Montana artist Shirley Cleary’s gouache, oil and acrylic paintings of sports fishing and the Montana landscape are quietly rich with soft color. Please enjoy more of her art by visiting her website.
It took me quite a while to find my own direction in my life and my art. I was born an identical twin and my late twin, Manon Cleary and I were both dedicated to art from an early age. We followed each other to Washington University (St. Louis) for BFA’s and to Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia and Rome for MFA’s. Eventually we ended up with totally different subjects, lives and most facets of our art. It is difficult to find a self-identity when dressed alike, studying the same subjects and being treated by friends and family as one person.
I married and moved to Montana from Washington, D.C where Manon and I both taught at UDC. I was on my own for the first time. I fell in love with the outdoors in the western United States, and the landscapes in Denmark where I was a guest artist for four months. As a city girl, I was thrilled to discover fly-fishing, hiking, camping and the beauty of the places these activities brought me to.
I always had allergies to petroleum products and discovered gouache while teaching a class in water media at Rocky Mountain College. It became my primary medium until low fume products came on the market about fifteen years ago.
Commercial artists were using gouache for illustrations but few for fine art, since it was popular a long time ago when there was a shortage of oil during World War II. Because of my familiarity with the medium, I was asked to write a magazine article on my techniques.
A woman who owned a fly-fishing shop with a small gallery in West Yellowstone encouraged me to paint some fly-fishing scenes for the gallery. Other galleries and art and fishing magazines picked up on the novelty of a woman painting sporting art.
Most of my art for the next thirty five years were paintings of fly-fishing and upland game hunting using my sportsman husband as a model. I was the only woman profiled in Inman’s book “The Fine Art of Angling: Ten Modern Masters.”
I spent fifteen of Montana’s cold winters in New Zealand and started doing more plein air painting and experimenting with new media with a group of wonderful artist friends. One of these pieces was selected for “Strokes of Genius 7-Depth, Dimension and Space.” I experimented with Copic Pens and Acrylic and have done several other paintings with similar media.
I love experimenting with new media, although my main concentration is still landscapes in oil and acrylic with Copic pens and oil sticks. I think you can get stale if you don’t try different things. People have said I have never met a color I didn’t like. I am always adding and subtracting new colors from my pallet, and have started using metallic paints along with the regular acrylic and oil paints.
I now spend winters in Arizona, and it is challenging to work with a totally different environment. Experimenting with new media has been part of the adjustment to this change, but I still get to spend the rest of the year in my adopted state of Montana.
I continue to love to fly-fish and paint all the wonderful scenery I can find when pursuing outdoor activities. I am lucky to be able spend time doing the two things I love the most–fishing and recalling the beauty of Montana through my art.
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