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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 lovers 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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2019 Vintage Watercolorist’s Posters

In honor of the patriarch of our family of artists, Jack Dorsey, Sunnyshore Studio is thrilled to to showcase the artwork and share the stories of five of Washington’s VINTAGE watercolor artists.

This is the second of five Vintage art shows to celebrate artists who have contributed to the legacy of watercolor painting in Washington State.

We can’t wait to share their stories and their breathtaking watercolors with you! The show opens on Saturday, March 9th, 10am-5pm, with a meet the artist reception from 3-5pm. It and runs on three consecutive Saturdays: March 16th, 23rd, and 30th, 10-5pm.

Enjoy a little taste of their art through the personalized posters that we made for the show.

Cooper 2019

Sandy 2019

Seiko 2019

Nancy 2019

Jerry 2019

Since this is the Jack Dorsey Invitational, we are also thrilled to showcase some of Jack’s paintings as well. Here is his poster.

Again in 2019 we are partnering with the Northwest Watercolor Society (NWWS), one of the premier watercolor societies in the US, on the vintage show. We are super thankful for their support. You can learn more about NWWS here: https://www.nwws.org

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Feeling Lucky?

Feeling Lucky?

Here’s your chance to win some great prizes and support a great cause with Sunnyshore Studio’s Vintage Watercolorists of Washington raffle.

For just five dollars you can enter the raffle to win one of these four great prizes!

Prize #1

Jack Dorsey’s biography, Sketch of an Artist: $40 value

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Prize #2

Two Night Stay at Sunnyshore Studio: Enjoy our peaceful apartment amidst the beauties of Camano Island.

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Prize #3

Jason Dorsey’s I Remember Fishing with Dad children’s picture book and an original framed illustration from the book: $350 Value 

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Prize #4

Signed Copies of the inaugural Vintage Watercolorists of Washington – Thomas William Jones, Jack Dorsey, John Ringen, Nancy Axell, and Genny Rees: Priceless

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The Way the Raffle Works

  1. Buy one (or more) raffle tickets at our online store. March 23rd is the last day raffle tickets can be bought online at our store here:  https://sunnyshorestudio.com/store/
  2. We will fill out your contact information on the raffle ticket.
  3. At 5:00pm, on Saturday, March 24th we will draw four lucky winners.

What the Raffle is going for

Your support in buying a raffle ticket will help us produce the Vintage Watercolorists of Washington book that we are working on and plan to publish after five seasons of the Vintage shows, in 2023.

Thanks so much for your support in this way!

Raffle Tickets are available here: https://sunnyshorestudio.com/store/

Sunnyshore Studio releases videos to celebrate and preserve the stories of five Vintage Watercolorists of Washington

On March 10th, Sunnyshore Studio released five short videos that share the artistic path of the artists chosen for the inaugural “Vintage Watercolorists of Washington” show: John Ringen, Nancy Axell, Genny Rees, Thomas William Jones, and Jack Dorsey.

A special shout out to Julian Dorsey who worked hard on shooting these videos, and to Kyle Liedtke whose music weaves them together.

Enjoy learning more of their stories in those videos below. We are honored to share and preserve their stories in this way.

John Ringen: Teacher of Artists

Nancy Axell: Artist Organizer

Genny Rees: Artist and Mother

Jack Dorsey: Artist of the People

Thomas William Jones: Artist of Place

Video is currently being edited & reformatted.

Vintage Watercolorist of Washington: Genny Rees

Genny Rees appeared upon the watercolor scene of Washington in the early 1980s. Her story is one of the merging of her latent talent with a close friendship that came together to cause her artistic abilities to bloom, much like the florals she loves so much to paint.

Genny was born on September 10th, 1927 in the little town of Winona, Missouri, home to three hundred and fifty people.  She was born into an immediate family of six brothers and sisters, as well as six half -brothers and half-sisters.  Her Father died when she was fourteen. Genny, her mother and sister moved to Oregon, but her mother quickly became homesick for Missouri. So Genny and her mother moved to St. Louis where she attended high school. After graduation, Genny and her mother moved to Seattle to join her sister who wanted them to move in with her.

Genny met her future husband, Donald, in Seattle. They were married for almost sixty years. After they got married they moved from Seattle to Mercer Island in 1951. They lived there ever since, apart from two years in New York where her husband tried out working for a different company. Upon returning to Mercer Island, Donald, resumed working as a Boeing engineer, and a watchmaker in his spare time. Genny spent her time as a stay-at-home Mom to their five children.

Artistic Path

Genny had a cousin, Charles Wesley Copeland, with whom she had grown up in that little town in Missouri. He became a talented and famous illustrator in New York. She had always admired his work, and remembered that he could always draw anything. “I think I had him in the back of my mind all these years,” she says.

Finding time to paint while raising five children was hard. Genny fit drawing and painting in whenever she could. As a Girl Scout leader while her daughters were involved in scouting, she was able to bring her creativity to enhance the arts and crafts activities for the girls. It wasn’t until the early 1980s that the artistic talent in her bloomed, almost overnight.

In 1982, she joined the Mercer Island Visual Arts League (MIVAL) which is a large group on Mercer Island that hosts a big arts and crafts show every year. In 1989, she joined the Eastside Association of Fine Arts (EAFA), and in 1993 she was voted into Women Painters of Washington. By 1985, she was a signature member of the Northwest Watercolor Society, which is quite a distinction since it requires being accepted into two national shows. Their shows are now international shows.

What was behind this blossoming of her art?

Genny had always been interested in painting and drawing. In the early ‘80s she started actively exploring her artistic gifts, first trying oil painting, and then experimenting with watercolor. She took a weekend watercolor workshop on Mercer Island with Jerry Becker and loved it. “We did little paintings,” she remembers. Then she started taking classes at the Community Center on Mercer Island, and at Bellevue Community College. She took several workshops and avidly observed the demos available at MIVAL meetings. She discovered that she thoroughly enjoyed watercolor. “Then,” she says, “I sold my first painting at a church art show and that sort of made me come alive. But I think it’s always been in me to paint.”

The other factor that has stimulated her emergence as an accomplished artist has been her long-time friendship with fellow watercolor artist, Nancy Axell.  They knew of each other since they both lived on Mercer Island, but did not formally meet until 1982, when Nancy’s daughter, who lived in Alaska, needed her watch repaired. Genny’s husband fixed it, and Nancy brought him a pair of  Mukluks that her daughter had made to thank him.  That was when Genny and Nancy formally met. They shared a common interest in that Genny’s oldest daughter also lived in Alaska. Since then, they have been painting partners, artist friends, and colleagues in the same organizations. They have been able to support each other throughout their artistic careers and have watched each other grow as artists. Nancy says, “I’ve watched Genny’s work get better and better over the years, as she has won all kinds of awards, and rightfully so. It’s been a joy to witness her growth.”

Genny says, “We’ve been friends for so long and it’s meant a lot to me. We’ve done a lot of things together. We support each other with our art, and have belonged to the same organizations: MIVAL, Women Painters of Washington, and the Northwest Watercolor Society. We’ve both been active on the boards. (Genny was president of MIVAL in 1989 and Women Painters of Washington in 1995.)  As friends, we could always talk about the same things. She knew what I was doing. I knew what she was doing. We took workshops together and enjoyed watching each other paint.”

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Influences

Besides her cousin and Nancy, there have been three major influences in Genny’s artistic journey. When she started taking classes at the Community Center on Mercer Island, she studied under a woman named Marjette Schillie. She also took classes from Jess Cauthorn who was a highly respected teacher and, she says, “taught us everything he knew.” Finally, there was Ann Brecken who still teaches around Seattle. “She was, and still is, a great inspiration to me.”

Struggles and Joys

Besides trying to find time to paint while raising her family, a significant challenge for Genny has been how vulnerable it makes her feel when submitting her paintings to art shows. “Putting my work out there in art shows to let other people see and critique is daunting,” she says. “I’ve kind of gotten used to that. I just put it out there and whatever happens happens. Sometimes you get in and sometimes you don’t. There are so many good artists out there.”

When speaking of the joys of being an artist, Genny says, “I’m happy that people appreciate my work. My paintings seem to bring people so much pleasure and that is a wonderful feeling.”

Genny shared how she received a letter from a woman who had cancer and was dying. Genny had given her a small painting.  The last thing she did was write a letter to Genny. Her husband sent it. In it she shared how much she had appreciated the painting. “That really made me feel good,” Genny said.

Genny has also enjoyed meeting other artists. “I don’t think there is any artist that I’ve met that I don’t like. They’re all great. They’re all friends, and it feels as if I’ve known them all my life,” she says.

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On watercolor

“Just being able to have a piece of white paper and apply beautiful colors to it is exhilarating. When I paint my florals they just come to life. I love all of them.”

The white of the paper doesn’t intimidate Genny. She typically works from photographs, and takes a long time to draw it all out since she’s very detailed. She loves the interplay of color, the light and the shadows. Sometimes she has to rework her painting, but even then, Genny enjoys the whole process: “It’s just a joy to paint. I’m never as happy as when I’m working on a painting,” she says.

Her gift as a watercolor painter has been widely recognized. When asked when she realized that she was a good artist, Genny deflects: “I don’t know. I never think I’m good enough and I’m always trying to improve. I guess maybe I’m good. I don’t know. It’s just something that I love to do.

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Lessons and Legacy

What lessons does Genny have for young artists, especially for moms in the midst of raising children?

“Observe everything and learn everything you can,” she says. “Read books. I’ve learned a lot from books. I don’t take as many workshops as some people do, so get a lot of information from my books and videos and from demos at art meetings. I would just urge aspiring artists to paint or draw every day if they can. I try to paint every day. And just enjoy it. Just do it,” she says.

For the past twenty-plus years, Genny has been the facilitator for an “Open Studio” at the Mercer Island Community Center, meeting every Monday from 1:00 to 4:00 P.M. “It is a great opportunity to get to know other artists and to help each other or just work on their own art in an open, non-judgmental environment. If you can, see if there is something like this in your community where you can work on what you want at your own pace, get feed-back (if you want it), and not worry about meeting deadlines or being graded,” says Genny.

“My philosophy,” says Genny, “is that people should do what they love to do as well as they can and enjoy doing it along the way.” Joseph Campbell once said, ‘Follow your bliss.’ And that is what I try do as I paint my watercolors,” she says.

When asked about her legacy Genny says, “Well, I haven’t thought too much about it. I’m sure my kids have thought about it. I have lots of paintings and they’re going to have to figure out what to do with them when I’m gone. I just hope my paintings inspire my children and grand children, and bring them joy,” she says.

Genny’s patrons, collectors and fellow artists will no doubt say that her great legacy is the hundreds of bright florals that sparkle on the white watercolor paper brought to life by a masterful hand. But one could argue that Genny’s life is a lesson that one’s devotion to one’s children and one’s artistic calling do not have to stand in opposition, but can flourish together and in the same person.

 

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Come see Genny’s beautiful paintings as well as the artwork of four other Vintage Watercolorists of Washington at Sunnyshore Studio:

Saturdays, March 10th, 17th and 24th, 10am-5pm

Reception: March 10th, 3:00-5:00pm

Sunnyshore Studio is on Camano Island

2803 S.E Camano Drive, Camano Island, WA 98282

 

 

 

Jack Dorsey: Vintage Watercolorist of Washington

“I’ve made so many friends through art.” Jack Dorsey

Jack Dorsey was born March 12th, in 1940 in Seattle, WA. He grew up in the Redmond area and attended the Lake Washington School District. When he was sixteen his family moved to the small community of Plain, WA near Leavenworth. There Jack finished high school. He attended Wenatchee Valley College for two years, then transferred to Seattle Pacific College, where he graduated with a BA degree in Art Education. He taught art for a couple of years in the Highline School District. In 1966, Jack married his beloved “Annie”. In 1969, Jack, Ann and baby Jason moved to Camano Island where he launched out as a full time professional artist. “I’ve been a Washingtonian all my life,” he says.

Jack always had a desire to draw. He grew up drawing things around their house. Jack’s interest in art was perked on visits to his Aunt Marion and Uncle Norm’s home in Seattle. Displayed on their walls were paintings by Grady Spurgeon. “His art was phenomenal,” Jack recalls. “He did oils. He did watercolors. They were so colorful, so vibrant. It was awe inspiring. It was my first museum exhibit.” When Jack was fourteen, the elderly Grady, Spurgeon invited Jack to stay with him for a couple of weeks to study under him as an apprentice. Jack was too shy and declined. He regrets that to this day.

Jack took art classes at Lake Washington High School from Mr. Greer, who was a good teacher. When he was eighteen he met Walter Graham, who was a well-known commercial artist from Wenatchee. At one time Walter Graham had owned the 4th largest commercial art studio in Chicago. “He flew his own airplane,” Jack remembers. Jack met him at the old Columbia Hotel in Wenatchee where Walter was working on a mural of wild horses galloping over a waterfall that was going to be placed in the Rocky Reach Dam. Walter took an interest in the young artist. “We went out sketching together; painting together; we ate together. We had great times together. He was a great inspiration,” Jack says.

Besides all these encouragements Jack’s “undying desire to paint” propelled him forward as an artist.

Jack started selling his paintings in the early 1960’s. He had success at both the Burien Art Festival and Bellevue Art Festival. And then a big break came. Ann’s father and mother gifted Jack and Ann with a little white house on ten acres on the south end of Camano Island. Jack could now devote himself to painting full time, while carving out a rustic life for their growing family. Over the next ten years Jack had many successes, most notably two solo shows at the prestigious Frye Art Museum in Seattle (in 1972 and 1979), and a solo show at the Franell Gallery in Tokyo, Japan (1979) where Jack sold all 32 of the watercolors he showed. This gift of a house “gave me a wonderful opportunity to paint full time,” Jack states.

Jack worked hard selling his art from 1969-1979. He displayed his paintings in a chain of Turkey House restaurants from Bellingham to Olympia. Al and Ethel O’Brien were friends and owners of the original Turkey House Restaurant in Arlington. With their business partner Jack McGovern they went on to build seven new restaurants. Jack’s watercolors graced the lobbies of each of these restaurants and he sold his paintings on a regular basis. In fact, that is where Francis Blakemore saw his work and facilitated his show at her gallery in Tokyo, Japan.

Nevertheless, it was hard to pay the bills for Jack and Ann’s growing family. So in 1979 Jack hired on at the Boeing company. “For 15 years I didn’t paint at all, or hardly at all,” Jack says. He retired from the Boeing Company in 1995. Jack’s art career was revived in 1999 when he began to participate in the Camano Island Mother’s Day Studio tour. Jack continues to paint and his artworks fill the homes of friends, patrons and collectors all over Washington State and beyond.

Recently Jack’s son Jason built a new Gallery/Studio just south of the family home called “Sunnyshore Studio”, in tribute Jack’s original art studio on Camano. Sunnyshore Studio recently celebrated Jack’s 77th birthday with an Art Retrospective and a book that tells his story, Jack Dorsey: Sketch of an Artist.

Jack Dorsey Book Cover - March

Artist Friendships

Jack met Mike Burns while they were both taking art classes at Seattle Pacific College. During those early years they were both trying to sell their paintings, and starting out at the lowest rung as artists. Jack reflects on their growing friendship over the years, “Before we were out of school we double dated. After college I would meet him at different art association meetings and we’d talk.” Mike was a highly talented artist who was making a name for himself. Unfortunately, Mike passed away in 1991 when he was only 47.

Mike’s memorial service provided a connection with another artist friend. Mike Burns had been a good friend of Tom Jones. Jack had seen Mike and Tom together at the Puget Sound Group of Painters meetings. Jack tells how it was at Mike’s memorial service that he reconnected to Tom Jones. “After Mike passed, Tom and I started corresponding. I sent him a Christmas card. He was out on the ocean at that time. Eventually we got together. Our friendship grew out of a mutual friendship with Mike.”

“As artists we look for companionship and likemindedness,” Jack says.

Northern Moss

struggles and joys of art

Jack tells how in 1979 before he went to work for the Boeing company he told Bill Reese and Jerry Stitt, who shared a studio in Redmond, that he had hired on at the Boeing company. “I’ll never forget Bill’s words,” Jack said. “He said, ‘Too bad.’” Up to that point Jack had been getting a reputation as a good artist. Bill knew right away that it was going to be hard for Jack to continue with his art while working at Boeing.

Jack believes that the hardest thing for an artist is to be an artist and nothing else. And to make enough money to live.

When asked about what were the joys of being an artist Jack said: “The highest joy that I can possibly even begin to try to explain is the joy of having someone genuinely love your work to where they purchase it. I’m not talking about the purchase part. I’m talking about the gratification that comes from of somebody admiring your skills and talents.

Not only does their enjoyment of Jack’s art thrill his heart, as a people person Jack thrives on making friends of his collectors and patrons. When people buy your art they basically become you’re friend; you have a connection. “I’ve made so many friends through art sales, and even with people who don’t buy,” Jack points out.

Magestic Madrona

on watercolor
“I love the magic and the mystical and elusive challenge watercolor brings. Watercolor can be handled so many ways, It can go “loosy goosy” or loose and tight, there are so many combinations,” Jack says.

For Jack, the challenge is to find the spark, the quality that sets your work of art apart from anyone else. He’s studied art and understands art subjects. Sometimes he chooses a subject based on the unique way he wants to approach it. “I pride myself in being able to say, ‘I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like this.’ A lot of art is the same old same old.’” Jack wants his art to be common to experience but uncommon to expression. For Jack finding one’s unique quality is a combination of many things: “It’s the technique. It’s the style. It’s the vantage point. It’s the perspective and so forth. It takes a lot of things to make a real fine piece of art,” he states.

Mystery Sailboat

lessons
For Jack a critical lesson that artists should learn is to really be themselves. They should not try to be another artist. “Yourself comes out in your innermost being,” Jack says. Jack tires of the same ole same ole; where people get a glitch. “They ride the theme to death.” Jack believes that finding your own artistic style takes hard work, a lot of hard work. It takes determination. It takes vision and purpose.

Jack knows firsthand that an artist might have to put being a full-time artist on hold so that he or she can make real money from a “real job” Art isn’t always an easy way to make a living. An artist may have to do their art as an avocation until they are able to do it as their vocation.

Left Hanging

Camano Island’s colony of artists
When Jack moved up to Camano Island in 1969 he was one of the few artists on the island. Watercolorist Wes Broten was on the Island. Slowly a trickle of artists began to move to Camano, including prominent artists and art entrepreneurs like Karla Matzke, Jack Gunter and Jack Archibald. Jack remembers how people got confused him with Jack Gunter and Jack Archibald a lot. Jack Gunter and Karla Matzke were behind the launch of the Camano Island Studio tour in 1998 and which was instrumental in reviving Jack Dorsey’s artistic career. Now Camano is called home to a host of artists. Jack says, “yeah, we have quite a colony of artists here. I guess I’m one of the older ones.”

legacy
Jack’s legacy can be traced back to Leavenworth, the “Bavarian Village.” When Jack was a young emerging artist there were a few developers who wanted to turn Leavenworth into a Bavarian town. They invited Jack to talk art in a meeting in downtown Leavenworth before it was remodeled and they gave him a leading role as a promoter in the “Art in the Park” program. Jack is mentioned in Miracle Town, a book about the story of Leavenworth. “I was just a small player” Jack says.

Jack has been involved as a member of arts organizations in the Northwest. He was a member of the Puget Sound Group of Artists, and is life member of the Northwest Watercolor Society (NWWS) which he served as president of in 1979-80. In terms of legacy, Jack is pleased to share the story of his solo shows at the Frye Art Museum in 1972 and 1979 and his one solo show of my watercolors at the Franell Gallery in Tokyo, Japan.

But perhaps Jack’s greatest legacy is the many friendships he has made along the way in his art journey. Friends like Mike Burns and Tom Jones; the many collectors and patrons who have purchased his art and who have become his friends. For Jack the ultimate end of art may not be merely in the art itself, but in the community the art creates.

Wind Blown

Sunnyshore Studio invites you to celebrate the art and legacy of Jack Dorsey as well as four other vintage Washington Watercolorists.

Saturday, March 10th, 17th & 24th, 10am-5pm

Reception: Saturday, March 10th, 3-5pm

SUNNYSHORE STUDIO

2803 S.E. Camano Drive

Camano Island, WA 98082

 

 

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Vintage Poster Art Chosen

We are excited to announce that we have chosen Thomas William Jones painting Sioux Moccasins, which was the winner of the Bronze medal for the American Watercolor Society,  for the Vintage Watercolorists of Washington 2018 poster.

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We are just a month away from the opening of this show!

Let us know if you have a business, a store, a favorite coffee shop where you would be willing to post one of these beautiful posters!

 

 

Nancy Axell: Vintage Watercolorist of Washington

“It’s been really rewarding.” Nancy Axell

Nancy Axell’s fingerprints are all over the watercolor scene and institutions of Washington State. Her great legacy is the graceful, poised, determined leadership she has given in serving them.

Nancy Newton Covington Axell was born in Seattle, WA May 18th, 1930. Her dad was a meat dealer who provided meat for hospitals. Her mother was a stay at home mother that wanted to work. “In those days men didn’t want their wives working. So she was always wishing she had a career,” Nancy says.

Nancy went to Franklin High School then to the  University of Washington. She started out studying home economics but soon decided that she really wanted to be a teacher and didn’t want to teach girls stitching and cooking. She liked smaller children, so she got a teaching certificate. Nancy worked for a while at Bellevue Community College in early childhood education, then went to Mercer Island teaching kindergarten for a number of years.  She made her home on Mercer Island and raised her four children there. There were ten years in between the first two and the second two so there were lots of years raising children.

Like most artists, Nancy always liked to draw.  When she was ten, a lady in her neighborhood who was a well known watercolor artist,  Olive Malstrom Carl, gave lessons. Nancy says, “That started me on a 77 year journey of loving watercolor. And I still love it.”

In grade school, Nancy won a Scholastic Art Contest. That gave her a boost. It was a validation of her gift as an artist. She took art in high school. And when she went to college at the University of Washington she minored in art. She took art classes from some wonderful people there. One teacher that stands out to her is Viola Patterson. She and her husband Ambrose Patterson were both outstanding artists. Nancy learned a lot from her.

Artists Friends and Art Communities
There are some friendships that stand out in Nancy’s path as an artist. After her college years, Nancy had a good friend named Myra who was also a painter. They traipsed all over Seattle painting boats and landscapes.  Nancy reflects, “Then both of us got married and started raising children. It was a little harder to fit the painting in.” For many years she did all kinds of arts and crafts, they didn’t somehow absorb as much time and effort. While she was always active in artistic endeavors, she put art on the  back burner as she raised four children.

In the early 1980s Nancy and Genny Rees teamed up.. They decided to take a watercolor class together on Mercer Island. That kick started Nancy back to her love for painting.  From that time on she has been very active in painting.

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Her life as an artist is also intertwined with a number of artist communities. She belongs to the Mercer Island Visual Arts League, the Northwest Watercolor Society, and the Women Painters of Washington. Becoming a member of the latter was a thrill to Nancy because Olive Malstrom Carl, who was her first teacher, was a former president of that organization. Olive was gone by that time, but Nancy knew that she would be proud that one of her former students had been accepted into membership.

And while her home has been on Mercer Island, for over 60 years, her family also enjoyed a beach house at Utsalady on Camano Island. Nancy enjoyed being part of the artist colony there including for a time being a member of the Stanwood-Camano Art Guild. At one time Camano Island boasted six past presidents on the Northwest Watercolor Society (NWWS). John Ringen (1964-65), Jack Dorsey (1979-80), John Ebner (1983-84), Donna Watson (1992-93), Dianna Shyne (2001-2002) and Nancy who served as President in 1995-96, and it is with the Watercolor Society that she has been most active.

Northwest Watercolor Society
The NWWS started in 1939 with three ladies in their twenties who decided it would be a good idea to start a watercolor society. At first they didn’t know if they would invite men, but they finally did. It has grown from this small group of people who banded together early on to an international society of over 800 members from all across the US, Europe, and Asia. People from across the world enter its exhibitions, and it is considered one of the top ten watercolor societies in the nation.

When NWWS had their sixtieth anniversary in 1999, Nancy was asked to be co-chair of that. But the real thrill for her was that she was curator of the retrospective exhibition that was held at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle. “That was my first step into being an actual curator.”  The exhibition was titled, “Northwest Watercolor Society Celebrates 60 Years.” In a story in the Seattle Times, Matthew Kangas details how it showcased both historic and contemporary artists. It included a few works from 1940 by artists Fay Chong, Z. Vanessa Helder, and Dorothy Milne Rising, one of NWWS’ founders, who painted “Industrial Rhythm,” a depiction of a sawmill. The historic section also showcased artists and illustrators from the postwar era in Seattle –  Harry Bonath, Rudy Bundas, Fred Marshall, Perry Acker, Paul Immel and Jess Cauthorn. Contemporary artists like John Ringen, John Ebner, Jack Dorsey, Mary Ellen Otten, Joan Grout and Jacqueline Van Noy, Kristi Galindo, Richard Singer, Karolyn Jo Sanderson and Penny Hill. These brief, shining moments offset the saccharine tone elsewhere. The article concluded “Watercolor may have been stigmatized by the art world because of its proximity to commercial illustration, but, to its legions of followers, the NWWS anniversary survey is manna from heaven. There’s a wide range of familiar subjects, beautifully executed. It’s the perfect tonic for a summer day.” (Seattle Times, August 18, 2000).

In 2015-16 the NWWS celebrated their seventy-fifth anniversary.  Nancy’s biggest thrill then was working on the book produced for that occasion, A Fluid Transition: Northwest Watercolor Societythe First 75 Years, that shares the history of the watercolor society. Nancy served as editor, researcher, and collaborator in this project along with two others: David Martin, a wonderful, acclaimed art historian in Seattle and Molly Murrah, who did all the design work and much more. Nancy says, “We worked together for a year and we’re all still good friends. We had our differences. But we ironed them all out. ” David wrote a brilliant, definitive essay of the development of water media painting in the Northwest and highlighted the many luminaries that led the movement. The book will be a lasting legacy celebrating the rich history of the Northwest Watercolor Society.

Nancy’s well-earned pride in the organization is obvious: “We offer so much to our members. We have workshops with nationally noted artists, monthly meetings with painting demonstrations and two major juried exhibitions each year.  We have a bi-monthly very informative newsletter, award annual scholarships to students and sponsor fall and spring paint-outs in our scenic Northwest. NWWS has an active website and Facebook page. Nancy has been continually on the board for 23 years. We have had so many wonderful volunteers on our board that provide all these well attended activities.

Influences, teachers and mentors
One artistic influence on Nancy was Jess Cauthorn. He was a fantastic artist in the northwest for many years. He taught at Bellevue Community College. “He was ‘Mr. Watercolor.” He knew all of the interesting techniques and things that we we needed to learn about painting and framing,” Nancy says.  Genny and Nancy went for several years to his classes.  They also took workshops from Judi Betts, Christopher Schenk and participated in many of the workshops hosted by NWWS and led by nationally known artists.

Challenges and Joys of being a watercolor artist
For Nancy a challenge was raising four children and trying to do art as a career, or even as a part time career.  Also she notes that watercolor is such a challenging media. You never really master it. But that’s also the beauty of it. “It’s so fluid and surprising, the results you never quite know how it’s going to turn out.” Nancy points out that her husband, Dick Axell, was one of her big boosters. He was “a wonderful support system to me,” she says. “That helped.”

In terms of the joy of being a watercolor artist Nancy says, “It’s constantly a joy. It’s a personal joy when you complete a painting that you feel good about. That you told the story that you had in your mind when you saw a scene.” Over the years she has had several paintings that have been popular.  One is called “Me and Dad.” It’s of a man and his little boy walking down a street. Nancy has sold many prints of that painting.  “It seems to strike a chord in people, this feeling of the father son relationship.” She tells how there was a family that was visiting here from the east. They had come out to Children’s Hospital because their two year old son was battling leukemia. They saw the painting in a gallery, bought it and framed it and gave it to the doctor to thank him for all he did for their son.

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That same painting hangs in  Child Haven, an organization in Seattle that works with abused children and their parents. A friend of Nancy’s who is on the board bought a print and framed it and put it in the counseling room where they talk to parents of abused children. They thought it was a good example of a father-son relationship. Nancy reflects, “Those are things that make you feel good about your painting when it reaches people like that.”

“When I go to a show that has oil and watercolor, I pass right by the oil. I just love the look, the fluidity, the beautiful colors of watercolor,” Nancy says. She enjoys painting in watercolor.  “There’s nothing like flooding the paint on to a piece of paper and seeing what happens. I enjoy oil paintings but they don’t strike me the same way at all.”

Morning Market-Nancy

Lessons for the next generation of artists
In giving tips to future artists Nancy says paint, paint, paint because you learn so much with every painting you do. She counsels finding good teachers and taking workshops. Nancy also recommends joining art organizations because through them you can take workshops and be encouraged through the community. Networking with other artists can be very valuable. Nancy points out that being an artist is not only painting. “If you’re going to be selling your art you need to know a bit about how to market your art, how to frame your art, and how to take pictures of it to send to exhibitions” she says. Finally, Nancy encourages entering juried shows. Through them you learn a lot.

“I always tell people about the NWWS show that we have every year that’s open to everyone in the US and the world. We get fabulous work. One year the first prize was won by a gal who was entering a show for the first time. She was thrilled!” Nancy continues: “So don’t ever give up. Being an artist is dealing with rejection. You enter a lot of things and you don’t get in. But you just keep up and pretty soon you’re finding that you’re doing well and selling your work. And that’s validation too.”

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Conclusion
It hasn’t just been organizational leadership for Nancy. She is a terrific artist and her watercolors are prized collections of her friends, fans and collectors. For example, in 2013, Nancy’s paintings were part of a Women Painters of Washington touring show called “Celebration”. This show launched at the  Columbia Center in Seattle, then travelled to Olympia, Port Townsend, and Ellensburg. Another of her paintings toured to Ireland with WPW.

Nancy has been able to balance being both a painter and a leader. When asked if she regretted the amount of time she spent serving organizations rather than just working in art she replied: “No because I enjoyed that part of it too.” She pointed out that even now she’s running an art gallery in the adult retirement community on Mercer Island where she lives. “I’m enjoying that,” she says, “It’s part of my nature.”

Watercolor artists, enthusiasts, and indeed the entire state of Washington should be thankful for Nancy’s positive, determined, graceful influence that has for so long nurtured this beautiful artistic medium and the organizations that celebrate it.

Vintage Brand

Vintage Watercolorists of Washington

Saturday, March 10th, 17th & 18th

10:00am-5:00

Reception, Saturday March 10th, 3:00-5:00pm

 

Vintage Watercolorists of Washington is hosted by Sunnyshore Studio in partnership with the Northwest Watercolor society. We want to thank our Sponsors David and Mary Anne Keyser and the Jack Dorsey family for sponsoring the show. 

 

John Ringen: Vintage Watercolorist of Washington

John Ringen is one of the artists in Sunnyshore Studio’s Vintage Watercolorists of Washington inaugural show taking place in March 2018. Discover his story here.

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“The greatest gift of all is to not be able to do anything else well.”
John Ringen

High school academics were not John Ringen’s forte. In fact, if he had not been so talented athletically, his story may have turned out very differently. Despite his early struggles, John Ringen’s greatest contribution to Washington state art may have been as a teacher. It is quite certain that the thousands of students whose lives he touched and artists he’s influenced are thankful he found his place.

Born in Everett, WA on July 4, 1928, the eldest son of Ingvar and Elsie Ringen. Ingvar and his brother, Hjalmar, immigrated from Norway in 1905 with their parents. John’s father worked as train engineer and was often gone, leaving his mother to corral their two sons. Elsie was a gifted musician and writer, but it was John’s uncle who influenced his passion for art. Hjalmar was a very talented artist and made a good living as one of the first commercial artists in Everett. “He was my inspiration,” John says.

Despite struggling in other grade school classes, John found his place in the art room. “I found that I wasn’t interested in much else [than art]. I didn’t know I was interested in art. So I took an art program. They were looking for someone that was incapable of paying attention. I would be sent to the art room. I loved it there. I was all by myself. I could do anything I wanted to. The teacher would look in periodically.”

While John struggled academically, he excelled in athletics.  At Everett High School he tried just about every sport and was a standout in football and track. He received an athletic scholarship to Washington State University, where he again played football and ran track. After a hamstring injury interrupted his athletic career, on the advice of his coach he transferred to Everett Community College. “My [Washington State] coach told me that would be a good idea, a good place for me to go. I had great years there. Everett was a good school as a far as athletics go.” It was there that John would break the state record in the low hurdles for two-year colleges.

Although his athletic career at Washington State was cut short, he grew up a lot. One of the things he took away from that experience was the encouragement of an art instructor named Bill Hixson. He was a young teacher and a strong painter. “I thought he was God. And he might have been. He registered with me. I think he was probably one of the most popular teachers. I liked the way he worked. It wasn’t experimental. It was pretty direct.”

fountain

When his time at Everett Community College ended, John transferred to the College of Puget Sound (now University of Puget Sound) where he used up his final year of athletic eligibility playing football and running track- this time he set a record in the long jump, which stood for many years. By this point, he learned how to be a student. At CPS his grade point average put him in the top ten of male students. It was at CPS that he received another, he along with a photography student and a professor were inducted into the Kappa Pi National Art Honor Society.

John went on to complete his undergraduate studies at the University of Washington. In his dry, witty sense of humor, John remarks: “I used up my [athletic] eligibility so I had to go to work.” He received a Bachelor in Art, a second Bachelor in Education, and, eventually, a Master of Fine Art in painting. “So I got the trifecta” he says.

Even though John enjoyed teaching, he left Marysville High School after one year, because he really wanted a Masters in Fine Art. He went to work at Boeing for the next three years to earn money for graduate school. In those days, you had to have a pre-candidacy show before you could qualify for the Master of Fine Arts program. John was one of six accepted into the MFA in painting program. “It was a pretty good program,” John comments, “except you had to be an abstract expressionist, and I wasn’t an abstract expressionist. So I kind of worked myself into that position.” Students had three years to complete the program. If they didn’t complete the requirements in three years, they were welcome to apply again, however, it was not encouraged.

During his years of graduate school, John juggled teaching in Seattle and working at Boeing with attending class. “As the third year rolled around it forced me into a position where I had to produce. “I got a Masters. Three of us got Masters. That was nice.”

With his graduate degree in hand, he was able to focus on teaching. For thirty years, John taught high school art. Many of his former students still fondly recall Mr. Ringen’s classes whenever they see him. In addition to high school, John spent six years as part of a “Community Development” art program through the University of Washington. This fit his introverted/adventurous temperament well. “They shipped him out to Alaska, Canada, Eastern WA, all over the state. Bellingham, up at Western. I moved around a lot for about 6-7 years. I met a lot of people.” These classes included instruction in watercolor, acrylic and oil painting.

John joined the Northwest Watercolor Society (NWWS) when he was in his twenties and a student at the University of Washington. He remembers the meetings in those early days of the society: “We’d have the little talk and then critique each other’s watercolor. We’d sit around on the floor because the places that we met were houses. Maybe there would be 10, 15, or 20 people at the most and a couple of bottles of wine.”

The one mission that the NWWS had was the annual watercolor show at the Seattle Art Museum. It was a good show with lots of local competition for spots, including students at the university. Gifted artists like Mark Tobey were involved in it early on. “It was a class show,” John reflects. “I usually made it for some dumb reason,” he says with a smile.

After five straight years of having his paintings admitted to the NWWS show, John began to be recognized as an up-and-coming artist. He was invited to be a member of the Puget Sound Group of Painters, which was an elite, all male group of artists. After many years as a member, he served as president because, as he puts it, “I had to serve my time.” In those days the group offered camaraderie, “It was well worth the effort. It was fun, though it made a drunk out of me,” John says tongue-in-cheek.

During his years of teaching John remained a busy artist. Today his home is full of decades of beautiful paintings. Most scenes are of the Pacific Northwest, but there are also paintings from Europe and South Africa where John travelled with his wife, Vicky. John’s watercolors merge his early training in abstract expressionism with crisp realism. In addition to the paintings on the walls, his studio is full of paintings. John says, “You go through lots of bad paintings. Once in a while a jewel drops out. I’d usually sell the jewel. Once in a while you see one of the jewels. I saw one of those jewels a few years ago and thought it was bad. And I thought to myself, ‘that’s a good thing. I’ve improved.’”

John continues, “I’ve found that true with other artists too. They go through periods. Periods when they think their work is really good. But it’s not so good. They churn out a lot of mediocre stuff, but when it works, it’s really great. The ability to know a good painting, a jewel, from the mediocre is an important attribute in an artist.”

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Challenges of being an artist

When asked about the challenges of being an artist John puts it bluntly. The great challenge of being an artist is to make a living by your art. John says, “I can tell you. I’ve never reached the point where I’ve made a living as an artist. That’s a struggle and that’s a fact. And I wouldn’t want to have to survive on just doing art. I don’t have the courage to give up a retirement. So I’ve never made a living at art. I admire those that do. I know it hasn’t been easy for them.”

John points out that there are many artists that are pretty good, but they can’t make a living. He says, “You have to have personality. I don’t have the personality. I’m not driven. I’d rather go to work at something else. At Weyerhaeuser, I worked there all through high school. I’d rather pull lumber on the green chain than have to make a living as an artist because I knew I’d have a check at the end of the month.”

He has friends like artist Bernie Weber who went to a good art school and made a good living as an artist. However, John preferred working a full-time job and painting on the side. In fact, after 30 years of teaching art, when he was close to retirement age, John decided to transition to a different career. He worked for eight years as an illustrator at Walter Dorwin Teaque Associates. As an illustrator, he transitioned from abstract expressionism to a tight realism. John dryly comments:  “I had to really work at it. The day I showed up for work, I put my head down and went to work. The other guys had been there a long time and could accomplish as much as me by not working very hard.”

John is still a prolific artist. Twenty-five plus years since his second retirement, John still paints everyday. His studio is next to their home on the south end of Camano Island overlooks Port Susan, onto the mainland and the Cascades beyond. As he likes to say, “now that I’ve given up golf, I may be able to do something with painting. If I wasn’t an artist, I may have been a better golfer- if it wasn’t for golf, I have been a better painter.”

Joys of being an artist

For John the joys of being an artist are in the whole thing. “It’s a journey,” he says. “I can say that I don’t need to sell. But it [when one of his paintings in purchased] is an acknowledgment that maybe I’ve done something that’s worth looking at.”

John points out that you’ll have some people who kind of admire you, some people who are jealous of you, and some people who know you are frauds. He says it’s a lot easier to work in the supermarket than it is to be an artist- but being a teacher, he points out, is twice the problem. When you’re a teacher you have to sell yourself. John found that teaching in the public schools, not every kid loves you and, for matter of fact, most kids don’t like you- they merely put up with you. But he reflects that there are a few successes that he’s had as a teacher. “I’ve never made a success out of a kid,” he says, “but there have been some successes.”

John counsels younger artists in this way: “If you’re really convinced that’s what you want to do, then, yeah, it’s a good life.”

On Watercolor

John is a watercolor painter. Although he’s sneaked in acrylics and also painted in oils- but for him, watercolors are comfortable. He likes to work fast and that has a lot to do with the reason why. He can invest an hour or so in a watercolor and put it aside and start a new one. He points out, you don’t have to worry about the drying. Watercolor dries fast. John also appreciates that in the framing process, the artist can take the sheet of watercolor and if there’s a spot in the painting that works, that frames well, that looks good- it is easy to frame that small part of the painting. It is much harder to change the shape of an oil canvas.

John'sPainting

Legacy

John Ringen has painted in Washington State for over seventy years. Hundreds, indeed thousands, of his paintings fill the walls of homes all over Washington and beyond, bringing joy to their owners and collectors. His paintings sparkle with the magical merging of loose washes and crisp, realness of transparent watercolor. Each marked with his trademark: Ringen.

But it is perhaps as a teacher where John Ringen made his greatest mark and left his greatest legacy. John Ringen has often been called an artists’ artist. The names of students that he taught are a kind of hall of fame of watercolor in Washington State, including master watercolorist Jerry Stitt.

When one thinks back on John Ringen’s life, back to the days when he was a struggling schoolboy, back to the days when he found his niche in art class, it should not surprise us that John has left a legacy of encouraging, challenging, coaching, and nurturing students himself. For where we have been given much, we are able to give much back.

Vintage Brand

Sunnyshore Studio’s Vintage Artists of Washington takes place on Saturdays March 10th, 17th, and 24th, 10:00am-5:00pm.

There will be a reception on Saturday, March 10th, from 3:00-5:00pm

Learn more here: Vintage Watercolorists of Washington Art Show Announcement

We are thrilled that the Northwest Watercolor Society, one of the top ten watercolor societies in the nation, is partnering with us in this inaugural show.

Basic CMYK

Finally we want to thank our sponsors: David and Mary Anne Keyser and the Jack Dorsey family for sponsoring this show.

Vintage flier front

Stay tuned for more articles about the artists for the inaugural vintage show.

Promotional video released for Vintage Watercolorists of Washington art show

Today Sunnyshore Studio released a promotional video for its upcoming Vintage Watercolorists of Washington show. Enjoy…

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