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Local artist receives international recognition

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Local artist Joanne Simpson, honored and appreciated in Montana and Michigan for more than 30 years, has received her first international recognition by being accepted to exhibit in the 96th annual National Watercolor Society International Exhibition in San Pedro, California, Oct. 22-Dec. 18. After having one of her landscape batik on rice paper paintings “Little Salmon River” accepted for the exhibition, she learned that she also received Signature Status allowing her to include NWS after her name on all watercolor art.

Joanne is one of 95 international watercolor artists selected from approximately 1,000 entries, for the 2016 exhibit. Signature Status, she says, besides being a validation of her work, adds to the prestige of her art. Joanne is one of four Montana artists ever to be selected for the NWS Signature Status.

Joanne attended the exhibition’s Opening Reception in San Pedro during the weekend of Oct. 22, where she viewed the exhibit and connected with other artists. Her watercolor medium, batik on rice paper, is unique and she found that it was a curiosity for many artists. She says that it is a truly humbling experience to be included in an exhibition of such fine work. To attain Signature Status Joanne sent three other paintings of the same genre displaying a consistency in her work.

Joanne, a Montana native, has taught Spanish in public and private schools since earning a master’s degree in 1972 from the University of Montana in Missoula. While working part and full-time she has also taught watercolor classes for 30 years. She remembers that her grandmother painted in oils and an aunt and great-aunt painted in watercolors; and that her grandmother gave her a set of oil paints when she was in junior high. Without lessons she dabbled, painted by numbers and copied artists before getting serious. Around 1980 she began buying artwork and realized that “hey, I can do that.” She and husband, Jim, and three children remained in Missoula for 20 years. She laughs now about her passion to paint while taking painting classes and being eager to get the kids in bed allowing her time to paint, some nights, until 3 a.m.

She and her family moved to Libby for five years, then to Michigan for nine years, before Jim’s retirement and moving to Polson in 1999. At every move the artist community served as a caring family giving her support as an artist, allowing her to grow and develop her artwork; and more importantly, giving her an avenue to sell her work. Selling artwork gave Joanne funds to buy supplies in the early lean years, making room for more work, validating and inspiring her to create. In 1981, her serious move to art began with traditional watercolor and expanded a bit to include paintings on silk for garments, a technique good enough to be used by a fashion designer. Recently, her artwork grew to include several years of creating beaded jewelry, but the watercolor technique using batik on rice paper remains her favorite medium.

Joanne explains the batik watercolor process: a good plan, an initial sketch transferred to rice paper (a soft paper that allows the paint to bleed), application of hot wax to keep an edge on the paper, and several layers of paint, drying and waxing. Joanne then decides whether to add crackle by scrunching up the painting very carefully, smoothing it out and painting into the cracks. This adds texture to the work before the last step which is to place the waxed rice paper between pieces of clear newsprint with newspapers above and below. She then irons the packet until the wax is soaked into the newspaper. At this point the paper becomes translucent, allowing light to glow through the painting.

Joanne’s artwork is a marvel, especially when you know that she suffers from Essential Tremors. In order to paint fine detail, which she loves, her left hand steadies her dominant right hand holding the pencil or paint brush, and she slowly draws fine details and lines. Her mother suffered from tremors and Joanne remembers that her hands began shaking when she was around five years old. She feels strongly that people should never stop doing what they like to do because of physical limitations.

The 96th National Watercolor Society International Exhibit Catalog can be viewed or downloaded by going to nationalwatercolorsociety. org. Joanne’s artwork is currently displayed at the Sandpiper Gallery in Polson, the Red Poppy in Ronan, Reicke’s Bayside Gallery in Bigfork and at Joanne Simpson on Facebook.

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