Barbara Churchley likes a challenge.
She climbed all of the ranked 14,000’ mountain peaks (“Along with a few unranked for fun,” she adds) ran nine marathons and traveled the world from Alaska to Bhutan. And now when some of her friends might start planning their retirement Barbara is enjoying what she calls her “first real career” as an award winning artist.
“I’ve done art all of my life and I started drawing as a child,” Churchley says. “Yet, it wasn’t part of my consciousness that I could be a full time artist.”
Instead she took the practical route and became a CPA and found creative outlets in the everyday – like making gifts and hand-painting Thank You cards.
"To me a career is about passion,” she explains, and not just paying bills. “Though, making a living is still a vital aspect!” she asserts.
Churchley has called Colorado home for more than 35 years. She was drawn to the region by the western landscape, which now serves as her muse. After she and her husband moved to the Western Slope, less than a decade ago, she finally began to take seriously her desire to be an artist. She applied the same drive that fuels her athletic endeavors to her art career after taking a watercolor class with a friend. She steadily honed her skills under the tutelage of a number of celebrated artists.
Sara Alyn Oakley and Ann Templeton have been especially influential.
Churchley humbly pays homage: "I have had such giving and knowledgeable mentors. It amazes me how freely they share their expertise. It certainly speeds up my learning curve."
As an artist, she has navigated that fast curve with finesse and nimbly transformed from student to professional in a few short years receiving numerous regional and national awards. Barb, as her friends call her, is a warm and engaging woman with an easy smile. Her natural instincts and charm come through in her artwork.
A few years ago, she began to gain notoriety for her pastels. Then, about three years ago, she turned her focus on oils, which are “the most satisfying because they are the most challenging.”
She paints primarily in the French style en plein air (“in the open air” in French).
“I like to capture the moment and integrate the environment,” Churchley explains; Many of her most recent
“I think this is what most plein air painters’ hope for: resolution in the field.”At times she will work on a painting in the studio to hone a technique or adjust a memory, but, she adds, “I am not enthused to paint from a photograph.”
Barb continues to travel extensively, although, those adventures often focus on other hobbies such as back packing and birding. She will often take a portable watercolor set to capture nature or record a memory – an exercise she calls a great “skill sharpener.”
Recently she began to combine her travels with her career, but mostly she rests her easel in Colorado. One of her favorite locations to paint is the Old Goat Trail near Cedaredge. She welcomes others on the trail to stop and say ‘hello.’
“I like when others come and observe. I’ve gotten to know a lot of the dogs in town,” she laughs.
Ask Churchley about her favorite artists and you won’t hear the names of the masters. Her list of favorites include list of contemporary artists working in the Southwest region. In fact, she is a tireless advocate for local art. "Artists bring joy, passion, energy, light, and truth to the world….original art work makes your home sing."
Churchley encourages others to buy original artwork and she speaks from experience. Just before she picked up the brush herself, she told her husband she no longer want any prints in their home.
“From there on we collected only original artwork,” she beams. Their collection now includes more than 30 artists all but one of whom she knows personally and many of whom she proudly calls her friends. “Having a personal connection with the art in your home,” she says, “is like having your friends with you all the time.”
Barbara lives with her husband in the Cedaredge area. They are preparing to build a home and relocate to Palisade in the coming year where she already has a studio. She also teaches painting in the Montrose and Grand Junction areas. When you’re in Palisade, you can see Churchley’s artwork at the Blue Pig Gallery.
Above Left: "Making Tracks" by Barbara Churchley. Copywrite Barbara Churchley. This image may not be copied or reproduced.
About the Author: Wood is owner of the Blue Pig Gallery in Palisade, Colorado. She is being remunerated by the Wine Country Inn for her contributions to this blog.