Picture it: little Wendy Kwasny in a men’s shirt buttoned back like an art smock while taking art classes at her childhood art teacher’s house. That was the beginning for Kwasny, who would go on to study mostly watercolors with that first teacher, before high school art classes, where he was introduced to other mediums, including acrylics and oil paints.
Today, she is an award-winning artist whose work has been exhibited throughout San Diego for more than 25 years, and that work is currently part of the “Nature’s Abundance” exhibit at the Mission Trails Regional Park visitor center through Feb. 11.
“I am a huge fan of the Mission Trails and hike there regularly. I get a lot of inspiration from nature, especially in the morning light, and I take a lot of photos of interesting plants, bridges and lighting as I walk,” he says. “I’ve always admired the work they show in the visitor center gallery, and I’m honored to finally be among them.”
The show, presented by the Mission Trails Regional Park Foundation, features the work of five local artists: Ray Khalife, Ken Roberts, Amy Schindler, Tara Sood and Kwasny, and pieces are available for purchase, with a percentage of proceeds going to to the Foundation.
Kwasny, 45, owns Wendy Kwasny Fine Art and will also start teaching portraiture at Art on 30th in North Park on Jan. 24. She lives in Spring Valley with her husband and two children, and she took some time to talk about herself. her work, her love of nature, and the ways that authenticity and honesty inspire her in her work.
Q: What was your process to create the paintings you have exhibited in the “Nature’s Abundance” exhibition, from conception to execution?
TO: I have eight acrylic paintings on display that vary in size, with the smallest (“Hiker, Dictionary Hill”) measuring 12 inches by 12 inches and the largest (“Golden Euphorbia”) measuring 24 inches by 36 inches. I work from the photographs I take while hiking or exploring in nature. Usually I go on a hike and see something interesting, and I take several pictures from different perspectives with different compositions in mind. Later, in my studio, I’ll look at the images and see which one I find more visually interesting. I start with a bright solid color base paint and work layers over that until I build the composition that I find interesting or exciting.
Q: What did you want to say through these pieces?
TO: I want to express my love for nature, hiking and the outdoors. Whether I’m alone on the road or adventuring with friends or family, I want to capture a moment and suggest a story to the viewer. I really love the trails that I walk every day, and it’s wonderful to explore them and create memories that I can share.
Q: How did you start painting?
TO: I was a pretty hyperactive kid, and my kindergarten teacher told my mom that the only time I seemed to sit still was when I was drawing. My canny mother signed me up for local private art lessons outside the teacher’s house, which I attended until I entered high school. I mainly studied watercolors, and when I enrolled in high school, I was introduced to many different mediums. Eventually, I majored in art at San Diego State University and received a Bachelor of Applied Arts, primarily focused on oil portraiture.
What I love about Spring Valley…
We moved to Spring Valley so we could have a little piece of land for our mini farm, with room for an art studio in the backyard. We have a half acre here, with views of the mountains and a flock of playful peacocks that have taken up residence in our neighborhood. It’s fairly quiet, within walking distance of hiking trails, and close to the coast, desert, or mountains. It’s really the perfect place to be in the city, but feels quite rural.
Q: Why paint, as opposed to another art form like dance or music?
TO: I remember when I was in kindergarten, the school asked me to draw the cover of a brochure they were making for the school carnival. I drew a clown on a unicycle and was very proud of it. It was something I got a lot of praise for, and I felt like I was really good at it.
Going back to hyperactivity, painting is something that I can hyper-focus on and get into a state of flow, so it’s very meditative for me. You wouldn’t want to see me try to dance, ha! And no matter how hard I try, music isn’t as easy for me as it is for my kids.
Q: What led you to focus on portraiture, still life and landscape in your work?
TO: My main focus is actually portraiture, which is why many of my nature paintings in the “Nature’s Abundance” exhibit feature figures. I love to paint faces. Every face is different and you can capture a personality in an expression. It never gets old. I love to paint different ages and ethnicities; they are all so unique and beautiful.
I like to work on still life and landscapes if I’m feeling carried away by light or an experience I want to capture. I almost think of them as another way of doing a portrait. You can tell a story with a crooked road or a cup of tea. I want to tell stories about people and what makes them who they are. There is usually a presence in all my paintings; you can imagine who wore those shoes or who walked that path. Where they were going? Why? What are they thinking? It’s exciting.
Q: Part of her biography on her website says that “Painting and the creative process is actually part of Wendy. It’s innate in his world view, in his interactions with people, and it’s ingrained in his life.” Can you talk about how painting and the creative process inform your world view?
TO: I think it’s in the way I see things. I’m always looking at the way light affects someone’s face or how a color reflects off the skin. I look for light and shadow and contrast and interesting negative shapes, and I’m always looking to tell a person’s story with their image.
Q: And how have painting and the creative process influenced your interactions with others?
TO: Eventually, if I know you well enough, I’ll most likely do your portrait. I’ve been painting the people in my life for so long, it’s just a fact. I’m lucky that people who know me are willing to be in my paintings. I will capture candid photos of my friends and family and incorporate them into my work. Also, in the Art on 30th artist community (at 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 artwork?
TO: I am inspired by authenticity and honesty. I love to paint everyday, heartfelt moments that capture the little joys in life. I appreciate beauty and life in my subjects. And I’m not necessarily referring to traditional beauty, but to that raw inner light that makes people and landscapes unique individuals.
Q: What has been a challenge in your work?
TO: It has been difficult to make time to work and engage in a daily practice on a consistent basis. When you’re a small business owner, you have to be sales, marketing, promotion, production, business management, and everything in between. It’s challenging to work on all aspects of an artist’s job when the only thing I’d love to focus on is creating actual art.
Q: What has been rewarding about this job?
TO: I love painting my children as they grow and capturing their time in a meaningful way. I love sharing my work with others and giving people what I hope is a family heirloom, or at least a treasured piece of art that they can enjoy for years to come.
Q: What has this job taught you about yourself?
TO: That I am capable, that my work is valuable, and that I can constantly improve and grow as I practice, teach, and continue to be a student.
Q: What is the best advice you have received?
TO: “Do the following right.” When I am overwhelmed or at a crossroads, I remind myself that all I need to do now is the next right thing. That could be laundry, a difficult conversation, or answering these questions. Only one thing right at a time. Keeps things simple.
Q: What would people be surprised to know about you?
TO: That I have a beautiful 4-year-old pot-bellied pig named Petunia, three puppies, six chickens, a large ball python, and two dwarf hamsters. And, I love gardening.
Q: Describe your ideal weekend in San Diego.
TO: My ideal weekend should start with a morning walk somewhere nearby, followed by lunch at one of my favorite local restaurants (like The Lunch Box Café & Deli in La Mesa), and an afternoon at home in my art studio, painting.