62 Nancy Boren

"Sometimes finding all the elements for a painting is like a visual treasure hunt."

Nancy Boren is a delightful, award-winning painter from The Colony, Texas. She paints sun-filled portraits of cowboys and girls, farmers, clowns, horses, as well as beautiful plein air landscape sketches. Nancy is a member of the American Impressionist Society, Oil Painters of America, Women American Artists, and the Portrait Society of America. She exhibits and wins regularly each year in international competitions held by these and other organizations. Nancy has also been featured in numerous magazines, such as Western Art Collector, Southwest Art, and Art of the West.

'Aloft on the Dandy'

Nancy is the daughter of well-known western painter James Boren, who was president and secretary for the Cowboy Artists of America association, as well as the first art director for the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. Nancy was born in Anchorage Alaska, and raised in Denver, until around age ten, when she and her family moved first to Oklahoma City and then Clifton, Texas where she graduated from high school. She started painting age 12, when her father took her to the Grand Canyon. Nancy earned her BFA at Abilene Christian University in Texas, and, so far as I know, has lived in Texas ever since. 

'The Flying Circus Hits Laramie'

Nancy began as a watercolorist, like her father, but switched to oils, which are her main medium. She explains in this interview with John Pototschnik on his website (2016), "In college at Abilene Christian we never did an oil, only acrylics in the painting classes and I found I didn’t like acrylics at all. I later started painting in oils, I don’t even remember how that came about, I just did it."

'Happy Hour'

Nancy's paintings are brilliant, fresh and original, even as they approach figures and subjects that have become standard repertoire in western realist art.She makes them her own, and brings them to life through her exploration of plein air colors and effects, combined with her fluid, gestural brushwork.

'The Crow's Nest'

When asked about art, she defines it as (Pototschnik, 2016):

"Art is a creation that must contain beauty. Not necessarily beauty in the subject, but in the presentation and execution of the idea. John P. Weiss says that people long for beauty and creative expression. They want to be moved, inspired and shown the hopefulness of art and I agree with that."

She says her art is about ". . . sharing an honest delight in the world and the hope that my slice of life will resonate with someone else out there."

'Cimarron Solstice'

She also discusses her father's influence on her art (Pototschnik, 2016):

"He was a huge influence. I grew up seeing him happy, productive and successful. Like him, I also enjoy doing art in a traditional vein and have been familiar with wide open spaces and western subjects all my life. Of course I also paint more exotic figures from time to time."

She adds, "I didn’t want to do the same subjects as my father, but I was in the same galleries so it was a bit perplexing as to how to establish my own identity. I just went at it one painting at a time, but I liked cowgirls — I lived in Texas for goodness’ sake — and so I finally started doing them because that was a western subject my dad never did. Costumes and hats appeal to me in figurative work so it was a perfect fit."

'Echoes Along the Slipstream'

Nancy's lists Sargent, Sorolla, and Fechin on her website as other influences. Her main sources of inspiration come from costumes and things she finds. She quote Edison (Pototschnik, 2016): 

"'To be an inventor you need an imagination and a pile of junk.' My junk pile is composed of colors, shapes, outfits, people, weather, animals, stories, and props. I love treasure hunting on back roads, antique stores, on walks with my dog…everywhere. One fascinating object can give me a painting idea."

She also says, "Many times I think in terms of silhouettes. An interesting silhouette like a windmill always grabs my attention."

'Thunder on the Brazos'

Nancy admits to working from photos, saying (Pototschnik, 2016), "I do paint from life and attend figure painting sessions but most of the paintings I put in shows are done based on photographs. Some would just be impossible for me to do otherwise — especially people on windmills or figures jumping."

'Slipstream Sonata'

She describes her painting process as follows (Pototschnik, 2016):

"I pretty much start the same way no matter what color scheme, size, or location.  I draw with thinned oil paint  (often a transparent color like olive green or a mix with transparent oxide brown) to get all the big shapes in place, sometimes on a toned canvas, sometimes not. Then I use more thinned paint to get the darks and colors suggested before beginning to paint with thicker pigment. Lots of times I start with the focal point, but sometimes I work around it. I would say it is the approximate trial and error system. I can’t completely finish one area with white canvas surrounding it before going on to finish another area; that just does not work for me."

'Star Shower'

Regarding composition, she says, "I doubt I always adhere to any guidelines. I do try to stick with odd numbers of things instead of even and I try to use repetition. I try to have only 3 or 4 big areas of value."

'Passion for Plein Air'

Nancy Boren was gracious to answer some questions about her life and art, so here follows our interview:

1. I haven’t read much about your childhood and family. If it’s not too personal, do you have any brothers and sisters? Was your mother also an artist? Did you travel a lot?

"I have one brother who is not interested in the visual arts although he has writing talent. My mother was not an artist, she helped my father by keeping the books and typing all his letters and consignment sheets to galleries (no computers in those days.) She did make things though and taught me how to sew clothes. She also knitted, so both my parents enjoyed creating objects of different kinds. On family vacations we always traveled out west (from Denver, Oklahoma City and Texas) so that my dad could look for painting material (landscape, barns, ranches, etc.) My mom’s family lived in California so we went there every other year or so and drove to Alaska in 1977. As an adult I have been fortunate to be able to go to Tahiti, Morocco, India and Europe (several times)."

'Princess Zazu and Pip'

2. What was some of the best advice your father gave you regarding your art?

"He always emphasized the basics like composition, value, and making an object look correct with proportions, etc."

'A Man and His Orchard'

3. Cimarron Solstice is a gorgeous piece. I’m curious if you could talk about the picture, if it was an idea of your own making, or if you captured a moment at a fair or something? And do you plan to make any more paintings of dancers? Also, with Echoes Along the ‘Slipstream’ and ‘Thunder on the Brazos’ – these aren’t merely portraits, these feel like storybook illustrations. I love them and I hope you’re planning more works along this vein?

"Cimarron Solstice — The Back Story (I wrote this for something previously)

"The idea for Cimarron Solstice grew directly out of a previous painting, Thunder on the Brazos. I painted a girl jumping for the first time in it, using primarily blue and yellow. I wanted to explore the idea again, but in a different color scheme and with a different feeling. The same model posed for both; she lives down the street from me. Being a ballet dancer and a willowy young person, she is very graceful and has lots of practice at jumping. I live near a golf course and knew that a certain tee box was right on the lake and faced west so late in the afternoon there would be lots of warm light, as well as a soft area of grass for my model to jump barefoot in.

"I take inspiration from John Singer Sargent (don’t we all?!) and his perseverance and dedication to his vision as he worked on Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose. Not that mine was a plein air piece because it was not, but he art directed practically every aspect of that painting: the girls’ dresses, their hair color, the lanterns, the lilies (he sent dozens to the mother to pot up for him for the second summer he would work on it), the time of day. If he could try that hard, surely, I can try to make my much simpler vision come to pass. I knew I wanted a very warm pinkish, sheer fabric for the dress so I found the closest thing I could and made the outfit. I considered several different props for her to hold to add a bit of narrative and whimsy and finally decided on transparent balloons since they would add interesting shapes but would not add another color, which I would have to accommodate. I also liked the extra feeling of floating and airiness they provided.

"The title can be so very crucial. I wanted something that suggested warmth and sunshine and when I finally thought of the summer solstice I liked that. The painting was going to a gallery in Colorado and so I used Cimarron, a place name that occurs in several states including Colorado and that conjures up the far west and just gives me a good feeling.

"I like paintings that have a narrative quality and have a bit of mystery. Yes, I hope to do more of this type of work. Paintings that have a bit of a narrative appeal to me, so I often tend to go in that direction."

'Texas Cowboy'

4. What do you worry about when you compose a picture? What are some common mistakes or pitfalls you try to avoid?

"I try to not divide the space in half."

'Four Corners Cowboy'

5. I read that you pre-mix titanium and zinc white. Why? Is it to make it semi-transparent?

"At times I do that or I use a brand that utilizes a mix or I use straight Titanium. Titanium is a more opaque white than Zinc and is great for highlights. There is lots of info on the differences of white oil paints online."

'Cowgirl of the Southern Plains'

6. Regarding composition, you said you try to stick to odd numbers? Could you talk about that some more? I’ve never heard of that, but I did hear of Winslow Homer’s habit of pairing figures, like in his work ‘Snap the Whip’:

"It is a general rule of thumb that compositions are more pleasing with an odd number of objects rather than an even number, although every rule can be broken. So I would tend to do a painting with one figure instead of two, three large trees instead of four, etc. The most helpful bit of advice came from a college professor of mine. He said make all four corners of your painting different (value, division of the area, size of shapes) and you will probably have an interesting composition. Balanced but not symmetrical."

'Tucumcari Cowgirl'

7. How has your work been received by critics? I mean, I know there are magazines dedicated to western realist art, but have you ever felt put down or held back by snobbery?

"No I haven’t. I do subjects besides western themes and there are competitions that I do not enter western paintings because I’m not sure how they will be received. I am not in the art world of New York where critics’ reviews count for a lot so I have not had to contend with that."

'Sing Your Song'

8. Are there any post modern/conceptual artists you really admire?

"I spend my energy on realistic / impressionistic art, but a couple of pieces that have caught my eye in the past that really stayed with me are 'Handwritten Dreams' by Leslie Allen

'Creating Dreams (Handwritten Dreams Project)', by Leslie Allen, 2017

and Mass (Colder Darker Matter) by Cornelia Parker."

'Mass (Colder Darker Matter)', by Cornelia Parker

'Mamma Mia'

9. What advice do you have for art students? What common mistakes do you see?

"If a person is serious about becoming a competent realistic painter, read and study the books by Richard Schmid, especially Alla Prima: Everything I know about Painting. Common mistakes of adult students I have encountered are an unwillingness to be flexible and to try doing something a different way."

'Old Timer'

10.  What do you think art education programs should focus more on?

"Since I am not familiar with the common curriculum of public school art classes I really can’t speak to that. In general, though I think an exposure to multiple media is good—sculpture, ceramics, drawing, painting, printmaking. A student doesn’t know if something will strike a chord with her if she has never tried it."

'Red Vest'

11.  How do you see the future for realistic figurative painting?

"I think it is very rosy. There has been a resurgence in the last 20 years of atelier type intensive art schools with an emphasis on realism. There are magazines, conferences and national groups focused on promoting those ideals."

'Free Rein'

12.  If you could own any one artwork, what would you choose?

"So many choices! But I couldn’t go wrong with 'Russian Singer with Fan' by Nicolai Fechin."

'The Singer, E.I. Khatayeva', by Fechin

'Don't Make Me Look Fat'

13.  When I made my list I was surprised to find so many figurative and portrait painters. I hadn't set out to do that, I just found these kinds of works most powerful and moving. I realized, in literature we take it for granted a book will be about people, but in art we don't. But, it's hard to react on an emotional level to such an extent without the drama of characters posing, looking, and acting. I worry if I've been too exclusionary or narrow in my selection process and I'm curious how you and other artists on the list feel about this. So, basically, what do you think makes an artwork great?

"My answer would be mastery of technique and painting a well-constructed figure along with large dose of originality. Doing it in a way no one has before and being so clear and so decisive that a new viewer is utterly convinced when they look at the painting.  There are very fabulous landscape paintings that I also love by the Russian artist Levitan and the New Mexico painters Victor Higgins and E. Martin Hennings."

'Summer Holiday'

14.  What do you tell someone who thinks that art doesn’t matter?

"We are surrounded by art everyday – the atmosphere in a movie or TV show, the design of a sports car, etc. Finding things of beauty in the world is a great treasure. But not every person is going to be interested in paintings or music, but it is their loss if they don’t at least learn a little about them."

'Grandad's Garden'

'Oodles and Oodles of Pears'

'Paper Lights'

'Promise Not to Tell'

'Evening Star'

'Hoof Beats at Twilight'

'Camp at Coyote Bluff'

'Misty Evening, Venice'

'Tools of the Trade'