Behind the Brush: The Making of an Artist

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Whether  it be a formal education or self-taught passion, local artists give insight into what makes an artist.

Story by Julia Owens | Photography by Jesse Walker

The years spent pursuing the rite of passage to be considered an artist can be uncertain, formidable, humbling, and intoxicating. Many paths to achievement exist: a fine arts college degree, art classes with an experienced instructor, online instruction, or pure ability – the options are numerous. There is no one path to completion. It is a lifetime of experience which defines the artist.

Four area artists; Barb Dikeman, Steve Kippels, Cathy McIntire and Frank Cassara, know all too well the excitement of selling a painting, winning awards, and having their paintings hang in various galleries. They have also all experienced the frustration of having their art careers slowed to a discouraging crawl. As Cathy McIntire is known for saying, “Being an artist is a lifestyle.”

For Barb Dikeman, embracing the gift of being an artist is inspiring. It was through oil art classes with Gail Vail when she began to acknowledge her creative skill and talent. Her artistic progress translated to newfound confidence. “Through Gail’s encouragement, I felt like I really was an artist,” she says.

She is recognized by her peers as an excellent painter of realism. She is sometimes teased about using paint brushes with three hairs, but she produces exceptional realistic paintings with those three hairs. She admits her life before painting was missing a great deal because she was not really paying attention to all the beauty and colors around her. She says she sees so much more looking at life through the eyes of an artist. Her surroundings now take on a richness of color and detail, which she never fails to appreciate.

Every artist faces a challenge that must be overcome if they are to succeed and her challenge is to not become discouraged during the early stages of a painting. Being able to adjust, revise and possibly rework problem areas is a process that she says she must “push through.”

“There is joy in painting. Being able to face and work through these challenges is extremely satisfying.”

Steve Kippels lives in Greensboro and his primary medium is watercolor. Last year, Kippels was honored to become a signature member of the Georgia Watercolor Society. 

While developing an interest in art beginning in high school and over the course of  years, Kippels does not consider himself to be an artist.

“I don’t make my living as an artist. I enjoy painting, and I think of myself as a painter,” he says. As a painter, Kippels has learned he sees more now than he did prior to his painting career. “A trained eye sees much more than what is just needed to go about your daily existence.”

When it comes to subject matter, portrait painting has been Kippels’ greatest success and biggest disappointment. Portrait painting is the highest achievement a painter attains, explains Kippels, “and at that, I am only a beginner.”  

A challenge in watercolor Kippels faces is correcting mistakes. It is a skill, once learned, that allows him to explore options and variations in his paintings. The ability to correct mistakes moves him beyond his safe zone.

Kippels words of wisdom to artists or painters? “If you are trying to make a living being an artist, have another way to pay your bills. Artwork pays about $.05 per hour. Trust me.”   

Cathy McIntire and her husband, Mac, live in Newborn. Surrounded by acres of nature, McIntire is never without inspiration for many of her paintings. McIntire has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Wesleyan College in Macon, and she has studied at the Atlanta College of Art in Atlanta. In September 2019, McIntire took first place with her painting, “I See Your Truth” in the Lake Country Fine Art Show in Eatonton. Her genuine surprise revealed the hope of so many hours at the easel. It was a grand moment for so many to share with her.

McIntire is the first to admit that formal training can get one started on the path of an artist,  but it is “the process of creating art that is the real teacher, and each work provides experience that informs the next work.”

McIntire says that for her to start a new painting, “Part of the process is to not plan too much. That forces me to spontaneously depend on my knowledge of design, color, etc. to make it work. It creates the challenge of making nothing into something that is visually compelling.” Factored in to the two- to three-week session she may spend painting,  McIntire admits that “cooking and cleaning sort of go out the window.” Thank goodness for good husbands like Mac.

Many artists have tales of rejection and over-the-top elation. For McIntire, one of her biggest successes was turned into a terrible disappointment. An established Atlanta gallery accepted her work, and McIntire says, “she cried with joy.” When she lost representation from the same gallery, McIntire says, “she cried with heartache.” Rejection from art galleries or art shows is very discouraging for an artist. “Having your work judged as not good enough is very tough.” According to McIntire, it takes courage and commitment to go back to the drawing board.

McIntire’s philosophy is to not let anyone else define you. “Everyone has their own agenda, their own ideas. Believe in yourself.” Particularly good advice even if you are not an artist.

Frank Cassara: After boarding up their home on Seabrook Island, S.C., against hurricanes every fall for three years in a row, Frank and Linda Cassara decided a move was in their immediate future. Thankfully, that move brought them to Greensboro. “Not having the stress of a hurricane will be a tremendous relief,” says Cassara. After moving into their new home only a few weeks ago, Cassara says they are pretty much settled. “Before the house project, I was painting two- to four hours a day, four days a week. I’m ready to get back to the easel.” 

It was a commissioned painting that was a turning point in Cassara’s approach towards his art career. As he was completing the painting, Cassara realized he needed to paint every day to develop his skills. A new level of personal satisfaction soon followed. Cassara’s mentor, Mark Horton, in Charleston, S.C., guided Cassara’s artistic direction for several years. “I have seen great improvement over the years. I will never stop seeking improvement and growth.” When asked what motivated him to paint, Cassara says, “Simply put, the desire to capture beauty I see and transfer that onto a two-dimensional surface.”

As an artist in the making, Cassara believes his observations of the world have evolved. He is more aware of what he is seeing and always fine-tuning colors that would capture a scene. “The expression of what you saw in your mind comes to light,” says Cassara. “The challenge for me then is to make the color and composition of a painting at least as, or more interesting and beautiful than the original inspiration.”

They are as different as red and blue, yet these artists share many extraordinary qualities. The passion for their art, the satisfaction of laying fresh paint on a canvas and the willingness to spend endless hours perfecting their work. As Dikeman pointed out, adjusting, revising and evolving into a painter or an artist is pure joy.

  • Julia Owens is a freelance writer in Eatonton, Ga. These featured artists are members of The Artisans Village Guild, theartisansvillageguild.com, and are represented in The Artisans Village Art Gallery, in downtown Eatonton and at theartisansvillage.org.

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