Picture it: Little Wendy Kwasny wears a men’s shirt with inside-out buttons as an art smock while taking art classes at her childhood art teacher’s home. That was the start for Kwasny, who continued to study primarily watercolors with this first teacher before entering high school art classes, where she was introduced to other mediums, including acrylics and oils.
Today she is an award-winning artist whose work has been featured throughout San Diego for more than 25 years, and that work is currently on display through February 11 as part of the Nature’s Abundance exhibit at the Mission Trails Regional Park Visitor Center.
“I’m a big fan of Mission Trails and hike there regularly. I get a lot of inspiration from nature, especially in the early morning light, and take a lot of photos of interesting plants, bridges and lights while hiking,” she says. “I have always admired the work they display in the visitor center gallery and am honored to finally be among them.”
Presented by the Mission Trails Regional Park Foundation, the show features the work of five local artists – Ray Khalife, Ken Roberts, Amy Schindler, Tara Sood and Kwasny – and the pieces are available for purchase, with a percentage of proceeds going to the foundation.
Kwasny, 45, is the owner of Wendy Kwasny Fine Art and will begin teaching portraiture at Art on 30th in North Park on January 24th. Living in Spring Valley with her husband and two children, she took some time to talk about her work, her love of the outdoors, and the way authenticity and honesty inspire her in her work.
Q: How did you create the paintings you are showing in the Nature’s Abundance exhibition, from conception to execution?
ONE: I have eight acrylic paintings on display of varying sizes, the smallest (“Hiker, Dictionary Hill”) being 12” by 12” and the largest (“Golden Euphorbia”) being 24” by 36”. I work with the photos I take while hiking or exploring nature. Usually I’m on a hike and I see something interesting and I take several pictures from different perspectives with different compositions in mind. Later in my studio, I look at the pictures and see which I find visually the most interesting. I start with an underpaint of a light solid color and work layers over it until I build up the composition that I find interesting or exciting.
Q: What did you want to say with these pieces?
ONE: I want to express my love of nature, hiking and the outdoors. Whether I’m traveling alone or adventuring with friends or family, I want to capture a moment and propose a story to the viewer. I love the paths I walk each day and it’s wonderful to explore them and create memories to share.
Q: How did you get into painting?
ONE: I was quite a hyperactive kid, and my kindergarten teacher told my mother that the only time I seemed to stand still was when I was drawing. My wise mother enrolled me in a local, private art class away from the teacher’s home, which I attended until I entered high school. I majored in watercolor and by the time I enrolled in high school I was exposed to many different mediums. Eventually, I studied fine art at San Diego State University and received a Bachelor of Applied Arts degree, majoring primarily in oil portraiture.
What I love about Spring Valley…
We moved to Spring Valley to have a small piece of land for our mini farm, with space for an art studio in the backyard. We have half an acre out here, with a view of the mountains and a flock of merry peacocks that have established themselves in our neighborhood. It’s fairly quiet, hiking trails are within walking distance, and it’s only a short drive to the coast, desert, or mountains. It really is the perfect place to be in the city but feel quite rural.
Q: Why painting as opposed to another art form like dance or music?
ONE: I remember when I was in kindergarten the school asked me to draw the cover for a flyer they were doing for the school carnival. I drew a clown on a unicycle and was so proud of it. It was something I got a lot of praise for and I felt like I was really good at it.
Back to hyperactivity: painting is something I can hyperfocus on and get into a flow state, so it’s very meditative for me. You wouldn’t want me to try to dance ha! And no matter how hard I try, music doesn’t come as easily to me as it does to my children.
Q: What made you focus your work on portraits, still lifes and landscapes?
ONE: My main focus is actually on portraits, which is why many of my nature paintings in the exhibition “Nature’s Abundance” show figures. I absolutely love drawing faces. Every single face is different and you can capture a personality in an expression. It never gets old. I love painting different ages and ethnicities; everyone is so unique and beautiful.
I like to work on still lifes and landscapes when I’m struck by light or an experience I want to capture. I almost see them as a different way of doing a portrait. You can tell a story with a twisted path or a teacup. I want to tell stories about people and what makes them who they are. There is usually a presence in all of my paintings; You can imagine who wore these shoes or who walked this path. where did they go Why? What do you think? It is exciting.
Q: Part of her bio on her website states, “The painting and creative process is really a part of Wendy. It’s innate in their worldview, in their interactions with people, and ingrained in their lives.” Can you talk about how painting and the creative process influences your worldview?
ONE: I think it’s my point of view. I’m always looking at how light affects someone’s face or how a color reflects off the skin. I’m looking for light and shadow and contrast and interesting negative shapes and I always try to tell a person’s story with their picture.
Q: And how has painting and the creative process influenced your interactions with others?
ONE: Someday, if I know you long enough, I will most likely do your portrait. I’ve been painting the people in my life for so long, it’s just a matter of course. I’m lucky that people who know me are willing to be in my paintings. I take candid pictures of my friends and family and incorporate them into my work. Also in the artist community at Art on 30th (at the Ashton Gallery in North Park) we are all inspired and influenced by each other. Although most of the artists I see regularly are abstract painters, I think we are all filled with each other’s creative energy.
Q: What inspires you in your artworks?
ONE: Authenticity and honesty inspire me. I love to paint honest, everyday moments that capture life’s little joys. I value beauty and life in my subjects. And I don’t necessarily mean traditional beauty, but that raw inner light that makes people/landscapes unique individuals.
Q: What was challenging about your work?
ONE: It was difficult to consistently make time for work and commit to a daily practice. If you’re a small business owner, you need to be sales, marketing, advertising, manufacturing, business leadership, and everything in between. It’s challenging to handle every aspect of an artist’s work when I just want to focus on the actual art making.
Q: What was worthwhile about this work?
ONE: I love drawing my kids as they grow and capturing their time in a meaningful way. I love sharing my work with others and offering people what I hope will be a family heirloom or at least a cherished work of art that they can enjoy for many years to come.
Q: What has this work taught you about yourself?
ONE: That I am capable, that my work is valuable, and that I can continually improve and grow as I practice, teach, and continue to be a student myself.
Q: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
ONE: “Do the next right thing.” When I’m overwhelmed or at a crossroads, I remind myself that whatever I need to do now is the next right thing. This can be the laundry, a tough conversation or answering these questions. Just one right thing at a time. It keeps things simple.
Q: What would surprise people if they found out about you?
ONE: That I have a beautiful 4 year old pot-bellied pig named Petunia, three small dogs, six chickens, a large ball python and two dwarf hamsters. And I love working in the garden.
Q: Please describe your ideal weekend in San Diego.
ONE: My ideal weekend has to start with an early morning hike somewhere nearby, followed by lunch at one of my favorite locally owned restaurants (like The Lunch Box Café & Deli in La Mesa) and an afternoon at home painting at my art studio.