Seeing the Life

“Figure painting is my natural artistic language,” says Oswego, Illinois, artist Mary Moynihan. “I love people. I love painting them and interacting with them. It?s very exciting to paint from life.”

Trained at the American Academy of Art in Chicago and The Art Institute of Chicago, Moynihan took a 25-year hiatus from her painting to raise a family while her husband was in the military. But when he retired 23 years ago, she began pursuing her passion for art with fervor. “I just started painting and really working at it,” she says. “Now I paint every day.”

Working primarily in pastel but sometimes in oil, Moynihan mostly works on portrait commissions. With a studio in her home, she enjoys painting her favorite subject (people) from life. “I get so revved up and I hope that comes through in the painting,” says Moynihan. “I want people who see my work to get the feeling I had when I was painting the portrait.”


Scout’s Honor (pastel, 26×32) is a 2001 Competition finalist.

The inspiration for Scout’s Honor (at left) hit when her son put on his old Boy Scout uniform shirt. She couldn?t believe he?d saved it after all of these years, so she put a soft light behind him and went to work. Moynihan began with a medium-tone Nu-pastel and then put in the darkest darks and lightest lights. She paid particular attention to the area where the chin meets the shirt. “I wanted to get the facial shadow without giving him a beard, so I had to work a little harder on the values there,” she says.

Although her work tends to be tight, Moynihan says she?s trying to loosen things up. But her style, she insists, isn?t as important as capturing the moment on paper. And to practice, she meets with artist friends who share the cost of hiring a model they paint together every Friday night. “We compare notes and do a lot of discussion on art,” she says. “The camaraderie is wonderful.”

Whether she?s working on a commission, teaching her weekly class, painting with friends or drawing in her sketchbook, Moynihan gets her excitement from drawing and painting live subjects. “I always work from life unless a commission commands otherwise,” she says. “My students love to work from photographs, but I?m desperately trying to persuade them to work from nature. They really don?t know what they?re missing.”

Butch Krieger is a contributing editor for The Artist?s Magazine. He lives in Port Angeles, Washington.

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