Bringing scenes to life in oil

Sunday, September 3, 2017
Brenda Gregory poses with some of her oil paintings at the Antiques, Art & Collectibles Mall on the square.
T-G Photo by Jason Reynolds

The next time Brenda Gregory looks at a flower or a country scene, it may end up on the end of her paint brush.

Like a budding flower unfolding its petals at the dawn of a new day, Gregory has been painting a path to artistic talent over the past two years.

She retired from the telecom industry three years ago after 41 years. The Shelbyville native worked for AT&T/BellSouth for 30 years, in management, and for France Telecom, working from home as a sales operation manager. Gregory moved back to Shelbyville from Nashville to live near her sister, Debbie Crosslin of Bell Buckle. Gregory had followed in the family footsteps as their father worked for a phone company while they lived in Daytona Beach, Florida, growing up.

Gregory said she had a life-long fascination with painting, having "fiddled" with art growing up. She previously only did "cutesy" acrylics, more like cartoons. She believes she inherited her gift from her aunt, Bettie Gregory Carney, who worked in portraitures and impressionistic landscapes. Gregory said she, however, prefers "crisp and clear, not fuzzy."

However, two years ago, a friend showed her an oil painting she had bought. The artist was a favorite of Gregory's: Gary Jenkins, who was featured on PBS in the 1970s. They flew to his studio in Sedona, Arizona, for a private workshop.

Later, Gregory said she began studying under Middle Tennessee artist Larry Vaden, who also studied under Jenkins. Vaden has workshops in the Nashville area and in Monterey, where he serves on the local art council.

The new artist does a "setting" either once a week or every other week at Vaden's Nashville shop, where he teaches techniques like composition and mixing color. Actually, he is known for his mixtures, she said, which may dry in as soon as two days versus a couple of months. She often sees something that catches her eye and emails it to Vaden to get his opinion.

"He has a great eye, a great technique," she said.

She only does her painting at Vaden's place because her home is not set up for painting, she said. Not only is she messy, but for oil painting, one needs good ventilation and proper outdoor storage for the solvents, which are combustible.

It normally takes four to six hours over two sittings to finish a piece, she said. It's advantageous to work in limited sittings because stepping away from a work in progress gives her perspective. One painting of quails taking flight took four sittings because of the detail.

Her two years' worth of paintings were stacking up at home, with about 50 pieces, until recently. She decided she had to start thinking with her head, not her heart, about holding on to them. She has done a few commissioned pieces, but does not enjoy it as much as the pieces she simply creates from whatever catches her eye.

"I look at something and like it," she said. "Something has to speak to me to enjoy painting it."

She prefers inanimate objects like flowers or rural scenes, but has begun branching out to paint some people, including a portrait of she and her sister as children on the beach -- set from behind, since faces are more difficult. She also created a detailed image of Santa Claus -- his face took a mixture of 15 colors.

Gregory's work is at Antiques, Art & Collectibles Mall and The Coffee Break. Her last two pieces that sold went for $450 and $500, although her works currently at the mall are priced between $300 and $600.

She will be the featured artist for November and December at The Fly Arts Center, which she called "very flattering."

Gregory also enjoys bowling in the senior league -- she captured three gold medals at the Senior Olympics in Columbia in August. She is a member of the Butler's Creek FCE Club and the Pioneers, a telecom retirees group. She attends Blankenship United Methodist Church and is active with its United Methodist Women. She's also involved with Bedford County Arts Council.

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