Q. Congratulations on becoming a full-time desert
resident. What are you working on currently?
A: Thanks! After several
years of living here seasonally, my husband Dan and I have decided to make La Quinta our
permanent home. Since we moved to the desert, it feels like my painting has
risen to another level. There are various factors at work - the feel of the
desert, the continual changing color of the mountains, always different, the
friendliness of the people. I feel like I have finally come home. To me, the
desert has a unique soul and that is what I am putting into my paintings.
I have been working for some time on a body of work focused
on the desert from the Indian Canyons in Palm Springs to Box Canyon, La Quinta
and Borrego Springs. These are paintings that
emphasize the color, light and natural beauty of the desert, and they are
executed with brushwork that is characteristic of plein air painting.
The smaller works are painted on location; the larger paintings are created
in my studio, using the location paintings as studies. I also have been
working on a number of still life paintings, most of them painted from
floral arrangements. These works have the same general brushwork approach,
although there are some that have a more ‘finished feel to them.
Q. How do you choose your subject matter?
A: It’s important that I paint scenes that have an
emotional appeal for me. Color and feeling are the primary considerations
for me, whether it is a desert scene, a mountain landscape or a floral
piece. I have painted extensively in the Pacific Northwest, as well as in
the desert. My preference for the unique light and color of the desert has
grown considerably over the years, and I have finally bid goodbye to the
grayer palette of the Northwest. With each painting, I am striving to
achieve the color harmony that is true according to the light at that moment
Q. How do you approach a new painting?
A: I first look for a subject that contains a good
combination of light, shadow patterns, and color. The design of the objects
needs to be interesting, and many times some simplification is required. At
that point I am using mental images of the potential design or making quick
sketches to determine what will work the best. Next, I determine the
direction of the light and do a black-and-white comparison of the values -
light, medium, and dark.
As I am mixing colors, I constantly compare
how they relate to each other as cool or warm notes. I begin painting with
large abstract shapes, model form, and then finish with the small details. I
use vigorous brush marks to describe form, and also to express my emotional
involvement in the subject. When I’m working on location, the light is
constantly changing. This means that I have less than two hours to finish a
painting. In the plein air style, this single-sitting approach to
painting is referred to as alla prima. In my studio, though, I will
commonly spend two weeks or more on large canvases.
Q. Would you say that your current painting style is more
evolutionary or revolutionary?
A: It has definitely been an evolutionary process,
and it continues with each new painting. It has taken me over 30 years of
study and practice – and thousands of paintings – to develop my craft. I
believe that an artist’s best work comes when spontaneity takes over and the
painting just ‘happens’. But an artist will never reach that special point
of being completely in the moment without first learning the fundamentals.
Planning and control can never be ignored. As John Singer Sargent said, it
takes endless study, practice, and “miles and miles of canvases”.
Over time, I have learned how to find my way back into that
perfect moment where I have total involvement in the creative process. I
lose track of time. It is a solitary and very personal time, when the only
thing that matters is the painting process itself.
Q: Does that ‘perfect moment’ you spoke of describe a heightened
state of awareness?
A: Yes. There is joy, excitement, and an awareness
of everything that is there. An artist needs to be excited about what is
being experienced and translated to canvas. It can be a majestic vista or
something as simple as seeing the way the light strikes a blade of grass. A
well executed painting can open the eyes of the viewers to something that
they either missed or haven’t seen in that same way before. My creative
expression is a means for me to appreciate and be thankful for life. My
paintings are a way for me to share those feelings of joy and gratitude with
others. I believe that this awareness allows me to add a nonverbal subtext
that enhances my work. When I am painting outdoors, it is the feeling of the
wind, the smell of the dry desert air, a bird’s song – all these elements
become part of the painting.
Q: You have spent over 30 years developing
yourself as an artist. Were you born an artist?
A: I believe that in some respects, yes, I’ve been
an artist all my life – ever since I was that young child drawing at the
kitchen table. I studied art in college, but that was during a period when
professors didn’t really teach. It was not until 1979, when I quit teaching
elementary school that my painting career really began. That was a tough
year; I lost both my parents in a tragic automobile accident. Painting was a
way for me to work through the grieving process. It didn’t take me long to
become serious about
painting. I found that I had an intense desire to be able to draw and paint
in a confident and beautiful manner. I must have taken lessons from 10
different artists. Each one always managed for me to come home with a pretty
picture, but I was left without any idea of what I did or how I might apply
it to my own work. Then later, I was introduced
to painter Ron Lukas. That experience was the beginning of a lifetime of
serious painting and learning.
Q: Wasn’t Ron Lukas a protégé of the great
Russian Impressionist, Sergei Bongart?
A: Yes, Ron taught me the basic but critically
important principles of fine art, but I am very fortunate to have had many
workshops with Sergei, who taught me how to see and paint color. He believed
that an artist needs to learn how to draw, to study values,
understand how to relate to color
and compare color differences - and not paint like a person filling in
colors in a coloring book. Sergei thought that
painting should be visual poetry. He introduced me to the Russian artists
whom I believe are true masters at creating classic impressionistic works
that have color, form, and extraordinary emotional value. Of them, Isaac
Levitan, the Russian landscape painter, is my favorite.
Q: What other artists have influenced your work
or inspired you?
I broke down and cried in front of the first Rembrandt
painting that I ever saw. I admire Andre Zorn, from Sweden, and the Spanish
painter Joaquin Sorolla because they are masters in painting the color of
light and shadow in all types of lighting situations. More recently, I have
developed an interest in William Wendt because of the emotional feel of his
work, and his design and color.
Q: Who are the artists who have had the most
influence on your desert paintings?
A: I’m inspired by quite a few artists who painted
the southwest, but the ones whose work I study are Maynard Dixon, Paul
Grimm, and Sam Hyde Harris. I also have great respect for contemporary
landscape painter Matt Smith.
Q: You also offer a series of painting
workshops – it seems that you are both student and teacher.
I have two great passions; one is painting, and the other is
teaching. For the past 30 years
I have been involved continually
in teaching workshops all over the U.S. and in foreign locations. Each time
I teach, lecture, or demonstrate, I believe the sharing that takes place is
an inspiration to my own work. Traveling in Asia, Europe, Africa, and South
America have all given me a wealth of enriched experiences that I bring into
My husband and I have traveled
extensively throughout Asia. I organized and led a tour to Shanghai and
Hangzhou, China, for artists to study for 2 weeks at the Zhejiang Provincial
Fine Arts Academy where Chinese artists study with a professor of the Russian
School of representational art. In Africa, at Lusaka, the capital city of
Zambia, I taught a workshop and demonstrated at a gallery. I also had the
opportunity to teach 75 street children art projects at a Red Cross Center.
In addition, we
purchased property in Eastern
Washington to provide a facility where internationally known artists could
come to teach and lecture. Many of these artists were from the Bongart
Lastly, what are your thoughts on the importance of art in our culture?
A: I believe that art
can truly enrich the soul. A good painting should make the viewer feel a
little bit better about everything. I have always felt that the artist can
imbue a painting with an emotional interaction that the viewer can
experience again later. This is why art is so important as a communicative
medium. It can reach far beyond the limits of spoken language, and into an
area of intuition and emotional narrative that connects directly with the