Artist, art instructor, and landscape architect Lisa Guthrie has been involved with La Romita since 1989! The Marin County, California resident recently spoke with La Romita’s Amina Quargnali-Diehl about watercolor, her artistic influences, her history with La Romita, current projects, and advice for artists just starting out.
Amina: When did you first realize you were an artist?
Lisa: I grew up around artists, and grew up around art… it was always expected. My childhood scrawls were always encouraged. My father had a classical arts background and was a noted Northwest [United States] painter, a graduate of the art institute of Chicago. My mother studied at the Cornish College of the Arts [Seattle]. My sister is an artist and photographer, and other family members are into music, drama…. It’s in the gene pool. My father did fabulous work in all media. I remember he made his own paints… he did egg tempera … he would be mixing egg yolks with the powdered pigments… he did murals for the WPA during the depression. [But] I particularly got a kick out his watercolors, it just intrigued me.
Amina: What is it about watercolors that you found—and still find–so appealing?
Lisa: Watercolors were free-er, they looked like they would be more fun… there comes a point at which you’re done. With oils, you’re never done. With watercolors, there’s a point at which you call it day. I’m impatient, so I don’t like to spend a lot of time doing anything, so [watercolor] suits me. And there’s something about landscapes and transparency…
Amina: What is it that inspires you to paint a particular subject?
Lisa: I like to project myself into a scene, I like to physically relate to it, which is why plein air painting appeals to me… when you get out into the field and have to decide what you want ot paint and how to get it onto a piece of paper when you have this vast landscape in front of you. I don’t do trees and rocks and scenes, but I can do buildings and landscapes because that’s what I relate to. I don’t like to work from photographs, because all you have is a tiny 5 by 7 [inch photo] and then you to put it on a paper that’s 10 times the size…[For me] it’s seeing something that I want to remember and that I want to have a personal relationship with.
Amina: Could you tell us a bit about your current projects?
Lisa: I’ve been working with a group of volunteers in Marin County [California] to create a wild flower meadow in one of the last remaining pieces of original [unimproved] shoreline. It’s probably how the whole area looked like originally. We’re working to create areas of native plantings and install gravel paths for people to walk through… park benches… for people to look at the scenery.
And another current project I’m working on involves La Romita. I’m re-designing a group that I developed for La Romita for 2010. This one will run September 19 to October 3, 2012. I wanted to combine the fact that we’re around so many historic gardens in Lazio and Umbria, and my colleague Tom Brown is just a wonderful historian, he will give a presentation and then we’ll go out to the gardens the next day. And I’m going to encourage people to sketch as much as possible and not just photograph.
Amina: When did you first start bringing artists to paint at La Romita? About how many times have you done so?
Lisa: 1989 is the first time I have a record! And I’ve been back I think 12 times, 8 times as a teacher, and 4 times as a participant, which was a heck of a lot of fun because I could just paint and not worry about anything. Twice I’ve been to LR as one of Marion Dunn’s student. I think I met Marion when Charlotte was teaching, and Marion and I were both there as participants.
Amina; You’ve been to La Romita so many times: what inspires you to keep coming back there to paint?
Lisa: I love the pattern of the countryside, the ruggedness of the Umbrian countryside, the dark mountains. I love the pattern of the countryside, each field is different,, I love the hill-towns, everything is so clustered together… One of the things that keeps me coming back is the program! Just how much fun it is, all the friends I’ve met, just the fact that I can paint all day with this group of people and then we all come back and drink a glass of wine. It makes for a lot of camaraderie. And that’s when I do a lot of my painting, we’re not caught up with doing a lot of other things, we just paint. When I come back after being a participant, I have a whole bunch of paintings finished, and that’s exciting!
Amina: Have any artists influenced you in particular?
Lisa: The post-impressionists of course I relate to… and I’ve taken workshops from a number of local well-known watercolorists. In particular the works of George Post and Dong Kingman. They started together at the same time right around the time of the Great Depression, and they were hired by the WPA [Works Project Administration] and told “you’re going to hit the road and paint watercolors and put them in government offices.” And they developed totally different styles. Dong Kingman painted San Francisco with a huge brush … he did a lot of colored line work and later put in huge areas of color… gosh how did he have the courage to do that, it’s so gutsy! George didn’t put in every door and every window, he let you do a lot of figuring it out, he let the viewer use his imagination, the viewer participate it. George died a number of years ago,
he used to teach workshops at the California College of Arts and around the country. Kingman didn’t teach workshops but I bought all his books. I really admired them both very much and think they both influenced me as an artist. [Editor’s Note: George Post died in 1997; Dong Kingman died in 2000].
Amina: How have you handled the business aspect of being an artist?
Lisa: I make my living by being a landscape architect. My painting is my passion. I haven’t had to make a business out of it, which frees me up to do just what I want to do, or not. So I don’t have to get out and peddle and market… of course the Internet has helped tremendously with all artists. I don’t have a website, but if I did it would be very helpful, if I could keep enough product in stock.
Amina: What advice would you give an artist just starting out?
Lisa: I would tell them to just paint whatever strikes their fancy and however strikes and not to worry about a right way or a wrong way, not to worry about drawing skills, to not worry about the academics of it but to just enjoy it. When I was first starting out I was very frustrated, but then I became happy when I could find just a little area on the painting that I liked, and gradually those areas got bigger and bigger… especially with watercolor you just have to get out and do it. And that’s the difference with watercolor versus oil… with watercolor, that’s it. When you’re done, you’re done!