Amanda Houston finds inspiration in rural surroundings
Making the decision to take a creative leap from Nike — where she had been working for eight years as the company’s innovation director for apparel — wasn’t all that difficult for Amanda Houston.
About 10 years ago, Houston realized she was starting to lose interest in her work at Nike and wanted to pursue something fresh.
“I took some painting classes at PCC (Portland Community College),” Houston said. “I always liked drawing. I was thinking, ‘Oh, I’d like to be an artist when I retire.’”
Yet rather than taking some time away from Nike and then returning to the corporate world, after Houston started painting she realized she didn’t want to turn back.
“It started as a part-time hobby, but it turned out the hobby was making money, so then I started doing a show a month, and then five shows a month,” she explained Monday as she worked on a painting in her second-floor studio south of Hillsboro, surrounded on all sides by rolling vineyards and shimmering wheat fields.
Last week, Houston was honored when one of her pastels, titled “Quintessential Eve,” was selected by Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey to represent the city’s Public Art Program. The annual program is in its third year, and Houston’s artwork has now been chosen two out of the three years.
“When we made the first public art purchase for the mayor’s gift in 2012, our selection was ‘Jackson Bottom Mist’ by Amanda Houston,” Willey said while honoring Houston during the June 3 city council meeting. “Prints of this painting have been given to our colleagues in Japan, and I have used note cards of her painting to write to many of our citizens.”
Houston said “Quintessential Eve” was inspired by the vistas and sunsets west of the Jackson Bottom Wetland area between Hillsboro and Cornelius.
“Hillsboro is such a wonderful place to live,” Houston said. “I wanted to capture the beauty of our area.”
Willey said Houston clearly accomplished her objective.
“We felt Amanda’s painting captured the beautiful light and sky that we love. We feel it will bring a beautiful impression of Hillsboro to our friends both at home and abroad,” Willey said.
Houston seems to have tapped into something with the Jackson Bottom theme.
“The painting that was chosen two years ago was called ‘Jackson Bottom Mist,’” Houston said. “It also was a pastel painting. I produced framed reproductions for all the mayors in Japan, as well as notecards for gifts. I think our wetlands speak to a lot of people.”
Willey told Houston her work was special.
“Obviously I love your work, because this is the second time I’ve chosen it,” he said.
Houston said she was gratified at the recognition from the city’s art program.
“I was shocked to be chosen again,” Houston said. “When public art opportunities come up, they are coveted projects because they give the chosen artist so much exposure. So it is a real honor to have been chosen a second time.”
Houston said her mother, Barbara D. Houston, may have provided her with an artistic spark that took many years to burst into life.
“My mother was an artist when I was growing up. I’d see her whip these off, and I figured I could do that,” Houston recalled. “She painted landscapes in oil as a hobby, but she was really good when I was in second grade through fourth grade, living in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, East Africa. I remember watching her work through pieces, but didn’t really ever think I would paint full-time. Strange how seeds get planted early on.”
Houston, who moved from Portland, Maine, to Oregon about 15 years ago to take the job with Nike, said most of her paintings reflect her vision of the landscapes around her.
“I wanted to really experience this part of Oregon when I moved here to work for Nike,” she said. “The Willamette Valley is known for the pinot noir wine and world class blueberries and strawberries. So, I am amidst all these amazing farmers, and I see the rolling vistas and all the farming activity outside my windows daily.”
The views from Houston’s glassy, well-lit studio provides an almost endless amount of subject material.
“I’ve been painting lots of vineyards and trees, and lately sky scenes,” she said. “Mostly impressionistic landscapes and birds — no portraits of people and no cityscapes. Not that I couldn’t paint them, but I want to paint what I’m inspired by.”
Houston said she is continuing to allow her passion for artistic expression to flow in new directions.
“This year I taught an after-school drawing class for Farmington View Elementary in the Hillsboro School District, which was a lot of fun,” she said. “As an artist today, you really have to slice the income pie in many ways; more than just the traditional gallery sales and commission work. I’m working with wineries and interior designers and publishing fine art posters, and I’m about to embark on teaching art workshops.”
Houston participates in about 10 to 12 art shows or festivals a year, and she likes to have between 30 and 40 framed pieces ready to go for each one, so the creative work keeps her on task in the studio.
“I’m goal-driven. I set up a number of shows and paint for those,” she said. “I print and frame roughly 100 paintings a year. To master something, I truly believe you can read as many art books and visit as many galleries as you want, but to become better you have to put in the time at the easel. Like with anything in life, you have to do the work.”
Houston’s work is currently being displayed locally at Valley Art Gallery in Forest Grove, as well as on the walls of the new Kaiser Permanente Westside Medical Center in Hillsboro.
By DOUG BURKHARDT
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