Jennifer Seeley’s portraits of animals delight viewers with their vibrant color and playful theme.  I first experienced her works at the 2014 Urban Arts Festival at the Gateway Mall.  Visitors crowded around her booth and begged for photographs of her paintings.  They fell in love with the charm and whimsy of her style.

What first inspired this playful approach?  Seeley responds, ” I think what first drew me to art is the idea of creation.  I was always creating something ever since I can remember. I believe there is a deep desire within all of us to create. I also feel a had a bit of natural ability which helped me to stick with it.”

Seeley’s natural talent and interest led her to produce works in various media, including printmaking, photography, oil, watercolor, acrylic, drawing, and even ceramics.  She creates portraits and scenes of nature, but she seems most well known for her images of animals.  “There was really never a day when I decided to only paint animals; it evolved into that.  I attribute it to a few things– my childhood as an animal lover and the artistic freedom I feel when I paint them.  When I paint people, I am very critical, but with this animal series, I have really explored style and expression.”

How would the artist describe her working process in creating this series?  “Lately, I have been working very quickly.  A typical painting in this series takes one to three hours.  I work from black and white photographs, so my color choice is not influenced.  I take my own reference photos as much as I can.  I frequent the zoo and take many walks.”

JENNIFER SEELEY, Steve the Baby Rainbow Giraffe

JENNIFER SEELEY, Steve the Baby Rainbow Giraffe

Creating studies and working from nature seems reminiscent of the old masters, who took their profession as artist very seriously.  It meant their livelihood.  Now, we have greater means to network art, but the economy still presents challenges.  “This economy does make it difficult for an artist who makes a living off the sales of their work.  With art being a luxury item, it is one of the first things to go and the first to get cut in schools.   (I’m going into art education).”

Going into art education definitely provides a platform to share one’s love of art and to help students appreciate art’s presence in our everyday lives.  Yet, neither art nor education offers tremendous financial gain.  How does Seeley deal with such challenges?  “Art comes first; money comes second.  I never know when my next paycheck is coming, but it doesn’t matter to me.  I’m doing what I want to do, so it’s worth it.”

Seeley’s passion definitely translates to her paintings.  In a digital age, it’s always refreshing to find hand-made art.  “I feel a greater connection to hand-made art.  I don’t want to put down the skills of graphic designers because it isn’t easy, but it’s not the same to me.”  Viewers appreciate the opportunity to own something made directly by the artist, from hand to brush to canvas.

JENNIFER SEELEY, Foxy Girl, 2014, 18 x 24," $200

JENNIFER SEELEY, Foxy Girl, 2014, 18 x 24,” $200

Considering this interest in hand-made art and her interest in art education, what advice does Seeley have for burgeoning artists?  “Never stop doing art.  There will be times when the world puts you down and you will wonder why you’re still doing it.  Do it for yourself first.  Don’t change your art for the public.”

To view more of Jennifer Seeley’s work, and to have the opportunity to purchase one of her limited-edition t-shirts, visit

JENNIFER SEELEY, Foxy Girl, 2014, 18 x 24," $200

JENNIFER SEELEY, Foxy Girl, 2014, 18 x 24,” $200

As viewers, we’re used to seeing portraits of figures. We probably imagine stuffy looking ladies and gentlemen and  imagine such portraits decorating walls of royal residences and museum staircases. We’re invited to discover cultural context and time period in order to understand a tiny glimpse of the sitters’ lives. Otherwise, they just seem like old-fashioned faces.

Expectations for a “portrait” suddenly take new meaning when presented with a twist. For example, what happens when we’re presented with portraits of animals? We’re used to seeing animals as additions to their human counterparts in portraits, as pets or hunting trophies. Yet, what happens when they become the focus? Seeing animals in portraits suddenly elevates them as worthy of notice.

Artist Jennifer Seeley explores this elevation in her bright acrylic portraits of animals. Foxy Lady from 2014 offers an example.

Discussion Questions:
1. What associations do we have with foxes? How do these associations affect our perception of the painting?

2. Think about the title. If we just read the title without seeing the work, what expectations would we have for the subject? Why is Seeley’s twist important in creating meaning?

3.  Consider the visual elements like color, brushstrokes, background, etc.  How do they affect our perception of the work?  How would our perceptions differ with more realistic portrayals?  That is, how would our reactions differ if we saw a picture of a fox in its native environment?

ROBERT ADAMSON, Union Pacific Station, Oil on board, 18″X24,” SOLD

STEVE PLEWE, Driftwood Critter

Discovering formal elements within an artwork compares to looking for clues in a mystery. When considered together, these artistic “clues” help us better understand and appreciate the artist’s message and the work’s meaning.  Consider the painting and two sculptures within this post, and analyze the significance of their formal elements.  (Remember, formal elements include aspects like color, shape, texture, line, handling of brushstrokes, etc.)  Answer the following questions for each example as completely as possible.

1. In looking at this artwork, what is the first aspect you noticed about it?  Why?

2. How does the artist specifically draw your attention to this aspect?

3. How does this work make you feel?  Explain.  How does this feeling relate to its formal elements?

4. List and describe at least four formal elements that comprise the work.  Be sure to explicitly identify what the formal element does.  In other words, how does it function?



For Studio Art Students:

After analyzing these examples, share one of your artworks with a classmate and vice versa.  Ask him/her to answer the same questions in response to your artwork and to write down his/her response.  When finished, share your responses.  Were they right on?  Did you get your specific artistic message across?

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Carceri Series Plate XIV, 1745, etching

In the spirit of Halloween, it only seems fitting to present an etching by the master of ominous prison scenes– Piranesi.  Piranesi was born in Venice, and his diverse interests included archaeology, stage design, construction, architecture, and printmaking.  Antiquity and ruins fascinated him and often proved the subject of his works.  This image represents his focus in the 1740s, fantasy and prison interiors.  Such scenes became appealing to the Romantic movement of the late 18th century.  Does it remind you of any modern movie sets?

For Art History and Humanities Students:

Briefly research the 18th-century British philosopher, Edmund Burke, particularly his definition of the sublime.  In what way does Piranesi’s prison scene represent Burke’s view of the “sublime?”

For Visual Art Students:

Create a spooky setting without the use of figures.  Feel free to use any medium, including, but not limited to, paint, photography, architectural model, sculpture, etc.  Since there are no people, what elements render it frightening?  Use of shadow?  Color?  Architecture?

Karen Heffernan, Standing Tall

Karen Heffernan, Standing Tal

The ability to capture a moment, the capacity to create mood, and the power to provoke thought remain hallmarks of art, whether visual, written, played, or performed. It is in enjoying such works that we transcend the mundane and participate in the universal. Red Butte Garden’s current showcase of the 2015 Utah Watercolor Society Signature and Two Star Member Exhibition offers viewers the opportunity to distill a moment, to experience a mood, and to contemplate nature’s place within one’s world.

Standing Tall by Karen Heffernan earned the UWS’s Best of Show. When gazing at the work, the viewer becomes caught up in the delicate play of light dancing on the poplars, skipping across the grass, and reflected in the water below. The viewer sees a moment of sunlight and shadow captured in paint. Yet despite its permanence, the work also offers the viewer the opportunity to experience the moment. The viewer’s eye bounces with the light across the poplar’s leaves, skims the grass, and ripples across the water. The eye’s movement causes the viewer to participate in an active instant. Heffernan achieves this simultaneous sense of permanence and transience within her work in much the same manner of the French Impressionists. Monet mastered the vibrations of light through the placement of individual brush strokes and touches of color. Placing complimentary colors next to one another causes the eye to vibrate, to skip across the work’s surface, thereby creating a sense of movement. Heffernan utilizes this technique, carefully placing a touch of red within the green grass or nestled at the base of the trees. Individual strokes of luminescent green stand out from the soft blues and purples, creating a further bounce of the eye and reproducing the effect of sunlight dancing on windblown leaves. A moment becomes captured and relived within art.

Lola Kartchner, Last Light on Pineview.

Lola Kartchner, Last Light on Pineview.

Moods become created as one gazes at the artwork presented. A sense of calm tranquility pervades Lola Kartchner’s Last Light on Pineview. A sense of exuberance fills Jennifer Love’s Mountain Fall, and a sense of quiet thoughtfulness pervades Dianne Siegfreid’s A Traveler’s Musing. Within the art presented, the viewer experiences many opportunities to embrace a mood or a feeling, and this often gives rise to contemplation.

Jennifer Love, Mountain Fall

Jennifer Love, Detail from Mountain Fall

The concept of travel and of nature’s place within our contemporary society becomes highlighted within Sherry Meidell’s Award of Merit winning work Heading Downtown. Within this work, Meidell juxtaposes the Salt Lake City skyline, the cars parked on the side of the road, and the signs filled with busy information with the backpacked figure and the side trees. The viewer becomes forced to think of nature’s place within our world. Initially, one assumes that the backpacked figure leaves the canyons and returns to the city. Yet, upon contemplation, it seems as if the figure is leaving one wilderness before entering another type of wilderness, the city. Backpack ready, a long walk appears before him, filled with obstacles (the cars, signs, and buildings block his path). The peace of the soft, green trees at the side of the road contrast with the frenzy of the signs. Nature becomes a respite in our world. The city becomes the busy wild.

Dianne Siegfried, A Traveler's Musing

Dianne Siegfried, A Traveler’s Musing

For the viewer at Red Butte, the Utah Watercolor Society’s show offers one the opportunity to explore the world of art and nature. Experiencing the beauty of a moment, of sunshine within the trees becomes possible both within the exhibit and the garden. Feeling the nuances of mood, of quiet evenings and exuberant days exists within the art and the grounds. Contemplating nature’s place within our world and our place within nature becomes possible. Art and nature, it seems, offer one the experience of the universal – of sharing a moment, a mood, a thought.

Sherry Meidell, Heading Downtown

Sherry Meidell, Heading Downtown

Thank you to our guest writer, Amourette Bradley, for sharing your watercolor thoughts.

SHAUN NOBLE, The Joker, 26.5"x23.5" airbrush on plate aluminum, 2011, $350

SHAUN NOBLE, The Joker, 26.5″x23.5″ airbrush on plate aluminum, 2011, $350

“Why so serious?” This line, spoken by Heath Ledger’s character in The Dark Knight, immediately comes to mind when viewing Shaun Noble’s arresting metalwork of the Joker. Noble’s various talents in metalwork, graphic design, painting, and drawing, as well as his fascination with popular culture, create dynamic works that elicit a highly emotional response from viewers. The artist grew up “obsessed with cartoons and comic books” and now translates this childhood passion into his art.

Class Discussion Questions:

1. How does The Joker’s medium affect meaning in the work? That is, how would we respond differently if it were painted, drawn, or sculpted?

2. Art reflects cultural and societal values and concerns. What does Noble’s rendering of a comic book character and movie villain reveal about contemporary interests? (Consider the prevalence of hero/villain stories.)

3. List and describe at least three visual elements that contribute to meaning in the work.

4.  Pretend you exist as a viewer from another time.  How would your perception of this artwork differ without knowing its background in popular culture?

JIMMI TORO, Becoming, Faces Project

JIMMI TORO, Becoming, Faces Project

We have definite expectations when hearing that we will see a portrait.  Do you expect the image of royal gentleman from days gone by or the image of a stiffly-posed civic leader in a public building?

Local artist, Jimmi Toro, defies our traditional concept of portraits in his Faces Project.  A song and its lyrics inspired the symbolism in the portraits and also involves a music video, a photographic documentary dealing with the video’s making, and a t-shirt design.  Each abstract portrait in this project proves unique.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Describe the significance of the word, Becoming, as a title for this work.  Why does this title prove important for the evolution of this project?
  2. List and describe at least three formal elements that contribute to our perception of the painting.  (Remember, formal elements include use of color, shading, line, positive vs. negative space, treatment of subject, etc.)
  3. Why does it seem important that the portrait doesn’t depict a specifically recognizable person?
  4. How does this portrait differ from formal portraits in the past?  That is, what influences do you see from our modern context?  Why are these differences significant?