When 36-year-old Michelle Penney-Rowe of Carbonear looks at a nature scene, she sees more than most people do.
“Right away I see the unique qualities (of a tree) rather than the big tree,” she says. “I can hone in on a piece of wood and break down that bit of information.”
She’s trained her eyes to extract what she calls the “potential for a painting.”
Meanwhile, she’s the first to admit that pursuing her passion as an artist and raising her young family is a delicate balancing act.
“I always had an interest in art,” Michelle says. “The first thing I ever drew were horses in the field across the garden.”
Her formal training began early, thanks to her parents. “They’ve been a huge support,” Michelle says.
David and Margaret Penney recognized their daughter’s artistic leanings and sought out a friend and local artist, Sid Butt.
“This first experience into fine arts was priceless,” Michelle recalls. She studied the “wonders of oil paint, and was addicted.”
Butt showed her things like perspective and colour mixing and, most importantly, he helped her “understand what it was I was seeing,” Michelle says.
After high school, she decided against enrolling in an arts program in Corner Brook because, she says, “I was a little young.”
Instead, she entered Memorial University and studied psychology and other subjects, but her heart was in painting.
She says in those years, “everything was career driven.” She studied business management at Keyin College in Carbonear, then worked in business for eight years. Still, the arts were uppermost in her mind. A relative recommended classes with Newfoundland artist Ed Roche, who taught Michelle watercolour technique.
“Then I realized this is where I’d like to be,” Michelle says. “It kept drawing me.”
The fact that people began asking her to do paintings for them reinforced her decision to stick with painting.
Over the years, Michelle has attended art classes and workshops, consulted with other artists, and continued to teach herself. Most recently, she’s been teaching others to paint.
Where does Michelle find time to do her own painting?
Her husband, Peter, is a big part of the answer.
“He makes sure I have the time to do anything I have to do while he’s home,” Michelle says. “Actually, if he wasn’t so supportive, I wouldn’t be able to do this.”
Peter works offshore and is home for a month at a time. When he’s on the water, Michelle’s parents care for the children while she paints.
Michelle has a large wooden drafting table in her childrens’ playroom.
“While they play and go about their business, I’m in the same room painting.”
Her three children are “surprisingly supportive,” Michelle says. “The older kids entertain their younger brother, but I always arrange my art time around their time.”
Michelle also does a lot of her work while they’re sleeping, occasionally staying up all night to finish a project.
“My family members are my biggest fans and ask all kinds of questions while I’m painting through the stages and various processes,” she says.
Michelle says her painting has no unique style per se. “My style is evolving,” she says.
Right now, she’s focusing on acrylics. She teaches in Bay Roberts, as well as in her home-based studio in Carbonear, methodically guiding children from the age of two to adults.
Painting is only part of what Michelle does. She participates in civic and charitable events, from Carbonear’s winter carnival art contest to the Trinity-Conception health art auction, from Carbonear Collegiate’s art auction to the Poseidon Swim Club fund-raiser.
“If I can give back somehow, if that could help somebody, that’s important to me.”
She secured two visiting artist program grants this year alone, facilitating art classes at Davis Elementary school.
The word “mistakes” doesn’t appear in Michelle’s vocabulary because, she explains, “you’re not making mistakes; you’re just creating
things that you develop into something else.”
Are artists born or taught?
“I think you’re born with interest,” she answers. “The creativity is there.”
Michelle’s future plans are modest. “I see myself continuing to paint. I would love to continue with (teaching) because I love the students, this interaction with the little ones to the adults.” She’s determined to stay connected to her roots.
To those who question their artistic abilities, Michelle says, “Try it and see. Don’t cut yourself too short.”