Meet six painters making flowers come alive with vibrancy and beauty in this two-part artist series.
By Allison Malafronte
It’s hard to imagine a more welcoming sight after a long winter than the first buds on a cherry tree, a bright-yellow daffodil stretching toward the sun, or a magnolia tree flaunting its magnificent shades of magenta and pastel pink. Flowers signal life, rebirth, and the start of spring — they’re also arguably the most beautiful and colorful specimens on earth.
It’s no surprise, then, that flowers are popular subjects among artists. We’ve invited six floral artists working in oil and pastel to share works from their portfolio and why flowers are the ultimate subject for them to paint. In Part 1 below, you’ll discover the work of Monique Chartier, Nancy Balmert, and Barbara Berry. In Part 2, you’ll meet Richard Kochenash, Denise Foster, and Stacy Barter. Painted in realistic detail or abstracted, captured en plein air or in the studio, designed methodically or spontaneously, these floral works each have stories to tell and warmth to share.
About four years ago, oil painter Monique Chartier began focusing on florals almost exclusively. A lawyer by day, Chartier was becoming a professional artist as well, after spending six years taking workshops and fitting painting into every spare moment she could find.
For Chartier, the reason flowers are her principal subject is simple. “They just evoke so much joy,” she says. “Flowers are a delightful gift to our senses, and they also mark significant events in our lives. They are not only important to people but are also essential to our environment.”
This appreciation for nature began during the artist’s youth. “I have wonderful childhood memories of walking around the garden with my father, who loved taking care of the flowers and making our yard look beautiful,” she says. Chartier has a small garden of her own outside her Kansas City home, with rose bushes and annuals. She also shops at local florists and nurseries. Setting up flower studies or still-life arrangements in her studio gives her flexibility around her full-time work schedule.
The Challenge of White Flowers
One of the floral artist’s favorite challenges is painting white flowers, which forces her to search for subtle, hidden colors. Her 2018 painting Azalea and Pothos, below, is a good example, in which Chartier set up a dramatic contrast of light and shadow and then found lovely hints of lavender and pink among the petals. Azalea and Pothos was accepted into several juried exhibitions and won multiple awards. “This was the first painting that saw some traditional success,” she says, “and it was an encouraging sign that I was on the right path.”
Endless Inspiration in Flowers
Chartier doesn’t anticipate exhausting her options on that path any time soon. “There is endless inspiration in capturing the distinctive shapes and textures of flowers and the way light affects them. I think this will keep me busy for quite some time,” she says. To learn more, visit moniquechartier.com.
In 2017, Nancy Balmert realized her goal of becoming a professional painter when she joined her first gallery in Scottsdale, AZ, followed by additional gallery representation in Chelsea, NY. Although Balmert always had an interest in art, in a sense, painting chose her. After having a near-death experience as a young woman and losing much of her memory, Balmert asked her doctor how to improve her cognitive functions. The doctor suggested learning something new. Balmert instinctually decided on painting, and from the moment she picked up a brush, she knew it was the right path.
The subject of florals came naturally to Balmert, as did learning. She credits Texas artist Dalhart Windberg, with whom she studied for more than a decade, with teaching her much of what she knows today. During those years and the ones that followed, Balmert’s days were spent growing stronger through art by covering miles of canvas while falling in love with a profusion of flowers.
Perfecting Soft Edges
What makes Balmert’s colorful, sharply focused florals distinct from others? According to the artist, it’s partly her handling of edges. “That’s usually what jurors mention about my work at award ceremonies,” she says. “Creating soft edges on each petal so the eye flows from one shape to the next is time-intensive and requires specific techniques. I have always admired this quality in old masters’ work, and I think it’s well worth the effort.”
Capturing Movement and Life
In the past several years, Balmert has picked up additional representation and multiple awards while exhibiting her paintings internationally. More important, she’s able to spend every day following her calling and sharing the beauty she creates with others.
“Flowers are just so vibrant and graceful,” the artist enthuses. “It seems like they’re filled with love. I want to capture their movement and life and show others just how lovely each one is.” To learn more, visit nancybalmert.com.
Barbara Berry lives on a small farm in rural Pennsylvania, where a wellspring of floral and pastoral life beckon her outside to paint each season. “Especially at this time of year, when the buds start to open and welcome the warm spring sunlight — there’s just something rapturous about it,” the artist observes. “It’s like every single flower is asking to be celebrated, to have its own portrait.”
Berry’s entré into the fine-art world came after leaving opera, where she spent several years as a professional soprano in Germany. There she met her husband, an orchestra concert master. After having children they returned to the United States and settled in the Philadelphia area. She enrolled her children in art classes at the Wayne Art Center and, shortly thereafter, began taking classes herself.
Following in her mother’s footsteps, Berry learned portrait painting in pastel and also started plein-air painting in oil. Today she creates florals and landscapes in both oil and pastel, with an impressionistic style to capture color and light. She works almost exclusively from life, as “it’s the natural light that brings out the subtleties of each flower.”
Painting All the Daffodils
The floral artist is particularly smitten with daffodils and plans to paint all six varieties on her property before spring’s end. She painted the first from that series, An Offering, below, while sitting beneath a giant 300-year-old oak tree. With her tripod easel on its lowest setting, she had palette knife in hand, face to face with dozens of daffodils. The sight of these flowers in full bloom took her breath away.
It’s an experience that parallels her life as a singer: “Singing is an emotional expression for me, and so is painting,” she says. “In both cases, I’m expressing what is stirring my heart. I hope it stirs the viewer’s heart as well.” To learn more, visit barbaraberryart.com.
Don’t miss Part 2 of this series, where you’ll meet Richard Kochenash, Denise Foster, and Stacy Barter. Each of these artists has a singular take on the world of flowers and the specific challenges and joys of painting them.
All 6 oil and pastel painters as they appear in this series:
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