My first experience visiting art galleries and museums in New York City moved me deeply. My new husband, an Air Force Pilot stationed in New Jersey, wanted to visit the museums on his days off. I was twenty four and had never been to a gallery or an art show before.
I stood in awe in front of the drawings and paintings of older people. I remember commenting how much I would love to be able to do that, but that I had no talent in drawing. At the time, I didn’t realize that a seed or “gleam of light” was germinating in me. Val, my husband, bought me oil supplies and paid for a year’s art lessons, when he received orders to go to Viet Nam.
My husband served a year in Viet Nam. Unfortunately, just before he was due to come home, his plane was shot down and the entire crew was killed. I had a year old baby and was devastated. Two years later Wendy, my three year old, and I moved to Seattle. I decided to get a Master’s Degree and teach public speaking at the college level. That was a huge challenge with a lively child and so many papers to write!
When I was about to finish, my life took another dramatic turn. My sorority roommate at Colorado University died from complications of child birth. Her husband John, whom I knew from our sorority days, came to visit me with his little five year old son. In three days I found myself engaged to marry again as soon as I finished my degree in a few weeks! I now had a husband, a 5 year old, a 16 month baby, and my 4 year old daughter. Within a year we had another baby, a son! Add to that, I had one mother and three mothers’ in law! I doubted I would learn to paint.
However, after a year of settling into my new life as a mother and wife, John suggested I take some art lessons. I found Polish artist, Pawel Kontney who lived in Denver, where we lived. He drew beautiful faces. My dream was to be his apprentice. I thought I had to become very good before he would accept me. How wrong I was. After six years of art lessons, John made an appointment for me to show Mr. Kontney my work. He looked at me and said, “You are a very foolish woman. Think how far you would have come if you had started with me when you first saw my work!
I had one lesson with Mr Kontney when my husband announced he had decided to quit his job and go to seminary! We were active in a Presbyterian Church, but I never dreamed he’d quite his lucrative career as a sales engineer in General Electric.
We moved our “yours, mine, and ours” family to southern California. He attended Fuller Seminary. By now our children were all in school. I worked teaching part time in the preaching lab at the seminary and a local community college. My art life had time to grow. However, it was also a time of exploring some past inner feelings of unresolved grief. That was an important challenge, because again my life was about to change. This time it was where that inner seed of the artist was beginning to emerge.
My work took a dramatic turn after I spent two weeks in a watercolor workshop on “Painting Your Feelings” with Robert E Wood in California. We could not use photographs. We had to get in touch with our feelings. We learned to use the elements of composition to paint the feeling of the place. Although my paintings were terrible compared to the others, and I was sure I was one of the worst painters in the class, those two weeks changed my life. I learned how to use painting techniques and elements to express the inner spirit of people and places.
Today, I paint traditional representational portraits, figures, landscapes, and seascapes. My goal is to create authentic paintings which will move the viewers in a deep way, as I was moved years ago. I hope my paintings will stimulate awareness, remind viewers of special times in their lives, or places they have visited, or people who have inspired them. Many of my paintings tell a story about the person or the place. The viewers can bring their own stories to the painting. Perhaps a piece will stir the viewer’s imagination or lift them above the ordinary.
Robert E Wood suggested I take the unresolved grief I felt at the loss of my husband in Viet Nam and paint a series of ocean paintings to work out the grief. I did that. As I painted the oceans, I developed a sensitivity to my own responses to loss. Over time, the angry crashing seas turned into gentle rain. Finally, I realized most of my paintings were sunrises or sunsets and more peaceful work. However, I still had no idea how to draw or paint people.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but all these experiences were important steps in developing my sensitivity to emotions and developing my skills as a painter.
It was six years living in Minnesota and raising the children before we moved to New York, when my husband received a call to be a minister in church near New York City. I now lived close enough to the art schools to seriously become a “painter of people”.
One day I was at an “exhibiting artist’s” party at an art show in Bedford, New York. I met Wendy Shalan, who was also exhibiting there. I told her I wanted to have someone teach me how to draw and paint people. She said she’d teach me at the Silvermine School of Art in Connecticut. That was the pivot point of my art life! She was a student of Daniel Greene, a great portrait artist. What a gift she gave me!
My first pastel and my first portrait was of an older female model, Betty. She was formerly a soap opera star. Now she was modeling in an art class. What I noticed was her proud demeanor. She wasn’t famous anymore, but she made the best out of that set up with her props. I didn’t know which pastel to use or how to draw her. But something inside me came out. Occasionally, Wendy showed me how to use the strokes and which pastels to use for the skin colors. I really believe that experience was God saying to me, “You can do this”. Everything before today was preparing my sensitivities for this new life.
Two years later, I began winning awards for my portraits and figure paintings in major shows. I took workshops from Daniel Greene. I lived close enough to attend a number of demonstrations and observed his deliberate method of looking and thinking about the figure. All my life experiences have increased my awareness of the people around me. I can very quickly identify which subjects would make a good painting. This past summer I attended workshops at the Studio Incamminati to work on strengthening my oil painting skills. I do very poorly in workshops, but when I go home and work on what I learn, in time I see improvement in my art.
As in many cases, an artist’s work reflects his or her philosophy of life. “I feel our life here is a gift from God. My painting journey has drawn me deeper into an appreciation of who I am and how I can connect to my fellow human beings. As an artist I need to sense, deep in my soul, the essence of the beauty of a place or the feelings or the story of a person. I look for the beauty in God’s creation. For the past few years I’ve been interested in God’s gifts of music. The musicians each study hard to play well. The beauty of sound from so many different instruments working together enriches our lives. I see this harmony as a metaphor of our need to work together with those who are different from us. If we work hard and create harmony, we will bring joy and beauty to those around us. That gift of joy or peace or harmony touches us, the listeners. I intend to paint a series on music and the joy musicians’ sense as they play together. Their different sounds bring a gift of to us. I hope my viewers will see something deeper in life: a greater appreciation for the varied beauty and diversity of people or a sense of peace and quiet or joy as they view a painting. Perhaps my painting will inspire someone with hope.
A woman wrote me a note after viewing my solo show “Searching for Intimacy” featuring the ballet figure as a metaphor for relationships. “You have painted my life”, she said.
That is my goal: to create art that will move the viewer to a deeper understanding or an appreciation of the beauty, the tragedy, the pain, the joy, or the diversity in our world. Linda Sheppard