With proper tutoring and gobs of practice, pretty much anyone can learn to draw and paint realistic figurative forms.
But those who excel at it are surely born with the gift. Tina Garrett seems to be the best proof of that theory. She began oil painting figurative realism only three years ago, and already she’s winning international awards.
Last year she received an award of excellence from the National Oil and Acrylic Painters Society and a first-place award in the Oil Painters of America Online Showcase.
This year she received a $6,000 purchase prize from the Art Renewal Center, an international organization dedicated to renewing the classical training and appreciation of traditional art.
Most recently the European Museum of Modern Art in Barcelona named her painting “String of Pearls” one of 40 finalists out of 2,000 submissions of figurative pieces of art from around the world. She’ll travel to the final competition in November.
Garrett and her husband, Adam, live in Lee’s Summit with their children, Seth, 15, and Grace, 13. Adam is a welder and her best critic, she says.
“He has a wonderful eye and will tell what he thinks even if he doesn’t like it. It’s nice to know I can trust that he’s telling the truth. I need that.”
We recently visited her home and studios, one in a rear sunroom, another in the basement.
Tell me about this painting (of a young woman in the living room).
That’s the third painting I ever did. I took a workshop at the Scottsdale (Ariz.) Artists’ School and came home with color charts and workbooks, and I was immediately hired by a city councilman to paint paintings that coordinated with her poetry. It’s one of six that go with her poetry, and it’s of my daughter, Grace. And there she is as an angel (points to wall on opposite side of room).
Have you always painted?
These were the first time I painted in oil. I studied graphic design and illustration and had been illustrating since 1994, but I had never really painted.
I was doing children’s book illustrations, then the industry collapsed, so I had to decide what I was going to do: become a dental hygienist or veer into animation and application design. I chose the latter, and I hated it. It seemed like computer programming. So I decided to try for what I always wanted, which was to paint like the masters. I submitted a pastel painting to the Scottsdale Artists’ School and got a scholarship.
When was that?
In 2012. My husband has taken a second job so I can take workshops and paint and take more workshops and paint. That’s the biggest gift he’s ever given to me. I know people with the same talent and drive, but they have to work 40 hours a week because they don’t have a patron like him.
I notice you have a lot of antique and vintage furnishings, like that big brass cash register and slot machine.
My husband’s late stepfather was an eccentric collector, so we inherited all this stuff. We took the slot machine down to KCPT when “Antiques Roadshow” was in town, and they gave us the history and value.
I like antiques. They are made differently. I think they carry with them tradition, almost like paintings, which is why I like to do commission work, because I know those pieces will be passed down and become an heirloom.
Is that (picture by the front door) a self-portrait?
No, that’s a portrait of me by Jerry Salinas, one of my first mentors. He gave it to me for my 40th birthday. I’m very proud of it, because I sat and modeled for it four hours, which nearly killed me.
So you have two studios in your home?
Yes. If I’m painting something live or am doing a workshop, I paint in the basement. I call it the teaching studio, or the “atelier underground,” as my friend calls it.
But when I paint from a photograph, I paint right here. It was a dining room, but it has the best light, so I made it a studio. Plus I can take breaks and walk outside (the French doors). If it’s raining, I’m outside (on the covered patio), or the doors are open so I can hear the rain.
So that’s where the model sits (now in the basement, looking at a vintage velvet sofa on a stage).
I have really great professional lighting, and we sit the model up and give her 20 minutes to sit still, then she takes a break, then sits for 20 more minutes, and we paint again.
How big are classes, and how old are the students?
Adults only and a maximum of 12 students.
Do you rent this (basement) out to instructors?
No, my strategy is to keep from flying out of state, so I invite master painters to teach here, and if I fill the workshop I get to sit in for free. And sometimes they stay here overnight, so we can stay up and talk, and they’ll give me advice on galleries and shipping and dealing with clients.
What are you working on right now?
This one is called “Repose.” It’s inspired by John Singer Sargent’s “Repose,” so that’s a model in my basement on that same sofa (pointing at a photograph on her computer). But that wallpaper is not in the basement. I collage things. I add them in later.
Some artists are militant about painting exactly what’s in the photograph, including a piece of trash on the ground. When I teach, I am firm about letting them know that your photo is a reference, not the exact image they are to replicate. If you do that, then why not just stop at the photo? You’re painting, so why not take it to the next level?
I like these old chess and Chinese checker boards.
We are not TV people. If there’s down time, we play games, shoot pool (on the pool table in the front living room), and my kids are artists, they’re musicians, so that’s what we do.