This month I will be writing a series of posts about others who are especially meaningful to me . Too often we do nothing but toot our own horns. But I am often asked questions like, "Where did you study? What helped your career take off? Who has inspired you the most?" Over the next four weeks I will answer a few of these questions. With regard to the first question, people are surprised to find that I did not attend formal art school. For years I was terribly self-conscious about that. I was disappointed in myself for not having a degree. I had always planned to go to college, but life circumstances changed that. Even if I had gotten a BA, it would likely have been in some sort of musical theater, not visual art, and in fact I studied voice privately at a university for some time. There was also a brief period when I attended Belmont University as a part-time student studying graphic design, but I don't really count that. I worked very hard, and for 13 years I was one of the top design firms in Nashville. So now you're up-to-date on that. Let's move on to the hero of our story.
After taking weekly painting classes with a man named Michael McBride for about two years, followed by two more years with Jody Thompson, I fortuitously entered the studio of Dawn Whitelaw. Without a doubt, she is the most wonderful person I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Not only is she an accomplished painter, but her knowledge and willingness to share it is unmatched. Here is a little about her, her career, and her work from my personal perspective.
Dawn Whitelaw has done everything and she is so interesting to get to know. If there was a book about Dawn and her husband, Clay, (co-owner of Richland Fine Art), it would certainly include chapters titled, "Being a Professional Table-Tennis Player," "Our Pizza Shop Years," "Teaching in University," "Famous Logos I Designed," and "Fun Trips in our Private Plane." During our travels together, little bits about her early married years come out in the most curious of conversations. She doesn't really talk about herself a lot, so when you get a little nibble, it is like taking a bite of the most delicious thing you have ever eaten. You want more, but that one tiny morsel is worth savoring and enjoying for a while. My favorite times with her are on the road, talking a mile-a-minute, and laughing hysterically together. No sitcom could ever be this funny.
I am writing this without getting her permission. She is much too humble and would have never granted it. (Dawn: Apologies to you my friend if I misspeak in any way.)
Dawn first made a huge name for herself in the world of commissioned portraits. Few people may have ever seen her early monotypes, her recent sculpture and pastel, or any of the other mediums in which she works, but anyone who has ever been a part of the Portrait Society of America is familiar with her long-standing and impressive career. Her private and corporate portraits hang in many important collections, including the historic Player's Club in NYC. One of the most telling stories about who she is as a teacher and how she is as an artist, is that one year she and her former student Michael Shane Neal took the top two awards at the prestigious PSA's National Conference in Washington, DC. She currently serves on the Executive Board of PSA. Among her other responsibilities, Dawn introduced and moderated a conversation between Everett Raymond Kinstler and Richard Ormond (family of John Singer Sargent) at last year's conference.
Although she has taken workshops from folks like Scott Christensen, T. Allen Lawson, Quang Ho, and others, the majority of her influence still comes from her mentor and friend Everett Raymond Kinstler. She spends time at his home every summer painting and listening to his ideas, suggestions, and tales.
Luckily, early on, Mr. Kinstler advised her to also paint en plein air in order to become a better artist and portrait painter. Now her work is held high regard in both portrait and landscape worlds, and few artists are so well-rounded.
For five years, my studio was located next to Dawn's in Franklin, Tennessee. We never ran out of ideas to discuss, paintings to tear apart, or challenges to take. We still do that, but since my move to the new place, it is far less-frequent and I miss that. It is invaluable to find someone with whom you feel you can be completely honest about your work and theirs.
I learn the most when we are traveling together to an event and painting side-by-side every day for several days in a row. She's an easy companion, too. We are enticed by the same scenes, yet compose them and express them differently in our work. Stopping along the side of the road to paint a quick sketch with her is priceless. We totally exhaust ourselves during a trip, painting from sunrise until we drop after sunset (or even by the full-moon). Other artists think we are workaholics, but the truth is we LOVE it. It is both work and fun at the same time, like an athlete whose body would crumble if they stopped so they just keep running.
Thank you, Dawn. You have helped me more than you will ever know, and I love you to pieces!