“There are ways to create interest in things you pass by every day and don?t even notice. That?s what I try to do in my paintings,” says Carole Doerr Allen, an artist in Stirling, New Jersey. For Allen, simple things like the light hitting a rug as in Forty Winks for Now (at right) or the unique texture of an old barn is the stuff of paintings. “I like to explore fleeting moments or situations and make people notice something they?ve seen before,” she says.
Although she?s been creating art for more than 30 years, Allen only began painting full time two years ago. After student teaching at the Brooklyn Museum during her senior year at Pratt Institute, the artist realized that teaching in an environment where art was treated more like a field trip than a serious course of study wasn?t for her. So she took a variety of jobs after graduation to support the drawing and painting she did on her own time. “It took me 15 years to get brave enough to risk it,” she says of her decision to become a full-time artist. But now that she?s done it, Allen says art?s more than a job. “I feel like I paint 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But the truth is, I may get up at 5 or 6 and immediately start painting. Then at 10, I?ll go for a walk. Then I may find myself on a roll and paint until 2 or 3 in the morning. For me, it?s not a forced kind of a thing. I treat it more as a way of life than a career.”
Whether she?s painting in her studio or in the dining room, Allen starts each painting with a plan. “I lay in the initial shapes on a piece of paper or a gessoed piece of Masonite and then I try to live with that simple drawing for a few weeks because I have a tendency to change my mind many, many times,” she says. As she begins painting in either oil or pastel, her media of choice, she admits that her paintings take on a life of their own. “Sometimes I?ll find things are going my way and I?ll compete something in one evening. Other times I?ll find that my original drawing has no place in the piece as it moves forward, so I have to work over it.”
Like Forty Winks for Now, most of Allen?s work features a dog. With three Portuguese water dogs, a Scottish terrier and a Border collie at home, as well as her frequent visits to dog shows, the artist has plenty of inspiration at her fingertips. But more often than not, she says she?s more concerned with how everything fits together rather than the dogs themselves. And to get the details right, Allen?s always exploring and gathering data for new paintings. In fact, most of her ideas come while she?s driving in her car and something catches her eye. “As much as I invent scenarios, I have to make sure everything is anatomically correct or that the perspective is right. The camera so frequently lies that I find I take little bits of things?photos, sketches, even a clipping from a dog?s coat?to create my paintings,” she says. “Ultimately, I?m a student of life.”
Joanne Moore is managing editor for The Artist’s Magazine.