We recently spoke with the talented Wendy Bilas, of Wendy Bilas Fine Art, to learn a little bit more about her inspirations, her process for painting and her beautiful artwork. Her works of art are simply gorgeous. We hope you enjoy this piece, as much as we do!
Was there something or someone that sparked your love of art?
I grew up in an artsy family where my dad was a photographer, my aunt an oil painter, and my sister an actress and pianist. There was a built-in appreciation of art but also a sense of joy and accomplishment in doing it yourself and not just admiring from a distance. My parents encouraged us to jump in and participate.
Where did you learn to paint?
I took drawing classes and dabbled in various mediums since childhood, but I attribute my “painting” education to Charlotte’s Andy Braitman. The day my youngest child started kindergarten, I enrolled in Andy’s oil workshop and realized oil painting was what I was meant to do. The medium was just so natural and easy for me. Andy helped me learn the “craft” and pushed me to find my style. My work today has many of his influences, but over the years he’s encouraged me to use them in ways that are uniquely my own.
What inspires your paintings?
Without question, it’s my Appalachian heritage. I grew up in the Allegheny Mountains of Western Maryland where the horizon line is layered with dramatic levels of atmosphere and color. I paint different subjects (landscapes, florals, figures), but in a way, I treat each like a landscape. My goals are to keep composition simple, focus on light and depth of field, and de-emphasize lines. The result, I hope, is like looking through a soft lens and being able to see the soulfulness and mood of an image more than the image itself.
Do you have a certain process?
Painting is like cooking. Every artist has his or her own “recipe” and there’s really no right or wrong as long as the finished product is good. For me, I always begin by under-painting my canvas. I never paint on white or neutral, and the color of the under-painting depends on what I’m trying to achieve. It gives my paintings a “glow” from the very start. Next — and this is different from most artists — I paint my entire image in black and block in the darkest darks. In the end, most of the black is covered, but I always know there’s a strong structure. I think of it as the “skeleton” to support the rest of the painting.
I have a studio in my house, so I paint off and on all day. The requirements for my workspace are natural light (I have a huge window in my small studio) and Pandora radio. My mixes range from indie songwriters to classical guitar to Led Zeppelin. I cannot paint, or do much of anything else, in silence. My husband will attest to that, especially when he’s trying to watch TV.
What is your favorite piece?
My pieces are kind of like my kids: I don’t have a favorite, but I’m always pleased with, upset by, or worried about one of them. I keep a few of my paintings at my house, including “Foothills,” and those are usually the ones that please me most.
Who is your favorite artist?
My favorite artists are impressionists, including Alfred Sisley, Childe Hassam, and Eric Aho. Their work simply takes my breath away.
Who is your favorite emerging artist?
At the risk of sounding like a tiger mom, I’ve got to say my favorite emerging artist is my daughter Tori. She’s an art major at Duke and already an accomplished portrait artist who probably won’t be emerging for long. As she branches out into new mediums and techniques, she is a good DNA case study to prove the art gene gets better with subsequent generations.
What else can you tell us about your paintings?
My paintings are from images I’ve visited or witnessed, and sometimes they have amazing power to connect me to people in an almost spiritual way.
Years ago, I painted a landscape of a lovely but remote spot on Maui and hung it in our home. Later, a friend from California stopped by our house on a visit to Charlotte and noticed the painting. He told me that the focal point in the painting — a rugged point that reaches out into the Pacific Ocean — was the exact spot where they spread the ashes of his infant daughter who had passed away only months before. That was a moment of great surprise, sadness, joy, love and tears. Choked with emotion, I packaged the painting and sent it to its new home at my friend’s house in California. Truly, art can transcend the obvious and touch the heart in unexpected ways.