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Artist starts with the truth

When Ilene Gienger-Stanfield was in the sixth grade in tiny Chiloquin, a new girl in class drew a snazzy picture of Santa’s face. Impressed, she tried to copy it, finding to her surprise she could do it.

That was the first time she remembers getting excited about art.

“It was really cool. I liked it a lot. I can still draw that picture,” she says, smiling.

Today, she has collectible art that hangs in homes, businesses and galleries across the country. But she also inspires other artists with her infectious enthusiasm and mentoring through private lessons, classes, national workshops, and weekly figurative drawing sessions at her country studio near Phoenix.

She would describe herself as mainly a figurative artist.

“I like people.”

After getting hooked on art in grade school, Gienger-Stanfield never looked back. As she grew older, she enjoyed drawing butterflies and caterpillars with fluorescent paint. In high school, she was the girl who made posters for homecoming.

She enrolled in Southern Oregon State College (now Southern Oregon University) and earned an art degree.

After that, life got in the way.

“I met my husband, we had a son, and my art was on the back burner for several years,” she says.

When their son was 9 years old, she had an opportunity to show at a gallery.

“Art felt like an old friend,” she says. “I was sprinting after that.”

Her focus has changed some over the years.

“At first, I used to paint for the money. I would paint what I knew would have a broad audience.”

She says she got caught up in producing a “product,” not art. After more than 20 years of artistic exploration, she now sums up her approach with this simple credo: “Start with truth, then manipulate it.”

There was another change as she evolved as an artist. She says she always has been fascinated with color, but realized something was missing.

“You can get formulaic. ‘Oh, there’s an aquamarine blue sky!’ And you go back to the same mix you’ve used before,” she says.

Now she pays more attention to what she sees, taking more time mixing, and accentuating the color in the process. She’s been featured in several magazine articles, has won numerous national and regional awards for her art, which has attracted a wide following.

Cole Art Studio of Edmonds, Washington, profiled her on its website, describing her art in this way:

“Ilene’s works in both pastel and oil share the same freshness, portraying the mood and personality of ordinary and extraordinary people, figures whose inner essence comes through in a quiet and endearing manner.”

At a recent three-hour figurative drawing session at Gienger-Stanfield’s studio, model Justine Gifford of Medford posed for seven area artists as soft music played in the background.

Three hours is a long time for the model to hold a pose, so artists and model work in 20-minute increments, with five-minute rest breaks in between.

At the end of the session, there were seven very different perspectives on the seven artists’ canvases.

For years, Gienger-Stanfield painted with pastels. After attending a workshop in oils, she began painting with them, as well.

“It’s exciting to make a new discovery in art making,” she says.

Artists interested in participating in the weekly Tuesday sessions or who want information on her workshops can contact Gienger-Stanfield via her website, ilenegienger.com. There, you also can see examples of her art.

She exhibits at Roby King Gallery on Bainbridge Island in Washington and her next workshop will be a three-day figurative seminar in Gig Harbor.

Geinger-Stanfield sums up her experience by saying that the arts are a journey analogous to life.

“In mind and body, what we are in our youth we are no longer in our age,” she says.

But anybody who meets her today undoubtedly sees the exuberance of that sixth-grade girl in the woman who is still excited about her art.

Jim Flint is a retired newspaper editor and publisher living in Ashland.

Ilene Gienger-Stanfield
Photo by Jim Flint Ilene Gienger-Stanfield works alongside her fellow artists while they paint model Justine Gifford in a figurative drawing session.