How did you get started and then develop your career?
Heather Arenas: As many artists say, I’ve been painting and drawing since I could hold a pencil. However, having an interest and making a living are very different. I worked in several different fields to pay the bills for many years. When I was about to turn forty, I realized that my opportunity to be a professional artist was ticking away. Since I didn’t go to art school, I decided to study all that I could on my own and really learn to paint. My husband and I owned an IT company at that time and I started cutting back my hours gradually and replacing them with time painting.
I was painting from life 3 or 4 days a week either with a live model or plein air painting. I was very fortunate to live in the Denver area at the time where there were so many professional artists willing to get together for paint outs. I learned so much from some of the greats in this business just by painting side by side with them. I feel like I learned more that way than I ever could have in art school.
When I started to have success with sales and gallery representation, I was finally able to ‘ditch the day job’ and paint full time. I don’t plein air paint much anymore because I get more satisfaction out of developing concepts in my studio. I feel the paintings I’m doing now are much more difficult because I’m painting a story rather than just copying what I see. I’m happy when I’m finished, and I feel I’ve expressed my voice as an artist.
How do you describe success?
Success to me boils down to whether I can get what’s in my brain onto the surface with paint. My experience has been, if I can do that successfully, collectors recognize it and buy the work.
How do you find inspiration?
I love to travel and to people watch. I get excited by a simple gesture or interaction in a crowd. I’ve been on several trips where my sole intention was to get ‘painting fodder.’ Spain, Scotland, Belize, and Curacao were great sources for crowd scenes. The one trip that has had the most impact though was the trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to see the John Singer Sargent exhibition several years ago. I took a leap with the photos from that trip to go in a more contemporary direction and it has been a game changer for my career. I have been following the series of interior paintings as far as they will take me. I don’t see an end yet though because gestures and expression with paint can tell so many different stories! I feel like these are my ‘Haystacks,’ and like Monet, I’ll use them to learn all that I can.
What is the best thing about being an artist?
The best thing about being an artist is that no one can tell me if I’m doing it right or wrong. I am the only one that knows. I suppose this could also be the worst thing because I’m on my own to decide.
Who do you collect?
I mostly collect work from people that I’ve painted with including Jody Rigsby, Kim English, Dan Beck, Mitch Caster, E. Melinda Morrison, Jessica Wicken, Jane Hunt, Diane Mannion, and Cliff Austin. There are plenty of others that I would like to own but each of these have a memory attached to a time when we really got to know each other. Looking at the paintings keeps them in my thoughts even though we are scattered all over the country now.