By Shelby Phillips
If you told Monet that you could bring his “Water Lilies” to life without a single paint brush, he would definitely shake his head in disbelief. Mississippi-based artist Terri Crowley does just this, merging two worlds: the old and the new, in an explosion of life at its most colorful. Terri brings people and their horses to life with just the stroke of a pen on an electronic tablet. She works from a single photo — or even multiple photos — that she molds into one, beautifully colorful portrait.
Terri is no stranger to horses, having grown up in a small town in Michigan. “I grew up in Frankenmuth, which looks like little Bavaria, almost like going to Disneyland,” Terri said. “Very German and kind of a crazy tourist town. But there was no shortage of backyard barns.”
Terri’s grandmother and cousins always had horses, and she often hopped on one bareback for the fun of it. It wasn’t until later in her life that Terri started taking lessons at a hunter/jumper barn and occasionally found herself in the show ring. Today, she spends her free time caring for her retired Thoroughbred, Luke. Terri bought Luke in Southern California as a 5-year-old while training with Michael Cintas. Now 20, Luke lives the pasture life in Mississippi, where Terri has since moved.
At the beginning of her career, Terri began working for a publishing company as a graphic artist. Painting is her passion, though, and she always found herself painting horses. She later branched out and painted dogs, and then people. “As a kid, I drew all the time,” Terri laughed, “and I was always painting horses, but began painting dogs because all horse owners have a dog!”
She started with pencil, because she wanted people to be able to visualize color in their head. “Then I started getting into color and thinking, This is cool!” Terri said.
Technology and Art
Terri soon discovered a computer program that let her paint while still being able to go back and fix things she was unsatisfied with. “I remember thinking, This is the best thing!” She still uses traditional methods to create her pieces, though with the occasional touch-up. “I’m able to put really bright colors on the canvas and make everything so vibrant,” Terri explained. “I’m using the pen and tablet, and it’s my brush and canvas.”
Terri said her art took off when she started advertising on Facebook. “I would message riders and ask them if I could paint one of their photos,” she said. “People rarely said no. I would get all of these new friends because they liked what I did for their friend.”
Terri’s process includes painting on her computer, printing the work onto a canvas, and then painting over the canvas. “My works takes just as long as my traditional paintings, if not longer, because I like to make them perfect,” she said.
Her colors dance to life on the canvas, and the paintings’ textures are palpable, so much so that you want to reach out and run your fingers over the paint’s peaks and valleys.
Terri is often commissioned to paint horses or dogs that have passed on and believes it’s her calling. “I like these commissioned pieces most because it’s this memory that they’ll have forever on their wall,” she said, adding that providing a precious memory for others comes with great pressure.
Terri said she’s never unmotivated because she genuinely loves what she does. “I have a true passion for it,” she said. With love, though, comes the occasional block.
“It does happen, when you stare at something long enough,” she said with a chuckle. “I try not to let that happen, and I work on multiple pieces at once so I can bounce around. Multitasking keeps me thinking.”
Terri has advice for young artists: “If you want to make art a full-time career, go for it; but don’t give up your day job until you feel ready. Art is not easy to do full time. It’s fickle, since you are selling items that are subjective to the buyer.”
Terri believes in the end it’s worth the risk. “Art gives the artist the freedom to create whatever thoughts and pictures he or she may have and put it down on canvas,” she said. “Whether it’s painting, poetry, music or the performing arts, these are all core things that make us who we are. Humans are not defined by buildings, fences, highways, but by artistic expression. Painting is the ultimate channel for human expression.”
For more information, visit www.terricrowleyart.com.
Photos courtesy of Terri Crowley, unless otherwise noted