|This article was published
in the April 1983 issue of Southwest Art magazine.
Southwest Art magazine is published monthly.
by Jeanne Smith
"I ran up to my knees and tasted the ocean to see if it really was salty. Having gotten my 'feet wet', I knew this subject -- constantly moving, ever changing, yet always somehow the same -- would be my master."
A Carol Thompson painting is an open invitation to walk on the beach, sit
on a log, inhale the salt smells, let the wet wash up on your feet, bend
against the wind -- and accept the power that is the Pacific.
Carol willingly shares her love affair with the ocean through her art.
A regionalist, her current subject is the Pacific Northwest Coast, but the Oregon and Washington coastlines are just the beginning, she states, for Carol plans to paint "the oceans of the world".
Realistic in style, she strives to convey the color and quality of light on moving water, and to show on a two-dimensional surface the feeling of depth and distance.
"I paint as realistically as I can," she says, "using a variety of strokes and tools, from smooth brushwork in the sky to heavy palette knife on the rocks. Manipulating light, middle, and dark values in the translucent areas, and blending color with a soft brush, gives the effect of light shining through the waves. I use light against dark, warm against cool, and soft and hard edges to heighten the dramatic effect of waves, rocks, sky and smooth waters."
Outstanding in her portrayal of crashing waves is the translucency she does so well. For this she works alla prima--literally meaning "all at once"--applying a color and while it is still wet working in additional colors. "I do this because I achieve so much more sparkle, intensity, and brightness," she explains.
For the flat water where the waves recede, she uses a glazing technique borrowed from the old masters. With transparent over opaque glazes, she depicts the stillness, momentary as it is, and the depth and power of those seemingly quiet waters.
Diagonal strokes are used to create the illusion of the waves' rise and fall. This diagonal is repeated in a Z like composition, starting with the background and horizon, and moving to the foreground waves which swell, roll and break, almost at the observer's feet.
While Carol strives to capture every element of the ocean experience, she admits, "You can't possibly capture every swiftly changing mood of the ocean. You can only create the illusion of strength and movement."
Born in Medford, Wisconsin in 1941, Carol sketched, entered local art contests, and did artwork for school publications as a child. She dreamed of the day she would become "famous" but it was not until 1971, after moving to the Pacific Northwest with two sons and a husband busy in his career as a computer systems designer, that Carol became a full time artist. Eleven years later, her husband became her full-time manager.
Together they spend many hours on the beaches of Washington and Oregon, enjoying the changing world of the sea while Carol concentrates on her location studies for future paintings.
Painting and study are a way of life for this artist. The study is not only of the subject itself but of materials, techniques and even the business aspects. Carol feels that this study must last as long as an artist is an artist.
Even though she spends hours at the ocean, Carol does not paint on location. Her time is spent just watching, sketching, and absorbing the ocean into her very being. Painting is done in her studio in Olympia, Washington. The studio is a loft, specially constructed to optimize natural lighting and atmosphere for her work. North light comes through the sliding glass doors which open onto a private balcony. Skylights face the east for morning light. Throughout the day, overhead lighting is provided through additional skylights.
From her very first visit to the ocean, Carol's fascination grew. "The first time I saw the ocean," she recalls, " I ran in up to my knees and tasted it to see if it really was salty. Having gotten my 'feet wet,' I knew this subject--constantly moving, ever changing, yet always somehow the same-- would be my master. The challenge is to paint the movement of the water with such believability that if you looked away, the wave would have crashed and dissolved."
Carol has met this challenge. The illusion of motion she creates is achieved by the proper placement of brushstrokes and color accents and a complex understanding of value.
The love affair she has with the ocean is so intense that when the family heard through rumors that the Yaquina Head Lighthouse in Newport, Oregon was being put up for sale by the U.S. Government, Carol's husband immediately contacted all necessary officials to place a bid on the property. The vision of having a studio in an old lighthouse, perhaps using the entire property as a summer home--even sharing the area as a gallery or "bed and breakfast" mini-resort--sent their ideas flying high.
Unfortunately, the property was not for sale--only the old buildings that had to be removed. The lighthouse was in the process of being automated, and it would remain part of the coastal signal system. Disappointment, yes. But it also made her realize how close to extinction these sentinels of the sea are, and now you'll find them appearing off in the mist in several of Carol's paintings, a kind of preservation, if you will, of things past but somehow eternal.
Quality is foremost in Carol Thompson's paintings. She uses only the best paint materials and framing. Her canvas is linen because, as she explains, "I use oil on linen for quality. Linen will outlast cotton for generations to come. Linen also provides me with a finer, smoother surface. And that's important, because of the detail I use to express the movement of the water."
A serious painter, Carol consumes much time painting and is seldom found far from the easel. Her usual work week is that of a professional, discipline and dedication being the prime movers. Yet, she also finds time to do volunteer work as an art instructor at the Thurston County Senior Center because, as she says, "It's so much fun to be painting with other people." In addition, she serves as a member of the Washington State Capitol Museum Art Committee, a director on the board of the Washington State Capitol Museum Foundation, and a fine arts program teacher with the Washington State Capitol Museum Treasure Trunk programs.
Carol has participated in juried exhibitions in western Washington for more than ten years and has won awards, but she prefers to participate in featured gallery exhibits and invitational art shows, where viewers have commented about Carol's work: "I've been in the Coast Guard for twenty years and I've never seen anyone capture the ocean like you have." And "...About as realistic as I've seen. When a squall blows up on the ocean, it's like that--you can't see any horizon." Carol's favorite comment came from a ten-year-old boy who stood and took in a painting for quite some time, and then turning to find his parents gasped, "Wow!"
Currently she is affiliated with the Sidney Gallery in Port Orchard, Washington; The Windrush Gallery in Sedona, Arizona; Quintana's in Portland, Oregon; and Francois Dubrulle's international Gallery in Tacoma, Washington and Paris, France.
Having determined her own unique style, Carol's goal is to combine her desire to travel with the challenge of painting the "seven seas". But for now, she is happy to study all of the magnificence of the Pacific and to bring those visions home with her where she rememembers and recreates them in her top floor studio, surrounded by paint, canvas, plants and light. As the sea is expansive, so are Carol's paintings large, but she also captures the very essence of what she is painting in marvelous small canvases which suggest the intimate experience of looking out through a beach house window.
© 2002 Carol Thompson