“I wish I had a little pet egret,” laughs artist Lori Seals as she talks about some of her favorite subjects. Although she by no means specializes in avian portraiture, she notes, “People love birds; they’re something people never seem to tire of.”
In her work, Lori strives to portray the visual richness provided by southern Louisiana’s vistas, both natural and architectural. Alert readers may remember her from our May-June 2008 cover. We’ve caught up with her since then and learned that as time flew, her art developed—and her daughters Megan, Amanda and Ally are developing into artists in their own ways and into Lori’s most trusted art critics.
“I might paint over work that I’ve spent hours on, adding a layer, changing something. My girls will come home and say, ‘What have you changed? You did something different!’ and it’s usually for the better, I hope. I have three little art critics. They’re definitely honest and tell me what they think.”
This issue’s cover piece, a watercolor of Penn’s Chapel, was shaped in part by the girls’ scrutiny. Her first go at painting this version of the hidden northshore gem wasn’t quite right. “I think I tried too hard the first time. My daughters looked at it, and they immediately knew that. They said it was too detailed, that it wasn’t really my style. So I did it again when I had more time and I was more relaxed. It’s a better painting.”
Lori got her start in art at LSU, where she studied interior design with a minor in art. She worked as a designer for a few years in Houston and New Orleans. “I loved doing quick sketches for the layout for furniture design; I think that’s evident in my artwork. I do a lot of interior shots, and my work has a lot of architectural detail in it—I love to focus on windows.”
But it’s not all buildings and windows for Lori. She’ll paint just about whatever appeals to her visually. Landscapes and scenes from beaches and swamps often catch her eye, as do still-life subjects and animals—just about everything except human portraiture, although she gets asked to do that quite often. “I enjoy doing more of a candid type of portrait. I’ve done a lot with kids walking on the beach or playing and looking down—not so much front-on, formal portraiture.”
She’s also quite good with animals. Her whimsical dog portraits attract attention and garner the occasional commission. A painting of a perky Yorkie hangs in her studio. “That’s my little dog; they seem to come easier than people sometimes,” she says, laughing.
Many of Lori’s paintings start out as photos. “When I took photography at LSU, my instructor would tell us to look for the light. For years, I’ve thought about that—what a difference the lighting quality makes in your paintings and your photographs.” (Paying attention in college pays off.)
There’s a very practical reason she likes photography as a way to gather scenes and subjects to paint. While she admires artists who work en plein air, working in the outdoors to paint the scenes before them, “I don’t do a lot. I think in Louisiana it’s so hot it’s harder for artists to paint outdoors.”
She hasn’t gone all hog-wild, digitally speaking. “My daughter does a lot with Photoshop, but that takes over everything. I like a little enhancement, but re-doing things is a completely different field.” While she keeps up with her full-size camera gear, Lori’s come into the space age and is just as likely to use her iPhone’s camera as anything else when she spots a potential subject.
Once she’s made a photo or found a scene that’s ripe for painting, she has another decision to make—which medium best fits? Just as she’s comfortable with a variety of subjects, Lori often switches from one medium to another, but says, somewhat wistfully, “Sometimes I think I should just pick one medium and stick to it. Then I’d be really awesome!”
Her proficiency working with watercolors, pastels and oils comes from years of experience and learning what works best with the size of the piece and how detailed she wants it to be. “When I see certain things, I picture them as an oil versus a watercolor or a combination. Sometimes I’m more inclined to do oil, because I know it will sell better and it will be easier to display, where pastels and watercolors may be my stronger mediums.”
Some of Lori’s favorite artists, including Edgar Degas and William Turner, are known for working in different mediums as well. She’ll often consult her substantial collection of art books when she’s trying to figure out how to approach a subject, looking to see how Turner or Degas or Andrew Wyeth, another favorite, might have done it. She also considers the Internet a friend. “It’s wonderful; I can see work from galleries and museums all over the world.”
Passing it on
“My newest development is teaching art. I’m teaching every grade at Mary Queen of Peace. It’s very much a challenge, and it’s really quite rewarding,” Lori says. “I have some students who’ve said they’ve never drawn before. When they pick up a pencil, it’s evident they have a talent for it. That’s exciting to see.”
Through teaching art, Lori has developed ideas for her professional art career. In one exercise, she’s had her students draw objects stacked one on top of the other, a concept she translated to a birthday card design for a friend, with all of her favorite things stacked together on the card.
“It really sparks creativity and ideas for me, too. While it does take time away from my painting, it seems to make me more focused on the days I have off from school. I don’t waste time,” Lori notes.
Her students are getting the benefit of Lori’s experience and her own hard-earned personal lessons. “It’s interesting that what I see in teaching the kids is what I struggled with for many years, which is trying to be perfect. It took me many years to free up and draw loosely and relax. That’s what I do with them—try to get them to not be perfect.”
Of course, with teaching kids, it can’t all be serious. Lori tries to have fun with them, exploring a world that never fails to supply subjects to draw and paint. “I do nature studies with the kids. We’ll do little bugs. It’s kind of fun when you think you don’t have anything to paint and you find you really can paint anything and make it magical.”
Lori Seals’ work can be seen at Arabella Fine Gifts & Home Decor, 3902 Hwy. 22 in Mandeville, 727-9787; Welcome Home and garden, 214 Lee Lane in Covington, 893-3933; The Studio Gallery in Grayton Beach, Fla., and lorisealsart.com.Filed under: Cover Artist, Front Page Feature, Homes and Gardens, July-August 2012, St. Tammany Life