Portrait Of The Artist As A Mature Woman

05 September 2014 Written by  Josie O’malley

I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

My first encounter with the world of art was at our Catholic School, which provided a good program of art education. We were assigned a series of art projects and, at the end of fourth grade, I became a recipient of one of four scholarships granted to selected art students to attend Saturday art classes at Carnegie Museum. These classes were a community service for budding artists that the museum had been hosting since 1929. Each year the scholarship was subsequently renewed until I reached my junior year in high school. Throughout those six years I took the weekly lessons from a Carnegie artist named Joseph Fitzpatrick.

The museum was an hour’s commute from our home, requiring a combination of bus and streetcar. So nearly every Saturday, I would leave home at 8:00 in the morning and wouldn’t get back until 5:00 that evening. I never counted those Saturdays as a hardship, however. On the contrary, I looked forward to my lessons. We met in an auditorium where Mr. Fitzpatrick passionately trained us to see whatever we were looking at. “Do not just walk around with your eyes closed,” he would tell us. Mr. Fitzpatrick would continually drum into us a mantra that none of his students would ever forget, “Look to see,” he would tell us. “Look to remember. Look to enjoy.”

When I reached ninth grade I transferred to a public school. The next year my scholarship was upgraded so my subsequent Saturdays were taken up with classes in Art & Design at Carnegie Mellon University. I began learning the fundamentals of sculpture, painting, and design. About 20 of us were taking the course, and the forays we were making into the world of art were interesting and exciting. Another great benefit was the access that we had to that beautiful campus. We would drop in to the school’s auditorium, for example, and catch whatever dance or performance productions or rehearsals happened to be going on at the time.

Our Carnegie Mellon classes brought to the surface a passion for sculpture. I would initiate a project by throwing a lump of clay onto the pedestal to force any air bubbles out of the media. From that point, I sometimes seemed to be able to watch from some third-party-type perspective as the piece of clay began to lose the amorphous shape of its beginnings and was gradually transmuted into the objet d’art that was to be its destiny. When the piece was finished, it was like I had been present at a birth or at an act of creation.

What had been a lump of clay had become this lovely piece, which was often, in my probably-not-too-humble estimation, a truly beautiful object. Our classes also covered oil painting, and while I enjoyed that, the process seemed difficult and the finished product never gave me the rush that I got from one of my sculptured pieces.

Those classes convinced me that art was my calling and that it was up to me to figure out how to make it a career. Following graduation from high school, I chose to attend The Art Institute of Pittsburgh because it offered curriculum beyond the fine arts to include courses in such things as graphic design and layout that would prepare me to become a commercial art professional.

The Art Institute was intimidating, at first. The campus seemed enormous and, unlike the familiar buildings and hallways of Carnegie Mellon, everything seemed strange and unfamiliar. The uneasy feelings vanished, however, when I took my initial Layout & Design and Life Drawing classes. I particularly enjoyed studying under the dean of the Art Institute, a painter named Vincent Nesbert. He had been born in Poland and emigrated to the U.S. when he was 16 years old. Nesbert won a Pulitzer Prize in 1922 and was best known for the murals he had painted, as part of a WPA project, for the grand staircase at the Allegheny Courthouse.

By the time I met him, Nesbert had earned a reputation as a cantankerous non-conformist. He demonstrated that his reputation had been fairly earned by sometimes flying into temper tantrums at what he considered a poor artistic effort by some cowering student. On several occasions Nesbert would provide a particularly graphic critique of a student’s effort by sailing the offending canvas out of the classroom’s sixth-floor window into the alley below. In spite of the man’s occasional belligerence, I enjoyed studying with him. He really was a gifted artist and teacher. When he was demonstrating some technique, I never grew tired of watching him work.

Another teacher, John Johns, was president of The Art Institute and a famous caricaturist. For 17 years he had a real-world job as an illustrator for The Pittsburgh Press.

Mr. Johns would attend social events and create caricatures of the attendees. On one memorable occasion, he chose me to accompany him to a party at the Penn Hills Country Club. My role was to be the portrait artist for the guests while Mr. Johns did their caricatures. The honor was a real challenge, and I put a lot of preliminary hours into practice so that I would be able to actually do a portrait sketch in 15 minutes. The evening was a lot of fun and ten of the guests were able to take a portrait of themselves home with them. One of the lessons I learned quickly that evening after doing a couple on-the-spot makeovers, was never to accentuate character lines in a face when doing a portrait. As a result, those people left with a portrait of themselves that more closely resembled what they imagined they looked like than the way they actually appeared to others.

Following graduation, I got a job as an illustrator with Westinghouse, working with four other artists in a cramped cubicle that we referred to as The Penthouse. We created a little community; we became best of friends.

I was married for 13 years and then became a single mom with four sons — ages 15, 13, and 2-year-old twins. I had been a stay-at-home mom for most of the marriage, but now needed to find gainful employment. I got a job working in a deli, but wanted to find work as an artist, so I made some résumés. When I took them to a print shop to get copies, the owner hired me on the spot to create custom graphics for his clients. One assignment was a detailed pen-and-ink sketch of the Wyandotte Indian restaurant, next to the Columbus Zoo. The restaurant was planning to add a glass-enclosed patio, but they hadn’t even started it yet. I used their construction plans so the menu came out with a picture including a lovely patio that didn’t even exist yet.

After a year I was lured away to become the creative director at an ad agency called Ag Comm Advertising where I helped produce catalogs and brochures. I also had such fun projects as designing logos for ball caps, patches, etcetera. Two years later I started my own O’Malley Adsociates business.

A new world opened to me when I began creating a newsletter for my business. Desktop computers had made their

appearance by then, and I employed a computer operator to create the initial issues. I wanted to learn about the technology, so I began taking computer classes at Columbus College of Art & Design, learning to use the main design tools including Photoshop, Quark Express, and PageMaker. I got caught up in the world of computer design and publishing, and spent hours mastering the technology. An economic downturn reduced my business, so I took a part-time job generating computer art for AT&T creating flyers, brochures, and adds.

In 1995 everything changed again when I got a job as graphic design teacher with Bradford School. At the beginning I was the only art teacher with 15 students. But the program grew to the point that there were 40 students and we had to hire a second teacher. Apple had become the standard production environment and we were teaching page layout, photo retouch, drawing, color, and design. By the time they left my program, students were qualified to do professional level graphic design.

I began to spend my winter school breaks in Brentwood, in order to be near my oldest son, Terry, his wife Angela, and especially to be near their four boys — Brenden, Dillon, Ryan and Sean. The first three are triplets! I fell in love with the area and after retiring in 2008, I bought my own Brentwood residence. “You should retire to something,” they say, and retirement for me simply means that I am now able to work when I want and where I want. I am currently involved in several major art projects. One of them, the Fantasy Forest collection, is done in oil. I created these for my grandchildren using colors, shadows, hidden objects, and special perspectives that are designed to appeal to a child’s love for fantasy. When I gave one to my four-year-old grandchild, her eyes immediately went to Rapunzel’s castle that was half-concealed in the background and her face lit up. My five-year-old grandchild, who has had three heart

operations so far, enjoyed my fantasy work, called “Monkey on my Back.” He had a little friend over and when the friend looked at the painting, my grandchild said, “l like that. My memaw made that for me.” I had prints made

of all three of them and the pictures are hanging in the nurseries and bedrooms of a number of local children.

I also do consignment pieces, creating whatever portraits, house sketches, or animal paintings a client wants. I am also doing digital art projects. It took a while for popular taste to catch up to the technology, but now people have come to appreciate computer-generated art as its own genre. I’ve entered pieces from all three areas of my interest in local competitions and have come away with prizes for all of them.

For any artist, Northern California offers wonderful landscapes, and I’ve particularly discovered the Devil’s Slide area north of San Francisco to be a wonderful place for painting scenes of the Pacific Coast. I am starting my second series of pictures of that area using a combination of watercolors and pastels.

I conduct some workshops and art classes. One of my classes, which I teach twice a year, called “Introduction To Drawing For Teens & Adults,” is held in a beautiful classroom located in Tracy’s Grand Theatre. In September I’ll be teaching a two-week Watercolor course. I have also recently been invited to add a series of watercolor lessons for seniors on Tuesday mornings at the Grand Theatre that will begin this fall. Check online for dates and sign-up information.

How could a person make life more wonderful than to surround it with natural beauty and then to fill it with art, grandchildren, and the blessed opportunity to pass down to others the tools and creative energies that have filled my own life to overflowing?

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