Michelle Penington‘s paintings are whimsical works full of narratives, often with bright colors bursting through her landscapes and figure pieces. The self-taught artist, a 41-year-old Cave Creek resident, transports viewers around the world in the locales she depicts, and her art often evokes positive feelings with evident passion shining through.
The artist recently had a six-month exhibition at the ASU downtown Phoenix campus library, and she’s exhibiting her work at Desert Broom Library in Cave Creek beginning this September. Those who are interested in her art may visit her studio by appointment (head here for more information), and Penington is available for commissions. Learn more about her inspiration, and hear her name her five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley in a video.
What brought you to Arizona?
I’ve lived here almost 20 years. My family moved here from New Mexico because of my husband’s job, and his brother lived out here, so we thought we’d try it. I was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Dana Point, California.
How did you become a professional artist?
I went to college at University of Houston and got a bachelor of science in psychology. It had nothing to do with art, but I wanted to see if I could do it and if both sides of the brain worked. I had been accepted to get my MBA and was going to do that before going to law school, but instead, I decided to be a full-time artist out of college.
What’s your earliest memory of being interested in art?
When I was a kid, I just had to make things. I’d make these crazy paper dolls that had fronts and backs and names and were part of a community. I always had to create.
I also danced ballet since I was 3 and was in a ballet company when I was a teenager. I had that arts upbringing, and my grandfather was an artist, an oil painter like I am. He was always encouraging my artistic exploration.
How would you describe yourself as an artist?
I’m an emotional painter. I paint from my head and paint things that mean something to me. I love working with oil paint and finding new ways to make colors pop.
What inspires your art?
I am inspired by people and emotions and past relationships and different places – anything. I spent some time in Europe as a teenager and fell in love. I spend time picking from that and am inspired by anything emotional. I like to paint things that have meaning and tell stories. All my paintings tell a story in them. I like when people walk up to my paintings and find the story that means something to them, and not really worry about what it means to me. That’s my favorite – I love that.
When I paint figures, I don’t call myself a portrait artist. I paint to represent that feeling or that story.
Do you have any formal art training?
No. I did study photography in college, which helps with composition, and have been shooting on film since I was 12.
Do you take photos to inspire your paintings, or do they all come from your imagination?
I do everything in my head. I don’t take photos for the paintings on purpose, but I do work out the compositions piecemeal, for sure. I work everything out very slowly to make sure everything has its place.
Why are you passionate about integrating color in your works?
I’m a colorful person. I’ve always loved color. It’s swimming in my brain. The art I’m attracted to is full of color, and studying art on my own throughout the years, I’ve always been drawn to artists who had bold colors and got your attention through them.
How would you describe your commission specialties?
I usually get people who like three or four of my paintings and want a combination of those. That happens a lot. I do mainly landscapes and a lot of vineyards. I just finished a beautiful Italian scene with a family of four who wanted to be in it. That was one of my best pieces so far. People love doors and paths, too.
I like to tell people, “If you’re commissioning me, it’s because you like what you’ve seen so far,” and we’ll go from there.
How would you characterize the Valley’s art scene?
I love that the art scene is growing, and people are responding and coming to shows.
I hate to say this because it’s Arizona, but I’d love to see us really go beyond the Southwest-y reputation. I understand the attraction, and there’s so much beautiful Western art, but I’d love to see the Valley embrace all kinds of art. I’m seeing it now in downtown Phoenix and in Scottsdale, too, which is exciting.
What are your goals as an artist?
To keep doing what I’m doing. I always say I want to go down in history books and be remembered for my art, so that’s my goal. I’ve got a long way to go and a lot more to paint, so I’m going to keep at it.
What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
Stick with it, follow your heart, and don’t let people tell you you’re not good enough. It’s subjective, and it breaks my heart when people quit because someone told them they’re not good enough. Continue doing it, grow at it, study it, absorb it, and you’ll be successful.
Why should people hire you for a commission?
I will get done whatever they want, including colors. My goal is their utmost happiness. They’re going to look at this for the rest of their life, so I try to hide little things in it for them to notice as time goes by. I paint everything with love, and I paint it with positive energy, so I hope that painting that goes into their house makes them smile. I try to please the customer.
How do you hope your art in general impacts people?
I hope they look at it, think about it, and find a story in it. That to me is just amazing.
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