The Tricks of the Trade

By Judy Feldman | www.wildemeyer.com

Whenever I admire a piece of art, I can’t help but wonder how it was done. How did the artist get that amazing texture? What colors did she or he mix? What type of brush or implement was used? In other words, how did they do that??

I looked at the works of some of the Wilde Meyer artists, and decided to ask them about their artistic process. I wasn’t sure if they would appreciate my questions, or want to divulge their “secrets,” but they did! (I think artists really love to talk about their work.)

Yellow Sun Vinyard, 28 x 30 inches, oil on canvas
Rena Vadewater
Rena Vandewater’s charming paintings are full of color and energy. She combines several techniques: pointillism, patterning and what she calls “scruffling,” which is her way of moving her brush very quickly on the canvas while mixing color. All three combine to create vibrant scenes.

Rena says that she sketches out a plan on paper and then on her canvas. To emphasize an area, she uses a warm color to draw an outline; then she paints inside that shape. “My patterns come from my head,” she says. “They go together like a puzzle. When I don’t know where to go next, I stop for a few days, and wait until I feel inspired to go back to the painting.”

Dingo Dogs, 19 x 23 inches, oil on canvas
Rena Vandewater
Travels often inspire her paintings. “Yellow Sun” is a scene from vineyards Rena saw while visiting France. “I want the viewer to see a real reference, yet enjoy the wonder of the painting,” she says. The red ground behind the vineyard patterns, as well as the red outline of the small buildings and the sun give this painting so much energy! The shapes remind me of quilting.

Rena has worked hard to create and maintain her unique style. Initially, she was self-taught; then she went on and obtained an MFA degree. “Although I’ve studied and learned classical painting, I prefer the na├»ve, primitive style,” she says. “Dingo Dogs” is a good example of Rena’s unique take on a landscape. Here, she employs all of her special techniques: the red outlines, the scruffling for the trees, the patterns in the houses, the flat paint for the dogs, and the wonderful pointillist dots for the land. Her use of the complementary green and red in the dots really makes the painting pop. To top things off, Rena encloses the painting in a patterned frame. It’s busy, but it works!

Desert Garden by Acacia Alder
40 x 30 inches, acrylic on canvas
Acacia Alder loves to hike in the trails around her Tuscon home. She’s inspired by the landscapes she sees, and wants to depict the dynamic energy that exists there. Acacia conveys all this through a technique she employs to give her paintings a sculptural, three dimensional look. I asked her to explain.

“First, I use acrylic gel to sculpt the surface in very particular areas,” she says. “That creates a form for the subject matter, which is somewhat abstracted. Then, I paint over the gel. Each painting has many layers of both gel and paint. It can take quite a while to complete.”

Elan: Palo Verde Musings by Acacia Alder
36 x 36 inches, acrylic on canvas
Acacia uses many different implements, including palette knives, brushes, small spatulas and even hair combs for texture. She says that her technique enables her to impart tonal changes, because the gel textures can more easily highlight the light and the shadows. You can see the sculptural quality of the beautiful tree in her painting entitled “Elan: Palo Verde Musings.” Her excellent use of light and shadow, along with a dark outline, makes the tree emerge from the abstract shapes of the landscape behind it.

“Desert Garden” is one of my favorite paintings by Acacia. The many textural shapes and wonderful color palette create energy, and the smooth, burnt orange path is a great, restful contrast. I really like the foliage shadows she’s created on the path.

Tracy Miller has a very interesting creative process. “I have a specific set of rules for myself when I paint,” she says. “I tone every canvas with a wash of either yellow, orange, red or hot pink to give a warm glow that informs the painting.”

Tracy explains her next step: “I make a visual haiku with black paint to create a balanced design of lines, circles or disjointed forms.”

Roughneck by Tracy Miller
11x 14 inches, acrylic on canvas
Bear by Tracy Miller
5 x 7 inches, acrylic on paper
Then, Tracy paints an abstract design within the black lines, while she finds a shape to help guide her to her final image. “It’s like looking at clouds and seeing distinct shapes,” she says. Certain shapes evoke certain animals to her. She sees bears in circular shapes; cows in more boxy shapes and buffalo in sharp angles. Tracy’s fine art background and familiarity with animals enables her to depict their structure and muscles even in her unconventional style. She purposely doesn’t show the entire animal, since she wants the viewers to finish the picture in their heads. When you look at two of her paintings, entitled “Roughneck” and “Bear,” you can get an idea of how she works.

Blue Mood by Tracy Miller
20 x 10 inches, acrylic on canvas 
After the abstract painting is complete, Tracy draws a simple outline in pencil of the final image she wants. Then she paints the negative space around that shape, which becomes the background. Amazing! When you look at “Blue Mood,” keep in mind how the image of the giraffe emerged. As a final touch, Tracy creates her unique signature of paint splatters across the canvas. “I do this to give additional energy to the painting,” she says. “I’m very mindful of the color I use, and after I’ve splattered, I know the work is done!”

Each of these artists has refined her process over time, and is now completely comfortable with it. What’s interesting to me is how personal these approaches are, and that’s why their work is so unique. Even if we understand the process, we can never paint the same way. Who wants to, anyway?

View more art by Rena VandewaterAcacia Alder  and Tracy Miller at Wilde Meyer Gallery.