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Artist At Work

  • Meet Molly Whalen

    Meet Molly Whalen

    Molly Whalen lives on the southern shore of Long Island, New York where she was born and raised. She and her family spent endless hours at the beach while she was growing up, she says. “I was in swimming lessons at a very young age because my mom wanted us not to be afraid of the water. I’m one of five kids and we were all totally obsessed with the beach.”
    That obsession continues into her adulthood, and Whalen explains that even in the winter, she and her sister will drive to the beach just to look at the water.

    Whalen’s proclivity to the water often shows up in her art. Her GreenBox collection features water prominently, both in expected settings (a whale, a jellyfish) and unexpected settings (an elephant spraying itself). “I love going back to the water, and it makes me happy,” Whalen asserts. “I’ve started to realize that there is so much reference to water in my pieces and feel like that must be why.” It should come as no surprise that, when choosing her medium, this painter often incorporates watercolor into her art, though her paintings are mostly done in acrylics. “I’ve always done watercolor,” she says. “Sometimes people struggle with it, but the moments when the water does its own thing, those are my favorite. Though I may not do full watercolor pieces, I often incorporate it.”

    As for the choice of acrylics, Whalen explains that the properties of this fast-drying paint match her personality. “I like that they dry quickly. I am very hyper, so it really allows me to have fun with it and go on to the next thing. I’m not patient at all. I used to do oil paint, but I found it would get really muddy because I didn’t want to wait for it to dry.”

    When asked about the dichotomy between her self-described hyper personality and the incredibly soothing palettes of her paintings, Whalen becomes introspective. “Sometimes I do make sure I’m aware of my palette. But I definitely notice that in my work, I’ll sometimes have an idea for a palette and always end up adding white. It’s just second nature that I end up muting it with white. I do love color, and happy colors, but I add the white because it makes everything softer and relaxing. I don’t want it to be monochromatic, so adding white allows me to have color, and create happy pieces, and allows them to have a relaxing feel.”
    She pauses. “I guess my art ends up being a lot like me. I am a very hyper person all the time, but all the same time I am very relaxed and laid back about things.”

    Molly Whalen is the middle child of the five in her family, which may help explain her take-things-as-they-come, laid-back approach, even in the midst of lots of activity. Nearly everyone in her immediate family has a career in medicine, including doctors, nurses, and PAs (physician’s assistants). “My parents have always been supportive of my art. They think it’s great. In fact, that’s how my parents always introduced me while we were growing up: ‘Molly’s the artist.’” And in fact, her career in art is not all that different from her family’s respective careers in medicine, in one important respect: “We’re both helping people, in some way,” Whalen reflects.

    The way she helps is by sharing some of the happiness she feels when she paints, Whalen explains. “I do love painting florals, and I am drawn to seascapes. When I think back on why I’m interested in these subjects, it’s because they all are things that make me happy and so they make me happy when I paint them. I’m so grateful to have art in my life. When I have that feeling of happiness I just want to go with it. I focus on that feeling, and I hope that the people who end up being drawn to my art end up feeling that happiness too.”

  • Meet Angela Staehling!

     

    Meet Angela Staehling! Meet Angela Staehling!

    The National Park Foundation is fifty years old this year, and artist Angela Staehling is celebrating with a series of National Park paintings. “Being a nature lover myself,” she explains, “I wanted to dive deep into exploring the parks. I wanted to take a fun approach with them and try something different.” Staehling’s National Parks series takes a close-up look at each of the nation’s sixty National Parks, a different approach than many of the wide-angle views that illustrate the parks’ overwhelming majesty. “I researched each park,” Staehling explains, “and tried to find main, recognizable icons and represent them in fun, playful ways. I took a little artistic license to try to capture the life of each park.” The resulting pieces have her signature vivid colors, bold lines, and decidedly artistic spin on the natural world. She uses mostly gouache, with a little acrylic and pencil for titles.

    Staehling has a degree in graphic design, and attributes that to her frequent use of lettering in her art. Two decades ago, she was hand-painting home décor items and found that they were very popular. A successful stint at the Atlanta Gift Show convinced her to let go of the graphic design career and take her art full-time.

    Once she did, her choice of topic was a natural: “My love for art came as a child, and as I grew older my focus is primarily around nature. Not always, but that’s just where I draw the most inspiration.” She draws inspiration (before painting it) from being outdoors whenever possible. “Gardening is a huge love of mine,” she reports. “Spending time in my garden, and hiking trails.”

    Staehling’s current style is not the only one that interests her. “I just love to experience with different styles, so it’s hard for me to stick with one particular style. I find myself playing around with different styles and themes. That keeps it fun and fresh for me.” She’s got one book already, Happy Houseplants, and intends to create more in the future.

    Happy Houseplants by Angela Staehling Happy Houseplants by Angela Staehling (Image via AngelaStaehling.Com)

    As for the National Parks she’s commemorating, visits are on her list, maybe even this year to celebrate the parks’ fifty years. “I have not been to enough,” Staehling says, “and I may try to get out there this summer.”

     

     

  • Meet Stephanie Jeanne

    Meet Stephanie Jeanne Meet Stephanie Jeanne

    The 2018 Kentucky Derby has us focused on the art of competitive equestrian Stephanie Jeanne.

    When most artists refer to their portraiture, it goes without saying that they’re referring to portraits of people. But artist Stephanie Jeanne Hardy (who goes by Stephanie Jeanne professionally) is so committed to her animal paintings that when she talks about “portraits,” which she often paints on commission, she’s referring to portraits of animals. “Having the skill set to paint people is important,” she says, “but there are artists who do that much better than I do. I do animal portraits. I love animals and that’s why I’m good at painting them.”

    Hardy’s commitment to depicting animals goes far beyond the nuts and bolts (or whiskers and fur). Her love for animals allows her to see their individuality in a way many others reserve for people. “[Clients] send me videos, tell me about the personalities of their animals, their special moments. That helps get a feel for what the animal is all about and how it’s connected with its owners. Capturing the spirit of whatever animal I’ve chosen to paint is so important. If you capture the expression of the eyes you’ve captured the whole animal. Even if the rest is a loose interpretation of the style, fur, feathers, whatever--as long as you get the eyes it’s going to capture the individual.”

    Hardy’s commitment to capturing the personality of an animal means that the even when she’s not painting a specific pet, she is careful to depict each animal as the individual it is. That’s especially true for her horse paintings. Hardy is a competitive equestrian and has two horses of her own. “I train with them six days a week,” she explains. “I travel a lot to competitions and have for over twenty-five years. That’s my norm. I go to the barn a lot. When I’m not painting I’m riding.”

    Her incredible skill at depicting horses so realistically is in part a side effect of her decades-long love of horses. She didn’t start painting them until about six years ago. “Horses are particularly difficult to paint or draw,” she explains. Their anatomy and composition is so unique. A lot of people struggle with their proportions. That’s something I feel pretty confident that I’ve got down. Being around them the majority of my life helps immensely. I know their bodies, musculature, how they move.” And her love for her own horses means that she also knows how unique each one is. “I have such a strong relationship with my animals [she also has two French Bulldogs] and I think of my own when I paint others. It’s important for me to connect with the painting in order for the eventual owner of the painting to connect with it too.”

    Hardy is trained as a graphic designer and is mostly self-taught. Her mother’s work as a seamstress taught Hardy a lot about fabric and patterns and details, she says. While she is currently living in Nashville, Hardy and her fiancé are relocating, dogs and horses and all, to Denver this spring.

    “I love what I do,” she says of painting. “I feel so fortunate to get to paint for a living. It’s not the easiest path, but it’s so fulfilling. Everyone I’ve met has a story of an experience with an animal that they hold dear to them. If I’m painting something as silly as a cow and people can look at it and be reminded of those experiences, then that’s a special connection that’s been made. Every animal is important to someone in some way.”

  • Meet Heather Gauthier

    “If you dream it, you can do it.” That’s a saying that could apply to Heather Gauthier’s path to becoming a full-time artist. It helps to have tons of talent like she does, of course, but the way Heather tells it, her art career is a dream come true.

    “After I had kids a few years ago,” she remembers, “I was at home thinking ‘I’ve got to do something.’ I decided, ‘I’m going to be an artist.’ It’s exploded. I mean, I have an assistant, I paint about ten hours a day; it’s crazy.”

    Art is something that Heather’s always done, but she doesn’t have formal training. “I was homeschooled through junior high,” she says. “My parents were kinda hippies—we didn’t have a TV, not a lot of toys, that kind of stuff. So I just drew.” Her brother did too, and now he’s a professional artist as well.

    Heather’s interest in painting animals was sparked during her years living in South Africa, where her first child was born. She experienced an entirely different type of animal life there from what she’d known in the US. And now that her repertoire of animals is wide, her particular strengths are more what one might expect from a world traveler than a Texas resident, which is where she now lives. “A llama I can just whip out with my eyes closed,” she explains with a laugh. “I’ve figured out the fur, the basic shape. But some things, like dogs with short hair, those things take me forever.” Gauthier generally works with around five photos of a particular type of animal in order to capture it with acrylics on canvas.

    Heather Gauthier is known for her intriguing combination of realism and fantasy, with meticulously detailed animals and objects interacting in unusual ways, like a cat with a bonsai tree on its head or a hippo balancing a bowl of ice cream. Heather explains, “I love all things vintage. Old vintage photos are serious, with a beautiful backdrop and a serious person. I like the serious classic portrait but I’m not a serious person. So my still lifes are portraits, but they’re not people, they’re animals. I like the realism but I like to have something crazy.”

    She says of her life-like subjects, “The animals are taking themselves seriously at their task. I enjoy the tedious detail, but I still want it to be fun and modern.”

    Heather works in her home studio, generally taking a break to pick her kids up at school and then working after they go to bed at 8 pm. In addition to GreenBox, she sells through galleries. She generally has about ten paintings going at once, she says, and even though things are getting very busy for her professionally (she’s recently begun having to turn down commissions), it never gets old. “I remember every painting I’ve ever done,” she says. “I get people all over the country tagging me [on social media, showing her paintings in their homes]. it’s just so exciting. I could just shriek. I absolutely love it.”

  • Meet Katie Daisy

     

     

    Katie Daisy loves flowers so much that she named herself after one. “It’s my pen name,” Katie says. “I was just sitting in class one day at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. I studied product design in college and I started sketching all these ideas for this artist brand I wanted to have. “Katie Daisy” came from my pen. It was amazing. It sounded nice and it’s worked well for me.”

     

    Flowers have been an important part of Katie’s life from the beginning. She grew up in rural Illinois, in the prairie, in a town of only about 500 people. Everything in her portfolio, she says, is tied to her upbringing and childhood. She spent the majority of her childhood outside, she says, experiencing nature and creeks and flowers and insects. “Flowers are my big thing,” she says, “but pretty much all of nature is important to me. It was so fun growing up there.”

     

    Just as she was fortunate to grow up in a place that inspired her, so was Katie fortunate to start her career at the ideal time. “I was in college around the time Etsy started booming. I feel like I hit it at a really good time. I was working at the service bar in college, like an in-house Kinkos. I was allowed to work on my own work, so I did a ‘you are my sunshine’ piece. Believe it or not, it was only one of two or three on Etsy at the time! [A recent Etsy search on the phrase returned over 18,000 hits.] It was picked up by tons of blogs and went crazy. That’s when I really started adding quotes and lettering to my artwork.”

     

    As her art has evolved, Katie has started using her own phrases instead of quotes. She’s into evoking feelings and emotions, she says, relying on memories of her childhood and time spent outdoors.

     

    And what she’s doing is working; her combination of florals and inspiration has hit a chord. Katie’s recent book, How to Be Wildflower: A Field Guide, was a New York Times bestseller, and she’s a full-time artist.

     

    She now lives in Bend, Oregon with her husband and 3-year-old son. “Bend is a really lovely place too,” she says. “It’s a different sort of landscape than I grew up with but it’s got different things to explore.”

     

    What will Katie Daisy be exploring next? Whatever her imagination can conjure. “I don’t think about the commercial side a whole lot,” she says. “I’ve never hopped on the trend bandwagon. I’ve been really lucky that I can paint what I want and people respond to that. I truly believe that if you’re expressing yourself authentically, people can see that and will want a bit of it for themselves.”

  • Meet Brett Blumenthal

    Meet Brett Blumenthal

    Brett Blumenthal’s art continues to inspire us. Her baby animals have the sort of soulful air that only an artist and an animal lover can create. Brett is both those things. We talked with her recently about how her art career is evolving.

    Oopsy Daisy: What inspired you to focus on animal portraits?

    Brett Blumenthal: When I was pregnant with my son [Alexander, who is now 4], I wanted to create art for his nursery. I did a series of safari animals with our cat, DaVinci, intertwined into them. I did a series of a family of three, plus our cat. People who would look at Alexander's nursery art said "oh my goodness I had no idea you could do this. You should sell it." When I did start selling my art, the family thing wasn't resonating as much as I hoped, so I started exploring what I thought was interesting.

    OD: Have you always had a passion for animals?

    BB: Yes. One of the reasons I dedicate ten percent of my own profits to animal welfare and wildlife conservation is that they don't have a voice and we do.

    OD: Do you have formal art training?

    BB: My dad was an artist and most of my training came from him. I took lots of art classes through grade and high school and never thought of it as a career, but I did become an architect. Lots of design classes and art are part of that curriculum.

    OD: What is next for you?

    BB: I will always continue to focus on animals because that is a passion of mine. I did a set of dinosaurs for a customer, and dad cancelled the order because the family switched their nursery theme to trucks. I asked if I could do some trucks for him instead and he agreed. At the same time, my son is getting into trucks (he’s not so much into animals anymore). I have been exploring the path of opening a new genre for boys. I am branching out and finding it challenging and interesting.

    OD: What would you tell kids who are interested in a career in art?

    BB:I would tell a kid to never be scared of being out there. I'm a pretty literal artist, which is why I'm a realist instead of an abstract artist. You might have a bit of fear of going out of the ordinary and wondering if it's going to be accepted. Don't let fear squash your creativity, and do something every day. Find a way to have an artistic outlet every day.

    I find that if I look at what I did for Alexander's nursery compared to what I'm doing now, you really can't compare the two. If you don't keep working at it you won't get better.

    Brett Blumenthal lives in Charlotte, NC with her husband, cat, and son.

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