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Q&A with Watercolorist Tammy Wiedenhaefer

Medicine Man, watercolor, by Tammy Wiedenhaefer.
Medicine Man, watercolor, by Tammy Wiedenhaefer, was selected by the juror for the Board of Directors Award for Best in Show.

In several ways, this month’s Best in Show piece is a classic Art League story. The artist: someone who always had a creative side, but only pursued art after another career. The painting: her first entry in years, surprising her by not only being accepted but selected for an award. Surprises seem to pop up all the time in the jury process.

Tammy Wiedenhaefer is the artist’s name, and her watercolor is titled Medicine Man. She told us more about this portrait and her career in watercolor:

Who is the Medicine Man?
Tammy Wiedenhaefer: The Medicine Man is a local tribesman from a small town on the coast of Ghana. He was quietly playing his instrument while the townspeople just milled about.

The big pull for me to want to paint Medicine Man were his eyes. His eyes were very haunting to me. There seemed to be so much life and wisdom in them. I was also pulled in by the headdress and flute. The fact that he was playing his instrument in the soft lighting of his hut had such an allure that I couldn’t resist. Most of my paintings focus on the light on the subject. The Impressionists have always been my favorites and their influence shows in my love of light on color. I love finding interesting people who are steeped in their culture. It gives my audience a chance to share in a part of the world that may not be available to them.

Medicine Man (detail) by Tammy Wiedenhaefer.
Medicine Man (detail) by Tammy Wiedenhaefer.

After taking an extended break from entering shows, what made you pick this one to enter this month?
I had taken an extended break from entering shows because I found myself trying to paint subjects to the theme or the juror’s “taste.” That method wasn’t proving fruitful for being juried into shows and it wasn’t especially fulfilling to me as a painter. I had an unrealistic sense that getting into shows was the way to prove to myself that I was progressing as a painter, but my paintings were lacking. So about two years ago I decided to take a break from entering all shows and just paint the subjects that inspired me irregardless of their appeal to others, as well as continue to improve on my technical skills by taking classes and workshops from instructors that I admire.

Entering this months’ show at The Art League turned out to be serendipitous for a couple of reasons. I have a painting buddy who was urging me to enter the shows and step up my game. When I saw that the juror for June was Claire Kelly from The National Portrait Gallery, my immediate thought was that this was my chance to see if my portraiture work was heading in the right direction.

Why are you a watercolorist?
Becoming a watercolorist was a slow progression through many art forms over the years. However, about 15 years ago I decided to focus my attention on fine art, specifically portraiture. By trade I was a Medical Technologist so I attended NOVA for drawing and design classes. I tried oil painting at first but when I was exposed to the intensity of color and the spontaneity of watercolor I was hooked!

What made you want to change gears and pursue fine art 15 years ago?
I shifted to fine art 15 years ago because, like many people, I went to college to pursue a degree that would land me a solid job. I was always creative, musical and artistic, but it was not encouraged as a profession while I was growing up. When my children were entering college I started reevaluating what I wanted to do with my talents for the next phase of my life. To me, whether right or wrong, the definition of an artist meant that you could paint fine paintings and I always wanted to be an artist. The other driving factor is that I want to leave a mark, so to speak, or a legacy behind. A piece of myself to let future ancestors know that “hey” I was here, and I was a person with interests and substance.

What’s your creative process like? How long might you work on a given painting?
Portraiture and figurative work is my first love, my second is urban landscape. I love people-watching and trying to figure out what they’re thinking and feeling. I spend a lot of time walking around with my camera trying to photograph people in their element, doing something interesting, dressed in colorful clothing, etc. I like to paint from photo references in my studio. Once I’m inspired to paint a specific reference it takes anywhere from two weeks to a month before I might call a painting done. Many times even longer. I will continue to look at a painting for weeks many times making very minor adjustments before I will sign it.

What’s your goal with a portrait?
No matter what subject matter I am working with, my use of light on color is always my first goal. My ultimate goal with portraits is to feel what the subject is feeling, to get a glimpse behind their eyes into their thoughts and soul. I want the viewer to feel like they are there in the moment with the subject.

What are you working on now?
I am currently working on an urban landscape using a reference photograph from inside the Pantheon in Rome.

The June All-Media Show is open through Monday, July 6.

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