A Life's Purpose
Don’t you just love seeing an artist painting outdoors? There is a canvas on a french easel, being covered with bold brush strokes, an umbrella for shade; throw in a straw hat and scarf and you have the complete picture of an idyllic scene. Little does the observer know that the wind had just taken the pallet and tossed it into the air, and the morning dew on the grass has attracted the mosquitos who are in full attack mode. The artist has already reworked the composition of the painting a few times and despite all efforts the painting may end up in the recycle bin, to be painted over next week.
Of course it’s not always so chaotic. There are those days when you are just finished with blocking in the big shapes and the sun hits your objects with the perfect light, causing the most amazing shadows to dance across your canvas. Invigorated by what has happened before your eyes, the scene almost seems to paint itself as your brush is guided from somewhere deep within.
Those of us that have been painting and working at our craft for many years know how many failed attempts and how many hours of practice and study are involved in becoming an artist. However, many people still have the false illusion that artists are somehow born with an innate talent and that with no real need for practice, magnificent works of art appear effortlessly on their canvas. I assure you this is not the case. Far more important than natural born artistic talent is the passion and desire to create, along with the perseverance to follow it through.
Allow me to share with you the story of one such person possessing these qualities, who never thought she had any talent, but had the desire; someone who always felt she was a slow learner, who struggled in school. Pat ( Follansbee) Lutz, was a single mom and a loving daughter who rediscovered her childhood love for sketching while working at the hospital switchboard. Encouraged by her husband, she rented a small studio space that she shared with the likes of Scott Jackson and other local artists. Here she spent hours of her day learning from books and painting, painting and painting.
Running a successful business for over thirty years, Pat has come a long way since she was first approached by someone to teach them how to paint. Never imagining that this would be an option that would open up for her, after a brief visit to the ER for hyperventilation, she managed to take a deep breath, dove in and never looked back. Through her own determination to learn all she can, she has instilled the joy and excitement for art into the hearts of the many students that have studied at her studio, The Artists Playground, at the Tannery in Newburyport, where she teaches classes for all levels of experience. As a testament to her long career as an art instructor, teenagers who have taken classes with Pat since they were young children still stop by during school break to visit their favorite teacher. Many have gone on to art schools and colleges, majoring in art. Pat’s excitement to see them and hear about their lives is evident in her voice and manner, one that is familiar to all who know her. For many, her studio is a familiar place, especially to one group of women artists that started classes with Pat when she first began at the Tannery in the late 80s. They fill the morning and evening studio classes as the welcoming committee to new students joining The Artists Playground, a family of artists that have stayed the course, who have followed the teachings of this most gifted, talented and giving teacher.
The photographs of Pat’s paintings that accompany this article are from her most recent series of portrait paintings. Many artists paint in a series, which is a collection of paintings usually in the same medium that have a common thread running through them. Her goal in this series of paintings was to introduce exaggerated color and expose the character of each person in unusual vantage points. All of the subjects were people that worked at the Tannery, in Newburyport. Pat took photographs of them during their work day. The canvases measured approximately 30” x 40”. All eleven were completed over a six month period of time.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a truer example of “enjoying the doing” than Pat’s gifting of each painting to the individual who provided the inspiration. The doing gave the artist what she was looking for….the experience, the joy of creating and the knowledge she gained will be the gift that will be given to other artists that she mentors.
As the first in my series on local artists, Pat was my inevitable choice. She has been a dear friend for over 30 years, a mentor to many and someone who represents all that we as artists strive to be.
I recently sat down with the artist herself for a quick Q/A session:
Sandra: Why do you do what you do?
Pat: Many years ago, I was feeling quite lost and without any purpose in my life, My husband suggested that I meditate about it. So, daily I would ask myself, “ What is my purpose?” In the beginning nothing happened, but eventually I started to remember feeling of joy when I used to draw as a small child. Taking the lead from my inner self, I started to draw again and with encouragement and years of self study, was able to share this knowledge with others which I feel is my true purpose in this life. I love the process that I go thru as an artist.
Sandra: What type of environment do you work in?
Pat: Ever since I was a child I had trouble concentrating. This has followed me into adulthood, but I now know enough to ensure myself a quiet environment, free of distractions when I am working on my art.
Sandra: How has your practice changed over time?
Pat: I have become more aware of feelings and less concerned with detail. Initially I painted realistically, reproducing scenes before me. Eventually I learned to make my own color choices and the painting started to change. My subject matter is less detailed and more about evoking a feeling than representing a scene. I find myself working best when I trust my inner self and work intuitively.
Sandra: What role does the artist have in society?
Pat: Artists that paint in a way that portrays and bring out the feelings and emotions of our times, mirroring society as it is, or how we hope it to be can become catalysts for future change.
Sandra: What inspires you?
Pat: My inspiration comes from a need to express my feelings. This often shows on the canvas intuitively without planning, but by being open to what your inner voice tells you to do and to be brave enough to follow.
Sandra: How do you know when a work is finished?
Pat: This is a question that a lot of students ask. I customarily point out things that could be corrected or changed to make the work better. As the painter matures, they begin to realize that the painting itself closes the door on any further work. This is how I know.
Sandra: What is your most important artist tool?
Pat: The recycle bin! An odd answer I know, but as artists we all become familiar with failure and when we learn to embrace it and remind ourselves that we will be presented with another opportunity to learn when we recycle that old painting and start anew.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this article and look forward to writing another in the next issue. Your comments are welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org