Hi! I’m Vicki Neil Ross, in Northwest Arkansas…Bentonville. I wish I could say I’ve been painting since I could walk, but that would be a lie.
I did draw as a child…saving my color books by taking a sheet of plain paper and drawing what was in the book, then coloring my drawing.
Then school, music, boys, college, university, distracted me. Several careers including retail management, design/publishing soft crafts (needlework and knitting), graphic design/advertising… and now, artist!
My HUGE life changing event happened on Christmas Day, 2001, when a fire raged through our new custom home and took the life of our 14 year old daughter. I was pushed off a cliff with nary a fare-the-well! I couldn’t go back to work, so we eventually closed the doors. For the first time, I am a loose balloon, floating with no one holding my string. Nothing to do, not wanting to do, just floating. My therapist suggested I consider painting to help bring me back.
Sounded good to me, so a few months after the fire, I was attempting watercolor. I spent hours one afternoon at Barnes & Noble looking for what called to me. I didn’t know watercolor from oil, really. (I had to learn which end of the brush to use!) The book I chose was way to advanced for a beginner.
Then I tried a succession of mostly social art groups—you know the ones where “students” paint once a week, and visit about their recipes. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I wanted to learn everything I could—don’t get between me and my easel. I’m in a hurry to learn.
Hubs (Randy) and I took several European painting workshops by choosing the location instead of the tutor for the first one. Tutor turned out to be Charles Reid. Randy immediately struck up a friendship with he and his wife, Judy. What an experience! We had new gear—a ton of it! Several blocks of Arches paper in various sizes, hot and cold pressed, 2 or 3 tubes of each color he recommended, Guerrilla Painters 9×12 box each, tripods, stools, hats, walking shoes…you name it, we had it! I had to cart my own pack, and sometimes we walked a mile to our spot, on cobblestone streets of villages with hills! Thank goodness Randy was able to keep me from a Kafka-esque fall! We had enough supplies to paint several years.
I couldn’t keep up with the class, so I listened, took tons of progress photos of his work, and took copious notes. Back home, I started going to every workshop instructor who would travel through for local groups to demonstrate for 3 days, and got all kinds of unrelated information, like formulas for trees, favorite miracle brushes, oh, and buy my video, book, etc.
I was introduced to soft pastels a few years later, and put the watercolors away for awhile. I did improve, but still struggled with painting on my own. I could just get so far, then would run up against my lack of training. Many teachers want you to sign and frame works that are really just practice pieces. Of course, they offer framing.
I continued with soft pastels and went to a convention in Raleigh, NC where I happened to meet a portrait artist from Atlanta, but who lived in France and had an artist’s retreat about an hour southeast of Paris in a little village of Fontaine-Fourches.
I connected with her, she took me under her wing as a mentor. She couldn’t believe I did not have any knowledge of the basics and was trying to paint the emotional paintings I felt I had to do (people in my position don’t think they can paint “happy/merry”). After several long talks, she “gave me permission” to paint apples and trees. She had operated an art school in Atlanta for several years, so I became her student. I read, studied, practiced, and collected art supplies.
Several more trips to France to study came after that, with world class tutors for weeks each. In between, we sponsored Charles for a workshop here locally. It was a huge success, and I fell in love with watercolor all over again, but once again, with no “HOW” I was unable to continue. I’m not much of a “player/experimenter”, and found myself reading about how to paint, then didn’t have time to actually paint! More workshops, more information, more techniques. Picked up oil at one of the French trips and LOVED it. Still traveled with a small watercolor kit and would pull it out occasionally, but oil got my watercolors back on the shelf again.
Continued to study and practice oil, and found that my study and experience in other media all complemented each other, after all, the pigments are the same, just techniques change. I still yearned for watercolor, but felt it was too difficult. To be quite honest, I was scared of it.
Another curiosity of mine was Encaustic. Collage is a big factor in that medium, which led to Mixed Media. I love that too! I used that experience to learn to loosen up and “just do it”. Junk Art Journals taught me that no supply was precious. I quit being an art snot and grew to love and collect the myriad of paints in custom admixture colors for Mixed Media, both watercolor and acrylic.
Everything has its place for me now, so I keep separate workstations in my studio for crafty watercolors, and acrylic paints in many colors and types and a separate station for pastels and another for oil. It’s CRAMPED in this small room, for sure! Watercolor can be done almost anywhere.
Watercolor was back for me because of the mixed media journey. Last year, I had a major surgical event, a colon blockage, emergency surgery and a colostomy. I had talked to Charlie around this time about doing what I am doing now for a feature, but, well, you know.
Eight weeks later, I had reconstruction surgery. Between the two surgeries, I got out my Winsor & Newton watercolors and easel, my Ikea Raskog cart, and made a mini-studio with all my watercolor “stuff”. Here is an assortment of paintings I completed from my chair as I watched our country implode early 2017.
In the year that it took to fully get my energy back, I painted. I painted on crafty cellulose watercolor paper just for fun. I tried new pigments…and fell in love with Daniel Smith PrimaTek granulation, even the tube that contain several pigments that play together to make stunning colors and patterns. Moonglow became my friend, and I used an air sprayer to get flawless backgrounds. I must have done one a day, 16×20”. They still need a bit of softening on facial features.
I posted in World Watercolor Group on Facebook my invention for organizing tube and pan watercolors. I’ve been using it, and it works GREAT. Just pull your palette, paint, then they go right back in their tins.
For the past few months, I’ve been working on a program to share my experience and journey to art and healing through my loss. I can save people so much time by taking everything I’ve learned and condensing down to the core basic.
Then I’ll do an introductory demo in several media. I help people learn and grow as artists, filling their empty time with peace.
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