By Gina Malone
Madison County artist Anne McLaughlin first discovered a penchant for drawing by chance—doodling to stay awake in classes—while studying physical therapy at the University of Kentucky. Graduated from college and working as a physical therapist, she took a college class in art history and a community art class and found herself hooked. She took evening art classes for several years before the demands of graduate studies and her career developing therapy programs in an Atlanta children’s hospital squeezed art out of her life.
Retiring from their careers in Atlanta to a woody hillside near Max Patch shortly after 9/11, Anne and her husband Marshall found the slower pace and the natural beauty they had craved while living their professional lives in a metropolitan area. “My husband had heard me talk, frequently, of my dream to start painting again,” Anne says. “Shortly after we moved, he surprised me with paints, brushes and an easel, and I was painting again and I loved it.” A pleasant discovery was realizing that her new community had several artists, including artist and design teacher Bill Weldner, whom she considers a friend and mentor. He leads a thriving group of artists, Anne among them, who support one another in their creativity.
Anne’s life before marriage at age 51 and subsequent retirement laid the groundwork for the art she would come to create. She grew up in a small, rural town in western Kentucky. “I enjoyed a safe and supportive childhood at a time when children had lots of freedoms to wander with friends to play and explore in nearby woods and streams,” she said. She and her brother often spent time observing and pondering nature as they explored trails and drifted in a small boat on Kentucky Lake.
She visited rural farmers with her parents, was exposed to engineers from all over the world who visited her family because of her father’s work with the Tennessee Valley Authority and enjoyed family road trips throughout her childhood. After graduate school, she lived abroad, working for a short while in a London hospital and exploring the art museums of Europe. “My love of travel has continued to this day,” she says, “with several possible trips always pending.” Among her favorite destinations have been South America, Nepal, England, Scotland and France.
“In my study of art and artists, I have been drawn to and have studied works of the French and European Impressionists and Post-Impressionist artists, the Scottish Colorists and a variety of contemporary artists,” Anne says. She paints primarily in oils, using watercolors for travel and field notes. “I love the colors, richness and flexibility of oils,” she says. “I also take reference photos, particularly when I travel, which I use in my design and preliminary sketches for a studio painting. No matter if I paint in plein air or in the studio, I start my painting with a rough sketch, then lay in the paint quickly as I begin to develop the work. I try to keep the painting loose, and find that I must take short breaks to keep from getting stuck on details.”
Anne enjoys painting outside at waterfalls and gardens or with her husband in the mountains as he fishes. She will begin pieces outdoors and bring them home to finish. “Generally for a plein air piece, I will fine-tune the painting, and it ends up as a simpler, more impressionist piece or it may become a study for a more detailed work,” she says. “A studio piece will develop more slowly, built from reference photos or a study or sketches. I also rely on my memory and imagination, or even a dream.”
She keeps a studio in the corner of her living room. “I live with my painting as it is in progress, sometimes propped up in the kitchen or on a shelf,” she says. “A quick glance at the painting during my daily routine helps my awareness of what direction I should go next with it.”
Ideas come to Anne from every place around her during walks in nature or along city streets. “I am equally inspired by people as they go through everyday life—someone waiting for a bus or walking their dog, friends chatting over coffee, a farmer working in his field,” she says. Thinking as an artist, she finds, is almost a constant in her life. “I am addicted to the creative process,” she says. “Sitting with a sketchbook or canvas is a meditation and a wonderful distraction—sometimes to a fault. I will sit for hours at times and forget to eat or forget to cook dinner. I would love to paint every day, but this is not possible very often. I know that life is richer if it is balanced by exercising the body, by ‘exercising’ the mind, and by being involved in a community and with friends.”
Her husband is patient and provides the support she needs. “He keeps his eye out for good painting locations and always brings tea and snacks to me no matter where in the world I am painting,” she says. “He makes my time at the easel much more enjoyable and, because of him, I can keep on painting.”
She made a commitment when she was in her 30s, Anne says, to do what she can to further environmental preservation efforts at home and abroad. “I feel we all have a responsibility to protect our resources—the animals and the habitats where they occur—for future generations. Part of the reason I began to share my art in galleries was my desire to share my love of nature and raise awareness for the importance of nature in our world—with a need for all to help in its protection.”
Anne McLaughlin’s work is displayed at Asheville Gallery of Art, where she is one of the featured artists for June, and Flow Gallery in Marshall. Find her on Facebook at Anne McLaughlin and on Instagram @annemclaughlinart.