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artist feature

  • 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 Tammy Kushnir

    Tammy Kushnir’s mother turned her art into gifts. “My mom was into art. She used to create T-shirts for us and decorate cakes for us when I was little. Things like that,” she remembers.
    And now Kushnir herself, who lives with her husband and two sons near Philadelphia, creates art as gifts, too. “Even today I make paintings for people as gifts for different things,” she says. “My husband and one son and I recently became blackbelts, and as a thank-you to our senseis, I made paintings for them. Creating art for gifts kind of started with my mom.”

    Kushnir has been making art since she was little and was an art history major in college. It was when she and her husband started a family that she turned her focus to becoming a working artist. “I got married when I was twenty-two,” she says, “and we wanted one of us to stay home with the kids. I said ‘I’d love to do it and get a chance to do art.’ I started in mixed media and used to write a lot and get money that way. So, I never really used the art-history degree technically, but it still serves as an inspiration in my work.”

    Another major inspiration in her work was a trip to Alaska the family took about two years ago. In fact, this artist now known for her acrylic paintings didn’t actually take up the medium until after that trip. “I used to do everything in black and white, with graphite. But after Alaska I was kind of inspired. I have a nice camera and got nice photos for inspiration. I never thought I would ever paint or be able to paint, and I ended up loving it. Now I want to keep expanding. I’m trying to broaden into different things and branch out more.”

    Part of her branching out will involve trying her hand at abstracts in addition to animals and nature.

    One thing that won’t change for Tammy Kushnir is the link between art and gifts, even when the recipients are people she will never meet. “To think something that I’ve created could make someone I’ve never met happy, or make their day, or inspire their children to want to be an artist like I was, that’s a good feeling,” she says.

  • 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 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.

  • Meet Maren Devine

    Meet Maren Devine

     

    Maren Devine finds inspiration all over, and she tries to return the favor as much as she can. “Magazines, being outside, looking at other people’s work, that’s all very inspiring,” she says. “And Instagram has been a wonderful source of people and inspiration.” Devine posts her own work on Instagram, providing inspiration for others. “I try to post at least once a day,” she says, “and sometimes more than that. New works, a lot of paintings, prints, that kind of thing.”

    Once she has the spark of an idea, though, Devine lets her imagination take over. “I love doing flowers. Previously, I would work from ones around the house. Now I make them up. They’re more abstract. I do use subject matter [as a starting point] but I find if I don’t have a preconceived idea of what something should look like, I like the end result better.”

    This idea of trusting her instincts has served Devine well over her career. She earned an MFA and worked as a designer, but when her daughters were small she went back to school and became a high school art teacher. “I loved teaching high school,” she remembers. “The students were so fun to talk to. They were fearless. There is a lot of happiness being around high school kids.”

    But she also started painting every day, and quickly realized she’d missed working with her hands. She started showing her art. And soon she knew she was ready to make the leap and start working on her own art full time. She says her husband was a major supporter of that decision, which helped her take the important step.

    Devine loves being a full-time artist, and she says she always has music playing—any music. “If I have music on everything goes better,” she explains. “I love jazz and old music like ’70s or new stuff that my daughters are listening to. Anything that sounds good that day. It just puts me in the mood. I’ll just have it on in the background. I don’t sing along,” she adds. “That would not be good!”

    In addition to flowers, Devine finds herself drawn to painting marshes, probably because she remembers them fondly from her childhood. “We’d go for drives to the marshes [she grew up in Florida and New Orleans]. My paintings remind me of that. We did a lot of traveling growing up. We even have them in South Texas, where I live now, that look very similar. Some of the ones I paint are memories I’ve had or pictures I’ve taken from driving down the coast.”

    Devine says she loves color but doesn’t have a particular favorite. “Right now I like a lot of blue,” she explains. “I love pink too. Last year I was using a lot of lime green. It always changes.” She pauses. “But if you looked at my paints you’d think my favorite color is pink. I have one large box for each color but two for pink. I can’t not buy a tube of pink paint. I love them all: the light ones, fuchsias, magentas…”

    Maren Devine considers for a moment, perhaps letting inspiration find her again.

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