Creative Spirit
An Interview with Stephanie Forbes

Stephanie Forbes is a talented oil painter. She has done many portrait commissions, and her floral paintings are sold in art galleries. In this interview, Stephanie tells us about her spiritual paintings, and the satisfaction she feels when her work connects with a viewer's soul. — Editor

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When did you start your art career?
At the age of 35 I learned to paint. I began my art career at 37.

I think a lot of people dream of doing that, but you actually did it. How did you begin selling your paintings?
I did a couple of things. I joined a group of painters that gave a little show at a mall for my first outing. I sold one painting there and got my feet wet. I told a few people that I would take commissions. There is a painting of my father hanging in a book store in St. Simons Island. It was a gift to him for Father's Day. People saw it and ask for commissions for portraits. That is the real beginning.

Did you have a mentor?
Yes, Gene Barber.

What did you learn from him?
Gene Barber is the first teacher I had. I found him giving studio classes at an art gallery. He took me from knowing nothing to being able to paint anything. He taught me almost everything I know of the 'craft' of oil painting. The two most important lessons he taught me are these. "The secret to all of the joys in life are lights and darks." This means that if something does not look right most likely you need to adjust your values. And second, "Paint what you see, not what you know is there."

Your work is sold by a couple of galleries. How did you break in to that world?
I took my portfolio and a few paintings and walked into a gallery. I showed my things to the owner and asked if they would like to represent me.

Your web site shows a variety of genres including flowers, portraits, and some figures. How much of your time is spent painting for yourself, and how much time do you spend on commissions?
That varies greatly. If I am asked to paint a commission, I do so. Other than that I just pain what suits me at the time. I do try to paint in 'series' so that they are more marketable at galleries.

How has your work evolved over the years?
I am not so tight-lined. I can paint both ways now. I can draw figures when I could not before.

What do you mean by both ways?
Tight realism and loose impressionism. I started out painting very photorealistic. I have worked to loosen my style of painting and brushwork. I enjoy the appearance of paintings with many layers that you can see some of the layers beneath. I am still developing that idea in my paintings. I have always painted in many layers but before it was to continue to refine the painting's realism. Now it is too add to the aesthetics of the painting.

Who are your favorite artists, and how do they influence your work?
Renoir. I just enjoy his work.

What do you think is the purpose of artist?
To bring joy and beauty to the world.

What do you wish to communicate through your art?
Love and light.

What do you mean by love and light?
Well, Renoir said it best I think. He is quoted as saying, "There is enough ugliness in the world.... I will never add to it." I paint the most beautiful things in life I can find, be it a flower, a child, or our Savior. I want to fill peoples hearts with joy when they see my work.

What specific theme are you trying to pursue in your artwork?
Spiritual paintings... not necessarily religious.

Can you elaborate on that?
If something represents God in some way to me I consider it spiritual. Many of my painting are religious in nature. I would like to expand them to be more open to other religions. I am not quite sure how I am going to achieve that yet. It is a new adventure for me.

What reaction from a viewer makes you happiest?
That deep breath people take when something really hits their soul.

What do you think separates good art from great art?
I am not sure. For me, when my work speaks to people's hearts.

What is your favorite media?
Oil on canvas.

How long does it take you to complete a finished work?
It depends, anywhere from a couple of days to months.

How do you know when a piece is done?
It tells me. It literally just feels like it says, "I am finished."

What is your favorite art book?
Staying Sane In Art because I am not sane.

Ha ha! That's an interesting title. I think a lot of people (both artists and art appreciators) turn to art to stay sane. What is the premise of the book?
It talks of artists emotional states and how to stay healthy. It deals with blocks and overcoming them. I found it helped me to simply know that I am not alone in my 'strangeness.' It speaks of the artist's personality.

What are some of the greatest challenges you face when making your art?
Receiving rejection...... losing my muse.... staying focused.

How do you stay motivated and inspired?
One of the things that helps me most is to work first thing in the morning. I don't read the paper or anything; I just go paint. I sometimes even paint in my pajamas. It seems to be my best time of day to get work done and I have not been distracted by anything. I do better if I spend time everyday working on art in some fashion, be it drawing or painting or just reading a book about it. I am inspired by other people's art also. When I go to a museum I get inspired to paint better than I do. Music inspires me to paint. It fills my heart with joy and my hand with energy to paint.

What has been you biggest achievement so far during your career as an artist?
The Pieta owned by Beth Bowie.

Tell me more about that.
This is a painting I did based on Michelangelo's sculpture La Pietà. It brought me to tears when it was finished and I stood back to look at it. The person that owns it has people call her and ask to come spend some time with it. I think that is why I consider it to be my biggest achievement. Anything that speaks to people's souls so much as that has to be my best work.

Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?
Never give up—never. Paint. Just paint.

Thanks for sharing your insights, Stephanie.

Facts at a Glance
Stephanie Forbes
North Carolina, USA
Gallery Representation:
R. Roberts Gallery in Jacksonville, Florida; and
Left Bank Gallery in St. Simons Island Georgia Home Page