Life As Art

Biologist and teacher turned artist discovers that with oils, as with life, sometimes you have to listen to the painting

Blending the oil paint into the face is a technique that Tina has been using for some time. After friends and relatives learned about her different trips and the paintings she has completed from photos they have sent her many photos to paint from as samples and as references for future works.

Blending the oil paint into the face is a technique that Tina has been using for some time. After friends and relatives learned about her different trips and the paintings she has completed from photos they have sent her many photos to paint from as samples and as references for future works. Photo by Andy Towle. |

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Tina Crabdree holds up a photo she will work from when she begins her latest commission piece.

Most people figure artists live in some alternate world — cutting an ear off to impress a girlfriend and living lives of outrageous strangeness. Perhaps we embrace that stereotype so we can ignore the artist that lurks in our own hearts.

But then along comes a painter like Tina Crabdree. Suddenly, you have to rethink your assumptions about artists — and maybe even yourself.

If you look at her dense, moody oil paintings now, you’d assume she has painted all her life. Instead, her path includes incarnations as a wildlife biologist, science teacher, alternative school founder, full-time mother — and even a stint in the insurance business. All of that proved perfect preparation, as it turns out, for life as an artist.

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Once friends and relatives knew about her different trips and the painting she has done from photos, many offerings have been sent to her; for commissions, as samples and as references for future works.

Tina doodled all the time as a child and her constant desire manifested itself as a life of a painter. Her parents however, believed an artist’s life belonged to someone else. So she set aside her doodles and took a different path.

She earned a Bachelor of Science degree and started work as a range science wildlife biologist, Tina monitored and assessed range lands on national forest land. One of her greatest delights was riding her horse over the land while she worked for the Forest Service.

In 1979, Tina became one of three women in the nation hired for this type of work. This worked well for a long while, but then it came time to raise her children full-time.

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This charging elephant is from one of Scott's many pictures taken during a trip to Africa.

By 1996 the working world beckoned. Tina got her teaching certificate, taught science in high school, then a master’s degree in education and started the Payson Education Center with Monica Nitzsche. As curriculum coordinator, Tina concentrated on providing direction and purpose for her students and loved the work.

About this time, her husband Scott asked her to help out at his office. Tina agreed and went to work for Crabdree Insurance and started painting again.

In 2006, she took a painting class from Jim Strong and found it frustrating. However, she determined to just keep painting until she found something that worked for her.

Several years later, she knew what she wanted to paint. If her paintings sold, great, if not, so what? Using oil paints developed into her medium of choice, because it offered her the freedom to change what she had made the touchstone of her whole life: If you don’t like what you see, you can push the paint around or paint over it and get something more to your liking.

Unlike many painters, Tina usually just does a rough — very rough she says — sketch of what she is going to paint and then begins to paint earnestly. Time falls away as one becomes absorbed in the work and suddenly lunch has come and gone, the sun has set in the west and another day of painting is finished.

Currently, she’s focused on smaller paintings and a darker palette. Look to Rembrandt if you need an example of a darker palette. Tina prefers to work on three or four paintings at one time. Her backgrounds have become less literal and more abstract.

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Tina Crabdree

Some of her current commissions include portraits, wildlife and Western themes, with a current interest in still lifes, including cowboy paraphernalia, antiques, old cars, in contrasting values of light and dark.

Amazed siblings wonder where her talent arose. When she taught high school, surprised students wondered how even though she didn’t sketch well her brushwork could bring out the detail in her subjects and make them vibrant and interesting.

At this stage in her life of painting, the enjoyment of the very act of painting drives her. Slowing her pace has made a difference. She has learned to let the painting develop, changing her concept when the painting insists.

OK, so maybe that is a strange outcome, or maybe it isn’t. One could say she has evolved, through the interplay of talent, experience and reflection.

This kaleidoscope of talent evolved into a simple matter of picking up pieces of life along the way and painting them into the canvas.

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