This story was featured in the August 2017 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art August 2017 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.
Pastel painter Amanda Houston dances along the line between realism and abstraction, between her left brain and her right brain. On one side, her portraits of birds on copper plates include each species’ distinct markings and fine details that are lauded by birders across the country. On the other side, her landscapes show a looser hand and a fondness for vibrant, golden-hour colors. “I find I am inspired by the edges of our day, the morning and evening lights that cast shadows and give me that peaceful feeling,” Houston says.
After a long career in the corporate arena, Houston settled down to begin her family. She took local painting classes and began painting full time after retiring from her job at age 40. In her creative process, she finds a balance between the analytical and emotional. “Most realist painters are painting with the left side of the brain, so it’s very comfortable,” she says. “To stop analyzing and thinking and to just let it flow becomes a daily exercise for me.” Houston says she believes her lifelong journey is to loosen up her work.
Houston finds endless inspiration in the backdrop of everyday life. “It can be the most mundane road in the middle of nowhere, and the light can hit it just right and it’s beautiful,” she says. Houston’s work can be seen at Scott Milo Gallery, Anacortes, WA; American Art Company, Tacoma, WA; Clearwater Gallery, Sisters, OR; Cole Gallery, Edmonds, WA; Valley Art Gallery, Forest Grove, OR; Attic Gallery, Camas, WA; and www.amandahouston.com. —Mackenzie McCreary
In addition to working with galleries and private residential clients, I also work in commercial spaces through Art Curators, Art Brokers, Interior Designs or through my own design consulting practice. My work is primarily in the hospitality industry including hospitals, clinics, assisted living complexes and hotels.
I am currently working on a 4 year project outfitting 68 glorious rooms at the European styled Hotel Bellwether Lighthouse and Grill in Bellingham, WA.
Recent images of the finished suites:
Sister’s County Fair 2016
Best Pastel for “Evening Gathering”
2016 Willamette Valley Lavender Festival, Newberg OR
Plein Air Competition
2nd Place Winner in Professional Category
Northwest Pastel Society International Show 2016, Tacoma, WA
The Northwest Pastel Society 30th International Exhibition
Winner of Juror’s Award for Vinyasa Flowing Tree
Northwest Pastel Society 29th Members Show 2015, Tacoma, WA
Winner of Director’s Award
Northwest Plein Air Competition 2015
2nd Place Winner in Landscape Category
Regional Arts Commission Award in Public Art 2015
Two time winner of City Hillsboro Public Art Purchase
Sausalito Art Festival 2014
1st Place winner of Drawing Category
Northwest Pastel Society Member’s Show
Best of Show
This week we are interviewing Amanda Houston in our continuing series on our gallery artists. We hope that as you get to know the artists, their art pieces will take on an additional dimension for you. By Cole Gallery
Q: When did you start painting?
A: While I never painted fine art until I was 39, I have a degree in Apparel Design and Textile Design, so drawing isn’t new. I found in those roles in the corporate world I was drawing and creating less and less. It wasn’t until I took a voluntary severance from Nike (my last corporate job) that I started to take a pastel class and an oil painting class. In both classes, I sold pieces to fellow students, which made me wonder if I should not wait till I was 65 to start. So I started a family and started to paint at the same time.
Q: What are your favorite mediums to work with?
A: While I paint in oil, my love and my first choice of any medium is pastel. It is the perfect combination of drawing and painting at the same time and I love the speed, the forgiveness and the ease of putting it down and picking it back up again a month later that oils don’t give me. While I long to paint in oil more, the majority of my work is still in pastel.
Q: What do you want people to get from viewing your work.
A: I think most people find my work to be peaceful and calming in an uplifting, motivating way. My pieces tend to capture the stillness with energy and life.
Q: Where do you get your inspiration?
A: I don’t have to go far for inspiration. I live amongst farmers in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, amidst rolling hills of vineyards and farmland and near lots of wetlands. I am fortunate that I don’t need to leave my property to find inspiration. As a landscape artist drawn by the beauty that surrounds me, I savor the days when the light seems magical, often at the edges of our day, at sunrise and sunset in the turn of seasons when the fog and mist make an ordinary turn in the road felt mystical.
Q: What artists are you inspired by?
A: The contemporary artists I am inspired by would have to include many local Oregon artists such as Richard McKinley, Marla Baggetta, Ramona Youngquist. Other contemporary painters that inspire me include Brent Cottonwood, Nancy Bush, Elizabeth Ganji. As for the masters, the French and Californian impressionists are among my favorites.
Q: What is a recent work that you have produced?
A: I have to say I am onto something with my pastel paintings on copper because I can hardly keep up with the demand. I wanted to innovate in the medium and try pastel on metal and I wanted to create a “sustainable” collection that would meet a new price point need in the recession. They are fresh and contemporary in the way I frame them, I recycle the copper from metal yard scraps and most retail for under $400. I also enjoyed painting the large bright wetland in oil.
Q: What else do you do besides create art?
A: I find art comes into my life in waves and stages. When I’m prepping for a show, I put my blinders on and the dishes pile up. And then I get back to “the rest of my life,” which is so full even without the art. My husband and I have been remodeling an old historic hunting lodge on a 30 acre farm just 40 minutes west of Portland amidst farmers and vineyards where we raise grass fed beef and farm fresh eggs with a lovable black lab and two newly acquired black kittens. We also are remodeling a vacation home in the San Juans and for the past 3 years, construction has been the focus of our DIY lifestyle.
When I’m not sketching out a new room or designing a new bathroom (we have 7 we are doing!) I love being outside. I’m an avid gardener and from April through November, I have my hands in the dirt either tending and harvesting our vegetable garden our one of my ongoing perennial gardens.
I love to cycle (almost as much a painting) and am fortunate to go out my back door to world class rolling hills or endless countryside. As an old competitive triathlete, I will always make time daily to get some exercise, either on the saddle, in the pool or at a yoga studio.
I love to cook and entertain but what comes before anything else is my growing family that keeps me busy with sports, music or lego-roboitcs and lots of after school volunteer activities.
I’m also on the board at a local gallery trying to make a difference. I help my husband market our commercial and residential development business in Portland and do some business consulting on the side. Needless to say, we wouldn’t watch TV even if we had cable.
Q: How do you think Cole Gallery differs from other galleries?
A: Denise is what every artist wants in a gallery director: someone who goes the extra mile to plan, market, and sell our art. Someone who doesn’t just have a monthly show, but pulls out all the stops to have a monthly “event” with catered food, live music and a raffle. She’s classy but not pretentious. She advertises in local and national media and is savvy with all her online marketing. Most of all, she’s present, involved with all her artists, is a wonderful communicator. It has been an honor to be represented by her.
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2014 Northwest Pastel Society Award Winner
Northwest Pastel Society was created to promote, encourage and foster creative pastel painting. It was established to promote and encourage pastel artists in their artistic growth and success, to promote instructive activities and exhibiting opportunities for the benefit of pastel artists, to promote a fellowship of pastel artists and to also raise public awareness about pastels.
A few words from the artist…
“Not a week after the Sausalito Art Festival win I heard I won Best of Show at the NWPS Annual Members Show with this loose more abstracted piece.”
Mayor Jerry Willey has selected a pastel painting by Amanda Houston for this year’s entry into the City of Hillsboro Public Art Collection.
“Quintessential Eve,” inspired by vistas and sunsets west of Jackson Bottom Wetlands between Hillsboro and Cornelius, was selected from 40 submissions, according to a Public Art Program news release. The call for submissions asked for artwork representative of the city’s landscape, views or landmarks.
The selection is now on display at Hillsboro Civic Center’s auditorium.
Houston’s work was selected once before: In 2012, the Public Art Program’s first year, said Cultural Arts Program Supervisor Melissa Moore. The piece, titled “Jackson Bottom Mist,” was also pastel, and created in plein air. Sandra Pearce’s work was showcased in 2013.
“As an artist today, you really have to slice the income pie in many ways,” Houston said in the news release. “When public art opportunities come up they are coveted projects because they give the chosen artists so much exposure, so it was really an honor to have been chosen a second time.”
Houston grew up in Africa and Saudi Arabia, and now lives in Cornelius, according to the release. She made the career switch to painting, which allowed her to spend more time with her husband and children than other jobs she’d held, a few years before “Jackson Bottom Mist.” Her previous jobs included an apparel designer and director for global apparel businesses.
Now, Houston has work featured at seven art galleries in Oregon and Washington. She participates in art festivals and has been juried in two national shows over the past three years, according to the release. She also shows at two wineries, works with interior designers to create commissions for clients, and sometimes teaches drawing classes.
A selection committee reviews submissions and makes recommendations, but ultimately the selection is the mayor’s decision, Moore said. Willey will present limited edition prints to business leaders and dignitaries from around the world, while the original painting will display at the civic center until next year’s winner takes its place.
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A few years ago, Amanda Houston escaped the world of big corporations and began dabbling in the world of pastel painting.
That dabbling has turned into a full-fledged career as an artist. She’s represented in seven galleries in Oregon and Washington, participates in many art shows and prestigious West Coast festivals each year, has her work displayed in hospitals and offices, and is producing a new line of fine art posters destined for sale in big-box stores across the country.
“I’m still juggling,” said Houston, 46, in her studio aerie on a hill just south of Cornelius. Painting, she said, gives her time to be there for her husband and two elementary school-aged sons, to help with her husband’s business, to remodel yet another house, learn Spanish, travel and teach. She also designs websites and consults with Oregon wineries — when she has a few spare minutes.
“I’m not a daily painter,” she said. “I wish I was. But I am prolific.”
With shows pending, Houston keeps track of her work on her studio whiteboard and often works late into the night to meet deadlines. She had five shows in November alone and must complete 40 paintings by June 1. “I paint for a particular show or event,” she explained.
Houston’s “Jackson Bottom Mist” was the first work chosen for the city of Hillsboro’s Public Art Collection.The pastel painting was created outdoors, en plein air, overlooking Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve.
Hillsboro public arts
“The contest was right in my backyard,” Houston said of the public art competition. “I had to submit something.”
Friends advised her to submit a view of the rolling hills surrounding Hillsboro, so she did, but the judges passed over that in favor of the Jackson Bottom scene.
The work has already been archivally copied and framed, and was presented by Mayor Jerry Willey on a recent economic development visit to Fukuroi, Japan, Hillsboro’s sister city.
“I’m always drawn to the moment when the light is most dramatic, often at the edges of our days, and how the relationships of color, composition and texture within each scene speak of a calmer, simpler place in my life,” Houston said.
The artist mats and frames each work to her own demanding specifications and recently took up painting her soft, signature artwork on recycled copper, marveling in its warm glow through the pastel medium.
“I’ve never lacked for inspiration,” said Houston, who once worked as an apparel designer and director for global apparel businesses. She occasionally hosts up to 25 students in her spacious studio, with its wide views of the Cascades and the Coast Range, as well as the farms and fields of Washington County’s rural spaces.
“I can’t complain,” she said. “I do my own work on my own time and can spend time with my kids. I couldn’t do that with a job in a corporation.”
— JoAnn Boatwright
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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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