Through a client connection, I recently had the pleasure to meeting a nationally acclaimed artist, now living on the west side of Fidalgo Island in Anacortes, Washington.
Linda Stewart Henley considers herself to be a self-taught artist. And I must mention she is also the mother of another accomplished artist, James Keul. (More on James in a bit.) Linda studied art at Newcomb College of Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. And, while she has explored many subjects of interest using various mediums, she has spent the last several years in search of elusive and fragile native plants indigenous to our coastal region. Her method of painting on-sight, or “plein air, requires both excellent timing, research, stamina, and a willingness to load-up your portable easel, pencils, paints, a good hat, chair or stool, and head out-of-doors in search of nature. And for many years, Linda has done just that.
A few questions came to mind after meeting Linda and she was kind enough to share…
You consider yourself to be “self-taught”, with some formal training at Tulane. At what point in your life did you realize you had a passion for art? In other words, was there an “Ah ha!” moment, or was someone influential in your awakening to art?
I’ve always loved painting. My father was a painter, good with watercolors. I remember sitting beside him as a child watching him paint. He encouraged me.
Painting with a delicate medium like watercolors can be quite challenging for aspiring artists. How has this method of painting developed in you as an artist? Have you always preferred watercolors?
I was born in England, and spent the first 16 years of my life there. Watercolors are a preferred medium of many English painters, and I started painting with them. I’ve used acrylic and oils, but find that the watercolor medium works especially well for flower paintings.
You capture the nuance of wildflowers so elegantly. Please describe your process and how you choose one subject over others.
I always start with a drawing in pencil. Since I paint directly from nature, I often have to move around to get a satisfying composition of a group of flowers. I prefer plants with interesting leaves, because they often add larger areas of color—many wildflowers are small, and so delicate you’d hardly notice them. The leaves are always green, so it’s important to vary those greens. I tend to choose flowers that catch my eye, either by making a bright spot in the grass, or ones that are unusual, ones that I haven’t painted before.
Wild flowers will soon be in full bloom throughout Skagit County. Where will your plein air painting adventures take you this year?
I usually start in Washington Park. There’s a good display of wildflowers there on the Burrows Bay overlook. Later in the season I’ll go into the mountains, Mount Baker, and other places in the North Cascades. The flowers there are different, and are sometimes hard to find, since they grow in remote locations.
How was innate artistic talent influential in your son’s quest to become a creator?
There was never any choice for us. Like other artists, we simply have to paint.
Tell us about other projects currently developing in your studio?
This year I would like to start using stronger color in my work, and do more landscapes.
What words of inspiration would you offer to a young artist?
Keep working, and don’t give up. It takes years to develop skill and practice is more important than talent.
Linda’s son, Jame Keul, who earned his BFA in painting at Savannah College of Art and Design, went on to hone his skills at the Art Students League in New York. He works in a variety of media and scale, from murals to mono-prints. In the Burton Jewelers Gallery James is showing a few of his exceptional oils on canvas depicting scenes from his southern home in Durham, N.C., and gardens he has visited throughout the world.
UPDATE! Meet artist Linda Stewart Henley at Anacortes First Friday Artwalk on Friday, May 5, 2017, from 6:00-9:00PM in the Burton Jewelers Gallery at the corner of Commercial and 6th Streets. The show will run through July 2017. For more information visit www.burtonjewelers.com