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The Artfinder Blog

Meet the Gold Star winner of the Muted Collection competition, Valerie Thomson!

In September we announced that we were partnering with Liquitex for the launch of their first special edition colour range: the Muted Collection. To celebrate, we launched a competition whereby artists were asked to create an artwork that explored the theme of 'muted' and to explain how their entry fits the theme.

We are delighted to reveal that 226 artists from 37 countries entered the competition and 489 artworks were submitted with a collective total of 38,086 loves. Congratulations to all who took part!

All entrants received a Liquitex sample pack and artists with artworks in the top 50 most loved category won a Intermixability Trial Box.

A liquitex judging panel chose 3 winning artworks and we are delighted to announce that Valerie Thomson's 'The Wonder of Days II' was the Gold Star winner and Kume Bryant's 'Enchanted Winter' and Claire Desjardin's 'I See That You Made An Effort' were selected as runners up. All 3 artists received a Muted Collection set of their choice (Ink, Soft Body or Heavy Body set).

We caught up with Gold Star winner Valerie Thomson, who chatted winning, the muted collection and life as a full-time artist.

Valerie, congratulations! What made you decide to enter the Muted Collection competition?

Valerie: I only enter competitions that do not have entry fees. That means I don't enter too many! I feel the art itself is something special and as artists we should not have to pay to have it looked at. So, this was a great opportunity and I was bowled over when I found out I had won.

The winner of Liquitex's Muted Collection competition, 'The Wonder of Days II' by Valerie Thomson

What excited you about our partnership with Liquitex?

Valerie: Liquitex has been one of my go-to manufacturers of pigments and brushes since I first began painting. And Artfinder's partnership with Liquitex and announcement on the artists' forum made it possible to add my pieces for consideration. There are so many really good artists on Artfinder, it is still amazing to me that I was chosen.

What was it about the Muted Collection that interested you?

Valerie: Usually I gravitate towards saturated colours, so it was interesting to consider pulling back a bit to mute my colour choice down. One of the conversations I remember with my teacher Leo Manso, centered around my choice of colour. He would say that with colour there are highs and lows. I was only interested in the highs!

Have you experimented with the Liquitex's muted collection yet?

Valerie: Yes! I have had so much fun with the colours when they arrived. I chose the heavy body acrylics which is my favourite medium. I was especially interested in the muted gray and turquoise. I'm still playing with them. Forrest Gump talked about life being like a box of chocolates and not having just one....paint is like that for me! Can't have just one colour, they are all so delicious.

'The Wonder of Days II' won the competition, what is this painting about?

Valerie: I liked and still like to go for the most beautiful moment. But there is a moment, after the most beautiful music has been played and sung, when in the quiet the notes linger in the air. And that is a special landscape. That is what the winning entry was for me. That moment after. The lingering notes. The quiet after the most beautiful music.

It is wonderful to hear that you're a full time artist, how did it all begin?

Valerie: Two significant events occurred when I was a teenager in Scotland.

Firstly, I started at a school where there were art classes with little instruction. There were colours, paint and white paper available in class and lots of time just for observing, imagining and putting down the colours in shapes and lines. Secondly, a library opened up a bus ride away from me. I loved the nice clean carpets, quiet and warmth of the library. I often sat on the floor in the myth and fairy tale section.

I applied and was accepted to St. Andrews University in Scotland. I was the first in my family to attend university!

I had hoped to attend art school and stayed at Grammar School until the 6th grade, mostly to retake my art exam. I didn’t get an ‘A” so I went to St. Andrews instead but continued to draw for myself. The idea of becoming an artist at this stage faded into the mist of my dreams.

You mention on your shop that you attended FIT in New York, how did that come about?

Valerie: I liked greeting cards and enjoyed the feel of the different papers. Then, in my late twenties I took an evening class in greeting card design at FIT in New York. This was my first real art class.

On a Thursday I found out about a one year accelerated program at FIT for people who already had degrees. The requirement was a 15 piece portfolio and the application deadline was Monday. I had to ask what a portfolio was. The class had showed me how to paint flowers and birds, so I called in to my Wall Street job to say I was taking the Friday off. I then spent the next 3 days making and matting 15 drawings and paintings of birds and flowers for the portfolio application.

I got in. I quit my job, and left behind my three piece suits for overalls. Those were such happy times.

I graduated and represented FIT in its 'Decade of Design' exhibition. Then I remembered one of the instructors mentioning the Art Students' League, I checked it out and finally felt that I was home.

For the next few years I painted full time at the Art Students League and then went on to have my own studio.

It was from that moment that it was full steam ahead. Stuff was selling before it was dry, bought by models from the easel, commissioned by collectors, scooped up by acquaintances. I was exhibiting by invitation with master artists and then the bottom fell out of my world.

My art spirit was crushed, and while it rose battered a few times, my creative light did not stay lit until a couple of years ago. I heard it calling and began painting in the evenings. Soon I was moping around at work wanting to be with my love again, so I quit my job and started painting full time.

I don't linger in the sadness about all the time lost. I am jubilant that art is now the centre of my life, and have experienced the literal truth of Henry Miller's statement, “To paint is to love again.”

A photograph of Valerie as young artist in her New York studio, next one of her oil paintings.

Do you have a favourite artist/collective that you look up to?

Valerie: I love Kandinsky, Die Blaue Reiter, Hoffman, Chagall, Rothko, Stella, Nikki de Saint Phalle and many of the Russian artists we don't see in the west, especially Vrubel (I saw his demon paintings during Peace Corps service in Russia), DeStael, and on and on. Brian Rutenberg's current work is amazing.

What type of painter would you describe yourself as?

Valerie: I was pegged as a colourist early on. I love the poetry of colour and the physicality of paint. In painting I have learned not to second-guess impulses. If something moves me to try blue when it doesn't make sense, I follow the impulse anyway and then add a dab of purple here, a field of pink there, a stroke of white, and soon I'm in a spirited landscape of colour that resonates deeply with me.

You describe painting with such emotion, has any other painter’s work particularly moved you?

Valerie: When I was a young artist in my early twenties in New York, I remember standing before a Monet at the Met and feeling the colour strokes coming out of the painting and surrounding me. I had a really strong impulse to step into the painting. That was followed by me imagining a newspaper with the headline “Artist stopped while trying to step into painting”. That thought stopped me from being arrested.

Where is it that you create?

Valerie: I now live in a modest studio and enjoy being surrounded by my paintings and being able to pick up the paints whenever the colours talk to me. I can look at pieces on the easel while doing the dishes and see something I want to do and do it.

I have had very large and very small studio spaces that have been separate to my living space, but this works best for me. Painting is part of my daily life now.

Who is it that inspires you to paint?

Valerie: At the Art Students' League in New York folks would stop by my early canvases and nod, “So you've been looking at Kandinsky”. At the time I didn’t know who he was. I went on to find out soon enough that I loved Kandinsky's early work. So I can't say he inspired me, per se. I think the inspiration was already inside me. I just needed to open those windows and doors and look into that world.

I owe a lot to the folks who taught me about colour theory, the nuts and bolts of painting, light and dark, minor and major, line, edge, and so on at FIT and The Art Students League. Of them all, the most influential was Leo Manso. He was a wise instructor and had a gentle way of guiding young artists, he was funny too. He has since got his wings.

Do you live by any philosophies?

Valerie: Clearly, I am a slow learner on what is really important. It's taken me a long time to make creating art the centre of my life and to find how to open the doors and windows to let it flow.

I feel so very fortunate to have this gift of colours speaking to me. It feels very sacred. It's crazy to me that creating art, even today in some places on our earth is a life threatening activity. I don't take for granted that I am free paint.

What has being part of the Artfinder community meant for you?

Valerie: I joined Artfinder three months after I began painting full time. I was brimming with unpainted colours and thrilled to be able to have a venue to share them with so many people.

I have “met” many artists across the globe, we share information and support and celebrate each other's successes. I have “met” many collectors too, many of whom come back to buy more from me and who share my enthusiasm for colour.

I have also bought art by Artfinder artists from all over the planet, because it's just too darn hard to resist the delicious work made by so many fabulous artists. I like to save the stamps and envelope sections that are handwritten, and tuck them in the back of the paintings.

Are you planning any upcoming exhibitions?

Valerie: My last solo show was at the Buckley Center Gallery in Portland, Oregon. The Oregonian chose it as Critic's Choice. It's ironic because I was new to Portland then, I hardly knew anyone here and my art engine was firing up erratically, then sputtered out and stayed out until October 2013.

Now the physical and financial investment of framing and transporting art to brick and mortal galleries is not where I put my energy. The internet and doorstep courier pickups and deliveries make it possible for me to continue painting, get the work seen, and mail it to collectors. It is so cool.

I am not concerned that the fire will go out now. It will when I get my wings, but until then, painting and colour is the centre of my life. It's about time.

As a last word, do you have any advice for other artists?

Valerie: Be generous. Creation is an expansive activity. Holding back is contractive and limiting. Let the light out. Open your windows and doors. Then look and listen.

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