Expanding horizons; trek into big time by local artist
With shows opening at the Contemporary Design and Art Gallery as well as the College of Eastern Utah's Prehistoric Museum recently, Terry Willis is putting her art out there for the world to see. She has labored for the better part of her life to get where she is and has recently found that she is willing throw caution to the wind and face the adversity common to any unknown artist trying to get their name and work recognized.
"I got a $3,000 lesson on just how difficult commercial art can be at recent show in Las Vegas," said Willis during an interview in her kitchen here in north Price. "And while no one around me sold much I took a good deal of business knowledge away from the show. There is a lot of good art out there right now but when the economy is bad it can be really tough to sell fine art."
Willis' home is covered in every type of artistic expression imaginable, from acrylic and oil paintings to sculpture and wine racks. She has tried it all and found that creation is at the heart of who she is.
"I always knew I wanted to be an artist," she said. "I can remember from the fourth grade on knowing that art was going to be a part of my life."
According to the burgeoning local artist, who is currently focusing on landscape painting, art was not considered a worthy career by her family or school as she grew up.
"In the sixth grade we had to write a paper detailing what we were going to be when we grew up. When I turned in an assignment detailing my plans to be an artist, they made me re-write the paper," she quipped. "In our community and in my household growing up being an artist was just not accepted as a serious career choice."
Willis joined the Navy out of high school and sketched continuously.
"We spent some time in Key West and the colors are so vivid it just had to be painted, so I went down to our little supply store and bought a starter set of acrylic paints," explained Willis. "Painting gives you so many more options and lets you express many more things."
When she was moved to Iceland, Willis found that her paintings had started to sell. She stated that there was a great feeling that came from being self taught at that point and having people be interested enough in your work to pay for it.
When Willis left the Navy and moved to Utah the landscapes changed drastically and she reported going through a slow period in the 70s and 80s where she didn't have much time for painting because there were kids to raise.
"You know even when I was raising kids as a single mom I had a need to paint," said the Carbon County artist. "I didn't get to do it as much but I still got some work in whenever I could."
As her children became adults and time and money became less of an issue, Willis again began to dream that she could make a living doing what she loved.
She struck up a friendship with local artist Karen Templeton, took classes from her and began working with oil paints.
At this point, Willis took a serious look at what she was doing and the steps it would take to make her dream a reality. She set up a five year plan to get her own studio together and stick to financial goals that would make putting herself out there a possibility.
Her work has been displayed in many local areas including the Helper Arts Festival, tourism conventions and paintings at the Dino Mine Adventure Park.
There were bumps in the road from the beginning, according to Willis.
"At one point I agreed to have eight of my paintings displayed at a particular restaurant and when it folded up my paintings went with it," she said. "I lost more than 50 hours worth of work and $2,500 all at once."
Other obstacles presented themselves as she worked toward her goal but she was determined to stick it out.
"When I left my job in 2002 to pursue my art full time it was very scary," said Willis. "And when family crisis stuck I had to put my full time artist plans back on the shelf and go back to work for more than a year and a half.
Finally, Willis caught the break she needed in the form of a 2007 Helper Arts Studio Scholarship focusing on oil landscape painting.
"Oil was very difficult for me at first," said Willis. "I had very little training with it at that point, but being with the other artists energized me, got me focused and got me on track."
Willis' painting began to sell again within the community but she knew that if she were going to succeed she need to find a base larger than friends and locals.
After the Vegas Show, Willis took part in the Rocky Mountain Art and Antique show at the Salt Palace which again turned out to be a different experience than she expected.
"We were in the dungeon of the Salt Palace and there was very poor advertisement to where we were in the building. So as a consequence there wasn't all that much foot traffic at the three day show," she said. "However, the contacts I made were great and that made going to the show worth it."
With two exhibits starting this week, Willis continues to be optimistic as her paintings continue to grow in size and detail along with her skills in other areas of the artistic arena.
"I have learned that marketing boils down to connecting with people who like what you are doing. Because people tend to be very particular about what they like," stated Willis. "People glamorize artists as sitting in their studios painting all day but there is so much work that goes into getting into shows, working with framing, getting your art to and from the shows. But it is worth it if you are doing what you love."