One artist's journey: Trying to live a creative life with grace, grit, gratitude...and a border collie.
(or perhaps I should say: greys, grit and gratitude)

10 May 2015

The Mother of Creativity

Many people see my name and they assume that my Dad, Dean StClair, taught me to paint…but that isn't true.  When it comes to my “style” of painting, I am entirely self taught.  When it comes to the parent who took time to teach me in my youth…the credit goes to my one and only Mom, Betty StClair Horton.

Mom and Dad...before me.
Mom and Dad met in art school…they both worked in advertising art before I was born and shared a love of horses.  Whether by choice or because it was what was expected at the time, Mom left her commercial art career to raise my two younger brothers and I.  From day one, I loved horses and from the time I could hold a crayon, I drew constantly (mostly horses)…it was my passion and a way of dealing with chronic shyness.  When I was little, Mom and Dad both influenced and supported my desire to be an artist from a very young age.  Growing up with artist parents meant art supplies were available and creativity always encouraged.  My shelves were filled with horse books…illustrated by greats like Robert Lougheed, Will James, Sam Savitt, Lucy Kemp-Welch, Keith Ward, Paul Brown and others.  I still have a Paul Brown book that was my Mom’s when she was young…with a drawing added by her toddler daughter, yours truly.

Mom (pregnant with me) with Dad
and "Tony", Dad's Morgan.
Dad worked from home as a freelance airbrush illustrator and retouch artist.  By the way, for those of you who don’t know what a “retouch artist” is: using an airbrush, he was essentially a human version of Photoshop, long before computers came into the art biz).  Though he’d dreamed of being an artist as a child, he wouldn’t really begin painting fine art until after I was out on my own and a full time artist myself.  He was in his late forties before he left the commercial art completely and didn’t start oil painting until after age 50.  When I was growing up, Dad was quite the workaholic…if he wasn't working on commercial art jobs, he and Mom had projects going on our farm (my brothers and I helped them build stone walls, a barn, fences, gardens, etc).  If he did take a real break, it was usually for a family ride on our horses and ponies. When Dad was in his studio (which was much of the time), disturbing him could be a punishable offense.  
Still, being a Daddy’s girl, I idolized him.

Me, about 4
with one of Mom's dog portraits
at a kennel club meeting
The unsung hero was my Mom, though.  In addition to bringing up three kids, managing a household, canning the garden produce, putting good meals on the table every night and helping Dad with the commercial art business, Mom raised and showed purebred dogs.  She also did pastel canine portraits that she sold to fellow dog fanciers.  When I was about 10, I copied one of her portraits.  She raved over it…then promptly set me up with a box of pastels, some velour paper and encouraged me to do portraits from life at the dog shows while she was busy grooming and showing.  

Mom and her wirehaired daschund
along for an art show trip to New York
As I launched the first incarnation of my career as a professional artist at age 10 or 11, it was Mom who took me to the art store, subsidized my supplies and taught me a little about how to run a business as an artist. It was Mom who tried to convince her tomboy daughter to dress "professionally”, helped with marketing, wrangled some publicity and instructed me in my first medium of choice, pastel.  It was Mom who taught me how to tell gratuitously negative comments from constructive criticism, offered helpful critiques of her own and who encouraged my love of drawing from life….all before I was 15.  I remember the sense of fun and adventure Mom brought to our travels across the region for shows.  She will tell the tale of a weekend show where she’d decided to skip Sunday judging to go home early, but I had so many portraits lined up for the next day that I offered to pay for the motel (we stayed, and she wouldn’t let me pay for the room).  When my interest turned toward wildlife art in my early teens, it was Mom who took me to meet Guy Coheleach and insisted that I show him my portfolio.  Among our many projects, Mom and I designed/built/created an “owl” costume for my high school homecoming float…it was so amazing that it was used for years at games and events until the school closed.  Mom made humor, ingenuity and creativity into a way of life.

Mom and I at Birds in Art.
Wausau, Wisconsin
It wasn't that Dad didn't encourage, as well…he was just too busy for much more than a kind word now and then.  His copies of "Communication Arts" magazine were a source of inspiration, though…Braldt Bralds, Bernie Fuchs and Bart Forbes were my earliest artist heroes and my original goal was to be a commercial illustrator like Dad.  I wasn't really exposed to "fine art" until my early teens, when my parents gave me books on Charlie Russell and Frederick Remington.  About that time, on a school trip, I saw the first original painting that really moved me:  Jamie Wyeth’s portrait of Andy Warhol.  Then, during my senior year of high school, a beloved art teacher gave me Rein Poortvliet's "The Living Forest" and I was awestruck.

Mom and my Grandma
at the PWAF show in Georgia.
Dad left us when I was 16.  Like many divorces, it wasn't pretty…in the end, Mom was left alone to raise my younger brothers and I.  She struggled to make ends meet, so when I graduated at 17 there was no money for art school or college and Dad refused to help with my art school in any way.  It was my high school art teacher who loaned me the money for the first quarter at The Colorado Institute of Art and after a Summer working as a commercial artist, I was off to the Rocky Mountains.  Well, that’s what I thought, as the school promo catalog showed a town nestled in the mountains.  In reality, the school was located right in the middle of the Capitol Hill neighborhood of downtown Denver.  

Mom, looking at art in Georgia
Mom took time off from work and drove me to Colorado, where she helped set me up in my first apartment with three roommates.  The safety of Capitol Hill at that time was questionable, at best…so it was pretty brave of her to drive away, leaving her naive, rural-raised, 17 year old there to fend for herself.  Fend I did…and the sense of humor and adventure she’d given me on our past travels served me well then and through many “scary” situations since.  That one quarter of school was all I could afford, but I stayed in Denver working odd jobs until I got my first job as an illustrator at the age of 18.  It didn't last long.  True artist, it quickly became apparent that I did NOT like being told what to draw and within a year I walked away from the commercial art field forever.

Mom, Ray and I
at my gallery opening in Montana
So it was that, at 19, I went back to the dogs…doing portraits from life at shows and beginning to self publish a series of limited edition prints.  Building on the skills that Mom had taught me, within a few years I’d sold hundreds (if not thousands) of portraits from life and created over 600 different prints from my pen & ink drawings.  Those prints would wind up in collections all over the world.  While making a living with the canine art, I continued exploring the equine and wildlife subjects that had captivated me since I was a child and began experimenting with different mediums and styles.  Thanks in part to those childhood lessons from Mom about art, business and marketing (along with a healthy dose of determination and common sense), I have supported myself solely as an independent fine artist since I was a teen.

Mom, my aunt Pat, cousin Connie and Grandma
 at the Waterfowl Festival in Maryland
Over the years, Mom has traveled from Tennessee to see my art at shows across the country, including New York, Wyoming, Montana, Alabama, Georgia, Wisconsin, Maryland and California.  Sometimes, she has joined me traveling to help at shows.  Meanwhile, though I traveled cross country to many of his shows...Dad NEVER attended one of my exhibitions unless he was also in the show.  Mom always offered encouragement regarding my art…and there was never any doubt that she was proud of what I was doing.  I imagine Dad was often proud, too…but it was not always evident, and rarely spoken.  

Mom, offering carpentry skills, humor
and help building shelves for art in storage
Dad was certainly an inspiration when I was a child.  Through my teens and early twenties, though, he was distant and often absent.  Always a daddy’s girl, I still sought his approval (probably the root of my overachiever artist ways, lol).  As an adult, I loved talking art with him and admired the work he did...though I have a distinctly different philosophy of life, ethics and creative process than he and his second wife, Linda.  Before Dad left the commercial art world to pursue painting full time, I had already found my own voice as an artist.  Dad didn’t teach me to paint…but, by his example, Dad taught me to work hard and be willing to make hard sacrifices for the “dream”.

The quilt Mom made (with a little help from my friends)
 when I was fighting cancer.

Mom, on the other hand, made (and makes) hard sacrifices of her own…she has chosen to make them for her family, though.  She is no stranger to hard work, either.  Mom’s generosity of spirit, boundless creativity in EVERYTHING she does and wicked sense of humor have always been an inspiration…not just for my art, but for a way of living.  

As child, I wanted to become an artist because my Dad was…but, in the long run, I AM an artist because of everything my Mom is.