Elissa O’Loughlin is in love with color. When she paints a blue sky, there are countless shades of blue, and when she paints daffodils, their leaves are a multitude of greens, yellow, grays and earthy pinks. Her paintings are on view at Adkins Arboretum’s Visitor’s Center through May 28. A reception to meet the artist will be held on Saturday, April 24 from 3 to 5 p.m.
O’Loughlin paints small, exquisite landscapes and plant studies in gouache, an opaque watercolor medium especially suited to subtle color effects.
The show’s title, Notes & Essays—Eastern Shore Paintings, comes from the varied approaches evident in O’Loughlin’s paintings. Some, such as “Nor’easter #1” with its ominous sky swept with quick brushstrokes, are the “notes,” simply and swiftly painted to capture a fleeting moment. The “essays” are more detailed scenes portraying specific places.
In “Scarlet Clover at Moore’s Farm,” huge clouds billow in a deep blue sky above a house and barns. The buildings shelter against the deep greens of summer trees, where sunbeams highlight a row of cedars edging a sliver of red—a field of brilliant crimson clover.
O’Loughlin earned a BFA from Moore College of Art in Philadelphia, where she studied with the well-known landscape painter and teacher Ranulph Bye, but she put painting largely on hold to work in conservation. She has been a paper conservator since 1986 and has worked for Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum for the past decade.
Having daily contact with the works in the Walters collection has kept her mindful of the nuances of color that make the paintings of the Old Masters so rich and vibrant. Through her work as a conservator, she learned to make her own paints by grinding raw pigments.
“Mixing colors has always thrilled me,” she said. “And I’ve taught this in adult education classes at the Walters. The class is called ‘Make your Own Watercolors.’”
Most artists take the simple route, purchasing the standard colors available from paint manufacturers, but O’Loughlin finds commercially available paints too limiting.
“You’re trapping yourself in someone else’s color sense,” she explained. “Instead of looking like my art was all painted with one brand, I start with my own colors. It’s not what you get in a paint box. Now I have five different ultramarines and seven whites.”
Multiple shades of blue, from milky pale hues through cerulean, cobalt and Prussian, mingle with delicate light grays, pale pinks and near lavenders in the sky behind the rolling storm clouds in “Cloud Study #1.”
This is a show that’s full of the low-lying landscape and strong weather so characteristic of the Eastern Shore. Many of O’Loughlin’s scenes are painted close to her home in Galestown.
“I go out and drive, and I see paintings,” she said. “‘Nor’easter’ was really during the nor’easter we had last fall. I just sat in the car and watched it.”
O’Loughlin does her best to remember the particular colors she sees during storms and bursts of sunlight so that she can capture them in the studio. These moments of drama and subtlety are what bring her paintings alive.
“I enjoy the challenge of painting the Eastern Shore,” she explained. “And there’s a great plein-air tradition here that I’d like to think I’m part of.”