by RENEE PATRICK Cascade A&E Editor
The playful and exploratory nature of Shelli Walters’ artwork manifests in dramatic colors; the layers of collage build to reveal vibrant images of beauty that are strong graphical works, a nod to her 20 years as a successful graphic designer.
“A painting is basically just a design,” Walters explained. “I think it makes me a better painter and designer to [create both] in tandem.”
Walters has painted her whole life. She was born in Montana, but early in life moved to Seaside, Oregon and then Bend. When it came time for college, she teetered on the decision of art school, but ultimately choose to pursue graphic design at Linn-Benton Community College as it provided more stability in a career. “I thought that I could always paint on the side,” she explained. “I love designing, and love doing it, it’s been a really fun and rewarding career.”
She has worked at local firm DVA Advertising and Public Relations for most of her career, but when she turned 40 the realization hit that time was flying by and she hadn’t devoted much spare time to her painting. “Turning 40 really motivated me to get back into it. It has been five years now, and I’m still working hard to get my skills back.”
Walters likes to explore other artistic disciplines: fused glass, sculpture and jewelry are all interests of hers, but found that making jewelry was hard on her hands. “It became really quite painful, and knew I couldn’t sustain it. Everything directed me back into painting.
“One of my favorite sayings about painting is you have to create a lot of really bad paintings to get a good one. You want things to go a certain way and you have to work through it and let go, then you are that much closer to the one you want.”
Walters began her journey back into painting with the help of classes and workshops; one of her most inspiring sessions was with painter Robert Burridge through the Art in the Mountains workshop series. “He has been really influential, I’ve taken three of his workshops now,” she said. “He is inspiring, at 70 years old he is this fireball and incredibly fun and energetic, and real and nurturing. I learned so much from him, he has a similar background as an industrial designer until he [started painting when he] hit 40; I feel a connection to him…It was a process to get back, but it’s been extremely joyful and rewarding.”
Walters began painting again with landscapes. Tapping into the endless beauty found in Central Oregon, she had plenty of subject matter. Soon she began exploring the figure, bicycles, flowers and currently, abstracts.
The cover image, Flamenco Dancer No. 5 started out as an abstract. “I hadn’t done a lot [of abstracts] and was trying to explore it, but was getting frustrated,” she said. “I put it away, and it probably sat for six to eight months, then I had this vision of the dancer and started carving her out. I found I could pull something back out when I had time and space to be away from it, and something new emerged from it.”
Walters also found creating the collage elements in her work could be cathartic. “I enjoyed tearing them up and giving them a rebirth. All those bits and pieces give me texture and nuances, and there is a playful interaction with all that layering,” she explained.
A career in advertising provides endless access to collage materials, and she continuously has her eye out for magazines, junk mail or an old project to work from.
As equally important as the layering of collage and paint, are colors. Drawn to bold and vibrant colors, she likes to exaggerate the colors and finds her use of color relates to a way of living: living your life with purpose, joy and empowerment. “It’s really just about making the most of every moment that you have and seeking beauty and color and vibrancy in life. I like to bring that out [in my paintings] and hopefully people get that, hopefully it makes them feel joyful and empowered.”
Bicycles are one of her favorite subject matter for the freedom they represent. “When you learn to ride a bike when you are a little kid there is an empowering feeling of freedom, it’s one of the first times you can get out, and it has great memories to me,” she explained. “I love how that carries through until the time to when you can’t ride anymore, also Bend is such a great bicycle town!”
Her bicycle paintings are just one in a series of subject matter. She credits the designer side of her skill set that enjoys working on different projects at the same time. She works on three to five paintings at a time, explaining that she doesn’t like to get bogged down and stuck in a painting, and working on multiple works at the same time is part of her process.
“I let the subject matter come to me,” Walters said. “It’s like life, I take it day by day and let things happen and trust that I’m on the right path and it will all be ok.”
Walters is a new member of the Tumalo Art Company (TAC), an artist owned and operated fine art gallery in the Old Mill District. “It’s been on my radar to find a gallery to go into,” she commented. “Susan Luckey Higdon contacted me. She was an art director at Ralston years ago and we knew each other, and she had been keeping her eye on me…[the TAC members] are such a great group of people, genuine and helpful, and it has been a really wonderful experience.”
Ultimately Walters would love to devote more time to her art, as the balancing act between work, relationships, art and play can be tricky. She has carved out one day a week as her “dedicated painting day,” and plans to devote more energies to abstract art. “I’ve always kind of played around with abstracts, it’s just a different kind of animal. I’m starting to get brave enough to do it, and will see where that goes. I think that ultimately will make me a better painter for everything else [I do],” Walters explained.
You can find some of Walter’s work on Etsy (www.etsy.com/shop/ShelliWalters) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/ShelliWaltersStudio) or by visiting the Tumalo Art Co. at 450 SW Powerhouse Dr. in Bend. www.tumaloartco.com.