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Painter Stephanie Birdsall

Author: Roberta Landman
Issue: February, 2013, Page 152
Photo by Wilson Graham

Stephanie Birdsall (above) creates oil paintings and other works in pastels in her studio. She paints outside, too, in Arizona and Vermont, where she is a member of the prestigious Putney Painters.

Stephanie Birdsall Paints the Essence of Beauty

With pots of flowers set beneath it, a huge wooden easel displayed outside painter Stephanie Birdsall’s Tucson home studio seems an artist’s study. When she bought the paint-encrusted relic, she was told that it might have belonged to Picasso. Whether or not that is so does not matter, she implies with a smile and a shrug. For her, there is character in its rusticity and a certain beauty as well.

Truth is, the award-winning artist sees beauty all around her—from a lemon or onion caught in rays of light, to the shapes of flower petals, to the ever-changing shadows on the Santa Catalina Mountains, which she sees from her backyard. “I think almost everything is beautiful, and sometimes the simplicity of things is exactly what makes them so beautiful,” she comments. “And that is what I work to express.”

Birdsall renders the images that captivate her, mostly in oils and, at times, pastels, evoking a mood many have called romantic. “People say that a lot, and also that my paintings have an Old World feel,” notes the artist. “But I don’t start out to do that.” Rather, she explains, “Certain things call out to me and say ‘paint me’—flowers and landscapes, for example, and I love the way light falls over them.” Interesting shapes are important to her, and she has to care a great deal about her subject matter as well, she adds.

A fan of plein-air painting, Birdsall travels to various parts of the country to create outdoor scenes. At her Arizona home, her inspiration comes from desert plants, the rolling landscape and the mountains. “I am so in love with my view—the color of the trees, the harmony of nature, the sun breaking on the clouds and mountains. It is almost too beautiful to paint,” she reflects. “I look at that, and I totally believe in God.”

Still Life of Oranges, oil, 16"H x 20"W
Birdsall sets up still-life compositions in her large studio, which was converted from a three-car garage. An expansive window brings in northern light—perfect for painting; it also frames a glorious mountain view, she says. Shelves of a tall 18th-century cabinet are brimming with props she has used in her works, including copper, pewter and pottery wares, and blue-and-white porcelain. But these take a secondary role, she stresses.

The stars of these endeavors are always based on “living things,” such as the Meyer lemons from “an amazing” backyard tree; onions and garlic with fascinating skins and shapes; flowers ranging from pansies to nasturtiums to the hydrangeas she once brought over from California. Even the chickens she used to raise and a friend’s rooster became subjects for her art. Remembering when she got into a cage with that impressive rooster, she relates: “Big Red would come and stand and model for me. He was so vain.”

Having begun her studies in the U.S., Birdsall, an Atlanta native, received classical art training at England’s City and Guilds of London Art School. Over the years, she has raised a family and garnered national and international acclaim for her paintings. She does not have a specific label for her artistic style. If she did, it “probably” would be somewhere between Impressionist and Realist, but it is definitely not a Photographic-realism.

“I would like my viewers to have a sense of what I am painting,” she remarks. “I’d like them to not only see the flowers, but also feel as if they could touch and smell them, or feel the ambience of the desert at dusk.”

And if such a thing were possible, she would love to paint the “smell of the desert after it rains.”

Photos - From left: Morning Tea, pastel, 15"H x 17"W. • Castle Mouane Sartou, pastel, 12"H x 12"W.

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