Meet artist Catherine Tonning-Popowich, of Owosso, Michigan. Born of two artist parents who instilled the love of art and creativity at an early age, she earned degrees in both Commercial Illustration and Fine Art from Lansing Community College. Creating art all her life she has explored china painting, watercolors, oils, pastels, airbrushing, printmaking, and sculpture, her medium of choice is acrylic painting on Ambersand Claybord.
Company Name: Nature of Art
Favorite Tools?: My Favorite tool is whatever will give me the texture I want, crumbled up paper for bark texture, Hawthorne thorn for scratching in fur, makeup sponge for defusing background atmosphere and of course my favorite brushes. I have recently discovered the Series 6250—Umbria Synthetic brushes and I am loving them for acrylic painting. I have tried many types of brushes and I find that acrylics are tough on brushes but the Princeton Umbria brushes seem to hold up the best.
What would you call your style’? My style is naturalism. I have always looked toward nature as inspiration for my work. As an artist, I have found that when I am portraying the rich texture of a wolf’s coat or the glistening reflection in a bird’s eye, I feel at peace. As a teacher, it gives me immense pleasure to be able to guide my students so that they can emerge as artists and find their own inner solace as well.
What are you currently working on? I am currently working on a series of trees through the seasons. I enjoy the contrast of the White Birch against the deep blue sky in fall and I like to paint the Lonely Cypress tree against the ocean blue.
What is a favorite piece of art you created and why? I did a series called “Life in the Serengeti” for and exhibition last year.
This African Bush Baby is one of my favorites.
Who are your art heroes? Oh the list is long but I will try to list my top 5 art heros: da Vinci because of his sketches, inventive mind and his vast body of work. Van Gogh for his color and moods that show thru in his artwork. O’Keefe for her compositions, colors and her representational work. Wyeth because of his illustrative qualities, mastery of light and shadow. Monet because of his ability to capture the ever changing light and the passing of seasons.
What qualities make your art distinctively you? My experience and education in both Commercial Art and Fine Arts resonates in my style and in my ability to capture the fine details that make many of my pieces seem more like photographs than paintings. I am well-versed in painting botanicals and other organic forms, my recent work with wildlife is what has been getting the most exposure.
Where do you create? I have a studio just outside my back door. It is a remodeled garage and I love it! I have lots of work surface and storage. When I am done working for the day I just turn off the lights and lock the door and I don’t have to worry about messing up the house!
When do you create? I try to keep to a schedule of working in my studio from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm at least 4 days a week. I like the solitude during the day when everyone is off to work and I don’t have as many interruptions or distractions.
Do you sketch or keep an idea journal? I love sketching and most paintings start with a pencil sketch. Sometimes the sketch even becomes a finished pencil for framing. I keep all my sketches in a drawer unless I frame it. I have lots of journals with a few sketches in them but I am more prone to get a big sheet of drawing paper and go for a finished drawing. I do always travel with my sketch book just in case inspiration strikes.
What do you do when you hit a creative block? When I run into a creative block I try to switch gears and start working on making jewelry (my other passion) or cleaning my studio, lol I will place the piece on which I am having a road block up on a shelf either in the studio or in the house and try to ignore it for awhile only glancing at it from time to time. When my mind is ready to take it on again I will put it back on the drawing board and start experimenting with different color schemes, if that was the problem (which usually is) or go back to the drawing reference in case it is about composition. Walking away from it is a safe way for me not to muck it up.
Do you have any special techniques you would like to share? Techniques that I like are painting trees with a ripped up piece of computer paper crumpled up tightly and dab it into a little paint and stamp it onto the branch to simulate bark. Starting with the darker colors and then progress up to the lighter colors for the highlights.
Do you teach? What and why? I teach acrylic painting in my studio here in Michigan and I also travel to different locations. I teach botanicals or birds mostly. As a teacher, it gives me immense pleasure to be able to guide my students so that they can emerge as artists and find their own inspiration. I have been teaching on location at our local Community Mental Health with disabled adults. This has been very rewarding for me and they are so appreciative.
What do you listen to when you create? I go to http://8tracks.com and find playlist without words mostly but then I also have a few marked favorite that are 70’s music and also the Beatles. I don’t like to be sidetracked by the lyrics as I am easily distracted. I also enjoy cello music and classical. When I find a song I like I save it to my playlist called “Background Music” then I can just play that list without searching for other songs. Other times I just enjoy the sounds of nature outside my studio and don’t turn on any music.
What other things do you like to do creatively? I enjoy cooking and entertaining, crocheting, photography and jewelry making. I like to travel to historic lighthouses and hear their stories, photograph them and just soak up the sounds and history that surrounds them.
Tell us about any commercial art endeavors: I received a grant from the Art Council of Greater Lansing in 2013 and it allowed me to create a body of work for our local zoo. I painted 10 of their animals along with teaching painting classes on site. One of the paintings I did was of their lion “Dakota”. My lion was chosen to be on a 47′ x 17′ billboard. It currently is on display in the Lansing area.