Right from the start, Claire Howard’s bent was apparent. “I was the child who loved decorating the classroom bulletin boards, volunteered to paint the play backdrops, and wanted to decorate just about anything I could find and make it pretty,” the oil painter, now 62, recalled.
Her family encouraged her. Early on, Howard said, “I saw the beauty of the mountains, skies and seasons through my dad’s eyes … My grandmother spent many happy hours sketching with me.”
Although other pursuits and responsibilities – including careers in nursing and interior design as well as parenting – distracted her somewhat from her core passion, Howard’s day off of choice consisted of a bus or train ride to New York City or Philadelphia. In their art museums, she “spent hours trying to memorize the paintings, and then experimenting on canvas,” and admiring the “vibrant use of color and subject matter” of favorite Impressionists like Mary Cassatt, Claude Monet and Frederick Childe Hassam. While raising her four children, she attended night classes in art and design at University of Maryland.
When Howard and her husband Frank relocated their family from Potomac to a Victorian farmhouse in rural Maryland 14 years ago, Howard came back to the basics. “We had a dream-come-true move to our small farm [Lindenwood] in Poolesville,” she said. “With the property came a converted chicken coop that made a fabulous, light-filled studio, a place where I could paint the beautiful Agricultural Reserve I so loved.”
Howard described Poolesville as “a charming small town that is a mixture of Mayberry and Bedford Falls.” For 12 years, she has found fellowship in the foothills of Sugarloaf Mountain as an artist member of the Countryside Artisans, and shows and sells her paintings, prints, Giclées and cards during the group’s self-guided studio tours. The Gallery at Sterling and Burke in Georgetown, and All About Art on Bald Head Island, N.C., also represent her work.
For the blossoming of her artistic skills, Howard credited “the geographical elevation [that] presents breathtaking skies in every colorful season. I became devoted to capturing on canvas the amazing vistas of its rural back roads and farms.” She planted flowers to embellish the existing natural scenery, and the resulting gardens as well as the farm’s animals, restored historic bank barn and outbuildings often figure prominently in her paintings.
Howard developed a unique method to express her distinctive “creative blend of Impressionism and realism.” “I began exclusively using only one palette knife to convey the landscape’s textures, and have refined this technique over the years to include the beautiful cloud formations and making it almost indistinguishable from brushwork,” she said.
Painting from photographs rather than en plein air is Howard’s choice. “[I] intentionally prefer capturing what moved me to stop and photograph a certain place at that time. I am usually driving or walking when my eye will catch a particular light, and it catches me by surprise. I have learned to stop right at that moment and photograph it because it will never look quite that way again,” she explained. “There is no going back another day.”
Inspiration determines the paintings’ names. “I title all my work to describe the feeling I had in my heart when I saw it. My seascapes and landscapes reflect what drew me to that place. It is always that feeling and emotion I wish to hold onto and share,” she said.
Howard’s love of art has infused the lives of her children and grandchildren, who, she said, “love art history, architecture and photography. They grew up with paints on the kitchen table, an easel in the kitchen corner.” She is paying her passion forward to her viewers as well.
See Howard’s work at the Rehoboth Art League Outdoor Show on Aug. 6, 7, 13 and 14.