donna fischer | the artist next door | august 2015
Terry Stanley's art studio is nestled in a wing of office suites in De Pere just steps away from the dam on the Fox River. The tiny space holds a collection of paintings, including one of a beautiful white horse. Stanley paints in oil, creates illustrations in pen and ink, and teaches art workshops for artists ranging from beginners to the advanced. Able to infuse life-like personality into her subjects, she keeps busy with commissioned work from customers around the country. Pets are memorialized in their prime of life, and children have a glow about them as if their youthful energy somehow was transferred to the canvas.
This successful painter and teacher started out in a far less creative line of work. “My first career was in law enforcement," Stanley notes. “I was an FBI-trained police artist for the Milwaukee Sheriff's Department. I got hurt in 1993 and art saved my sanity while I was recovering." After settling in Green Bay with her family, Stanley joined a local art group and began to get her art out to the public. Jack Richeson, owner of an art materials manufacturing company in Kimberly, started collecting her work and soon Stanley was invited to help found the Jack Richeson School of Art & Gallery. “They said, 'Dad wanted to start an art school. Would you be interested?' I told them I had no idea what I was doing, and they said, 'You're smart; you'll figure it out.' And we did! We started that at the end of 2003, and I retired at the end of last year to paint and teach full time. I've been running the art school and gallery for them since 2003. I've been blessed to have two careers I love. Most people don't get one."
Stanley explains that her working relationship with Jack Richeson allowed her to work with and learn from some of the leaders in the art world. “Jack Richeson knows everybody in the industry. Getting someone like Ray Kinstler to come to Appleton – he's painted more presidents than anyone. I got to learn from him and he turned into a friend and a mentor. So it's like serendipitous relationships all the way around."
As it turns out, sharing knowledge of techniques and theory is an essential trait among artists. “I found out from the people who taught me that it's almost like a sacred trust that you pass along what you know. Mr. Kinsler takes great pride in the fact that his teacher was a student of a guy that was a student of Sargent directly. There's a lineage. When he takes on new students he impresses upon them the importance of passing this on. You can read a lot about art in a book, but you're not going to learn it until you have a paintbrush and a pencil in your hand. It's knowing it in your head but being able to make it come out in a physical form."
Stanley says that her teaching really gets to be fun when she helps an artist discover what they're really interested in. “When you have that creative faucet to turn on and you're not sure if it's going to come out hot or cold, it's interesting to see what does happen. Some people think they want to learn how to do a portrait, and they get into it and they start thinking, 'You know, that bottle over there looks really interesting. I wonder if I can paint that.' And they end up loving still life."
And getting close to your subject makes all the difference, in Stanley's view. “I teach painting from life, no matter what you're doing. In reality you're going to end up painting from photographs at some point, but if you learn from life there are nuances that the camera just can't catch; it just doesn't have the capability of seeing all the colors and the edges and things like that. So, if you learn from life you can make up for those deficits in the photography. Even if you're doing a sketch of a coffee cup in the morning, it doesn't matter, if you do a sketch or paint something every day, even if it's a doodle, that's a good thing. My teachers told me that if you want to paint good portraits go outside and paint a tree. It gets you off of auto-pilot. You get in this routine of how you approach the thing. If you go outside to paint a tree – which I do not enjoy (she says with a laugh), it gets you off of auto-pilot. You have to think about your process again. The plein air style is huge right now. I actually like to go to those, not really to paint outside because that's kind of uncomfortable, but it's the camaraderie. When you get a bunch of artists together it's so much fun. You can talk about things that even your spouse doesn't understand. Debating the difference between cadmium green and chrome oxide green – nobody else cares!" she adds, laughing.
This accomplished painter of horses, dogs, children, adults, abstract works and still life subjects says she loves painting children the most. “They're all so different, and I love it when I can actually meet the child. If you can even spend an hour with a kid you can tell if they're shy or if they're enthusiastic. You can try to convey that in the painting. It's a lot more than just a likeness. You need to have the personality in it." But given a choice of subjects to paint, she says without hesitation that she'd love to do a portrait of a Green Bay Packers player. The runner up is even more of a surprise. “Or Pope Francis!" says Stanley. “The kindness that comes off of him – I think it just kind of flows out of the man. I think it would be really remarkable to try to capture that."
So what is the secret to getting a subject to come alive on the canvas? Stanley's portraits draw the viewer in through their subjects' engaging expressions, but it's not a quality that is easily taught. “That's what people think is special about my portraits, and I honestly can't tell you how to do it; I don't know. The fun part is when people call me after I ship them off. People really get emotional. It's kind of cool!"
More than a job, art is profoundly meaningful to Stanley, and she admits that it has a way of invading her every waking hour. “If you're creative and you don't let yourself to do that, I think you wither up and turn into a bitter shell of a person. This is something that is necessary to you if you're an artist. Even when I'm not doing the art I'm always doodling or looking at things."
You can visit with Terry Stanley at the next Downtown De Pere Art Walk on August 14. For more information on this artist, go to TerryStanley.com.
Donna Fischer is an avid fan of music, film and art. When she's not writing on these subjects you'll find her gardening or snowshoeing around Green Bay.