Peninsula Pulse (PP): Growing up, did you have a teacher or family member who gave you encouragement in the pursuit of art?
Pam Flanders (PF): Yes, although no galleries or museums were in the area, I would draw on the paper my dad brought home from his job at a local paper mill. He and my maternal grandfather would rave about my drawings which I would sit and do for hours both indoors and out. My dad wanted me to work for Disney in animation “someday.” That seemed limiting and repetitious and did not appeal to me. I wanted to go to college and to begin my search for a career in art. I worked hard toward that goal.
PP: How would you describe your current work? How has your work changed over the years?
PF: I was introduced to plein air early on and enjoyed it so much it comprises about 70 percent of my works. I did not think I would enjoy doing still-life paintings but once I tried objects that I love to collect or fresh items from the farmers markets, it has led me into another realm of subjects indoors that I really enjoy. I like to draw and paint from life so I believe life drawing classes using models are a great learning experience but portraiture is not my main goal.
I am also now exploring a more expressive interpretation of my vast photo collection originating from drives back and forth between Oregon and Wisconsin and also to and from Door County and Illinois during our home search and renovation. I want to investigate a looser style with familiar subjects in our landscape and a more intimate view rather that distant vistas. I’m so grateful to have a studio space for this exploration.
PP: What was the first medium you remember using and did you enjoy it?
PF: Drawing, crayons, and watercolors led to my dreams of painting with larger brushes and oils. I love blending colors. When I was young I would tear the paper off of my crayons and break them to lay them sideways to shade in coloring books. Some art friends tell me I’m really a frustrated pastelist at heart. However, when I saw my first oil painting up close, the rich colors, and textures just got me gut-level and I was determined to work in oils, which I have done since.
The very first class experience was in West Bend in the late 1980s/early ’90s. The WB Art Museum was offering an oil color workshop and I jumped at the chance. My husband had given me a set of oil paints as a gift about 10 years prior and I had no idea if they were still useable. Work, children and paying bills were priorities then. There were about six to eight other artists in the class, many with years of experience. That first instructor happened to be Shelby Keefe who put me at ease immediately as a beginner. She and Mary Ulm Mayhew alternated art sessions throughout the next few years; I never missed a class! Eventually I began traveling to other parts of the U.S. for further instruction and kept finding new ways of looking at the landscape and the changing light en plein air. I fit my art workshops in between my work schedule and family.
In 1998 my mother passed away. She was the other person who had always whispered in my ear “follow your heart.” I left my nursing career behind that day and with my family’s blessing began painting full time.
PP: You have a Sturgeon Bay studio. Do you live in Sturgeon Bay year round?
PF: Yes, my husband retired two years ago. I had first choice of retirement residence. I had to entice him into coming back to Wisconsin snow territory after we had tasted life in Portland, Oregon for 12 years. It was hard to leave but was hard to have left Wisconsin too. (Of course this past April didn’t help my cause.)
PP: How large are your pieces and how long do they take to create?
PF: I have a lot of variety in sizes ranging from miniature still-life paintings to medium to large size plein air and studio pieces. I am working on a series from our travels to Italy that range from a medium size of 11×14 to 18×48 for instance. Choosing a size depends on the subject but a small piece can take as long to finish as a larger piece depending on details, style, and, of course, life’s interruptions.
PP: Do you have a favorite color palette?
PF: I have found I like to have my staple primary colors in both warm and cool temperatures and blend my own complementary colors with a few secret weapons thrown in for punch.
PP: Have you ever branched into working with other media?
PF: Yes, for travel, a small set of watercolor used as an overlay of ink sketches are great fun even for sketchbooks, or a few pastels with pastel paper rather than packing all my plein air equipment and oils. I’ve also done some yard “rust art” for fun and would like to explore collage since I collect so many found objects in our natural world. That said, I’d really like to experiment more with pastels outdoors.
PP: Who are some of your favorite artists?
PF: Too many to name both historically and present tense. I was exposed to such great artists in West Bend and Milwaukee, as well as workshops in the Southwest and Pacific Northwest. (OK, off the top of my head this is my list in no specific order: Shelby Keefe, Mary Ulm Mayhew, Dan and Steve Gerhartz, Richard McKinley, Albert Handell, George Strickland, Ken Auster, Charles Sovek, Skip Whitcomb, Howard and Betty Carr, Eric Jacobsen, Ann Templeton, and Kenn Backhaus.) I love the use of bold color contrasts just as much as the subtleties in impressionistic works.
Historically when I see a work by Singer Sargent and especially Joaquín Sorolla it takes my breath away and I want to capture the color of those lightest lights and the richness in their deep dark values. The Art Institute of Chicago has a painting by a wonderful artist by the name of Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones from the early 1900s called “Shop Girls,” which is a favorite of mine. Van Gogh and Monet paintings add another dynamic element in their subjects that inspire, and the colors and style of Paul Cezanne’s still-life paintings.
My first professional instructors remain my favorites, as well as those who have influenced me most in following my heart as much as my hand when it comes to art.
PP: Where does most of your inspiration come from?
PF: I would have to say the light and the clouds in the sky as it plays on objects in the landscape. I especially love watching the dance of light and shadow as they move through a field or over the water or the tree tops and change everything in its path. I love it if we as artists can capture even a small part of that drama. My favorite time of day has to be sunsets everywhere and in every season, which are so fleeting.
PP: Do you remember your first artwork that was ever sold? What was it?
PF: Yes, a still-life of peaches in a bowl. It was the very first time I was in an exhibit, which was a restaurant in a rural area and I was flabbergasted to have sold one of my first larger pieces.
PP: Have you always been an artist, or did you work in another field before finding art?
PF: I think I always looked at things like an artist does and always wanted to be an artist one day. However, one of my first paying jobs was in a nursing home as a nursing assistant, and I fell in love with caring for elderly people in that setting. I decided to be an RN first and an artist in my spare time. It was one of my patients years later who saw photos of my work and convinced me “not to put off using talents that God had given me.” She used herself as an example who waited too long to put her passion into the world. I switched to the night shift, took classes early in the day and slept from dinner time until leaving for work. So grateful for the support of my family in those years!
PP: What makes Door County a good place to create art?
PF: Our roots are here in Wisconsin and we love being near family and friends yet have the natural diversity that Oregon offered. We love the seasonal beauty, as well as living near the water. Of course it is appealing to have so many wonderful artists and art galleries in this area as well. Since it is a tourist destination there are always things to do. For us, Sturgeon Bay is our compass of events south and north in the Door. It also offers me lots of inspiration as primarily a landscape painter. We renovated an existing ranch home to accommodate each of our passions. My husband got his dream kitchen and I now have a wonderful chef in addition to a beautiful art studio with a view.
PP: Where are you been represented in Door County?
PF: I am hoping to find a comfortable fit as I continue to live and work in this wonderful paradise. I’m grateful to be participating in the Sturgeon Bay Art Crawl this year which may be my introduction as a new artist residing in Door County.
The Sturgeon Bay Art Crawl is Nov. 16–18, 10 am–4 pm, with a kick-off party Nov. 16, 5–7 pm, at Margaret Lockwood Gallery in Sturgeon Bay. Twenty-two local artists, including Pam Flanders, are participating in this year’s crawl. For more information and a map, go to sturgeonbayartcrawl.com.