How I Got Here

I just got back from show-and-tell at my art guild, Society of Washington Artists. As Artist of the Month, I showed a sample of my work and gave a brief presentation about my background and my process. Although most of the following did not come out of my mouth during my presentation, I had written it down as a way to gather my thoughts about who I am and how I got here.

My name is Janice Tracy. I have been a member of SWA since August, but due to a heavy dose of social anxiety, I have yet to really meet many of you. So please accept this as my hello. I am very happy to meet you.

I have been a visual artist all my life, although I didn’t know it until I was in my 30s. I think my mother knew it, but for the sake of my financial future, she kept it to herself. Opportunities for art instruction in high school and college were wasted in favor of music and dance.

Luckily, while I was living in Bend, I met a wonderful working artist named Avalon Parsons, who has shown and sold her work in galleries all over Oregon. She became my mentor and muse. She does beautiful oil landscapes using a palette knife. I was both fascinated and intimidated by her expertise, so when I finally decided to study visual art, I chose watercolor, so I wouldn’t compare myself so harshly to her many years of study, practice and talent.

 Not one of my first watercolors. You would not want to see those.

Not one of my first watercolors. You would not want to see those.

We spent many lovely, productive days in her studio, heated by a wood burning stove, in the junipers behind her house. My watercolors continued to improve, but not at the rate I had hoped.

 Watercolor bear.

Watercolor bear.

I knew it was going to take years of practice before my drawing, my patience, and my expertise would match my expectations. So I did the next best thing – I tried oil painting, thinking that, for some reason, the learning curve for oil painting would be shorter and steeper.

 Not one of my first (again, you're better off), but one of the first in which I felt a little pride.

Not one of my first (again, you're better off), but one of the first in which I felt a little pride.

You might guess the result – the learning curve was no different. What was different was the experience of the painting itself. The paint was so creamy under my palette knife. The mixing of the paint was so contemplative. The act of painting was so calming. Although I love the look and effect of watercolors, I love the act of painting in oils.

 The Oracle With She Who Watches. One of my personal favorites, although it doesn't translate well.

The Oracle With She Who Watches. One of my personal favorites, although it doesn't translate well.

And so I started climbing the learning curve. I’m still climbing, but I throw away a smaller percentage of my work every year.

 I brought this one to show and tell because of bears.

I brought this one to show and tell because of bears.

When I first started working with Avalon, I was mainly looking for a form of expression and, frankly, some art for my bare walls. It wasn’t long before our walls appeared to be buckling under the weight of all the canvas, and I needed either to find an outlet for all this art, or find a new hobby.

 This one is still on duty in the back seat of my car.

This one is still on duty in the back seat of my car.

My first attempt at relieving some of the stress on my walls was to find other things beside stretched canvas to paint. I discovered canvas bags. They were cheap, useful, and since the whole idea seemed a little silly, I could be more whimsical in my choice of subjects. Through a process of trial and error, I found that if I prewashed them, inserted a piece of foam board as a temporary stretcher, taped a work area, and gave the bags a couple coats of gesso, I had a small, paintable area that was completely without pretention. That led to an explosion of creativity, and friends and shopkeepers started to remark about my bags. 

 I can screen print! Barely!

I can screen print! Barely!

I decided to go legit. I designed a logo, learned to screen print, printed one side of each of my bags with my new logo, and opened a website to show and sell my bags. Business has not been exactly brisk, but I have sold enough to pay for paints and bags, and I got the attention this fall of a favorite rock singer in Seattle with a large twitter following, and was able to sell a few bags through that happy accident.

 

 Nutty.

Nutty.

I have also shown a few of my works at a couple juried art exhibitions at Gallery 360 this summer. My goal for this year is to screw up my courage enough to approach more galleries and work harder on my social media and web presence.

 A bit of the Na Pali Coast in Kauai. Oil on wood.

A bit of the Na Pali Coast in Kauai. Oil on wood.

Thank you for your patient interest in my accidental art career.

Thank God you're here.