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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
These beautiful florals, the first and oil, the second a watercolor, by Diane Lemle.
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.
And this one by Judi Betts.
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.
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.
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.