Art is an Expression of Emotions

 with Barbara Mulleneaux


artistic perspective

painting is a spiritual connection

I had a wonderful time talking with Barbara Mulleneaux about her background and her artistic perspective in preparation for her workshop, Plein Air with the Palette Knife, coming up on 

October 25th through October 27th at the Tubac School of Fine Art. 

I would like to share with you some of the insightful things she shared with me. 

What is your goal with a painting? 

Expression, just like in all arts- a writer writes, a painter paints. Painting is the way I express emotion. I visually see one thing, but I have an emotional reaction to it. When you see my painting, I’m hoping you’ll have the same emotional reaction. 

Barbara shared with me that when her children were young before they could even verbally express their emotions, she would put a crayon in their hand and let them express themselves through drawing. If that’s not art at its purest, I don’t know what is. 

How do you choose what to paint? What speaks to you?

Usually, the light and the interaction between the warm and cool values draw me in. Color isn’t something I really look at. I visualize my paintings in black and white. In fact, I often do a pen and ink or pencil study before I start painting. The temperature and the shadows are so important. The light landing on a subject or bouncing…that refraction of light. What’s it from? What are those shapes? What’s the composition all about? I see what the shapes are and the relationships between them. Shapes, value, and temperature all come together to make good, cohesive paintings. 

When you are looking at something in real life, do you see in your mind how you would paint it, before even starting to think about actually painting it? 

Absolutely. I’m a plein air painter. When painting en plein air, you have to paint from memory because the light changes so quickly. You have to set your values right away and then you have to remember what the light was doing. 

When you look at a scene, you have to think, “What am I attracted to?” Is it the light? What is the focal point? Where’s the movement? I have to have a vision of what I expect a painting to look like, or it all falls apart. If I get caught up in perfecting singular ridges of the mountains,  it’ll fall apart because other things are happening. 

When did you discover your love for art? What’s your artistic background?

I think we are born with it. When I was young, I was always interested in art, but mostly visual art. I played music a little, but I wasn’t very good at it. I have always dabbled in the creative arts, but it wasn’t until my 40s that I took it seriously, and not until my late 50s that I started work as a painter. I’ve only been in the game seriously for five or six years. It just goes to show- you can teach an old dog new tricks!

After college, I began working. I took a ceramics program at church because it seemed interesting. I took a few painting classes because I liked it. From there, I took some drawing classes to help with my painting. Then I worked in an artists’ studio for a year. I continue to study new techniques and I have been very fortunate to be around great artists who have mentored me and helped me grow.

What’s something you have learned about painting?

 I have a good time when I go to paint. I don’t get caught up in the result. It’s all about the process of getting there. Some paintings work out and some don’t. I’m not afraid to scrape it and start something new. I think that’s an important message for all skill sets. Even the highly successful artists don’t beat a dead horse. Don’t be afraid of a bad painting. You have to push the limits to see how far is too far. Don’t be afraid to mess up. Even the worst paintings have a take-away. It could be that one little corner where you liked what you did, so go re-create that on another painting. It could just be that you know what not to do next time. You have to experiment and take risks, or you’ll remain stagnant. It’s all a process. 

image of Artist Barbara Mulleneaux

For me, painting is a spiritual connection, a meditation, a prayer…whatever you want to call it. I am compelled to paint and I will do so as long as I can.

I found the right fit for me with a palette knife. I really like beautiful brushwork, but after working with several different techniques, I have really found a home with the palette knife and the texture I can create with it. I had to go outside of my comfort zone to learn new things. I know what I like after trying very hard at other things.  Take a class because you like what an artist is doing. You can’t give up after one experiment. Learn to work with that method. It will take some time to “percolate.” If it’s not working, you may be missing something. Stick with it. Overall, be who you are, but be open-minded to learn.

How would you encourage new artists?

Because my oldest daughter is a teacher now, I spend a lot of time with youth that want to pursue art. Some have interned with me and that’s been great. My best advice for them is to have a Plan B. It’s difficult to get started and to make a living as an artist. Even the best artists struggle until they find their niche. I think it was Robert Henri that said “A successful artist must be developed.” You can’t force it. It’s like cooking- it’s not finished until it’s done. Like anything in life, you must stick with it. Add seasoning. Get to know yourself and experiment a lot. Follow artists you like and reach out to them. You’ll probably find that they are generous; they want to give back with advice and encouragement. 

Having a background in marketing is coming increasingly important. That’s one thing that has changed with social media- you have to market yourself. Those are some great skills to have. 

Also, don’t sell yourself short. Sell your paintings for what they are worth. If it’s worth $1000, sell it for $1000. But also be realistic. If it’s a $100 painting, sell it for $100. 

Just ask questions. Practice. Experiment. Get better and better. 

For me, painting is a spiritual connection, a meditation, a prayer…whatever you want to call it. I am compelled to paint and I will do so as long as I can.

We are so looking forward to having Barbara with us skills at the Tubac School of Fine Art. There are only a few seats left, so sign up here to learn how to paint freely and expressively with the palette knife en plein air! 

more info about workshop

Interview by Elizabeth Stockton

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