Tracy Lewis is another fantastic artist among many who are currently on display for the “Femme to Femme Fatale” Beautiful Bizarre group show this month. Known for her delicate yet evocative watercolors, Tracy’s art has understandably become highly sought after in galleries and the homes of her admirers. She graciously extends her knowledge to those interested via workshops in California, where she lives, as well as vacation destinations.
Interview by Jessica Violetta.
All images courtesy of the artist.
JV: Tracy, it is great to speak with you again and in a bit more depth than we could at the opening for “Verdant” where you had a lovely piece in the group show here. As you know, I am a huge admirer of the way you have mastered watercolor painting in all of its unforgiving nature. What originally drew you to working with this medium?
TL: Thank you Jessica! Yes, it can be a somewhat unforgiving medium, but that’s one of the things I love about it. The challenge to get it right the first time. I love the transparency and luminosity you can get with watercolors by letting the colors mingle on the paper and by using thin glazes and letting the light of the paper show through.
I first fell in love with watercolor when I saw some of Jeannie Vodden’s paintings at a county fair. They were so rich in color, yet delicate and dreamy…I had never seen watercolors like that before and I was hooked! At the time I was china painting, and even though that medium is oil based and has to be fired in a kiln, the visual qualities are similar, so it felt like a natural progression for me. I was fortunate enough to take watercolor lessons with Jeannie and then studied with Gary Pruner at American River College in Sacramento. They are both amazingly talented and generous teachers and really gave me a solid foundation with watercolor.
I also find watercolor to be very meditative and I love juxtaposing the soft colors with somewhat darker themes and intensity. It’s a wonderful contrast that continues to fascinate me.
JV: In your bio, you mention a tendency to portray “beautiful contemporary women that are intense and a little mysterious”. This is interestingly specific. Is there any depth behind choosing this specific characteristic? Perhaps a personal resonance?
TL: It has always been so hard for me to describe my portraits. I think I’m figuring them out as keep painting them. There was never really been a message that I consciously tried to portray, but as I keep painting them I’m listening to what they're trying to tell me. I’ve always been drawn to an intense look, mystery and melancholy. I just love silent movies and how the actors had to say things without words, one piercing look said it all.
I’ve noticed over time that my woman are in a kind of contradiction of disquiet and harmony, they long to draw you near, yet keep you at arms length. I feel like they are fierce protectors of and at oneness with nature.
I guess in a way they are all self portraits, not physically… most of them are actually my daughter, but what they are trying to say. The fragility of our environment and the innocent souls that are harmed every day with no regard is always heavy on my mind. At the same time there so much beauty and joy in the world that it is sometimes wonderfully overwhelming. I think my paintings convey some of that feeling.
JV: It seems there was a bit of a stylistic transition for you in which you dropped the heavy (ink?) outline you had been using and began working entirely in lovely watercolor. Was this intentional and/or what made you choose to do it?
TL: I’ve always enjoyed working in ink. In high school I did a ton of pen and ink copies of Mucha’s and other Art Nouveau illustration. It was fun and gave me a real feel for organic line. When I started painting in watercolor I mainly worked with it alone, but I could see that the two mediums would give me a lovely contrast of hard line and soft watercolor washes, so I’ve gone back and forth. I still like to work this way occasionally. Some ideas just seem like they where made for the pairing.
JV: Watercolor paintings seem to typically be on the smaller side (than, say, oil paintings). What is the largest size painting you have ever made or sold? I have always thought it would be super cool to see your work in a large size!
TL: The largest watercolors I’ve done have been 22”x30”. That’s a standard full sheet of watercolor paper. I generally work smaller than that, about half that size or less. They do make larger sheets of watercolor paper and even huge rolls. Actually, you might see some larger work from me soon! I did a large floral commission the first of the year and it was fun, made me want to more that size or bigger.
JV: It is fantastic that you have made workshops available to those interested in learning from you. Do you have any pointers you can share with us for watercolor beginners?
TL: I think the main thing is to get a feel for the medium before trying to create a finished product. Watercolor can be frustrating if you try too hard to control it. Learn what it wants to do and let it happen, then you can use it to it’s full advantage. Take classes or watch online tutorials, there are a ton of them out there. If you end up really enjoying working with watercolor do yourself a favor and get professional quality supplies. You don’t need a ton of colors, as they can be mixed, even just a few of the right pigments can give you a full range of color. Most of my paintings are a very limited palette. I get a lot of watercolor questions on my Instagram page, so I’m setting up a new page just for watercolor tips and mini tutorials ~ TracyLewisArtStudio.
JV: We are so glad to have you here again this month for the group show. Can you tell us a little about the piece you have on display and how you were inspired by the theme?
TL: I’m thrilled to be a part of such an amazing show and had a great time at the opening! The idea of “Femme to Femme Fatale” has been recurring theme for me and one that just fits so perfectly in my body of work. I wanted to portray with subtle symbolism a woman that is both of these contradicting natures. My painting “Omniscient” represents the quintessential female. She is a balance of the nurturing feminine and the seductive femme fatale. With her lush blossoms and impending thorns, attracting bees and ladybirds, she is self-reliant, yet nurtures community. She is secretive, intuitive and filled with eternal love.
Omniscient by Tracy Lewis
- 10.5 x 13.5 in.
- © 2016
On view through October 8, 2016 at Modern Eden Gallery in San Francisco for Femme to Femme Fatale curated by beautiful.bizarre Magazine.