department the only faux was customer driven, and as the sale of yachts decreased so did the faux painting jobs until they were pretty much nonexistent. My faux painting was reduced to fixing imperfections in the wood as it went through finish. I became weary of perfect wood embalmed in plastic finish.
Return to my first love
As the need for creativity burned inside of me with no outlet at work, I turned to my own home and the paintings I was planning to paint someday when I had time. The desire to get back into watercolor had never left my mind. I still had all of the paints and brushes and papers, so I did a small watercolor of my granddaughter in her ballerina outfit.
The photo I worked from was from a cell phone and was quite blurry where her right hand was but it turned out ok and working on that little painting breathed new life into me! I commenced to get a room set up as a studio to work in watercolor again. That was always the plan when retirement rolled around. I’m not quite there, but it is fast approaching.
Through the years I mistakenly thought that in doing faux painting, my ability to paint watercolor would stay perfectly intact since I use glazing techniques in both mediums. As my painting continued, I realized again how difficult watercolor is. It's not exactly like riding a bicycle. Dabbling a bit in pastel and colored pencil, I also considered oil, but with the long drying time and the nosiness of my kitties who have the run of the house, I quickly dismissed that idea! Besides, I love watercolor! It's luminescent. It does things other mediums simply won't do. It's also very unforgiving. There are so many variables----the absorbency of the paper, there are staining and nonstaining colors, opaque or transparent, granulating or clear. And no matter what they tell you, accidents aren't always happy!
I reread some of my old books and took some online classes as well as some workshops and practiced. I threw away a lot of bad paintings and also did some nice work. I worked on some pet portraits for friends and family and really enjoyed the experience.
Some friends suggested I start a Facebook page where my work could be shared. I did that sharing my older work in the beginning and then moving on to newer works as I got more confident in my ability. I’ve done some portraits of dogs and cats, horses and even people as well as other works. Although still employed full time, I did 20 paintings in the first year. I managed to carve out time for painting after-all!
I would love to do a painting of your dog, cat, horse, parrot or anything else you would like to have me paint! Check out my gallery of past paintings to see my style and what to expect and then go to my commissions page to find out about prices and sizes.
You can also “follow” me on Facebook and stay tuned to which way the wind blows at 'Nancy's Galleria'!