The following is an article that appeared in the January 2009 issue of the online magazine CreateBetterPaintings.com. I am really sad to report this wonderful magazine will not be published any more. I feel so cheated since I only found out about it about two months ago. Anyway, I thought you might enjoy reading the article....Linda
LINDA LUCAS HARDY: SMALL TOWN GIRL
Living in a tiny town with no professional mentors around may seem like an obstacle for an aspiring artist, but Linda Lucas Hardy reveals how any artist can still make it big in spite of limited resources.
We've all heard this story: Young woman loves art but gets married and starts raising a family instead. Art gets pushed to the back burner until the children are older. And finally she has time to focus on mastering her craft and building a career as an artist. Most such women then rely on their fellow artists and local arts organizations for additional help. But what happens when that same woman finds herself living in a town of only a thousand residents with no other professional artists to turn to for education or advice? Linda Lucas Hardy would say that it's still entirely possible for a woman like that to succeed as long as she has drive, passion, confidence, and ambition. She is that woman, and she's living proof that dreams can come true.
Reaching Out for Education
When the youngest of her seven children started school, Linda found she finally had time to get back to the passion that has held her captive since her own childhood: her love of art. A neighbor suggested they take a class together at the nearest community college, and Linda jumped at the opportunity since it was a long distance away and they needed to carpool.
A year later, a new community college opened up closer to home, which made it much easier for Linda to continue taking college courses in art. Naturally, juggling her art with caring for her family required a great deal of perseverance. Ultimately, it took her eight years to complete her formal education, but it was worth it. Along the way, Linda discovered the medium of colored pencil, which has since become her favorite. "I love the control that colored pencil offers," she says, "especially because I also love well-defined realism. I am a pencil artist, plain and simple. Now I can't even talk without a pencil in my hand."
In addition to her formal education, Linda has continued to pursue informal opportunities to learn, primarily through taking workshops with artists such as Carrie Ballantyne and Sherrie McGraw. As they do for all of us, taking workshops usually means travel, which is a sacrifice of time and money for most artists. But Linda encourages all aspiring professionals to take workshops since they offer a chance to develop and enhance skills, get other types of advice from modern-day masters, and network with peers.
Finding Her Personal Style
However, to some degree, Linda believes, all artists are self-taught in that much of what we learn is what we discover in the course of doing our own work in our own studios. Linda's methods are a product of trial and error, working with various materials, making mistakes, and learning to solve problems that then become good practices. "Mistakes bite hard," she says. "I don't like them. Nobody does. But if you pay attention, a medium will teach you." By doing her own work on her own time, she's established, for example, that she prefers to create artwork using exclusively Prismacolor wax-based pencils on fine, 800-grit UART acid-free paper.
Once, in the process of trying to disperse the wax bloom that often emerges most visibly in the darker pigments of wax-based pencils, Linda went over the pencil with an old, stiff brush. Not only did it get rid of the bloom, she discovered that the brush helped to work the pigment down into the fibers of the paper, thereby eliminating the fine specks of white that often show through even multiple layers of pencil applications. Now Linda uses a brush all the time to achieve that smooth, polished look that is the hallmark of her personal style. She starts by transferring her image with graphite transfer paper, then works each area separately from the darkest areas to the lightest values, developing each area to a fairly finished degree. A final finessing of the details and highlights followed by a coat of Krylon UV-resistant spray complete her paintings.
Landing on Still Lifes
Even when it comes to her choice of subjects, Linda feels that her small town life has somewhat limited her ambitions. "What I'd really like to paint is people because you can express so much emotion in figurative work," she confesses, "but in a small community like mine, I've found it very difficult to approach people and find models. Most people don't understand what I want from them--they feel they have to pose for me, as for a portrait, when what I want is something more candid and real."
Once again, though, she hasn't let this obstacle stop her. "I've had to learn to make do with what I've got or I can't do anything at all," she says, now laughing. "Pears and apples don't ask you what your motives are or look at you real weird, so it's been easier to work in the still life genre." Interestingly, Linda has now developed a signature series of works involving fruits and vegetables wrapped in plastic bags, which are just as much about the human experience as any figurative work could be. She explains, "The plastic bags remind me of the facades we all try to hide behind. We think we're doing such a good job of masking our little deficiencies and minor little secrets, but in actuality, we're all exposed."
Over the years, Linda says, she has shot and stockpiled literally hundreds of photos that she would like to develop into paintings someday. "I'll never run out of ideas," she says. "I use this very easy and free software program called Picasa, which is available through Google, and it's just great for storing my digital images and doing a few modifications to them before I paint them."
Showing What She's Made Of
Eventually, Linda acknowledged that she was going to have to take some initiative if she was going to get her artwork into the public eye. Since there weren't any local opportunities, she cast a wider net. She noticed, for example, that the Bosque Conservatory in Clifton, TX held an annual competition. For several years she studied how that competition was run. Eventually, she entered and won, learning--much to her surprise--that she could have three works accepted instead of only one.
They say that knowledge is power, and Linda went about learning as much as she could about the art business through all sorts of varied avenues. She joined a regional arts organization, and listened to her peers there. She also tapped into the power of the Internet and the national artists' magazines to find competitions to enter. "I often didn't have the money to enter shows, but I did it anyway," she says. "I decided to enter the big money shows in particular, not because of the awards offered but because of the level of competition. I knew that if I got in, it would validate my work."
One of her earliest big goals she set for herself was to gain the recognition of her fellow colored pencil artists by getting involved in the national organization called the Colored Pencil Society of America. She was terribly disappointed when she was not accepted into the CPSA show the year it was held in Fort Worth, Texas, which was probably the closest it will ever be to her own home, but she made sure she attended the exhibition. "That was the first time I had ever seen other artists' colored pencil work!" she notes. "I was like a kid in a candy store." Today she exhibits with them regularly, and last year she won the CIPPY award and the EXXPY award--the two highest awards CPSA offers--in the same year, which was the first time ever that someone had done that. "What thrilled me more than anything was when I was invited (they invited me) to teach a workshop at Nationals," she says, still relishing the moment. "That made me cry. Somehow that validated me and all that I've been trying to accomplish."
Chances to sell her work in her own town are non-existent, so here, too, Linda has had to take the initiative to find gallery representation. She took herself down to the oldest and largest gallery in Dallas. "While I was there, I asked the salespeople if they took colored pencil art," she recalls. "They said no, but just to be polite the director suggested that I bring some pieces in ‘some time.' When I got home, even though I didn't really feel ready, I thought, well, when is ‘some time'? So I set up an appointment to take my work in the following Friday!" Linda ended up leaving several pieces at the gallery that day, only to have to wait two long months for a decision from the director. In fact, it wasn't until she tired of waiting for an answer as to whether she was going to be accepted and went to the gallery to retrieve her paintings that the director agreed to sell her work. She's been represented there ever since, and was recently invited to show her work at a second Texas gallery as well.
Learning to Fly
"Living in a small town and being virtually the only trained professional around has meant that I have had no mentor, no sounding board," says Linda. "Everything I've done, I've been flying by the seat of my pants because I haven't had anyone to guide me." Yet by paying attention, asking questions, networking beyond the confines of the city limits, and most of all persevering steadily and enthusiastically, Linda has made a successful career out of her love for painting. "I have such an amazing passion for art," she says. "I can't really explain it, except that it's something that I can't not do. I can't live without it."