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Meet Vintage Watercolorist: Seiko Konya

BEGINNINGS

As a Presbyterian pastor I often speak of the spiritual meaning of grace, the unmerited gift of God for salvation. The word can also mean simple elegance or refinement of movement. Poise. Finesse. Courteousness. Artist Seiko Konya paints with, and embodies, that kind of grace. 

Seiko was born in Tokyo, Japan just after WWII. She was the youngest of four siblings, and the only girl in the family. Her father worked as an English teacher in high school. Her mother was a stay-at-home mom. 

Growing up in Japan in the 1950’s, Seiko remembers there were only things of basic necessity.  She loved collecting things, and finding things, especially different kinds of papers. “My toy was collecting papers, and things like chewing gum wrappers, foil with the little zig zag cuttings. I loved that.” She collected doilies from pastries, washed them carefully and ironed them. She put these finds away in a box. And peaked sometimes at them. “That used to give me so much pleasure,” she says. 

Her father first came to the U.S. for education in the 1920s. He helped start a number of Japanese schools in Southern California. Eventually there were ten schools that he and his friend started. At that time, many Japanese families would send their children to Japan to learn the language and the culture. But some could not afford this. These ten schools were started to help mainly those who could not afford to send their children to Japan for cultural education. 

Her father graduated from a college in Pasadena, Calif in 1930s with a PhD in religious philosophy and moved back to Japan. In the 1950s when he retired from work, he was asked to come back to the United States to help run these schools. That’s how their family came to immigrate to the US. 

Seiko’s two older brothers were almost adults at that time, so they opted to stay in Japan. So just her immediate older brother and her parents came to the US. She was ten at that time. “I was kind of an average kid in Japan, and no real talent in art or anything. But coming here, I didn’t speak a word of English.” She was only good at math and painting. The teachers in the public school she attended put her to work painting historical settings and murals for school events.  And then in later years she did a lot of posters, anners for the school halls, and things like that that gave her some experience in painting with brushes. 

Seiko attended Roosevelt High School in East Los Angeles. The students were asked to pick a major. She selected math because that was the only thing she knew how to do. She also elected to take painting. And as it turned out Ms. Terasas was the head of the art department. She recommended that Seiko try out for this scholarship at Chouinard College of Art, a large art school that is now owned by Disney, in Los Angeles. The thing was, to try out for the art scholarship, you had to be an art major. Seiko asked her if there was a future in art for her. Ms. Terasas said that if she worked hard enough and graduated from college there would be something. So she changed her major from math to art and tried out for this scholarship. And to her surprise she got in. This is where her art journey started. 

JOURNEY INTO ART

For two years while a student at Roosevelt, Seiko attended life drawing classes on Saturdays at Chouinard.  That became the foundation for her journey into art.

After graduating from Roosevelt, she attended East Los Angeles College for two years. She received her BA in art from the University of California Irvine. 

At that time her parents couldn’t afford for Seiko, a girl, to go to a private art school. But her older brother was going to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. She got to learn a lot from him and his friends who came to their house to do their homework. They gathered in the family’s big basement to do their projects. Seiko watched them work, and actually did her homework with them.  She also went to their school to see what others students were doing, and look at the standard of their work. She tried to keep up with the artists there, knowing she would have to eventually compete with them for a job. It was important for her to really study what they were doing.

Her brother, Yoshiro, was a big help for her in jump starting her career as an artist. She remembers how he looked at her portfolio, and made her do this one illustration five times before he said that it was good enough. He also gave her a list of art studios around Los Angeles and Hollywood. Seiko had no idea what kind of art jobs there would be. But through watching her brother and his friends, and seeing their aspirations, she got the idea that maybe she could be an illustrator. 

But she had to go out and get the jobs. And she did! She went around town to get interviews with all the art directors. They were so helpful and encouraging that before long she became a freelance illustrator. She also was lucky enough to get into this Adam’s Studio in Melrose. They provided her with a desk and art equipment, like lucy machines and stat machines. They had five reps who would take the portfolio of the illustrators there around, and they would provide her with work. 

Thankfully, Seiko’s parents were open to her pursuing art as a career, just as her older brother had. Her father, especially, had a very open viewpoint. Her father had a former student of his who had had success as an artist. This student had visited the family, and shared about his life as an artist. But they did want her to make a career of it. And she did. 

CAREER AS AN ILLUSTRATOR

Seiko worked as a freelance illustrator for a year and a half. She learned of a free-lance job with Mattel Toys. She went there to try to get the work. At the interview they gave her two Barbie dolls, and asked her to come up with two themes, illustrating the backgrounds and dressing two Barbie dolls. She didn’t know how to sew at the time, but figures she must have done OK because they offered her a permanent job.  She figured it would be a good thing that she work eight hours a day, like “real grown-ups”, and that she would try it for a year. She says, “I went in and it was so much fun.” They put her on a team that worked on preliminary design, on the conceptual design side. They had to come up with the ideas. The team had model makers that designed the prototype, chemists and electricians, who “helped you with all the parts that you don’t know how to get done. It was just a fun place to work. It was just so creative and energetic that I stayed for five years,” she recalls.

In 1978 she married Kaz. After she had kids, Seiko went out and freelanced again for eight years in toy industry. She eventually went back, to Mattel. This time she went to the development side, which is after the concepts get approved by the upper management. They took the concept to production. As a Senior Staff Designer, Seiko worked with a whole team of people with engineers, marketing people, safety people and schedulers. She often got the high priority projects at Mattel. Many times she would end up taking a project to their Hong Kong office and production site in PRC just to expedite the production.

She began working on Barbies. Then she went into the larger dolls, like the baby dolls and then the small dolls. Almost all her work was doll related. She also did the accessories and things like that. At Mattel she got a really good picture of how you get a product done, the three-dimensional execution of products.

Reflecting on her time at Mattel Seiko says, “It was so exciting to me to work with other people who are professionals, who are good at what they are doing. It made me try to do my best. I found it very fun and creative to do that.”

MOVE TO SEATTLE

While she was at Mattel, she began to hear rumblings that McDonald Douglas, where her husband worked, was merging with Boeing in the Seattle area. They had to decide whose career they were going to follow. Seiko said, “Seattle sounds pretty good.” She was curious to move up to Seattle. They decided to do the Boeing thing. Their son, Craig, was in junior high. The move was not too bad for him. But their older daughter, Christine, was a senior in High School; it was heartbreaking to have to bring her up to Seattle. “She was a real trooper”, Seiko recalls. Christine said, “I’ll do it. But let me go down and see my friends.” Christine went to California to visit her friends, and her friends came to Seattle to visit her. This made the move bearable.  

A headhunter called Seiko and asked her if she would be interested in working at a small manufacturing company. She thought, Why not? She worked as the Creative Art Director there. She helped bring in the Disney and Warner Brothers license into the company, and started a whole line of dolls. She understood the process – and the business – really well since she worked at Mattel as a preliminary design all the way up to production side. And it was interesting work for her. “I think I was, you know, right place at the right time and it worked for me there,” she says.

She also taught industrial design at the Art Institute of Seattle for a couple of years. Seiko’s career path is marked by hard work and creative energy.  Her launch into watercolor, on the other hand, happened in a more surprising and spontaneous way.

FIRST STEP INTO WATERCOLOR

One freezing day, she walked into the Mercer Island Community Center. There was a hall full of floral watercolor paintings by artist Genny Rees, “beautiful, beautiful paintings,” Seiko remembers. “And I went through them. And it just felt so warm looking at those paintings, [they] just warmed me up. You felt the Spring had come, and seeing that, I thought ‘I’m going to do this.’ I’m going to get into watercolor.” Seiko had always liked watercolor. But then and there she decided that this will be my step into next journey.  She thought, “I’m going to really do it.” Inspired by Genny, Seiko quit her job. She signed up for a Joan Frey watercolor class.  She was fifty-five. 

Up to this time she had always liked watercolor but thought it was too difficult to get into watercolor. But when she saw Genny’s painting she just thought, I’m going to take that challenge and do it. 

MAJOR INFLUENCES

Recently Seiko traveled to Maine and visited Winslow Homer’s studio and home, in Prouts Nest.

She also traveled to Cushings, Maine, where Andrew Wyeth spent many years sketching and painting at Christina Olson’s home. She admires these two artists and their watercolors so much.

Homer often used chromatic contrasts, like the blacks and reds, and orange and blues, to achieve his dramatic powerful paintings. His paintings are “astonishing” to Seiko. “It’s just pure colors that gets you that amazing, strong, powerful painting.” 

“On the other hand, Wyeth, his aesthetics was very quiet and subtle. He has, simplicity. Kind of a subtle grace. Kind of an understated beauty. And that resonated with me,” Seiko says. 

She has taken a few workshops here and there: with Nancy Stonington, Thomas Sheller, Ted Nuttle, to name a few. But she tends not to take too many. She’s kind of stubborn in this way; she’d rather work her own problems out and find her own voice in paintings. 

ON WATERCOLOR

When Seiko self-assesses her voice in watercolor, she thinks that she still is too “tight with my watercolor.” She says, “Watercolor allows you to be so loose with your watercolor. And let the freedom of the water just ooze out.  But my technique is very tight, very controlling. I’m hoping to get better about that. I’m hoping to loosen up and to be a little more dynamic about my paintings.”  Seiko’s precision may have its roots to when she was younger as an illustrator, working on illustrations for magazines, album covers, billboards and things like that. Those were tightly rendered illustrations. She finds it hard to loosen up and let the accidents happen. 

What she does so well, so gracefully, is people: their bodies, their faces, their emotions. This is where Seiko’s acute sensitivity comes out, and too her years of high school life drawing classes.

Because she was inspired by Genny, Seiko started out with floral paintings. The first portrait that she painted was of her husband, Kaz. She was a part of Eastside Fine Arts Association at that time. They had a show, and she put in that portrait of her husband and won an award for that. Since then she went into more portrait and figurative paintings. 

In portrait and figurative paintings she found her voice! “Every detail, every slight expression, the change of the facial muscle, and the tilt of the head, everything shows up as a kind of an emotion. So it’s very sensitive. I like being that sensitive about a figure. That way, the sensitivity that I have can come out in my paintings.” 

LESSONS

Seiko tries to live art. This includes the details: how she places everything around the house needs to balance. It drives Kaz crazy because she will take things around the house and rearrange them. When she cooks, she places the plate in certain ways that it accents its color. She plays around with the layout and colors of plates a lot. It makes the food look good even though she claims not to be a good cook, and that “it’s not that good that often.” Still it makes it look delicious. “I do things like that that automatically, I think as an artist, you kind of bring art to whatever you do.”

To grow as an artist, Seiko doesn’t do well in workshops so much, but she does read a lot of books of artists she admires. Recently she read through Mary Whyte’s books. “She’s really something. I just admire her. I went to Charleston to see some of her original art. She moved from the northern states to the south to be with her subjects, to live with the people that she paints. I admire that of her,” Seiko comment. 

In discovering your voice as an artist, Seiko believe you have to discover what you have a passion for. For her, because she’s from Japan, she loves learning about Japanese culture. Even though she has been submerged in it because of her parents being so Japanese, there’s still a lot more that she would love to learn and incorporate all that in my paintings. 

Watercolor is for her now her life. It’s part of her existence. She paints every day, and with a group of artists on Mondays. She visits lots of galleries.  And she is excited to continue to grow as a watercolor artist.

She loves the challenge of mastering one of the hardest art mediums. She challenges herself to get better at the craft. She knows she has a long journey still ahead, and a lot to learn. But she says, “It’s small steps at a time. You take one step at a time.” She hopes to get to a point where she can say, “Oh, I’m really happy with this painting. Or I’m excited about my paintings.”

You can be sure that Seiko will walk that path ahead with the same grace that she has walked the path behind her. 

2019 Vintage Watercolorists of Washington Show

To see Seiko Konya’s beautiful watercolors, visit Sunnyshore Studio’s 2019 Vintage Watercolorists of Washington Show. The show takes place on four Saturdays, March: 9, 16, 23 and 30, from 10am-5pm.

A meet-the-artist reception will take place on Saturday, March 9th, 3-5pm.

Sunnyshore Studio: 2803 SE Camano Drive, Camano Island, WA

Meet Vintage Watercolorist Sandy Langford: Artist in Community

BEGINNINGS

Sandy Langford grew up on Queen Anne Hill, Seattle. Her early inspiration for painting was her sister who was six years older than Sandy.  Sandy would watch over her shoulder as she drew horses. I would say, “wow, that looks like fun.” Sandy believes that she fell in love with art not because she herself was especially gifted in art, but because of her sister’s artistic gift. 

Her parents encouraged her in art in an indirect way too, through their support of her siblings proclivities. Wanting to encourage Sandy’s older sister in her artistic development, the family toured the Seattle Art Museum many a Sunday. Wanting to encourage Sandy’s older brother in his engineering bent, every summer when they drove to California they stopped at all the bridges along the way, taking pictures of them. Sandy laughs and says, “by the time I came along, they were done.” Still these early immersions in art and man-made objects against the backdrop of nature, undoubtedly registered in Sandy’s heart and mind.

As Sandy found her own way, she took as much art as I could take at school. At Queen Anne High School, her art teacher, Ms. Sears, was very strong on rules. She taught her students how to stretch the paper on a board, wet it, then wait a day for it to dry. Sandy remember, “then you had one shot at getting the sky right. Otherwise you started over again.” In later years, when Sandy found Arches watercolor paper it opened up new possibilities. Unlike the thin watercolor paper they used in art class, it was so hardy. If you didn’t like one area, you could scrub it out with a toothbrush. If you wanted to change a painting you could soak it in the bathtub. “It’s so tough and versatile,” Sandy comments. Under Ms. Sears tutelage, the restrictions of watercolor were emphasized, not it’s freedom. Sandy would discover that later. 

After high school, Sandy attended Seattle Pacific College for two years. They didn’t have much art school at the time. So she transferred to the University of Washington where she graduated with a degree in art. She enjoyed the variety of art classes she took there, even though she didn’t click with the political bent of one of her teachers. She took some watercolor classes there; she loved the wood class, and working with throwing clay pots on the wheel, and taking sculpture from George Tsutakawa. For Sandy it was a real neat all-around experience. 

Even though she majored in art, Sandy did not aspire to make a living through art. For Sandy, art was more something that she wanted to have as a part of her whole life through.  Perhaps in the back of her mind she may have figured that she would get married, and wouldn’t have to make a living through art. She did meet a young man, an engineer named Fred. They got married and made their home in Redmond, WA. There Sandy settled in as a housewife, and soon mom of their two daughters which has now grown to two awesome son-in-laws and three grandsons. 

PATH INTO ART

Sandy’s path into watercolor is through community. As a mom, she was busy raising her kids. While she dabbled in stained glass and pottery, but they were only hobbies; her energies were given to her family. As her children left home, she could have become lonely and aimless. But she didn’t for this is when her passion for art was rekindled. 

Sandy was forty-seven, when she signed up for a class from Jeanne Marie Price in Bellevue. Jeanne was good at teaching adults because they’re restricted and scared, in contrast to kids who are so free and will fill the whole page with color. Sandy had a positive experience with her. Not only did she teach her students how to paint watercolor a freer way, but in a very short time she helped them display and sell their art in Bellevue at the senior center. At the first sale, Sandy sold three out of five paintings. She said to herself, “I want to do this the rest of my life.” Sandy isn’t sure if the turning point for her was that someone else liked her work, or that she just loved doing it. She does know that from that point on, she painted every moment she could. It was her passion. “I would get up in the morning and before I ate breakfast, or got dressed, I was painting,” she reflects. “I want that passion again. But life gets in the way.”

One friend that Sandy made in that first class was Sonja Ravet. Sandy and Sonja were really good at mentoring each other. At the time, they were both painting flowers. But they did them very differently. Sonja went on to teach art classes herself. Sandy did teach one class, but it was a long way north, and she didn’t get home till 11pm at night, exhausted. She realized that teaching isn’t her thing; she’s better with one on one friendships or smaller communities.  Sandy’s passion for art was rekindled in community, and it was nourished by the rich artistic community in the Puget Sound region. 

COMMUNITY OF ARTISTS

Sandy’s story is woven into the threads of the incredibly rich watercolor community in Washington. She’s taken classes from artists outside the Puget Sound region, like Gerald Brommer, who is from Carmel, CA. Sandy liked his work and when she met him she was thrilled that his personality matched his art. But for the most part, her instructors and artistic friends read like a veritable Who’s Who of Washington watercolorists. 

Sandy likes to take classes from people whose artwork she loves. She’s taken a couple of classes in Coupeville. One of those was taught by Glen Oberg. Sandy remembers the class had a great time painting outside every day and that it was packed with really good artists: John Ringen, himself a watercolor legend and a lifelong friend of Glen; Marty Rogers who became a beloved friend of Sandy; and Nancy Fulton, Glen Oberg’s cousin.   

She took a week-long class taught by Jerry Stitt on Camano Island. This was amazing for her because as a child, from 6 months to 18 years, her family came to Camano every August for one or two weeks at Madrona Beach Resort  on the West side of the Island.  At the end of the holiday, when the kids piled into the back seat to go home to Seattle, there would be a tear in Sandy’s eyes. So the class tied together two of Sandy’s loves: for painting and Camano. The class painted at many of the same places Sandy remembered as a child. In that class, Sandy also met April Nelson, daughter of northwest artist Jack Dorsey, and she became a precious art friend. 

A number of art communities have nourished Sandy in her art journey. Sandy got involved in Art League North. They met at the Fire Station Mount Vernon.  After the official meeting they would  go out to lunch afterwards. This is where her friendship with Marty Rogers deepened. Marty’s husband Earl Jorgensen was a part of that group. So were Glen Oberg and Nancy Fulton. She remembers “magic moments” painting plein air with them. That was her first artist group. 

Sandy also was also part of a wonderful critique group with Betty Dorotik. Members of this group grew together, ate together, and enjoyed each other’s company. All Bellevue gals, they now live on Camano Island, Whidbey Island, Idaho, and Montana, with one, Pia Messina, passing on. She remembers those as being “rich times.” 

Another small community is a couple of friends who have been painting weekly for over twenty years. Sandy and Genny Rees began painting on Mercer Island in the late 1990’s. When the first building that they met in got torn down, they moved to the community center. Sandy says that she and Genny had become so close that they were going to meet or else. A few years later Seiko Konya come along. Sandy remembers that Seiko was obviously gifted with painting, but was kind of struggling with painting flowers and backgrounds. “And then she subtly did this little portrait and our mouths just dropped open,” Sandy remembers.  “The portraits are so easy for her to do. Particularly if she does family.” Sandy and Genny encouraged her to try for a show. Seiko entered a painting of a violinist in the Northwest Watercolor Society show. So the first time of trying, Seiko got in the show, got an award, and sold the painting. Seiko was off and running. 

Like Seiko, Sandy has been encouraged by the community of artists. Being in this community is very humbling for her because she sees their paintings, and aspires to paint like that. But Sandy realizes that each artist comes with their own inward voice, a style that will be their painting voice. It’s going to be different for every person. “I can’t paint like Seiko. I can’t do those portraits,” she points out. But she feels very lucky about the friendships that she’s made through art. So much of her artistic journey has been about the friendships she’s made and being around artists outside of just painting. “There’s something very common in all of us,” Sandy says, “we love the beauty around us, we have much in common in how we see life and what’s really important to you. We’re not really money grabbers. If we had to pay to paint, we would do that. 

JOYS AND STRUGGLES OF ART

For Sandy, the joys came so much at first. “You were taking a while piece of paper, and then there’s a flower (painted on it) and I was thinking, ‘Boy, I’m pretty good.’ She continues, “You start out by being amazed at what you can do. And the longer you are at it, the more you ask of yourself, the harder it becomes. I would want to be painting better at this time than I am.” Sandy points out that though artists usually paint alone, “We can’t live as a recluse. We’ve got to be engaged in life to be painting life.” So while Sandy doesn’t like to be interrupted when she’s painting, she knows that’s unrealistic when you have children and grandchildren.

Sandy has set up a small studio in their home, just off the dining room. It’s part of the house, not an isolated room. The studio has windows on two sides, and so has wonderful light. Sandy has finally gotten shades for the windows so that she can close it off at night, keep it cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Sandy’s studio – a designated place to paint next to the kitchen/dining room, the hub of the home – ties together two of her passions: her people and her painting.  But how to hold the two together is a conundrum for Sandy. 

ON WATERCOLOR

Sandy loves how with watercolor you can be painting and your brush runs through a a little puddle of water and the paint color just – woosh – magically and spontaneously color the clear water and spread over the paper. She is fascinated by how you can paint layer upon layer of watercolor, letting the transparent colors build on each other.

When Sandy paints flowers she would put in a wash of a little yellow, then red. From the outset the painting had a glow and this became a kind of trademark. Her friends would walk into a gallery and see a painting and know it was her work before they saw her name on the painting. Sandy remembers being struck by how you can erase the pencil marks from watercolor paper after you paint on it. She likes Arches Watercolor paper, and is loyal to Windsor Newton paints. She enjoys how it takes very little for an artist to go off to class or paint with friends: “When I go off to class I have to have paper, paints and brushes. That’s it. It’s pretty simple.” 

She also knows that watercolor is not easy. You have to keep yourself going, keep growing, keep learning. There’s always the danger of getting the painting to tight. You have to know when to walk away from a painting and try a new subject matter. You need to know when to push yourself and try something uncomfortable, or meet a new teacher along the way. For example, she’ll take a class from Eric Weigart, when she has to “loosen up” her paintings. 

Watercolor is a challenging medium. But less challenging when the artist is walking with the encouragement and wisdom of the community of artists. 

LESSONS ALONG THE WAY

A wise old artist, Chuck Webster, once told Sandy that she would have to do her painting by herself. “That’s where you’re going to do your successful painting,” he said. Then added, “make sure once a week you’re in community.” Sandy has taken his guidance seriously. She paints in her studio and each week tries to connect with other artists on a weekly basis, whether through a class or the small communities of artists she is involved in. 

She took one class from Gerald Brommer on integrating collage and acrylic in a more abstract way. She remembers that he was a phenomenal teacher, but was actually more impressed by the fact that even though he was in his 70’s, had recently had a hip replacement, and was jurying the Northwest Watercolor Society show, and was out every night, he was still so energetic. Sandy asked herself, “where did he get his energy?” And she concluded, “from painting.”

Many of the lessons we learn in the context of community is not so much what people say, but it is how people live. 

LEGACY

When asked about her legacy, Sandy is very humble. She hopes her family enjoys her paintings. She laughs and says her art legacy is very simple: “just anything other than they used the painting in the birdcage.” She would like to hear from the grandchild saying, “I loved it when she painted me playing baseball.” She adds that when an artist gets rid of a piece of work, we don’t know if it’s treasured. “Every once-in-a-while I’ll hear from a person who bought a painting long ago and they’ll say, ‘Oh we love our painting.’” That means a lot to her. 

Sandy remembers how once a lady came into the “Art Barn” hosted by Art League North at the Tulip Festival. She wanted Sandy to match her bedspread, and the painting was going to go over the bed. Sandy chuckles and points out that “It was a nightmare…you don’t want that.” But still she did it. And it was worth it! This woman and her husband have since bought 6 paintings. They have visited Sandy and Fred, and send Christmas cards every year.  They have become part of Sandy’s artistic community too!

Sandy is just satisfied “If she’s given any joy along the way.” 

EPILOGUE

This article has been especially fun since I got to know Sandy all the way back in 1992-1993. Jenny and I were married in June of 1992. We spent the following year living on Camano Island where I served a one year pastoral internship at Camano Chapel. During this time I got involved in a watercolor class that was taught at the senior center on Camano Island through Skagit Valley College. Part way through the year our teacher left, and I assumed the role of teaching the class in her place. One of the students was Nancy Axell, who was featured in our 2018 Vintage Show. Another was Sandy Langford who is, of course, in the 2019 show. This was a very fruitful year of painting for me. I entered a number of national and international shows and got accepted in many, and even won a few prizes. At that time I even considered going into art as a career. In the end, I decided to put my paintbrushes away and finished up my seminary studies and went into full-time ministry. What a joy it has been, in returning to Washington State, and living in Redmond, to reconnect with Sandy and to be neighbors. And what a joy it is to feature her beautiful artwork in our Vintage show.

Author: Jason Dorsey

2019 VINTAGE WATERCOLORISTS OF WASHINGTON

  • Saturdays, March 9, 16, 23 and 30, 10am-5pm
  • Artist Reception: March 9, 3-5pm
  • At Sunnyshore Studio: 2803 SE Camano Drive, Camano Island, WA

THE BOOKS ARE HERE!

Last Thursday Jenny drove down to Salem, OR to be with her Dad as he went in for cataract surgery. The surgery was successful. Jenny was able to be a calm, encouraging presence for her parents.

She was also able to make a trip to Your Town Press where I Remember Running Through the Woods was printed.

1,000 books all boxed up waited on a cart to be taken home.

pick up day 6

With the help of her sister, who brought her van to help haul books, Jenny was able to get them all loaded up!

pick up day 7

Wow! That’s a lot of books.

pick up day 5

And while they’re not perfect, we’re super happy with how they came out and with the story they tell!

We’re planning a big Release Party on Saturday, March 9th, at the opening of the Vintage Watercolor show at Sunnyshore Studio. There are a number of book signing events in the works, and we’re hoping to roll out a more official “release” on this site.

But if you’re interested in getting the book in advance of these events, it is for sale on our Store on this site.

Store

I want to thank everyone who encourages and supports local artists and authors. It is a joy to tell these stories of a boy growing up on an island in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

Finally, it was a special joy to give the first gift to my son, Jacob, who helped me so much on this project. The book is, after all, dedicated to him:

“To Jacob, who loves the woods like I do.”

Sincerely, Jason Dorsey

A Belated Thanks and Acknowledgement to Bethany Warner

A few weeks after I OK’d the proofs for I Remember Running Through the Woods, the second in my children’s book series, I realized that I had failed to thank in the “Acknowledgement” section a very important person. Now that we are picking up the books today (Jenny is in Salem, OR) from the printer, I feel a thanks and public acknowledgement is due.

A couple of years ago, when I was honing the story, I reached out on facebook for creative editing help and feedback. My friend, Bethany Warner, contacted me and said she was willing to help.

Bethany 2

I had the privilege of serving as Bethany’s pastor at Redeemer in Indianapolis, and the honor of doing the wedding service for her and Jeremiah.

Bethany 3

I thought to myself that this was a very wonderful thing for a couple of reasons: First, Bethany. is one of the widest read people I know. She recently shared her following “Reading Stats” for 2018:

85 books
20,493 pages
189.25 hours/audio

Cumulative: 1436 books (since 2002); 190,472 pages (since 2015… I didn’t start adding page counts till later!); 622.3 hours of audio (since 2015. Ditto on hours of listening.)

The second reason is that she is the Director of Development at the Indianapolis Library Foundation. In other words, she works at the library, she knows books and loves books!

The third reason is that I’ve worked with Bethany before on another editing project. I know she’s fun to work with, has high creative and verbal IQ, and I thought it would give us an opportunity to work together again. Actually, the fact of the matter is, I needed her help!

Bethany provided some real helpful editing feedback on the book, and she did it pro bono, gratis, for free!

So…Bethany, here is my belated thanks and acknowledgement.

Dear Bethany,

I’m REALLY, REALLY GRATEFUL for your generous help to me on I Remember Running Through the Woods. Your willingness to give your creative gifts freely and provide such great feedback was immensely helpful. If it ever goes to a second edition, I’ll make sure you are named in the acknowledgments.  I’m thankful for your friendship and presence in my life over the years.

Grace, Jason

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Sunnyshore Studio announces our 2019 Artistic Season

Sunnyshore Studio is thrilled to announce our 2019 Artistic Season. We hope that you are able to visit us for one – or all! – of these shows as we “share beauty with the world.”

MARCH: VINTAGE WATERCOLORISTS OF WASHINGTON

Our season begins in March with the second of five Jack Dorsey Invitational: Vintage Watercolorists of Washington shows. We’re thrilled to partner again with the Northwest Watercolor Society (NWWS), one of the premier watercolor society’s in the US.

We’ll showcase the art and celebrate the lives and artistic legacies of five of Washington’s top watercolorists: Jerry Stitt, Seiko Konya, Nancy Fulton, Cooper Hart and Sandy Langford. Jack Dorsey will also have five of his paintings on display. And we are excited to have on display a watercolor by Elizabeth Warhanik, one of the founding members of Women Painters of Washington.

You won’t want to miss the meet the artist reception, 3-5pm, on March 9th. We expect it to be packed with watercolor lovers, artists and friends of the art as it was last year!

Check out the poster below for information on the show featuring one of Cooper Hart’s marine paintings.

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And here’s a video preview of the artists with some fun bloopers of Jack Dorsey and the making of the video.

MAY: CAMANO ISLAND STUDIO TOUR

Sunnyshore Studio will be participating in the popular “Studio Tour” hosted by the Camano Arts Association. The tour takes place over five days in May:

  • Friday, May 10, 10am-5pm
  • Saturday, May 11, 10am-5pm
  • Sunday, May 12, 10am-5pm
  • Saturday, May 18, 10am-5pm
  • Sunday, May 19, 10am-5pm

We will feature artwork by our family of artists: Fanny Y. Cory, Jack Dorsey, Ann Cory, Jason Dorsey, April Nelson, and Jed Dorsey, as well as guest artists who we’ll reveal at a later time.

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The Studio Stour is a fun way to see beautiful Camano Island and experience the vibrant colony of artists there. Enjoy this virtual tour of some of our artists.

JACK DORSEY SILENT ART AUCTION

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Jack Dorsey, the patriarch of our family of artists, is a well known northwest artist whose artworks are collected and prized. Jack has painted for close to sixty years and has an impressive body of art that ranges watercolor landscapes to still life and western oils. Here’s your chance to see a broad collection of Jack’s works, get your hands on a Jack Dorsey original, and maybe even a great deal on it too.

The silent auction will work this way. There will be a minimum bid for each painting. If you want to take the painting today there will be a price for that too. At the end of the show we will see what painting is going to a new home.

The show will take place over three Saturdays in June:

  • Saturday, June 15, 10am-5pm
  • Saturday, June 22, 10am-5pm
  • Saturday, June 29, 10am-5pm

OCTOBER: JED DORSEY SOLO SHOW

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A highlight of our artistic season each year is Jed Dorsey’s solo show. Jed usually sells his shows out, and typically there are people waiting at the door to get in before the show opens!

Jed’s show will run on two Saturdays in October:

  • October 5th, 10am-5pm
  • October 12th, 10am-5pm

This year we’ll plan to host the show online as we did last October so Jed’s friends and fans across the US and world (remarkably, but it is true) can purchase his beautiful acrylic paintings.

If you want to learn more about Jed, or are interested in taking an online course in acrylics through his Acrylic University check out his web site:

www.jeddorseyart.com

DECEMBER CHRISTMAS SHOW

Each year we do a themed Christmas show. Last year’s show was “Christmas in Miniature”. We haven’t settled on a theme for our 2019 Christmas show. Maybe we’ll stick with the Christmas in miniature theme. Maybe we’ll branch out with something new.

But for sure we’ll have a wonderful time sharing new original art, and affordable prints, books we’ve published, and lots of delicious food and drinks. We’ll also have fun inviting guests artists who help us make this an especially festive show packed with friends!

Our family looks forward to welcoming you in to our creative studio-gallery as we share the beauty of Camano with the world!

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  • December 7th, 10am-5pm
  • December 14th, 10am-5pm

ART LIVES ON CAMANO!

Meet Vintage Watercolorist Nancy Fulton: For the Love of Art

Nancy Fulton was born in Ballard. Her dad was born in Ballard, too, and the Hoefers are well integrated there to this day. Nancy was living in Ballard with her husband David and two children when she took her first serious step in becoming a watercolor artist. But her love affair with art began many years before that.

As a child, Nancy always wanted to color, draw, and was attracted to any kind of art. She loved her art classes at school. Her first success with art was in kindergarten class. In those days, students were given real clay to mold with. She made a dog. It was taken down to Frederick and Nelson and put on display with some kind of ribbon. Though she was young at the time, Nancy remembers that her mother didn’t take her to where it was showcased. Laughing she recalls, “I was really curious to see why they had taken my clay piece. It was used as a door stop. It was pretty heavy. And it broke.”

Nancy traces her artistic bent to her mother’s side of the family. Nancy’s aunt – her mother’s sister – is the mother of well-known Washington watercolorist Glen Oberg. Like Nancy, art was something Glen, who is nine years older, just always did. There was some artistic talent on Nancy’s dad’s side too. If you asked him draw a cow, he could do that. He worked at the post office when she was young, then got a job as a real estate agent until his brother bought a fuel business. He asked Nancy’s dad to sell accounts; so they became business partners. It’s been a family business ever since. Nancy’s husband, brother, sister and kids have all worked there.

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JOURNEY INTO ART

Nancy wanted to go to the University of Washington. Knowing she was artistic, her folks sent here there. She declared as an art major, took art classes, and loved it. But after that first year her parents told her that was all they could afford. She remembers her mother saying, “You’re just going to get married anyway.” Nancy said, “OK”. “That was just the way it was,” She reflects.

She got a job at a bank, and worked for Virginia Mason for a while. And she did get married, to a young man named David Fulton. During those years she wanted to get involved with some kind of art. But it took a call from a friend to push her over the edge to act on her intuition. She was caring for their two young children when the phone rang. It was her friend Gretchen. She said, “You’re in your bathrobe, right?” And Nancy said, “Uh, Yeah.” Gretchen said, “It’s two o’clock. You need to get out. You draw or something don’t you?” Nancy answered, “Yeah.” Gretchen continued, “Take an art class, then.” So Nancy went to Shoreline Community College and got a degree in Visual Communications Technology. She started a little company titled Artwerks that focused on doing labels and business cards.

Nancy approached the Pacific Northwest Ballet about designing and producing a coloring book for the Nutcracker.  They liked the art and suggested she sell it to San Francisco Ballet too, which she did.  She also contacted the Seattle Opera to do a coloring book about The Ring. This was also successful.  Nancy did all the art and “paste up” and these books were all printed at Johnson Printing by her cousin Glen Oberg who was the manager at that time.

Besides running her small business, Nancy started exploring watercolor classes taught by Jerry Stitt, Diane Lemle, and Carl Christophersen.

the old apple tree SOLD

The old apple tree

In 1983 the Fulton’s moved to Normandy Park to be closer to David’s work. It turned out that Carl Christophersen was moving to south Seattle too, so Nancy was able to continue to take classes from him. That year she got a watercolor painting into the Northwest Watercolor Society show at the Frye Art Museum. This was the very first time Nancy had ever put anything in a show. It was juried in and hung at the Frye! That was very encouraging to her.

In their new home, Nancy set up her studio in their kitchen which had good lighting. She used the island for an easel. She would start painting. Hours later Dave would come home from work and she would still be painting. “I hadn’t gone to the grocery store yet. I didn’t know what we were having for dinner. So that was a problem,” Nancy remembered. She had to find a separate space where she could paint. She took over one of the bedrooms. After 9 years of peddling commercial art, Nancy went to work part time at her husband, David’s, place of work. She was able to do that, be a mom, and continue to have success painting. As successful came in art, she was able to rent a small studio space close to where her husband worked. She painted there for nineteen years and taught classes there too. Recently the building was sold and was going to be repurposed so she had to move out.

A few years back David built her a little house-like studio out in back of their home. He’s in the heating business, so he made the floors radient heated. Nancy can go out there in the middle of the night and paint in her pajamas now. Dave retired just a couple of month’s ago; and Nancy moved out of my studio she was renting. She’s “retired” from teaching now.  Painting will be her avocation and watercolor continues to be one of her long loves.

ARTISTIC INFLUENCES

It was in Carl Christophersen’s watercolor class where Nancy’s breakthrough to watercolor happened. She had taken other watercolor classes before but struggled learning the medium. “When Karl took over he had the right formula for me and I took off. He did a little painting with some daisies. And It clicked. I got it, right away,” she remembers.  As a teacher, Nancy knows how hard it is to help people get important elements of painting, like negative – positive space. She knows how it can be a struggle to master a medium like watercolor, that sometimes it takes the right teacher, or the right demonstration, for a breakthrough. This can be especially difficult with watercolor because you can’t erase, you have to get it right. Carl’s demonstration was her breakthrough moment. Nancy did a painting in his class that she liked very much. He encouraged her to put it in the Northwest Watercolor Society’s “Northwest Open” show they were having at the Frye. And, as mentioned above, it got in!

Another mentor has been her cousin, Glen Oberg. Nancy says that Glen is not only one of the best painters she knows, but is an extraordinary human being. “He’s always humble. He’s easy going. He’s one of those people who has a great sense of humor. He’s always been supportive of me coming along…No one can paint watercolors better than he can,” She states. Nancy attends the class he teaches every Wednesday at a senior center. “I love it,” she says. 

Glen Oberg

Another influence is her good friend and terrific watercolor artist, Marty Rogers. She met Marty at one of the classes that she took from Diane Lemle in LaConner. They began to paint together, and that helped Nancy a lot. The would often paint plein air. Marty was really good at finding places to paint, and asking people permission to paint their home or on their farm. After they set up, Nancy would dig in: “I would paint until they dragged me out of the place.” People would stop and talk with them as they painted. “It was fun,” Nancy remembers. She says that it is helpful to paint with someone. “It’s kind of dangerous to go out by yourself. You know. You could fall and break your leg. When Marty and I would go out to paint, we’d go out for fun. But we would always come back with something we kind of liked.”

Marty and Nancy joined Art League North. This gave them a venue to show their work once a year in the art barn at the Tulip Festival. At that show “We’d practically give our stuff away,” Nancy comments. But “It was nice to be appreciated.”

[Note: They welcomed other people into their painting friendship. In 1993 I was a twenty-three year old and a fledgling watercolor artist. They invited me to join them for their weekly paint out, and I remember often joining Marty and Nancy and a few others at the Calico Cupboard for tea and scones and conversation before we set out to paint plein air. Those are happy memories for me. Author, Jason Dorsey]

STRUGGLES AND JOYS OF WATERCOLOR

For Nancy, one of the struggles is just painting something the way she wants it to be done. Not every painting is going to be a masterpiece. You start a painting out, and “then it goes south on you. And it’s disheartening,” she says. “I wanted to have a discipline that when that happens, I get out another piece of paper and start over. I don’t want to let it get in my way.” Nancy is glad she persevered through the disappointments. When she recently moved out to her new studio, she went through stacks of things from photographs to sketch pads. She couldn’t believe she had painted that many paintings; and she was struck by all the paintings that she has sold through the years. “The time has gone by real fast. But I’m still not painting the exact painting that I wanted to. I want to do the great, great painting. But a lot of them are pretty good.” Looking at her body of work she was able to say, “You know, these aren’t that bad.”

Another joy has been to share her love for art with her son and daughter. They are both artistic, though neither has chosen art as a career. Still, she was able to integrate them into her life as an artist. When she did the coloring book for the Nutcracker, they wanted to have it set up at the Olympic Hotel. So Nancy and her daughter set up the show. It was her project too.  Both of the kids enjoyed painting and drawing alongside of her. “It was really great,” Nancy says, though “My husband would sometimes be annoyed because I wouldn’t be doing things he wanted me to do.”

Once she got started with watercolor, she knew she was never going to quit. But she wanted it to be something that David wanted for her. She contributed to the family income through her classes, which also helped with the ongoing purchase of art materials and costs of entering shows: “the more I sold the better I felt, and the more I painted,” she says. And in the end, David was a strong support of Nancy’s love for and pursuit of watercolor.

ART SHOWS, GALLERIES AND ORGANIZATIONS 

Nancy has signature status in the Northwest Watercolor Society.  A couple of paintings even got into the very prestigious National Watercolor Society show. She has been a member of Women Painters of Washington for twenty years and exhibits in their gallery downtown in the Columbia Tower. She also exhibits twice a year at the River Gallery in La Conner.  Once a year she sells her paintings at an art show in Normandy Park with Artists United. 

ON WATERCOLOR 

Nancy’s students always feel like watercolor is indelible; like if you make a mistake it’s all over. But Nancy points out that it’s so malleable. “So many people don’t understand this. Yes, it’s nice to have that fresh wash. But you can keep going on, if you make a mistake. And that is one thing I would say. ‘Keep going. Don’t tear it up. Keep going. Keep working on it. When you get done with it, you may have something you didn’t think you were going to love, but you kept going on.”

She shares a story of how she learned this lesson for herself a long time ago. She had wanted to paint glass and I had this crystal thing. “Cut crystal is hard to paint. I think it is probably hard to paint in anything because it reflects all kinds of light. And I kept making mistakes. And I kept working on it. And it kept getting darker and darker. But I kept working and working. Finally I got it done. And it was ok. It was done. I actually managed to do this thing I didn’t think I could do. I was ready to tear it up several times. And I thought, ‘No just keep going. See how far you can go with this.’ So that’s the kind of thing I try to get through to my students. Don’t give up. Work on it some more. You learn something from it if nothing else. You can do it again. Just keep going.”

Nancy has a lifetime of watercolor painting behind her. From the countertop, to the bedroom, to the rented studio, to the studio behind their home, Nancy has painted a lot of paintings. But still there are times of insecurity and special moments of inspiration. Like when she set out to paint portraits of two of her grandsons, her son’s children. She really wanted to get them right. Nancy reflects that at the time she thought, “Aw, this is terrible. They won’t come out right.” She doesn’t do a lot of portraits, and she notes that it’s too hard to paint someone you love.  You have to put all your heart and soul into it. Plus, “They are both so cute,” she says. And they both turned out! Nancy’s eyes teared up: “That was probably the biggest deal, that was the biggest deal for me. That I could do a painting of those two kids and be happy with it.”

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LEGACY

Nancy hasn’t thought a lot about her legacy, except for maybe the legacy of art that she’ll leave to her kids. They have paintings of hers now. And they may have paintings of hers that they have an eye on. Still she is sensitive to not  foist something on them that they don’t want. She knows that asking them, “Do you want this?” puts them in an awkward position because then they’ll feel like they’ll hurt her feelings if they don’t, if they say, no.  “I don’t want to do that to them,” She says. She wonders if her granddaughter, who is really into art, might be part of her legacy. But she really doesn’t know what her legacy is.

That’s ok. The hundreds of people who have Nancy Fulton paintings in hanging in their home are perhaps the ones who can testify best to her legacy. Many of those people Nancy will never meet. But her friends tell her how they love her paintings. She recalls that there was one nice lady who bought one of her paintings. She had a bandana on and was going through chemo. She told Nancy, “I’m going to sit and look at that while I’m having this chemo thing.” That meant a lot to Nancy. A couple of Nancy’s paintings hang in my parent’s home, and one in my sister’s home. I know that they are treasured, and bring beauty and joy into those places.

Nancy knows what she gets from the paintings she likes. Sometimes she sees a painting that she’s done and says, “I love that.” And some of those paintings are hard to sell. “I don’t want to sell them. I don’t think I’m every going to do a painting as good as that.” Maybe not. But maybe Nancy’s legacy is loving watercolor, and sharing her love with people through her paintings. 

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EPILOGUE

My wife, Jenny, and I visited Nancy’s home in Normandy Park, Seattle to take some photographs and video footage of her Studio for the short video documentary on her life and art. I had written the article above based solely on my interview of Nancy, and what I knew of her from when we painted plein air in 1993. From the interview I was convinced that Nancy’s story was about the love of art, hence the title of this article “For the love of art.” Visiting her home solidified that first impression. Nancy led us on a tour of the art in her home.

What became crystal clear is that in Nancy’s home, her loves – for her family, of painting, and of great artworks by great artists – are all woven together.

THE ART OF HER TEACHERS

Her home is filled with paintings by her teachers. Like this watercolor by Carl Christopherson., Diane Lemle, and Glen Oberg.

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These beautiful florals, the first and oil, the second a watercolor, by Diane Lemle.

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Of course, Nancy has also collected a number of beautiful paintings by her cousin Glen Oberg. Here are just a few of that collection.

NATIONALLY KNOWN ARTISTS WHOSE WORK NANCY LOVES 

Artworks of well known national artists are also displayed. Nancy loves their artwork and her home is filled with incredible works of art by well known artists.

Like this painting by Del Gish.

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And this one by Judi Betts.

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PAINTINGS BY HER FRIENDS

Nancy values the paintings of her dearest friends too. One of those friends, Marty Rogers, is an incredible artists as this painting showcases.

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NANCY’S OWN PAINTINGS

Nancy’s own paintings – the ones that she specially loves – have an honored place alongside these other paintings. Like this one that Nancy feels is her greatest painting yet. They certainly do hold their own next to the works of these masters.

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There are also paintings of her grandchildren that have a special place on the walls. You can see Nancy’s love for her little ones in these paintings.

Here in her home, her sanctuary, we see Nancy’s loves – her love for her family, her love of her friends, her own love of painting, and her love for good art –  integrated, kept and cherished,  a sacred gallery of her loves.

You can view Nancy’s beautiful artwork at the upcoming Jack Dorsey Invitational: Vintage Watercolorists of Washington at Sunnyshore Studio (2803 S.E. Camano Drive)

Saturdays, March 9, 16, 23 and 30, 10am-5pm

Meet the artist reception, Saturday, March 9th, 3:00-5:00pm

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Sunnyshore Studio is thrilled to be partnering with the Northwest Watercolor Society (NWWS), one of the premier watercolor societies in the US, in celebrating the life and legacy of vintage watercolorists of Washington.

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Meet Vintage Artist Cooper Hart: Marine Watercolorist

Cooper Hart was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1952.  The son of a career Air Force officer, an aircraft navigator and crewman, he grew up around military bases scattered across the prairies of Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri. In 1967 his father retired from the Air Force after 23 years, moved the family to the Seattle area and went to work for the Boeing Company.

“I thought I had died and gone to Heaven“, Cooper says, “I found out that the whole world didn’t look like Kansas.” He quickly set out to enjoy all the outdoor activities that the Pacific Northwest had to offer. He began exploring the mountains and beaches, hiking, camping, boating, and fishing.

Not far from his home in Edmonds he soon discovered the wreckage of an old wooden sailing ship, the barkentine Conqueror, on the beach.  Launched in 1918, the Conqueror was one of the last wooden sailing ships to be built on the West Coast and marked the end of the era of sail. With a keen interest in all things nautical, he often visited the old ship, thoroughly exploring every inch of the decaying relic of a not-so-distant past. Remarkably, he even found copies of old newspapers dating from World War 2 still in the shattered remains of the chart house.

As a child Cooper had little interest in art. His older brother, however, was an extremely talented artist, and encouraged his attempts at drawing. His brother would eventually win a scholarship to the renowned Kansas City Art Institute, becoming a graphic designer and commercial artist, working in Hollywood in the 1960’s and later in New York City.

Cooper can recall being mesmerized at an early age by 19th Century American landscape paintings. He would stare intently at scenes of the American wilderness that he found in his school books. It seemed to be an interest that was always present. His courses in school did not include any art studies.  Later, in college, there were no art classes on art technique or history.

In the 1970’s he began working in the silkscreen printing business cutting screen stencils by hand. This led to a great familiarity with letters and type of every description.  From there it was a natural transition to the art of sign lettering and brush work.

Around this time he took a trip to Ketchikan, Alaska to visit some old college friends who had moved there. For the return trip he joined the crew of a very small Tlingit Indian salmon gillnet boat that was southbound back to the States. It was a long trip on a very tiny, slow wooden boat but it was a great way to see the country up close. It was a life changing experience to sail down the Inside Passage, stopping in various Indian settlements and towns along the way.  A stint of gillnet fishing followed after getting back to Puget Sound.

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A LOVE FOR WOODEN BOATS

Cooper used his skills as a sign artist to get work in the shipyard of the Whitney-Fidalgo Cannery company, which was located in Magnolia, on the ship canal opposite Ballard.  In those days the fish canneries owned their own fleets of purse seine boats which they leased to the skippers.  These were usually very young men that ran these seiners and were bound by contract to sell their fish to the company. The fleet was kept at docks on the historic site of the old Maritime Shipyards building, where scores of wooden workboats had been built by hand in the decades that came before.

“It was my job to paint the names on all the boats”, said Cooper. It was a fascinating place for anyone who had an appreciation for old wooden boats.  There was a constant buzz of activity as the crews prepared their boats for the upcoming season and run up to Alaska. The boats were well taken care of by the company. Every year they had to be hauled out, the hulls de-fouled, scraped, and painted.  The hydraulic and electric systems, radar and radios needed to be working properly. The nets needed mending and rigging repaired.  The old diesel engines needed to be made as reliable as possible as lives depended on it.

Many of these boats were positively antiques. Some of them were 75 years old or more. They had carried generations of fishermen north to seek their fortunes and they were still being used for fishing. It was quite a testament to the men that built and maintained them that they were able to remain in use for so long.  “I had the run of the place. I got to work on all the boats”, Hart said.

It was at this time that Cooper came to know this nomadic sub-culture of young men, the crews that worked and lived on these boats.  He said, “I was taken by the pirate-like fantasy existence that they led.  They were free to run up and down the coast in those beautiful boats, working and living in the fantastic playground that was Southeast Alaska.” It seemed to him that somebody should be documenting this scene, this era, somehow. “It was fading into the past and nothing like it would likely ever come again.”

“I didn’t really see anybody else doing it, at least not like I thought it should be done”, he said. There were a few Northwest artists that did some fishing scenes but not really like he wanted to do.  “I wanted to be a marine artist but the only problem was I didn’t know how to paint,” he said. He set out to change that.

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SELF TAUGHT ARTIST

 Cooper was in his later twenties when he decided to teach himself to paint watercolors. “There was never any question that watercolor was the medium I wanted to use”, he said. It seemed like a natural for the pictures he wanted to make. He had always been a do-it-yourself type and usually just picked up a book and learned how to do home repairs or build things on his own.  He picked up some watercolor technique books and went to work.

“I was a closet painter.  I didn’t show it to anybody for a long time”, Cooper recalls. It took several years before he felt that his work was good enough to show to others. “I knew that I wanted to make contemporary seascapes with boats but in a traditional style”, he said. He began a large collection of books of landscape and marine artists of that period. He carefully studied the works of Winslow Homer, Fitzhugh Lane, Sanford Gifford, William Bradford, and others.

Eventually, in 1984, he took a dozen or so paintings to a small museum near the Seattle Aquarium called the Museum of the Sea and Ships. The curator decided, on the spot, to host a one man show. Soon after that he was invited to be represented by the Kirsten Gallery in Seattle, a well known venue showing local and national marine artists.

Cooper met his future wife, Karen, in 1980.  They lived at that time in a 1930’s log cabin in Woodway.  He was honing his watercolor skills while at the same time running his home based sign business. He was still often working on the waterfront and the docks of Seattle doing his sign work and lettering on the workboat fleet. He was able to balance the time so that he could work and learn his art simultaneously.

1984 was a pivotal year.  Cooper began showing his artwork in galleries around Seattle. He and Karen were married and she began her first year of medical school at the University of Washington. Cooper kept up the balancing act between work and painting all the while. Karen graduated from medical school in the class of 1988. Following that they moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin for three years of medical residency training, Cooper still doing artwork and working at local sign shops.

In 1989 he submitted an entry into the Mystic Seaport International Marine Art Exhibition in Mystic, Connecticut. This was the premier venue in the United States for the genre of marine painting. As it turned out his first time entry won one of the museum’s top awards, The Award of Excellence. Since that time he has been one of the museum’s “core” artists. Cooper has won the Award of Excellence twice and another top award, the David Thimgan Prize for best depiction of West Coast maritime history.

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They returned to the Northwest in 1991 and Karen began her medical practice with the Everett Clinic, for whom she has worked for nearly 28 years. They have two grown daughters and live near the town of Snohomish.

ON WATERCOLOR

For Cooper,” Watercolor seems like a technical skill that anyone can learn to master. It seems like anyone who can hold a brush can be taught to do it once you figure out the technical aspects”, he says. Of course, most people seem to disagree.  The goopy and noxious enamel paints used in sign lettering are nothing like the delicate watercolor paints. “The ability to control a brush already made the crossover to watercolor easier”, he says.

“Mistakes are not allowed in watercolor”, he says. “There is no going back. Anything that touches the paper is going to be there. You can’t cover it up or at least only to a very limited extent. You have to know exactly what you are doing because you can’t take it back.”

“In painting watercolor you move from the background to the foreground,” he says. First, the sky is washed in, sometimes requiring laying in 6 or 8 washes before he gets what he is looking for. This is where his background in printing comes in. In the printing process you have the three primary colors, red , yellow, and blue. “In watercolor, you need to have a balance of all three colors in the sky or the picture looks flat,” he says. He puts in washes that may have only a trace of red, blue, or yellow. “If they aren’t all there, it doesn’t look right.” With watercolor the light in the picture comes from the paper so you have to be cautious “not to muck it up with too much paint” which muddies the painting.

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Being a self-taught artist, Cooper had no formal training.  However he has intensely studied the works of those considered to be the masters of landscape and marine painting, both vintage and contemporary. He also tries to make it back to New England for the annual marine exhibitions on a regular basis. It is important to connect with the other artists, the top talent in the field, and see what they are doing artistically. “It’s also useful to see what is selling in the galleries and what isn’t.”

Cooper’s style is very traditional.  “On the East Coast they seem to hang on to traditions of all kinds, artistic or otherwise. There is nothing avant-garde about my work. Some people like  traditional art and some people don’t. It’s just the way I do it. I don’t know how other people develop a particular style. I just know how I do it.  I appreciate other people’s art and I would like to do some different things sometimes but I haven’t been able to yet.”

THE CHALLENGES OF BEING AN ARTIST

“Watercolor is a very immediate medium. Things can go bad really fast.” The artist doesn’t really know how the picture is going to turn out. “What you think you are going to do when you start may not resemble what you end up with. You have to be flexible. That can be a problem for some people, especially people like me who want to have such tight control over a rather difficult to control medium.”

Perhaps more challenging than watercolor itself is the business of art. Cooper points out that styles and trends come and go and seldom last very long. He remembers how marine art exhibits were sold out events in the 1970’s and 1980’s around Seattle. There were a number of marine painters in the region at the time. “Artists like Steve Mayo, William Ryan, Byron Birdsall, and Mark Myers seemed to be riding a wave that made them fairly successful at the time.”

Cooper notes that a lot of art galleries have disappeared from the Seattle area in the last decade, like the Kirsten Gallery, where he showed his work for some 35 years. There is a lot of conjecture by art dealers that younger people just aren’t buying art like people did in years past. The prohibitive cost of commercial real estate in Seattle is also a factor. Some dealers have theorized that the tiny size of apartments people live in now leave little room for artwork.

There are not many artists who can work both ends of the business, the creative end and the marketing end. The two aspects are usually mutually exclusive. Cooper’s advice to younger artists, “Keep your day job.”


AVOCATION and VOCATION as an ARTIST

While there are challenges to being an artist, it has allowed space and time for Cooper’s vocation as an artist to be integrated with his avocation, his passion for boats and the sea.

 Cooper often took the opportunity to go out on the boats he loved to paint and has sailed thousands of miles on the waters of Alaska or running through the Inside Passage. He has made hundreds of photos that were later used as reference for his artwork. “One of my greatest joys is getting out to sea in Alaska with a few old friends for a long trip on a slow boat. It’s just the sea and the sky. Time is suspended. Night and day are meaningless.”

Cooper was a witness to the last days of the wooden boat era.  By the 1970’s, wooden boats were no longer being built as commercial fishing vessels.  They are fading away now. The old boats are getting tired. Even the most stoutly built vessels are succumbing to the ravages of saltwater and rot. The costs of maintaining or repairing an old wooden boat are steep. It is growing more and more difficult to even find shipwrights who know how to work on wooden boats, though there are a few. Every year more of the old boats are lost at sea or abandoned on some forgotten tide flat. “A lot of the boats that I knew and worked on or painted have either sunk or rotted away,” he adds. “It’s all fading into the past. It’s a piece of the old Seattle that, like so much of what was, is going away. The fishing industry, along with the lumbermen and the ship builders made Seattle what it is.”

Purse seiner Aldebaran in Ketchikan, 1984

ART LEGACY

Cooper thinks that the work of his that will likely stand the test of time are the paintings that document the Northwest fishing scene. “In fifty years they may discover a cache of paintings by some artist who left a trove of fishing pictures in an attic somewhere but there are none that I am aware of.” He adds,” I hope that someone in the future will be able to appreciate my work for what it was, an accurate portrayal of a unique time and place by someone who was there. That’s all an artist can ask.”

Seven Seas (1991)

You can view Cooper Hart’s marine watercolors at the upcoming Vintage Watercolorists of Washington show at Sunnyshore Studio:

  • Saturdays, March 9, 16, 23 and 30
  • 10am – 5pm
  • Artist Reception, Saturday, March 9, 3-5pm
  • 2803 SE Camano Drive, Camano Island, Washington

Sunnyshore Studio is hosting this Vintage show in partnership with the Northwest Watercolor Society, one of the premier watercolor societies in the US.

We are Family Documentary Update #2: February 2 – New Complications and Costs and the hard work of Creativity

Making a full length documentary is supposed to be easy, right? I’m learning the hard way, by real life experience, just how much work it really is. Here’s my second update on the making of the “We are Family” documentary about an inner city basketball team that against all odds won the Indiana state basketball championship.

New Complications

I could go into a number of complications that we’ve run into, but let me share just one. David Lichty, my video editor, discovered some videos of Arsenal Tech basketball in the Indiana State tournament dating back to the 1950’s and 1970’s that would be great B-roll footage for the movie.

IHSAA footage

He also found the 2014 Championship Game at Banker’s life fieldhouse that Tech won.

IHSAA footage 2

We have footage of this game too, but it is court side footage that Julian and other players recorded from the bench during the game. When he researched the footage on You Tube it turns out to be owned by the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA).

State Championship Game 1

So I contacted IHSAA to see if we could use their videos, and was put in contact with Chris Kaufman of IHSAA who apparently works with this kind of thing. Here’s what I learned.

It turns out that any recording of an IHSAA game, including video taken on a personal device, is the property of IHSAA. This is not a problem when that video is used for non-commercial reasons, like a parent shooting video of their kids playing that they’ll watch at home. But as soon as the video is used for commercial purposes, it must go through a process of approval through IHSAA, requires and contract which includes compensation to IHSAA. Chris told me that the biggest contract IHSAA has worked out is with the movie Hoosiers. Hoosiers used old footage from the State Championship game that Milan won.

I told Chris that at this point we are just trying to make the movie, and don’t have any deals lined up to sell the movie, etc. So he worked out a two part contract with us: (1) We pay IHSAA $500 for the use of their footage to complete the movie and show it. (2) There will be a second contract required if we plan to sell the movie in the future. In this scenario, IHSAA would ask for a percentage of any compensation we receive for the movie.

If this were all, no big deal. But it gets more complicated.

In the first contract to just use their footage we are required to have Movie Insurance.

Insurance

I get why IHSAA requires movie insurance. But I am WAY OVER MY HEAD in figuring this out. I guess this is why I have Jeff Sparks a consultant on this project.

CROPPED-Sagamore Headshot 3 (1)

So you can see how one thing – in this case our request to use IHSAA video – becomes a much bigger, complicated thing. I’ll probably need to hire a lawyer with experience in the Movie Industry to read these contracts and make sure that everything is straight.

And this leads me to my next point.

New Costs

As we keep pressing forward, new costs keep adding up. Here are some of the new costs that I did not account for in the 25K we raised to make this movie:

  • $500 for the use of IHSAA video
  • ??? for Movie Insurance
  • $1,500 to hire a lawyer on retainer

These new costs are not the end of the world. But we are a low-budget operation. I’ve looked into a couple of options to raise a little more money. So far, no luck. I’ll keep trying, and we’ll see what happens.

In the end, no matter the cost, I’m committed to making this movie. This inspiring story is worth telling!

Championship

The Hard Work of Creativity

Creativity is hard work. We often think of creativity happening in a moment of inspiration. And I suppose it does occasionally. But, for the most part, it is just hard work. It is putting in time. It is collaborating. It is feedback. It is grind.

For example, my son Julian spent hours going through playoff game footage and noting what were the best plays, the best footage. You can see his work in the chart below. The red stands for footage that should NOT be used; yellow stands for OK footage that can be used; and green stands for GREAT footage that needs to be used.

In preparing for this next step of the documentary process, my son Julian encouraged me to watch the film “More than a Game” that tells the story of Lebron James and his friends that played AAU and high school basketball together. The film covers about 8 years, so it is a little different than what we are trying to do. I really enjoyed watching the movie. I and thought they did a great job in telling the story. Learning from others is all part of the creative process too.

In the end, making a high quality documentary is just hard work. We have over eight hours of footage that needs to be trimmed down to a 3 hour “uncut” version of the documentary, and then trimmed down one more time to about 1.5 hours of the final version of the documentary. But in the end, telling this story of a team that inspired a city will be worth it!

celebration

 

 

 

 

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