Artist Profile: Watercolor Artist Mary Skow
Watercolor artist Mary Skow didn’t always think of herself as an artist. She taught art and even served as the resident artist at St. Thomas Episcopal School for several years, but still, she says, “I’d shy away from calling myself an artist. For the longest time, I held back. I think a lot of women do that; it can be hard to put ourselves out there.”
‘Yes, do that.’
Over the course of several decades, she took painting lessons, practiced, and enjoyed sharing her art with friends and family members. Somewhere along the way, she says, “I could feel God saying, ‘Yes, do that. Go for it.”
The joy that shines through as she shares her work today makes it clear that she took that encouragement to heart. I recently attended an art show opening featuring Mary’s work at The Village Café in Downtown Bryan, Texas. As she talked that evening about the transparency and movement of watercolors, I felt her passion. And as I walked around the space looking at her paintings, I felt so much emotion from the different scenes—heartbreak, love, peace, and whimsy.
When we spoke a few days later in her home studio, I got to see more of her work—some of it from her first serious attempts at her craft. Those paintings, as lovely as they are, show progress over time, something that students surely find encouraging. They also reveal the formation of her unique style as an artist—a development that comes only with practice.
A Teacher at Heart—and Art
In finding the confidence to accept and own the gift of being an artist, she also discovered that she has the ability to encourage others to explore their creative side. That instilling of confidence in others has been a life theme for Mary. As a schoolteacher, tutor, and later Head of School at St. Thomas, she spent years working with children, helping them find or regain the confidence they needed so they could believe in their ability to learn.
She is still teaching, but the subject matter and her students have changed. In 2014, after surviving breast cancer, she says, “I got a little more serious about painting and discovered it was a wonderful peaceful thing—a lovely activity.”
It was also an activity she could share with others. Mary enjoys painting with and teaching people of all ages and loves to help them discover their ability to create. She has shared her gift as a guest speaker/art teacher in a number of venues. At a Pink Alliance gathering, for example, the women painted a sunrise aptly titled “A New Day.” She has painted with friends in the hospital and with a regular group of older students at a local assisted-living community. Mary also invites people to paint with her one on one in her home.
‘It’s okay to start again.’
Whether she’s teaching from the front of the room or sitting beside a student, they draw and paint together. She provides the very best paints and paper—something she learned from a teacher very early on. “Miss Lindsey taught me the basics, and she taught me to use the best.”
When she tells her students they are using artist quality paper and brushes and that there is no better paint they could use, they tend to sit a little taller in the chair. The point of using the best, of course, is that the colors, strong and rich, won’t fade over time. The message she wants to relay to her students is the importance of valuing not only the materials but themselves.
At the same time, she lets them know, “It’s okay to start again. Not every painting has to be perfect.” She admits that plenty of her paintings have ended up in the trash.
Stroke after stroke, the page fills with colors—and the occasional drip. Those drips can be discouraging, but she says, “I’ve learned to let the drips be a part of the painting, and just go with it.”
When students get frustrated, she offers suggestions and different techniques to fix problem areas. With her heart to encourage, she points out what’s working, noting that sometimes people just need to hear someone tell them that it’s not all bad. And at the end of the session, when her students step back and look at what they’ve created, she says, “Every time, they are amazed at how good they are.”
The Art of Slowing Down and Noticing Beauty
As we talked, I related so much to Mary. As a photographer, I, too, love capturing and sharing beautiful or interesting details.
Whether it’s the light glittering on leaves in the afternoon sun, the weathered hands of a crafter weaving a basket, or the petals of a flower, she notices the details. “Painting slows me down. It has helped me see things more closely,” she says.
As she pauses to appreciate the beauty in God’s world, she finds a sense of peace. “With life—everything—so crazy, like the way our world is right now, I have some peace. And painting is part of that.”
Mary Skow’s art will be on display at The Village Café through September 12, 2021.
You can find her online at Facebook.com/Mary-Skow-Art-Studio.