A word from one of our sponsors, with advice on painting from from photographs.
Now is the perfect time to invest in bettering your painting and drawing skills. Each day at 3pm Eastern, during most of the quarantine period, Streamline Art Video will be giving you “Artist of the Day” segments live on Facebook to give you something to do and learn. (Like the page here for updates and more free art videos!)
You’ve probably heard it said many times … it’s impossible to make a beautiful painting from a photograph. All artists have a memory of a scene they wanted to paint, but for whatever reason, couldn’t stay on location to capture it.
Shelby Keefe demonstrates how you can take a good photo and turn it into an amazing masterpiece. Her process is tried and true and you’ll be a believer once you see how she makes it all happen fairly easily. Even if you haven’t had success painting from photos before, you will now.
See full video at: https://lilipubsorders.com/products/shelby-keefe-painting-from-photographs
FULL TRANSCRIPT of this video
DISCLAIMER: The following is the output of a transcription from an audio/visual recording. Although the transcription is mostly correct, in some cases it is slightly inaccurate due to the recording and/or software transcription.
Eric Rhoads 0:09
Hi, I’m Eric Rhoads, publisher of fine art connoisseur and plein air magazine and I’m proud to have Shelby Keefe with me today. Shelby welcome.
Well, it’s really good to be here. Thank you, Eric. I’m so glad that you came in for this.
I’m really curious. You know, it’s, it’s been fun watching your career. We’ve known each other now for how long? Well, I came to the very first plein air convention. So I believe I met you then I don’t even know what year that was about six years ago. Okay, filming this. Yeah, verse. If somebody is watching this 100 years from now, it’s not six years.
I’m fascinated by the way you paint. I’m fascinated with painting architecture. And I think architecture is one of the most difficult subjects to make it look right. You know, because of something about just perfectly straight lines doesn’t work. Even though it seems like Should so I’m fascinated about that. But first let’s start out by kind of understanding how this whole art thing happened with you.
Shelby Keefe 1:08
Okay? Well, I was one of those lucky kids where I came from a family of artists. My grandmother was an artist. There was my mother was an artist and there was always art supplies. There was always things to make stuff with Kranz paint, paper, anything anybody could ever want to do. We were always making stuff. So I just picked that ball up and ran with it. And I found in a very early age, probably maybe as early as kindergarten. That was my favorite thing to do was to draw and to paint and just be that artists right.
Eric Rhoads 1:48
So your grandmother painted. Did you ever have adult conversations with your grandmother about painting?
Shelby Keefe 1:55
Oh, yes. Often. My actually my grandmother went outside and painted before they call it plenty or painting. They went outside and painted. She had a teacher. But that all happened pretty much before I was aware of, of that kind of thing that she did. But she lived to be 99 and so she died in 2007. So I spent a lot of really great quality time with her as an artist and she she could she could see a lot of my growth as I matured and became a professional artist and a professional painter.
Eric Rhoads 2:33
So do you have any of her artwork around?
Shelby Keefe 2:37
I do. I do. And she was a multimedia artist. She did a lot of different things she did. She took pieces of linoleum and made mosaics out of it. She took her tooled leather and did wood burning on it. All kinds of stuff, not just painting. They always had to make stuff out of you know Any materials that was put in front of them and that’s my mom and my aunt and my grandma and my grandpa was a great craftsman. So he provided the substrate that she could work with. So she didn’t have to cut out the big wood form that all this stuff was going to be put on. But she said, Sharon, would you please get that do this for me I need this size and that size. And before you knew it, she had what she needed and and Lou used a lot of glue and a lot of sometimes toothpicks and glue and spray paint and I mean, it was amazing. All the things that she had done and I have some amazing pieces in my in my place right now that always remember her by
Eric Rhoads 3:42
I think it’s fascinating that she was actually going outdoors and painting. Did you ever see any of her paintings?
Shelby Keefe 3:49
Yes, my mom has all of those. My mom and my aunt. And they’re, they’re wonderful. You know, there’s some barns you know, because they’re from that rural Wisconsin. So there’s some barn scenes still life you know some of that too. So yeah, they’re around those paintings are around. I think her multimedia stuff was what she did as she aged. Because you know plein air painting isn’t for sissies.
Eric Rhoads 4:16
Well, so curious. How long did she continue to do art into her elder years?
Shelby Keefe 4:23
Well, she was even when she went into the health care facility probably her last 14 years of her life. She always had scissors and was cutting and was drawing and was making things even while she was in her comfortable one room, place where she it was more than assisted living, but she she just and she had her beautiful things all around her. So she was very just had what she needed and did what she wanted to do. And we were there for her when she needs something we wouldn’t got it for my mom especially
Eric Rhoads 4:58
and your mom is also An artist. What does she do?
Shelby Keefe 5:02
Mom does a lot of different things to she she helps with making graphics for church projects crafting. But she’s taken my classes. And she’s a pretty good painter. She won’t admit it. But I think she’s a great painter. And so she’s taken several of the classes and she’s got a nice body of work that she can now call her legacy. Oh, that’s nice. Yeah.
Eric Rhoads 5:26
So that’ll be something you have you have a couple of kids, right?
Shelby Keefe 5:29
I do. I have two boys.
Eric Rhoads 5:30
So it’ll be something they’ll have something from grandma. Indeed, indeed. So this art thing stuck with you at a young age. And then when did you make your first conscious decision that you wanted to follow this path?
Shelby Keefe 5:47
Well, I know I had to be between five and 10 years old because I remember where I was living. When I said that and we I moved when we were 10. We moved to a different place. So I just drink thinking, you know, I just really like to do this art thing I bet I can someday be a commercial artist because I think they make money commercial artists make money being artists, right? So I made that decision pretty early on.
Eric Rhoads 6:15
So you went through high school, college to do art courses in those places
Shelby Keefe 6:20
in grade school, even that was my most favorite thing to do was to find some way of Well, luckily, when I was going to school, they had a lot of art. There was a lot of, you know, fun things involving art. So it just kept going for those things in high school. We maybe didn’t have a great art department there, but there the teachers were always willing to let me do extra credit in art to make my other grades a little better. So I put art in, in my history classes and some of the other classes, whatever I could do to supplement my grades you I was the go to person to do the design the poster for the whatever homecoming, whatever was, you know, when high school kids do. And then of course, I was really set on going to college and getting a degree in art and where did you go? I went to Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, got my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, did four years and worked my tail end off worked really hard. I had to take other classes though, I had to take history and math and English and all that stuff, which was a little less successful than the art classes, but I did but I could. I want to make my dad proud, you know, because you don’t make a living as an artist. That’s what he thought. Yeah. But, you know, I think that having that still supported me, you know, so I was motivated by that challenge of like, can you really make a living as a nurse now you can, yes, you can make a living as an artist and so I wanted to do really good in college and prove to my parents that their money wasn’t going to go to waste that I was going to really make something of it.
Eric Rhoads 8:08
So you, you went to college you finished up and then what happens?
Shelby Keefe 8:15
Well, after college, then you have to get a job.
You know, there’s a little job happening before the end of college, but I went on. I was, I had my mind set on working in the commercial art business, which meant graphic design, whatever it takes. And I went on job hunting, informational interviews, and I was told that’s a good way to find out what’s out there in the world and being in Milwaukee, which is where I went to college. It’s a big city, and there are a lot of ad agencies. So I just put out these letters saying Hi, I’m, I’m going to be graduated graduating soon. And I’m looking to see what’s happening in the world of coding. martial art, can you maybe tell me what I should be doing as a young person coming out of college? And if I and I put it that way to them in letters, and then I call them back and you know, said I was going to call, then I call them then we made the appointment. And then I went to the appointment. Then I wrote thank you letters. It was very methodical. I was pretty, pretty smart. I don’t know how that happened, but a good sense of marketing. Yeah. And eventually a connection came because one of those contexts is, hey, by the way, I have a friend who’s looking to hire an entry level artist at gimbels, which is the old department stores. I don’t know if you remember gimbels. We had one in Milwaukee, and they were looking for a layout artist. So I got a job right out of college working downtown Milwaukee at gimbels. And their advertising department doing layouts with flare pins. So it was on a tissue pad and I could use my drawing skills. They showed me what outfits I was supposed to draw on the model. So thankfully, my figure drawing came in handy. And I had to just pretend that this is how the photographer was going to have to set you set the model up like this. There’s those clothes, you spec, your type, you rip off the layout, give it to the copywriter, and boom. So I did those one after the other one after the other. And I was so happy.
Eric Rhoads 10:22
Shelby Keefe 10:23
Yeah. Oh, it
Eric Rhoads 10:24
was and then you eventually did what you continue to work at gimbels for Well, I
Shelby Keefe 10:29
worked there for about three years. And then you know, if you ever want to get a good pay raise, you gotta just move on to another job. So I went from basically working in house art departments for different companies in Milwaukee, you know, for years.
Eric Rhoads 10:43
And this was pre computer.
Shelby Keefe 10:45
Oh, yeah, definitely pre computer. Yes. And that and we talked about the computer that was starting to come into play in the 90s, the late 80s and the early 90s. And I was fortunate enough enough to be able to learn on the job. So I did make the switch over to the computer at some point at one of my jobs and learned how to do layouts inspect type on the computer instead of what we used to have to do, which was kind of grueling.
Eric Rhoads 11:17
Yes. I remember those days of having to wax Oh, yes. And cut them up and lay them out as backing
Shelby Keefe 11:22
tight. Oh, man, you get that wrong. You have to send it back to the typesetter Oh,
Eric Rhoads 11:27
yeah, things have changed. Mm hmm. So you became a graphic designer on your own at some point?
Shelby Keefe 11:33
Yes, yes. Well, at some point, I got married and had kids. And it just seemed like the right thing to do to try to be home more than be you know, always putting the kids in daycare. So I thought I would get played my hand at being a freelancer or freelance graphic designer. So I did that it didn’t work so great because you have to kind of have clients before you quit. But it was a it was a good learning experience. And eventually I found a I ended up working for another independently, like an independent contractor. So I became an independent contractor with another gal who was the independent contractor for other businesses while I had my babies. So, you know, you just do what you have to do. And, you know, I, I did what I needed to do, and I stayed positive and, you know, things worked out, it takes time. But eventually, I started landing the clients and getting jobs that were more predictable and were chunky, big ones that could like take care of, you know, a couple months worth of expenses, and then gradually I didn’t have to work for anyone in particular, I could just Bring the work to me. And then I was in charge of all that.
Eric Rhoads 13:03
So you’re a freelance graphic designer, you got a couple of babies at home. And then one day the light bulb goes off and says, I don’t need to do graphic design anymore. I’m gonna do paintings.
Is that what happened?
Shelby Keefe 13:17
Well, the light bulb was slowly little dishing up a little bit. You know, it’s kind of like on the radio stat. It was taken some time. So, even while I was doing my graphic design, whether I was working for a company or working for myself, I was always painting. So I forgot to mention that. So even while I was working hard as a graphic designer, I had my little corner in whatever room that was, and I had a painting going. I you know, and so I would work toward getting into shows I belong to Milwaukee League of artists, different little art groups in my town, and then that gave us An opportunity to show our artwork.
Eric Rhoads 14:02
So how did you learn this skill of painting? Did you study with anyone?
Shelby Keefe 14:08
Well, I think in college was probably where I picked up
most of my technique by way of an under painting idea instead of just starting right on out on a white canvas. So I learned I picked that up from my my painting instructor sister Thomas EDA at Cardinal Stritch and learn lots of different ways to approach a canvas. And that also helped me in my graphic design world to finding different ways to approach a problem, a design problem, and an image problem. Anything that had to do with how do you make an effective image or a good painting or say something? How do you say it? So I learned so many different ways of tackling that from sister Thomas EDA. But I did pay before her to me as a kid in her High school I was just, I set up my little easel outside and did some pretty bad paintings as a youngster. But, you know, you just you do what you can at the time and but college is what gave me some really good tools.
Eric Rhoads 15:14
So how do you approach a Canvas?
Hi, how are you?
Shelby Keefe 15:21
I say, hey, you’re a little bright. You’re blinding me. I need to get rid of all that white on there.
Eric Rhoads 15:28
So she taught you how to approach a canvas. You said there were a lot of different ways. Yeah. And that those things stuck with you. Is there anything that you’d like to share? That might be helpful to people?
Shelby Keefe 15:38
Yeah. Well, there’s more than one way to get rid of the white. I’ve done a lot of I’ve settled in on something that really works for me now and that’s kind of using the opposite color idea where if the sky is blue, I put an orange underneath it, but advice for For the grass then it’ll probably be red underneath that. But there’s so many more ways of doing it sister Thomas Sita had us put tissue paper and glue. Like you get your you get your colorful tissue paper and you get this gluey water. And you just you paint it on your canvas, and it has a little wrinkly effect. And it’s also color already. So you get a texture and you get a color and then you start working on top of that. That was cool. We also did spray paint
Eric Rhoads 16:29
probably didn’t have a lot of archival well not
Shelby Keefe 16:31
so archival the sound. No, in fact, I have old paintings where that tissue paper, you can see the texture, the color is completely gone. It’s just you know, fled. The color went away a long time ago, right? Yeah, it’s not peeling yet. You know,
Eric Rhoads 16:46
don’t do this. Don’t do this at home. You could try it, but just understand that it’s not going to last for 5000
Shelby Keefe 16:53
Right, right. So but thankfully I have good good slides of it somewhere. lost somewhere.
Eric Rhoads 17:01
So you started to mention another way to Oh
Shelby Keefe 17:03
yes. So we we were encouraged to take like cardboard and cut shapes so you know what your subject is going to be, let’s say, let’s say it’s a still life. So I’m going to cut the vase, not not carefully, I’m going to cut a vase shape. And I’m going to cut some flower shapes, and then on the canvas on the ground, then I’ll put these shapes on that Canvas and spray with color, move the shapes around and you have positive and negative shapes. It’s kind of like you can see the subject matter but it’s more abstract approach. It’s kind of has a faceted look to it. Sometimes a Cubist look, that was another way now I took I took that method up until about the mid 90s. And that was how I did my under paintings for the most part. Now I didn’t do the cubistic style, I painted my my realistic style on top By that, but I had this really cool underpainting
but after that,
you know, the spray paint was just not working for me, because my driveway was getting these funny shapes on it all the time. And you know, and then it’s cold I don’t want don’t want to go outside and do that. You sure don’t want to do that in your basement. So I graduated to painting my under painting it with paint, then I’m like, Well, why don’t I just take paint and do that.
Eric Rhoads 18:27
So some artists believe that having an under painting is going to pollute your color, or perhaps doll your color. And yet others insist on doing it sometimes just to cut the brightness out of the white, especially when you’re plenn air painting so that you you know, because you it throws your eyes it probably makes you close down your irises a little bit more because you’re looking at that bright white surface. Yeah. Is that why you do it or you just do it for color harmony?
Shelby Keefe 18:58
Well I do it because it’s more fun. For me.
Eric Rhoads 19:03
That’s all that really matters.
Shelby Keefe 19:05
It’s always been more fun. I’ve certainly tried a white canvas and painted right on it and I’ve, and I’m okay with it, but it just isn’t as much fun. So the talk about having an under painting and then you put your color on top of it and might get, I don’t know what you said muddy or something. I actually use acrylic paint. And so it can’t it won’t be picked up by the oil that’s going on top. So I won’t have a problem with that color bleeding on to the color on top. So it sits on top, but my pee test me pretty opaque. So there’s, there’s there’s kind of a discipline. When I teach my classes that you know, if you’re going to do this, we have to be careful to use it responsibly, because the underpainting can cause problems. By way of values, because you have white campus and it’s white, your highest key value, and if you put an underpainting on it, it might be a mid key value. So if you put a light color on it, you might think it’s light enough but it might not be right. So I mean there’s there’s challenges in there and it can also distract. If there’s too much bright under painting showing can be distracting. But
Eric Rhoads 20:25
you can get those those little pinholes of white that start showing up in a painting even after you’ve you think you’ve covered the whole thing. You know, yeah, pop out at you. So when you’re using acrylic, as an under painting, you have to put acrylic on acrylic, you can’t put acrylic on oil, is that right? That’s correct, right. So it’s okay to put oil on top of acrylic. But if you have oil under acrylic, the acrylic
Shelby Keefe 20:52
it doesn’t want to stick. Yeah. So I always use a universal primed canvas that will take acrylic paint. I don’t start On an oil prime canvas and I use such a thin, thin almost like a stain of acrylic on there so it’s not like a really fat plasticky surface. So even so, I imagined in 500 years maybe my paintings will fall off the canvas I don’t know. I’m hoping they don’t and you know I won’t be around to be sued or anything but
Eric Rhoads 21:23
I don’t know you know, with your your grandmother’s jeans. Oh boy, you never know. Well, you know, there’s a story about odd nerdrum and odd nerdrum painted. He used acrylic house paint as his under painting. And these would sit in the apartments of New York over the radiators. And then they the paintings just slid off. So
Shelby Keefe 21:49
Eric Rhoads 21:50
to be sensitive to
Shelby Keefe 21:51
so we won’t be using really thick acrylic.
Eric Rhoads 21:54
Oh, you know, I use real thick acrylic now that reason and you want something with some tooth in it. So doesn’t slide off. Okay, well we got way off track anyway. So going back to the I want to just kind of finish up a little the history and then we’ll get into some other things. So you’re raising these kids. You were painting always painting on the side even when you were doing graphics. But when did you make the transition to being a person who is able to maybe take a step out make a living as a fine art painter?
Shelby Keefe 22:38
Well, it it was gradual, like I said, and I was self employed, graphic designer, so I already had some business acumen, you know, I knew how to deal with clients and ask for the money, you know, as I build them. So I had I had corporate art consultants. Find my work when I was hanging in those little shows. So I’ve hung. I’ve hung in group shows, I’ve hung in cafes, and you know, when you’re young and you’re getting started, you just get your work out in front of people. Right? Very important. It happened that I had the right people get in front of my paintings. And then I was asked to do custom work for corporations. So it was probably in the early, early, mid 90s. And starting starting the late 90s when I was getting a lot of work like that was getting jobs,
Eric Rhoads 23:37
these local corporations, yes, people in Milwaukee. So they wanted the paintings for what
Shelby Keefe 23:44
their board room or a lobby area and I was, by that time specializing in painting urban landscape, in other words, Milwaukee paintings, and everybody loves to see their hometown of Milwaukee and So that was getting the attention of certain corporate art representatives who were like, Hey, I got somebody who could I bet this company would really like, you know, and so that that ball started rolling. And that’s a hit or miss ball. I mean, it happens in fits and starts, you know, you, I can get a ton of work doing that, and then nothing. But at a certain point in I would say about 2003 I got a really big gig at a country club, where I was asked to paint 18 paintings, three of which were three by five feet. And, and the rest of them were 18 by 24, all of ozaukee County, which is a neighboring county near Milwaukee, and that was big money for me. And I was also doing my graphic design business and I was like, okay, that’s really cool. I think I’m making more money doing paintings this year than doing graphics. And so I kept getting more Great jobs like that. And then right around, I would have to say a couple years after that. I was also teaching workshops, by the way, that was part of it was starting to be asked to teach workshops. So that was part of the income part as well as an artist. But at a certain point the graphic design world was getting into making if you want to be successful graphic designer, you had to be able to make websites, you had to be able to do moving graphics animations and stuff like that. And I was still kind of, you know, I could do stuff on the computer, but I’m like, do I want to spend time learning how to do HTML language in front of a screen, and I decided instead of doing that, I am going to invest my time in myself and pursue being a fine artist. And I just that was taking the leap. Basically, I it got to the point where I was making more money being a fine artist than a graphic designer. I was losing My graphic designer clients, because they were bringing their graphic design jobs in house because everybody could do their own newsletters now. So that happened and
and then I started doing more art fairs. That’s the other part of it.
Eric Rhoads 26:16
So I think that
I think you did it, right. I mean, I don’t know that there’s a right or wrong, but in my art marketing courses, I teach about the transition, you know, so you transition out of one into the other. And when the money crosses, you wait till you’ve got some security, you know, you’ve you, you wait till it’s happened a few times, so that you go, this is not an anomaly. And then you can by the time you’re making more money on this side than the other one can completely go away. If it’s more complicated than that, but
Shelby Keefe 26:52
but that’s actually what that’s like a graphic, you’ve just kind of put a picture on it. Yeah.
Eric Rhoads 26:56
So what what was the turning point when you knew That you were good enough. That’s our heads kind of get in our way sometimes.
Shelby Keefe 27:06
Well, I don’t know, if there’s a turning point with that, in particular, it was more about Do I have the fortitude to do this? Not so much. Am I good enough to make this work? But do I have the guts to do it? Because, you know, having these two boys that, you know, raising pretty much, you know, by myself, I mean, they have a dad too, but pretty much they’re with me most of the time, and I have to go to school with them and make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to do. And, I mean, there was a lot of distracting very, very good reasons to be distracted from making artwork being a mom and all. But I had to decide that I could do this thing and that I have the faith. Basically, I’ve That what I’m doing, which is my passion, when I’m doing that, that gives me joy. And that feeds my family is going to keep bringing, it’s going to keep coming to me. And I guess the examples of that working, were coming in on a somewhat regular basis.
Eric Rhoads 28:17
Well, and you really at that point, once you kind of pulled the trigger on the other business, you had no choice but to make it work.
Shelby Keefe 28:24
Yes. Although I could have gone out back out and done graphic design, but I didn’t want to. Yeah, and then it wasn’t me. I mean, there were definitely you know, doing art fairs that put some regular income in their local art. No, I that’s when I bought a van in 1995. I started doing the art fairs before I went completely solo on the on the fine art. And I started doing art fairs out of Milwaukee because I figured I need to have a bigger audience. Right. So I’ve done the Cherry Creek one. I’ve done one in Miami, I did some, you know, in the Midwest and stuff like that. So
Eric Rhoads 29:05
how did you do art fairs when you had two boys at home?
Shelby Keefe 29:09
Mom, will you come and babysit? Or they went with their dad, you know, I mean, it was definitely a doable thing. But my mom definitely came in, helped me out a few times.
Eric Rhoads 29:20
So what was the biggest lesson you learned from doing art fairs?
Shelby Keefe 29:25
Wow, keeping a positive attitude, because that’s a grueling one way to go. It’s can be really grueling. It can be awesome. And you can just sell a lot and make a lot of money on a weekend. But it can also be one of those things where you’re standing around waiting for somebody to buy something, and they all have nice things to say. And just keeping that voice inside your head from going cynical. That’s a tough one, you know, and you know, and it’s funny because after a while, then I decided you know what, I don’t need to do art fairs anymore. So I graduated from that to in the last few years, so I’m not doing our fears anymore, either.
Eric Rhoads 30:06
So what do you think was the after the art fair? point? What was the biggest turning point in your career? Can you identify a moment when everything really changed?
Shelby Keefe 30:21
Wow, well, I think I think it you know, it’s not a huge like, momentous occasion. Again, I have to say it was a gradual, but there are definitely peaks and spikes. So I think getting the award for your magazine salon award in 2013 was really great. That really boosted my image in in the world of artists. More people came to know what, who I was as an artist. So I went from being pretty much successful in my little local area. Very successful in Milwaukee, and then getting some success a little bit outside there, too. Like, I’m going to these conventions because I need to meet some artists, I need to meet some people around, I need, I need to expand. And so I went to the first one, and you know, and then I’ve entered those contests. And then the second one, I go and I find out, I get the award. I’m like, wow, I mean, that’s a whole nother story all by itself.
Eric Rhoads 31:28
But let’s talk about it. Because I think it’s really fascinating. Because you went from being I think, in your words, you went from being a a local artist, to becoming a nationally known nationally recognized artist. Because of that one thing.
Shelby Keefe 31:46
Yeah. I think because of
making my decision to spend the money to go and be with a bunch of other artists and starting to now I knew some of them before because I’ve been I had started doing the planning competitions, the one indoor county in particular, because that’s in the neck of my neck of the woods. So I knew like Mark Hanson and just a bunch of other really great people. So when I went to the first convention, I actually recognize a new some, but I’m like, I need to know, more people. Why was that important to you?
Eric Rhoads 32:20
Shelby Keefe 32:21
I just was ready for the next step. I wanted to do more travel. And I wanted to make new friends and just see how the other guys are doing it. You know, how are these? How are these painters who are up on the stage? How are they doing it? You know, what, what makes them tick? What How did they get where they’re at? And I can do that too, by golly. So. So you know, and when, when you opened up the competition, I’m like, Well, okay, I’m gonna take a chance on this. You know, I know that as an artist, you enter a lot of things and I know that you don’t always win. And you didn’t just keep putting it out there putting it out there putting it out there and I had absolutely no idea you know when I got the final getting to be a finalist was shocked number one you know when they the finalists of the BI monthly thing so that was totally shocking
Eric Rhoads 33:17
what I think is interesting about it though is it gives you It gives you outside validation
Shelby Keefe 33:22
yes yeah thank you. I’m sometimes I’m too close to it. I don’t even see what it is that I’m trying to say. And that’s what it is. And I keep trying to be not letting ego be the motivator for things but you can’t help it we all got an ego. So some part of me wants to get more in front of people and share. So I want to be up there on the stage and share because I just I love to share and and I love watching other people share what they do, because we all have something a little unique and So, I don’t know. It just seemed like a fun thing to go out there and do that. And I’m really glad I did.
Eric Rhoads 34:05
Yeah. Well, you put yourself out there. Yeah. You said to your I don’t know if you mentally said this to yourself, but when you when you entered the salon, you put yourself out there you said, I’m gonna see how I measure up against other people. And then you ended up winning it. What was it like? So here you are, you’re in the audience. You’re you’re surrounded by people who you probably think are better than you. What was it like to have your name called?
Shelby Keefe 34:35
Well, you want the honest answer. Yeah. Well, I was to do a performance art piece on the demo stage. And I didn’t have my big Canvas for that which was supposed to happen that afternoon, so I had to go to an art supply store. So I was out getting my canvas and then I had to eat some breakfast. So I went to the McDonald’s drive thru and I got a call from one of my art friends. You have to get down here. You want it Like what? What?
Eric Rhoads 35:11
You’re even sitting in the audience.
Shelby Keefe 35:13
I wasn’t in the audience. I was like, I was like, no, yeah. And then another person texted me too and said this, you have to get down here. Now get down here now like, and then you know, I of course, this is in Monterrey and I’m not that familiar with the turf there. So I was like, I don’t know if I can drive back without getting in an accident. This is scary. How do I get back? How do I get back? Uh, you know, I did get back in one piece. And then of course, I come running in jumping up and down and I think I don’t remember who who corral me and, and, you know, the rest is history. Yeah, I was mortified that I wasn’t there though. I mean, I was like, oh, of all times for me to not be there. But
Eric Rhoads 35:58
so you probably didn’t even believe you were gonna win it.
Shelby Keefe 36:02
No, not at all. I didn’t know because if I would have like gone Okay, so chances are I better make sure I’m just
Eric Rhoads 36:13
so what I think is curious is that you knew that the salon was being there were people entering the salon who had national reputations who were good painters. Why even bother entering? When you know what you’re up against?
Shelby Keefe 36:34
Well, all I can say is, it can’t hurt to try. And at the time, I thought, well, why do I think my work is any less good than somebody else? And why would I think that a judge over here was totally different taste buds than a judge over here who has other kind of taste buds and qualifications and and what he, he or she considers to be good Why wouldn’t I work in that pool? Why can’t I jump in the pool with the rest of the guys in the girls? So that’s kind of how I look at it. And you know what, it’s only money and it’s money well spent, when you enter shows and stuff like that, and it’s also tax deductible. I’ve learned that through the years as a self employed person, all that stuff’s tax deductible.
Eric Rhoads 37:20
Well, you ended up on the cover of a national magazine
what happened that
Shelby Keefe 37:29
well, you know, I got phone calls from a couple different galleries and eventually even got on the cover of another magazine.
Eric Rhoads 37:40
There are no other magazines but
Shelby Keefe 37:42
you know, I won’t name
but I mean, I think because it was so visible, you know, and, and, and, and I just think you guys are so good at reminding people at how great this is that there were out there that my face Just show up that one month, I was holding that check all over the place. So, anyway, it was it was great exposure and so many artists, more artists wanted to take my classes. So I had, you know, more workshop attendees. More More people asking me to teach as well. So it was it was a nice boost. Definitely.
Eric Rhoads 38:27
So tell me what happened after that. In terms of your career you’ve been you’ve been doing teaching you’ve been you’re in more galleries. It seems like you’re you’ve become very very successful.
Shelby Keefe 38:43
Well, I think what what’s been happening is I’m I’m, I’m continuing to ride that wave of being asked to do really great planner invitationals and, and juried ones, obviously Those are juried. But the invitationals have a special panache and being able to go to those has been great which, which puts me in front of an audience of other another caliber of artists to that I’ve been able to rub elbows with. I have made some great friends that I never thought I would. And I also feel like I have a place I can go and travel and stay anywhere in the United States. I don’t know why I ever bought a timeshare. What a waste of money. Because now I can stay for free, probably all over the country. But so, so basically, and my career is still going good in Milwaukee. I still have work in Milwaukee too. I still have companies wanting my paintings and patrons, you know, in my local area. So it’s, I just feel like my world is more expanded now.
Eric Rhoads 39:53
Well, you’re an overnight success in Milwaukee, right. So you’ve you’ve been painting now for many, many, many Many years, probably a couple of decades. I don’t know how long that that span a period is but when you invest, get involved in that community that people get to know you, that just snowballs and you’ve got that momentum. And you’re smart because you now have two strategies, you have a local strategy which you’ve continued, and you have a national strategy, which allows you to get out into a different marketplace. Get out into the plein air world work the events and so on. And that way if, if one heaven forbid, falls for some reason, at least you’ve got something else to fall back on.
Shelby Keefe 40:39
Yes. And and My dream is to be that traveler, you know, I mean, I’m already living the dream. But to just I think, you know, people ask me about retirement. You know, what’s that? Because I’ll be painting as long as I can lift a paintbrush, but my retirement when that is will be. I will then choose what I want to paint and not paint what some but what I think somebody else wants me to paint. So there’s a it’s a, it’s a balance there too, as as a professional painter, you paint you, I’m painting to make a living, but it’s also my passion. So when I have a commission, I may not necessarily choose to paint that particular building, because I’d really rather paint something really rusty and crusty over here. But when I retire, that means I’ll have enough confidence and enough wherewithal and a plan to not have to take on even the commission work, which is still painting
Eric Rhoads 41:43
or to be able to say, I’ll choose which ones I want to take. Because yes,
I don’t want to paint that. That new, nice shiny building. I want to paint that this cell take on this commission, getting that crusty old building
Shelby Keefe 41:58
Yes, yes. choice. It’s all about choice.
Eric Rhoads 42:02
So looking back now, what have been other than what we’ve discussed any particular highlights in your career?
Shelby Keefe 42:13
Well, I’m still working on that.
You know, there’s been so many good things that’s happened to me. I’ve had a couple of different great studio showrooms in Milwaukee that have, I’ve had wonderful times and and I’ve, I’ve, I’ve had great events in those studios and hosted, you know, multimedia things and stuff like that. So those were highlights in my life being able to do that and now I just have a small condo and a little, little studio in my condo which is lovely because I can just lock and leave and and travel all around the country perfect for your lifestyle, perfect for my life. style. So, you know, it’s funny that I can’t come up with any anything besides getting that award. And, and getting that magazine cover over there and being invited to different shows being a part of museum shows. I mean, a cowgirl up show coming up. That’s pretty impressive and exciting to me. They’re these wonderful, light field events that continue to come my way. And maybe Tonight, I’ll go Oh, that was the highlight I should have thought of. But but but definitely winning an award was huge on the stage planner, the planner salon award, and hopefully there’ll be more fun things like that. Of course there will.
Eric Rhoads 43:45
Yeah. So I love the fact that you’re kind of an architectural painter, you know, a lot of us are drawn to the landscape. The landscape for you is the urban scene and the architecture. Do you ever do landscape paintings Mostly just architecture.
Shelby Keefe 44:03
I do, I do landscape paintings. And I love being outside. And I love being in the fresh air and hearing the bugs and not feeling the bugs. But I love being outside paying the landscape, but I’m just more happy when I can hang some paint on the side of a building. There’s something about the solidity of a building, and and the perspective that’s involved, and the detail that’s involved with that. But more than anything, it’s it’s the compositional possibilities when you paint a building. So I like to think of a painting as being successful if it would work as a strong abstract. So buildings are definite shapes. And so I like to do unexpected compositions with those shapes of a building. And I love what light does when it hits buildings. So Guess that’s what gets me most excited is being able to portray, catch a building in a dramatic situation lighting wise or something like that.
Eric Rhoads 45:09
I personally find buildings very hard to pay. I love to paint buildings, I love to paint architecture, but they always look too stiff or too perfect or something. As a matter of fact, I’m struggling with a painting right now of a building that it’s driving me nuts because there’s something wrong with it. Is there anything you can share with us that you’ve kind of discovered that might be helpful to kind of make architecture makes sense for all of us?
Shelby Keefe 45:40
Well, you know, if you have a basic knowledge of one in one point, perspective, two point perspective or whatever vanishing points, you don’t have to have have it so well in green that you can draw a perfect rendering on your canvas. But if you have the idea, and you know If there’s a point way over there where these lines have to converge, you can start telling your brain and your eye to work together because sometimes one or the other, they kind of fight a little bit. And slight angles are even harder to do than those severe angles because you’re not sure what you’re seeing. So, I suggest to people who are wanting to do architecture but want to keep it simple to do a straight on one, don’t put perspect do something straight on, make it a design, nice shape and make that fit in the canvas and an interesting composition and start from there and make those windows smaller than they look. Always make those windows a little smaller. For some reason. It’s just a more compelling thing if you have a little window or if there’s a bunch of Windows make them a little smaller. I mean there’s little tips like that that I share with my with my students but but buildings can also be as as rough and free as you know if So I like to say, the looser you are, the more you can get away with. So, if you’re a loose painter and you’re just banging it out, bam, bam, bam, and the whole thing is loose. You can get away with a lot of mistakes in a problem.
Eric Rhoads 47:18
That’s terrific. Well, you you were like a kid in a candy store when we went to Cuba. Oh, yes. Because the buildings You didn’t have to add patina. They had them already.
Shelby Keefe 47:27
Yeah, that was that was the dream come true. I have more materials from the photos I took. I have more painting subjects waiting for me to do I could I want to go back. Don’t get me wrong, but I could spend a lifetime painting doing paintings from that trip just from the photos I got.
Eric Rhoads 47:43
So talk to us about photos versus painting in person. Oh, what are your thoughts on that?
Shelby Keefe 47:49
there there’s a lot of information out there that says that you can’t make a good painting from A photograph that a photograph is too flat, it’s you don’t get any color differential differentiation. It’s too static, all of this stuff. And I understand that. But I also think that if you have a good imagination and an ability to see beyond what you’re just seeing in a photograph, that you can make that photograph into a really terrific painting, and having plein air Painting Experience has made me a better painter of photographs. So I recommend people if they want to make good paintings from photographs, you still need to go outside and paint from life.
Eric Rhoads 48:40
So could you articulate that a little bit? Or? I certainly know what you’re talking about, but I think they need to hear it from you. Why is it important? What is it that you cannot see in a photograph that you will see when you’re planning your painting?
Shelby Keefe 48:56
The biggest example I can give is distance. When you About Well, since I do buildings a lot, we’ll just say that I’ve got a building a barn in the foreground. And then in the background, there’s this line of woods back there. In a photograph, that line of woods is probably going to be almost if not the same darkness as the trees there up front, in the dark areas that are closer to you. So photo tends to just generalize that and it sees it kind of forces a high contrast. So when I’m out there in the field painting, I can see a lot more atmosphere, I can see much more subtlety and distance. I can see more color in that distance. And so I know that when I bring my painting to the studio, when I start painting from a photo in the studio, I don’t have to be a slave to that photograph. I can push that distance back with my blues and purples and lighten it up. So it doesn’t have to be exactly like what the photo looks like. That’s, that’s probably the best example for
Eric Rhoads 50:02
how you can fix photos lie. Shadows are always darker than they actually appear in life. somebody thinks about
Shelby Keefe 50:10
lots of things. And there’s lots of ways to exaggerate color that you sort of see in a photograph, I’m really good at picking out something I think I’m seeing in that photograph. Although if you held it back here, you wouldn’t see anything but white. So if I see a teeny hint of purple, I’m going to play that up. And that’s, that’s how now I’ve been doing probably more paintings from photographs in my early career than the now now it’s about half and half. But in my early career, I was solely painting from photographs. And they were bright, colorful paintings. You know, they didn’t look just like if they didn’t look like a photo at all, actually, but I was a little crazier, too. I left a lot more under painting showing and so when we all grow, we all grew up a little bit in our techniques.
Eric Rhoads 50:56
So talk to me about growth because I think that’s something thing that you have exhibited. You don’t let any grass grow under your feet, you’re always out there trying to learn more. Tell me more about that why that’s important.
Shelby Keefe 51:09
Well, I always think that there that we’re never done. We’re never finished learning. And I always want to get better. I always want to be a better painter. And so I’ve taken classes from from other artists have taken from Gil Carver from some other folks too, and I will continue to go toward people that motivate me. So having done that, even taking classes from people like Jill Carver, I’ve learned to be a better teacher as well, because they are great teachers. And so I think that my painting has improved as my communication skills to communication skills in all realms paint the paint is your communication skill, and how you talk about what you’re doing while you’re painting, that’s also a skill. And I just think now I’m learning that by upping my game by just looking at artists work, just looking at the beauty and the thickness of the paint in the in the brushstrokes and all that I’m upping my game by feeding myself. These paintings continually feeding what I’m seeing and going now I wonder if I can just, you know, just be a little better at doing this thing, you know, say more with less. So I’m gonna keep trying.
Eric Rhoads 52:40
So one thing we haven’t talked about is your music. You went on stage at the plein air convention and you were challenged to paint a very large Canvas in a very short amount of time. And you put on this amazing music and you said you can post it yourself. So you’re connected. Music on top of composing paintings.
Shelby Keefe 53:03
Yes, you know, I’ve been a visual artist, but I’ve also been a musician ever since high school ever since a kid, I guess. And there was something missing in my life. Even though I was having a great time being a painter, I missed music. And I know I’ll never be a soloist of any kind. You know, I love singing, but I love playing an instrument, but the solo thing just wasn’t going to happen. But I also love beats. So through the years, I’ve gone to raves and done some fun, funky things, you know, listen to that really great electronic music. And I realized that I can actually make that stuff because there’s software on a Mac that allows you to make stuff so I think it was in 2008. I sat down and taught myself how to do make music using GarageBand. And so I make what I called sound collage. Because you know, they weren’t wasn’t actually playing those instruments, I was taking bits and pieces like collage, art visual clashers, too, and make a composition. So it’s a composition but it’s an audio composition. So I was doing that from from probably like 2008 until, you know, pretty much the present and I get so much enjoyment out of that. And I was doing these performance art paintings now for it’s been about dozen years when I’ve been doing those. And I had been using a segment of music from an existing DJ strong five songs together and I thought, why am I using somebody else’s music for that? I’m going to make a piece that I can use to do in my own little show. And so that was that’s what you heard and saw.
Eric Rhoads 54:45
Well, it’s very good.
Shelby Keefe 54:47
Thank you. It’s a lot of fun. It’s I’m getting back into it. I kind of took a hiatus sir for a while because you know, you can’t do everything. And now I’m getting back into doing more compositions that are me actually playing the piano. And then building a song off of that. So, yes,
Eric Rhoads 55:03
well, you’ve done a beautiful job so far and I’m very impressed with what’s happened in your career, and I’m very impressed with your work. And I really appreciate you taking the time today to talk to us.
Shelby Keefe 55:14
Thank you very much, Eric. It’s been my pleasure.
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