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Romancing the Cactus

Author: Roberta Landman
Issue: February, 2009, Page 83
Watercolor artist Jeanne Bonine, pictured in her home studio, creates luxuriantly colored works that bring a romantic quality to prickly desert flora.

Photography by Brandon Sullivan
Painter Jeanne Bonine did not coin the slogan “Say It With Flowers.” But to many, her richly hued and outsize watercolor blooms speak of soothing moments and peaceful times.

The award-winning north Scottsdale artist does indeed “say it” with flowers, for she accompanies her paintings with words of poetry or prose—original and inspirational thoughts she pens as the twin muses of art and writing strike her.

A love of art came early to the self-taught painter, sustaining her in both joyous and difficult times. Exploring the written word was an added dimension that came later, in 1994, after breast cancer nearly took her life. The native Minnesotan moved to Arizona that same year.

Bonine approached her illness with the determination and imagination she had used to pursue an art career. As an example, while undergoing chemotherapy after her mastectomy, the then-50-year-old visualized the chemicals “being transformed into ‘holy water,’ dissolving away my cancer cells and replacing them with purified life.”

While she talks with ease about cancer and how it changed her painting style—from compositions rendered with pastel tones to works emblazoned with intense primary hues—Bonine worries that her speaking openly about the disease might be misconstrued. She says, “I don’t want people to think that I’m using that to get ahead.” The fact is she had a well-established art career before becoming ill.

Element of Surprise, 27 1/2" x 32"

Life would take twists and turns before she would become the artist she is now, one whose works are in private and corporate collections across the country. After graduating from high school in St. Paul, Minnesota, Bonine worked in fields unrelated to art. Beyond what she studied in high school, her art education consisted of an oil painting class she took at age 20—her one and only art course, she notes. Over the years, while married and raising two sons, she perfected her techniques, became a professional artist—selling her oil paintings at outdoor art festivals—and won awards. Later, as a single parent of teenagers, and in mid-career, she decided to change her medium to watercolor, a brave move that she says came with no guarantees that she could earn a living.

Crediting her parents with instilling in her a sense of confidence, the admitted risk-taker set about making a steady income happen. She remembers a pivotal moment: She had been working on a piece depicting a swan and told her mother that it “turned out really great”—good enough to have it printed so that she could sell it in wider distribution. To her own amazement and that of others, she was able to talk a printer into waiting for a hefty fee with the promise that she would pay it back in two months. She did.

The edition of 550 pieces, her first, sold out in Minnesota galleries and outdoor art festivals, and Bonine was on her way. Today, rather than the photolithography of several earlier ventures, she reproduces her own limited-edition giclées. An artist has more time to paint originals when steady earnings are coming in from the high-quality reproductions, she has found.

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