A Few of Her Favorite Things

“If you have attended workshops or art classes, at one time or another you have been told,’You have to paint in a series,'” says Mary Elle. “The first time I heard this, my stubborn streak said to me, ‘I don’t want to limit myself to painting the same thing over and over again. It’s too confining. It limits my artistic flow. It’s too boring.’ As the years have gone by, however, I have found that I naturally gravitate to the subjects that interest me, and painting in a series no longer seems like something I need to resist. If I’m honest, I tend to paint the subjects that I paint well, and I am less drawn to paint those that disappoint me. Much as I might like to be a landscape artist, I am not.

Mingus Toni (watercolor, 13 x 17 in.)
Ladies in Red (watercolor, 28 x 18 in.)

“As a beginning watercolorist, I tried my hand at still life, flowers, landscapes and portraits. It became obvious to me from the beginning that my landscapes left much to be desired. The same with my buildings. But as I returned to the themes I most enjoyed painting, I found that my results were far better than the subjects I enjoyed least. Naturally, I inclined toward the subjects that were the most fun for me to paint.

“The first time I realized that I was unconsciously painting in a series was when I decided to paint my dahlias. I grow about 140 dahlias every summer, more than half of which are different varieties. Dahlias had always seemed to be beyond my skill level. The many petals intimidated me, and I believed they were too complicated a subject for my ability. But one day, one of my dahlias called, ‘Paint me,’ and I did. Soon I found myself painting numerous close-ups of my lovely flowers. One of my paintings, Mingus Toni, was my first successful entry into a watercolor show. Eventually, I graduated to painting dahlia bouquets, one of which, Ladies in Red, won the SAWG 50th Anniversary Award at the 43rd Western Federation of Watercolor Societies 2018 Exhibition.

Waiting in Line (watercolor, 20 x 28 in.)
800 Steps (watercolor, 19 x 24 in.)

“Another subject that has caught my fancy has been a variety of travel memories. My husband and I have been fortunate to visit Israel and Jordan, Greece and Rome, Italy. These trips have provided inspiration for a number of my paintings. The subjects vary, but they can be broken down into sub-categories, such as animals, people, and (dare I say it?) landscapes!

The Karaoke Singers: Mood Indigo (watercolor, 19 x 24 in.)
The Karaoke Singers: Duet (watercolor, 19 x 21 in.)

“Most recently, I have been working on a series of karaoke singers. My son, Bryan, is a karaoke jock. As a result, I have attended many a karaoke session where he works. The lighting in the bar is such that the singers are painted in colorful light, and on Halloween night, I brought my camera because Bryan and his girlfriend, Laura, dressed as Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen of Game of Thrones fame, for the holiday. As I have discovered since then, it is not easy to capture a really sharp image of a singer, because singers do not stand still. Nonetheless, one of my photos served as a wonderful reference for my first karaoke singer painting, The Karaoke Singers: Mood Indigo. I have completed five of these singers now, and I am ready to move on, but I may return to this subject again in the future, as it is one I have thoroughly enjoyed, and has challenged me to grow in both technique and style.

“I would encourage all artists to consider working in a series. Painting in a series does not have to be confining, as the artist can pursue multiple series at once, and most often, the growth achieved in one series will carry over to the next. Insights found in one subject will enhance another. Working in a series becomes a matter of pursuing the subjects the artist most enjoys to paint.”

Mary Elle has lived her entire life in Oregon and currently resides in Oregon City. Her paintings have been juried into many Watercolor Society of Oregon shows, as well as the Western Federation of Watercolor Societies (Western Fed) show, where her painting, Ladies in Red, won the SAWG 50th Anniversary Award. Her painting, Waiting in Line, appears in Splash 20, the most recent edition. Mary paints for the love of painting. She shares her art with others because it gives her great pleasure to see someone else enjoy the work she has created.

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  1. Your work is beautiful and captures each distinct moment. I’ve been working on my very first series and have loved working on these connected images. I’ve been inspired by the photographs of Paul Cyr from Maine. His images of Amish men harvesting ice have certainly captured my imagination.


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