An Aquarelle Life

Looking For Light: Artist Ann Patton paints what she loves most in her beloved luminous water color medium

Because of the fluid, water-soluble pigment, painting in watercolor holds the contrast of bold, immediate action with a delicate brush stroke; striking colors with transparency and feathered outlines. It is as direct of a medium as can be; there can’t be any hesitancy while painting.

These characteristics seem like contradictions, but if done well – which takes years and years of practice – they are in balance. These qualities reflect watercolorist Ann Patton’s empathetic, vibrant character. Like her watercolors, she has a certain luminosity and softness combined with confidence and spontaneity.

“I love the vibrant, pure colors of watercolor, and I strive for transparency and the effect of light in my paintings,” Ann said. “It is a challenging medium, but nothing is more beautiful when you do actually get it right. The best part of painting to me is when someone looks at my painting and sees and feels what I felt and saw when I did the painting.”

She paints what she loves, and that love is evident in Ann’s artwork – it adds an intangible depth to the bucolic scenes – all pleasing in their natural simplicity: birds, horses, cattle, landscapes, family and friends, or anything else that brings her joy and satisfaction. Her work is honest and straightforward, much like herself.

“A Cowboy and his Coffee” is Ann’s favorite portrait of her favorite cowboy – her husband Jim. It shows an exceptional moment of Jim without his hat, contemplatively enjoying his early morning cup of Joe. She feels it captures a real life expression and the light in it focuses the attention on the darker features. Ann was thrilled that the painting obviously appealed to the Society of Watercolor Artists when it was accepted into the 2021 Membership Exhibition.

“I love painting flowers – especially wildflowers,” Ann said. “I have had more than one case of serious chigger bites due to my desire to photograph them at their level. Wildflowers are the most perfect gift from nature in their own unruly, random way.”

The Devil’s Claw is one of her favorite wildflowers. The bloom is stunning, but usually scraggly and insignificant. Ann has planted their seed in a protected environment, and they are so beautiful.

“These are bigger, more vibrant and more colorful than real life – my usual view of things,” Ann said of her Devil’s Claw painting.

According to Ann, to truly observe, to really see something, you have to care about it. “I see things differently than other people do. I am drawn to the beauty in ordinary life, and I create my version of it on my paper.”

Sometimes this might mean that a scissor tail has more yellow hues than nature’s design; or that a house finch is nearly as vibrantly red as a cardinal. But there is no denying what you’re seeing.

Because she has been selected to exhibit more than five times at one of the Society of Watercolor Artists of Fort Worth shows, Ann can proudly call herself a signature member; an important milestone for her as an artist. In spite of the obvious beauty of aquarelles, the medium is an outlier in the art world. The society provides a great, supportive network with a generosity of spirit for its members. Ann learns as much from other artists as from consistent individual practice. Never one to dwell for long on an achievement though, Ann’s next goal is to be accepted as a member of the National Watercolor Society.

“If you don’t sell your art, if you are not reaching people, it’s like music in a forest without people,” according to Ann. And she’s happy that her work is for sale at the Bosque Art Center Gift Shop in Clifton and at the Tiemann Art Gallery in Round Rock.

Being chosen three times into the Bosque Art Classic (2016, 2017 & 2019) was another important achievement for Ann, because she has a lot of respect for the special and supportive art culture in Bosque County. Last fall, she had a one-woman show in the BAC Atrium Gallery.

“This was a first for me and a true joy to be able to show a body of work which represents me as an artist, to enjoy sharing my paintings with family and friends, and to support the Bosque Art Center for being such advocates for artists,” Ann said. “It was very successful, with many paintings sold.”

She has also entered the Bosque Museum Wildflower Art Show and Sale in the past. And in 2019, she had a piece accepted into the American Plains Artists Juried Art Show in Corsicana. Entering and being selected for such shows all help with recognition and subsequent sales.

Ann was born in West Columbia, but was raised on the legendary King Ranch in South Texas, where her father Leonard Stiles – former Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association brand inspector – oversaw the Santa Gertrudis operation. Growing up with the sprawling outdoors with horses and cattle around all the time, nature became part of Ann’s DNA.

Always inquisitive and creative, the intelligent young girl loved art, and it was always a satisfying part of her life.

In spite of a college degree in Art and English from Texas A&M in Kingsville, Ann’s practical side chose the world of banking becoming the first female loan officer at the first in the bank in South Texas where she started out working. She had left her beloved Texas for the better career opportunities in Arizona. And while she was proud of the satisfying success in her banking career, there was something missing in her Phoenix city life, although she just couldn’t put her finger on it. All she knew was that she was ready for a big change.

Very, very reluctantly, Ann agreed to a detested blind date thanks to a mutual friend Tona’s interminable insistence she meet a certain gentleman she knew. With an “all-or-nothing, California-or-bust” attitude, Tona organized a day-long trail ride. Consequently, that day was not a complete disaster, leading to a second meeting shortly after.

It was meeting Jim, who was a ranch manager at a magically beautiful, remote ranch in the Arizona Huachuca Mountains, which put a name to what was lacking in Ann’s life – nature and the great outdoors.

“I never knew how much I missed the open spaces,” Ann said. “It was then that I realized my city life was soulless.”

Apparently, you can take the girl out of nature, but you can’t take nature out of the girl.

And whoever said cooking was the way to a man’s heart was being one-sided. It is also the way to a woman’s heart. With his sourdough biscuits, bacon and raspberry breakfast, Jim inadvertently sealed the deal, hitting all the check marks and winning Ann over on her second visit to the ranch.

Little did Jim know that cooking was one of Ann’s other creative outlets, and an expression of caring –  something she inherited from her mother Mary Hooge Stiles. And Ann saw his caring in his carefully executed breakfast.

Ann’s blond Labrador Ruby knew all along the two were meant to be together, because after that second meeting, the pup did not want to get into the car back to the city. Ann never left again, except to pack up her city life and move out to the rugged and remote ranch, where they happily worked the cross breed cattle together on the 100 square miles forest grazing permit. Ann, of course, became the ranch cook.

After Jim’s retirement in 2002, the couple looked to find a place of their own, but nothing was available in Arizona. With Jim’s daughter living in Waco, they ended up in Hamilton. Because Ann had always wanted to run a restaurant but felt she was too old to go full bore, she started her monthly “Rolling Pin” dinners in the old bakery in town for a maximum of 42 people. With her fantastic food and eclectic décor, the dinners were always sold out. A cupboard in her workshop is dedicated to that passion, filled with cookbooks and recipes she has tried over the years and loved.

“We had so much fun,” Ann said.

But after 10 years, they found a perfectly beautiful spot on Mustang Creek in Bosque County, which felt like coming home. And when Ann misses the mountains and the dessert, the couple retreats to their cabin in the Lincoln National Forrest near Cloudcroft, New Mexico, or for a complete change of scene they enjoy going to the Gulf Coast for the sun, sand and sea. Both places a very inspirational to Ann’s painting.

“Galveston beauties” are part of the beautiful floral scenery that goes with the lovely beaches and abundant birds, all of which draws the couple there every year.

Ann always painted as an outlet for her creative mind, and discovered a real love of watercolor in her twenties at college. But it wasn’t until 2015, at their perfect place in the world that she took up her tapered paintbrush to put a colorful palette onto the beautiful creamy textured paper in earnest. And in aquarelle painting – just another pretty word for watercolor – the choice of paper is as essential as anything else.

“I do regret not starting focusing on my art more seriously earlier,” Ann said. “I wish I had listened to my inner voice earlier. Because the more consistent you are about doing it, the better it is for the quality of your work. I haven’t even scratched the surface on knowing about colors and water as a big variable.”

With her present focus, her work has evolved greatly – getting closer and closer to her vision of what she wants her work to look like.

“I paint most days, entering juried shows and studying with artists I admire when I can,” Ann said. “I am interested in all kinds of art and see as much new art as I can, in galleries, online, and in shows.”

“It’s more than a medium for me – it is an attitude,”

One of the watercolorists Ann admires William Matthews says about the medium: “It has to do with feeling slightly out of control. It has to do with capturing the gesture. Watercolor has a mind of its own, and it goes where it wants to. For me, it is important to work in partnership with the medium, and thereby yield some control. It’s important that a watercolor appear fresh and not overworked. And mostly, it’s important to know when to stop.”

Ann admires Matthew’s unconventional use of color. In Hazel Soan’s work, she admires the loose, soft, watery feel of the painting, with not all spaces filled in, but what is there is just perfect.

“My best watercolors are often those I feel happened despite me, rather than because of me. And I stare in wonder at the way the pigment dries and settles on the paper in an array of exquisite blends,” Soan said reiterating the evasive character of aquarelle.

To Soan, the excitement of watercolor is “watching paint dry, patience, adrenalin, angst and wonder.” Other inspirational watercolorists for Ann are Korean War Veteran Tom Hill and Western watercolorist Don Weller.

“His work is the closest of what I want to be as a watercolorist,” Ann said, who is the proud owner of one of Hill’s works. “There is always a balance. Hill marries looseness with detail.”

Ann also has a special way with words – she paints an image with the descriptions she gives her artwork. You don’t even have to see the related painting to get a “feel” of the emotion of the image she wanted to convey. The meaningful words enhance her art.

“The painting of the F-1 heifers is a favorite of mine. It was called “Spring of 2021” and was a tribute to the beautiful lush spring,” Ann said. “The heifers were raised together and they reminded me of a school of fish, always moving together, sharing the light and the shadow, and so very expressive. I followed them around photographing them, an endless opportunity of motion, like a ballet. They were sold recently, but I still enjoy the memory.”

Or another example: “This is the last photo is of a painting of my gelding Rooster and the two King Ranch mares that Jim rode for many years, both of whom are dead now. It is not for sale, but an example of a way to honor your favorite horses. These were three great ranch horses, all of them a pleasure to work with – partners on the job.”

Patton sees her life’s journey a “a life of change, growth and discovery. And mastering watercolor and its unpredictability as part of her life is an exciting, intuitive journey without end. Her brain is in constant overdrive, and she has more ideas than she could ever create. She is always inspired and regularly has five to six paintings in her head she wants to put to paper.

For example, a heron photographed at the edge of the stock tank just below their house in the early morning shadows

“Birds are among the most perfect critters, always elegant and always with some attitude,” Ann said.

Presently, she is experimenting with a polyurethane spray coat to preserve the color without adding a glass barrier. Her “House Finch” is an example of that. She also is experimenting with dark backgrounds, as can be seen with the painting of the Haflinger pony and yellow blooms. 

“Like me, my painting is a work in progress and I hope never to stop learning and growing and painting from my heart,” Patton said. “I am working toward painting in a more expressive manner and spotlighting the inherent strengths of the medium.”

This year her talent was recognized again because another painting, “Headed Down to the Creek,” was accepted into the Society of Watercolor Artists 2022 International Juried Exhibition in Fort Worth. Ann called this most recent success “A bit of happiness in a troubled world – that is what art brings!” It is a painting is of her niece Heather’s heifers.

The artwork hung at the Atrium Gallery of the Fort Worth Central Library, 500 W. 3rd St., Fort Worth, from April 16-May 22. “I am in awe of the beautiful paintings that will hang – it is an opportunity to see some great watercolors,” Ann said. “I am very grateful to be included.”

Coincidentally, Heather has a similar life path – born on the King Ranch where her father Joe managed the Quarter Horse division, Heather chose to work in the lucrative futures trading business in Chicago and the Big Apple after college. But then she realized she was unhappy without horses in her life, she came to East Texas to train cutting horses with the brother.

Heather has also ended up in Bosque County, next door to her beloved Aunt Ann, surrounded by Mustang Valley’s natural beauty.

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS & courtesy of ANN PATTON

©2022 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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