How strongly does painting run in families? Pat Howard, whose watercolors of flowers have long been a staple of Durango's art scene, is the mother, daughter, granddaughter and daughter-in-law of painters. Is that nature or nurture? She theorizes that her son is now an artist because she was carrying him when she went to art school.
Lovers of flower painting will have two chances to see Howard's work this month. She's showing now with three other artists at the Sorrel Sky Gallery and on April 25 and 26 hers will be the featured art for the Durango Home & Ranch Show. Posters are already around town to give you a taste of her work. Prices at Sorrel Sky range from $600 for a giclee to $2,300 for a painting.
Howard has been a painter only since the early '90s, she said Tuesday, while walking among her paintings at Sorrel Sky. She was working as a company human relations manager when her husband, Alan Howard, asked why she was working at something she didn't love. He encouraged her to go back to art school.
So she did. She followed up her earlier formal education at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, with studies at the Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design and the Art Institute of Colorado, both in Denver.
Besides fine art, Howard has worked as a designer and illustrator.
She maintains variety in her work. Though flowers are her first love, she also paints portraits and landscapes. And she's concerned with ringing the changes within the flower paintings. For instance, Howard has a giclee in the Sorrel Sky show with an oriental feel in which she masked off areas of the paper and poured on the paint.
"It didn't even feel like painting," she said.
Howard drew the contrast between her "Bowl of Cherries," which is the Home & Ranch Show picture, and her newest work.
"In 'Bowl of Cherries' I played one pattern against another," she said. "Now I make the whole picture a pattern."
One way she achieves the pattern is with her prism pictures. After flooding her paper with abstract color wash upon color wash, she puts in a tight grid and paints each square a subtly different color. Then she paints her traditionally shaded flowers over the grid, adding more washes to the squares of the grid as she goes along. The two-dimensional and three-dimensional elements play against one another in a most satisfying way.
Howard goes stylized in her eclectic "Zephyr & Chloris," incorporating Botticelli's detail from "The Birth of Venus," against flower styles from the great Dutch painters and 18th century English chinoiserie. Then she paints it all against a flat black background, a departure for Howard.
Howard works mostly with transparent watercolors because she can layer on an almost unlimited number of color washes. She stresses the importance of using splendid paper to avoid overworking the picture and of leaving blank paper and the underlying layers. Sometimes she does her line work with liquid acrylic as a sort of dam to keep her paint corralled.
It's a happily consuming life for Howard.
"I do some sort of art every day, whether it's looking for references, planning, teaching or painting," she said with a smile. "I can tell if, over a vacation, I haven't done it."