I was born in Michigan but moved to Kansas at age five, where I grew up in the small university town of Emporia, located just east of the Flint Hills. The Flint Hills area contains the country’s last original expanse of tallgrass prairie, a vast landscape of rolling hills and wide horizons that is steeped in pioneer culture. I knew from an early age that I wanted to be an artist and took art classes in school whenever I could, going on to earn my B.A. in Studio Art from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.
After graduation I moved to Indianapolis, Indiana and worked for a few years in arts administration while taking illustration and photography classes at the Indianapolis Art Center. While my experience in arts administration was valuable, I decided to pursue work that involved a craft, so I applied for a job refinishing antique furniture at a local shop. This led to a 15-year career in repairing and restoring antiques and stained glass. I loved the journey of the restoration process and working with my hands, and as I had always been interested in other time periods, it was really interesting and immersive work. During this time, I simultaneously launched my career as an artist in 1998 with the establishment of Wildworks: I began doing freelance illustration work, exhibiting my fine art, and licensing my images to greeting card companies. In 2012, I was able to shift to focus exclusively on my career as a full-time artist, selling my artwork at art fairs and galleries, as well as continuing to exhibit and license my paintings.
I was raised in a small town during a time when kids played outside all the time. I grew up immersed in the seasons, the light, and the weather. We fed the backyard birds, and I also had a soft spot for pets – whether they were ours, the neighbors’, or strays. I think that’s why insects, birds, and other animals have been my main subjects since I began working in ink and watercolor.
I love detail and make a point of educating myself about my subjects, as I want them to be represented accurately. I think this knowledge helps inform the artwork. I hope to inspire appreciation of these creatures and the larger natural world, which is key to our well-being and offers us true solace. Conservation is one of the most enduring commitments we can make, and nature is just full of amazing patterns, connections, and mysteries that we continue to discover and explore.
My ideas for artwork often come from stories, myths, or poems. Some ideas are suggested by the animals and their characters – their spirit. I love studying art history and design movements, and I’m particularly drawn to Asian artwork, as well as the Victorian and Art Nouveau periods. I’m inspired by vintage illustrations of birds and other animals, and the artist-naturalists who pioneered exploration of the natural world.
My paintings begin as detailed pencil drawings that are transferred to watercolor paper, then shaded with permanent ink pens via stippling (tiny dots) or line work. I then add watercolor to add depth and define details.
I began working this way after illustrating craft activities for The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, where I drew items that visitors could color, cut out, and assemble. During this time, I was also doing black and white darkroom photography and began tinting some of my photographs with specialized paints. I think these two different activities directly inspired me to develop my unique style of ink and watercolor painting, and the relatively clean and portable nature of watercolor was also appealing.
During the past few years, I’ve been learning intaglio and etching, which involves creating an image on plexiglass or copper plates using a stylus. This has involved working more with lines than with stippling, but I really enjoy the challenge of a different technique and medium. I take classes at the Indianapolis Art Center using their chemicals and presses, making small print editions that can be colored at home with watercolor.
While many of my paintings have custom frames, some paintings have vintage or antique frames that I’ve repaired and restored. In fact, many of my artworks are inspired by the frames themselves, which often suggest an idea or hint at a theme. Having worked in illustration, I find the frames can be their own directive, providing literal parameters in which to create. I do all of my own matting and framing, using archival boards and mounting materials to ensure the longevity of my work.