I walked into the room and suddenly felt all the color drain from my face. It was as if I was a member of an orchestra that was tuning up for a classical concert and I hadn’t had the benefit of music lessons. My first day at the Scottsdale Artists School had arrived.
I was carrying my grade school variety paints and brushes and a little pad of paper. I had signed up for a watercolor class that advertised, "Beginners are welcome." I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into. I learned quickly that this particular school was for professional and aspiring artists as well as the weekend warrior painter and hobbyist. This was no casual community center class here.
I had moved to Arizona from Southern California about six months earlier and was having a difficult time meeting people. I saw an ad for the school in a magazine and I thought it would be a great way to meet some creative people. I had always liked artists and this could be a terrific opportunity to get involved with a new crowd. I signed up for a weeklong workshop and waited for the first day to arrive.
I dabbled in crafts while living in California - even went so far as to start a hand painted children's clothing business that featured my graphic designs and colorful patterns, however, I had no experience in fine art whatsoever. I studied engineering in college and worked in the aerospace industry for twelve years before moving to Arizona to start my own management consulting business. So you can see, I was way out of my element in this classroom.
The instructor, a very accomplished professional artist, noticed my entrance into the classroom and watched as I nearly turned on my heels and ran for the door. I was clearly in the wrong place! She approached me in her wonderfully gentle manner and asked if she could help me. My response was "I am obviously in the wrong place, I should go."
"Are you signed up for my class?" she asked.
"Yes, but I didn’t realize that it was a class of this caliber. I shouldn’t be here."
"Are you interested in learning to paint?"
"I think so, it seems like something I would enjoy."
"Well, if you are serious about it, it’s gonna cost you. Are you willing to make an investment in some supplies? If so, I will be willing to invest extra time this week to help get you started in the media."
In that moment, she became a lot more than an instructor, she became my first mentor.
So, off I went to the art supply store with a shopping list of the basic tools of the trade. We started simply with some washes and some color mixing – just to get me used to the media and then quickly moved to still life and landscape painting. I took to the medium immediately and felt the level of excitement grow as I created scenes that actually looked like places I’d like to be. By the end of the week the instructor took me aside and said to me, "I don’t know what it is you do for a living, but you should strongly reconsider and focus on watercolor. It is what you are meant to do." I had found something that was already inside of me just waiting to be discovered, and to think, I almost walked out of that room. That was nearly 8 years ago.
For several years, my painting was wedged in between consulting work, business travel, life and all that goes with it. I would paint when I could, but nowhere near often enough. I read every magazine and book on watercolor painting that I could get my hands on – great airplane reading material - and talked to artists of all kinds. I was a sponge and couldn’t get enough information. The problem was, I didn’t have enough time to paint and had even less confidence in my ability. When I did paint, I would stuff the finished painting in a drawer and move on to the next – never thinking of showing them to anyone!
About three years into my artistic endeavor, I saw that my mentor was having a plein air (in the open air) painting workshop in California. I was going to be there on business anyways so I called to see if I could drop in for three of the five days and paint with her. Those three days were the turning point for me to really embrace watercolors as my medium of choice. I love to be outdoors and I struggled as a painter feeling closed in when painting in my spare-bedroom-studio. Here was an opportunity to blend two of my favorite things – painting and nature. I felt then that I really hit my stride and began to define my own unique style as a painter, although I was still self-conscious about showing my work to anyone, much less parting with my work. I had only shared my paintings with my husband, a few close friends and family – clearly a biased crowd – and had not received validation from anyone "outside" my inner circle.
I loved painting en plein air and spent the next year painting on location as much as possible. I learned how to make my painting set up portable and took my kit with me on every trip – business or pleasure. Landscape painting has been a significant focus for me, particularly where there are architectural elements involved. I believe that my background in engineering helps me to capture architectural forms in a way that is both realistic and inviting. I have somewhat of a fascination with doors, windows and passageways and like to capture their sense of mystery and intrigue in my work. People often comment that they feel as if they could walk right into one of my paintings. I began to build a body of work that I was very proud of and willing to share with a broader audience.
About a year later, a dear friend of mine (and graphic designer) strongly encouraged me to publish some of my works on blank note cards – a way to share my images with people without having to part with any of my paintings. That was the beginning of what has become a successful art business.
I began exhibiting my work at fine art festivals including Thunderbird Artist shows about three years ago and this year plan to leave my consulting business behind and focus on my art full time. My strong background in business has certainly helped me to open doors and market my work more effectively. Although it has taken several years of long hours working dual careers and an enormous amount of work, it’s been the most rewarding career pursuit of my life.
I have found my place in the local art community and have met many incredible people through membership in various associations and participation in various art events. Because I am passionate about what I do, it seems like every day is a gift and I wake up looking forward to what it has to offer. I feel it’s my obligation to pass along the extraordinary mentoring I was lucky enough to receive and as a result actively seek ways to encourage young artists with passion and talent to pursue this path, certainly much earlier than I did. It’s one of the ways I choose to give the gift back.
And to think, all of this happened because I wanted to make some friends – my wish has certainly come true.