Her childhood passions were growing, drawing and painting flowers.
She majored in art and took many workshops and classes over the years, eventually turning her attention to painting full-time under the tutelage of her mentor, Len Chmiel. Shirley paints in oils using a wet-on-wet technique.
Shirley paints “en plein air” whenever possible either in her garden or on location when she travels.
“What I try to do with paint is recreate the joy I experience in my subjects, the flowers I grow and the wildflowers in the mountain meadows”, says Shirley.
When not out of doors, she paints in her Colorado studio overlooking the San Juan Mountains or in her summer studio, aptly named “Poppy Cottage”.
Sometimes I think of myself as Shirley Poppy Seed. I love to harvest poppy seed, their seed pods are like a salt shaker and one of my childhood joys was shaking poppy seed out of their pods. I am still a child in this way, last year I harvested about three pounds of Shirley Poppy seeds, that is approximately three million seeds. I love to share my seeds with fellow gardeners. As I am writing this it is late May and my first Shirley Poppies are bursting into bloom. The Iceland Poppies start their bloom in mid April and bloom best in cooler weather, but will bloom from April thru November. Deadheading is the necessary element in continuing their bloom for so many months.
I guess I have always been “garden mad” as the British say. As a child I loved to go to the nursery to buy plants and then bring them home, and create a flower bed and then water it to death. So painting flowers is just natural to my being. Color, intense and delicate color harmony, has always moved me emotionally. My love of flowers and love of color are the passions that drove me to be come a painter. Like Claude Monet said ” I perhaps owe it to flowers for having become a painter”. Since childhood the voice has been loud and clear telling me I must paint.a flock of poppies.jpg (109074 bytes)
I painted regularly thru most of my youth and young adulthood, and less often during my daughter Natalie’s childhood. In the early 1990’s I could finally focus on my need to paint. I took several painting workshops and knew that I could become a professional if I worked persistently and patiently. This quote from Calvin Coolidge speaks to this…”Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
alley_hollyhocks-ouray.jpg (73335 bytes)By the mid 1990’s I was ready to risk everything in order to make painting my life. In 1996 I left my life in California and headed to Colorado to study with one of my workshop teachers, Len Chmiel. I sold a terrific house in a pastoral setting with ponds, creek, 100 yr old trees and views of the White Mountains. I lightened my load of material objects by 2/3, shed my old skin, stepped outside of myself, let go of the outcome and let the universe handle the details of my future. This was January of ’96, I arrived in Denver in a snow storm. I moved into an apartment and enrolled in classes at the Art Students League with a firm belief I would be OK. I must have taken this quote from Thoreau to heart; “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams… live the life you’ve imagined”. Joseph Campbell’s words also gave me confidence during this transitional period of my life. Especially these; “Follow your bliss and doors will open for you”. During these years many doors were opened to me, many opportunities and amazing people came into my life.
During the next year I studied with Len Chmiel on a private basis, and also took classes at the Art Students League with Mark Daily. Mark Daily taught his classes to “paint what you love, and let your work become known for this”. For me it was easy to know what I should paint, loving flowers and color all my life. I’ve always been drawn to country gardens and the old fashioned flowers, and decided I had to learn to paint them.
In August of ’96 I took an outdoor painting workshop in Aspen, Colorado. This is where I met my husband Ralph Oberg. Ralph is a very successful landscape and wildlife artist. We had so much in common, we discovered very quickly spending lots of time together was easy, comfortable and natural. Ralph has spent his life hiking and painting the Rocky Mountains west and has a deep love of the wilderness. During the first two years of our time together we made numerous painting trips to most of his favorite mountain ranges. I loved getting to know his world and seeing so much of the western United States, and getting to paint my way through it. We were married in December of 1997 and the next year in May we bought property in southwestern Colorado and built a house and studio. I have been double digging flower beds at every opportunity since. The last three years have been spent building our garden. Ralph has constructed rose arbors, and laid our rock walks and terraces out of Blue Stone, while I have been building the soil structure in our numerous flower beds and filling them with perennials. I have really worked hard and this year it is starting to feel like an established garden.
We had a garden cottage built for me to paint in and use as a potting shed. We designed her after some of the adorable New England cottages we saw on a recent trip through Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, We named her ‘Poppy Cottage’, she makes a great garden studio.
I love reading about the passion Claude Monet had for his garden. Pissarro and Van Gogh were also avid gardeners. My garden gives me great joy and countless ideas for paintings. Each year I let nature have her way and let seedlings sprout in new places and in combinations I wouldn’t have thought of. There are always delightful surprises in every corner of my garden.
What I try to do with paint is recreate the joy I experience in my subjects; the flowers that I grow, and the wildflowers in mountain meadows. This quote from Joseph Campbell, “The function of art is to reveal the radiance running through all things”, suggests why I have such strong emotional responses to our natural world.
I took plenty of time to develop my process and my way with paint so that I could ‘sing my own song’. I wanted to honor these quotes I happened across “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are” and” What I do is me, for that I came”. This was frightening much of the way and still is at times. Something inside of me keeps telling me to stay on this path. When I am at the easel I try to let the experience happen without forcing anything, and without judgment or negativity. Painting is a huge gift to my life. I love to encourage friends to give it a try, I believe we are all creative at our core. I love helping friends reconnect with their inner child and helping them experience the gift that painting is to me.
Shirley Novak Website