A Conversation with Ann Smith

Get to know this year's Festival Artwork artist!

We’re incredibly excited to reveal this year’s commissioned Festival Artwork by local artist Ann Smith!

Ann is a local watercolor artist best known for her beautiful and expressive large-scale watercolors. Exhibited regionally and nationally, Ann’s award-winning paintings are passionately created and have been featured in numerous publications.

Read on to get to know more about Ann, her background, and where the inspiration for this year’s piece came from.

How long have you been in Durango and how did you end up here?

I’ve lived in Durango since 2002 but first came to the Four Corners in 1994 when my husband (Graham Smith) and I moved from Dallas, TX to Farmington, NM. San Juan Regional Medical Center was on a nationwide search to find a full time medical oncologist for the new Cancer Treatment Center that they were building and they sent out recruiting post cards with a beautiful picture of Shiprock underneath the words “Northern New Mexico!”

Relocating to New Mexico held great appeal for me as an artist and for Graham it offered the chance to focus on just one thing and do it as well as he possibly could: take care of people with cancer. Two of my favorite art festivals were in New Mexico and I was already represented by Weems Art Gallery in Albuquerque so there was extra incentive for us to move to the land of enchantment.

Tree Muse, our 2022 Festival Artwork, created by Ann Smith

How would you describe your work for those who might not know you?

My watercolor style has been described as intuitive and unique. I love using the process of “discovered imagery” which allows me to begin each new painting with bold energetic washes and absolutely no preconceived idea of subject matter, letting the piece gradually evolve through layering and editing and watching and playing with the paint. The point of painting this way is simply to enjoy the experience of being with water, paint, paper and brush. There is freedom from expectation and judgement and a sense of my own mood, experimentation, and patience to let the water, paint, brush and paper interact with each other. It really does feel like being in a sacred space, and other creatives know this feeling. 

I also enjoy doing “stroke paintings” which are done on wet or dry paper, one stroke at a time, expressing the essence of something. There is a Zen-like quality to these paintings and they are always unhurried and meditative, with each stroke being considered in relation to what else is already on the paper. Recurring themes in my work are flowers, birds, figures, organic abstracts and treehouses.

Our 2022 Festival Artwork artist Ann Smith

When did you first begin producing art & what's your background?

My formal art training actually began when I was about 6 and my mother took me to the Pasadena Art Museum for a summer drawing class; 11 years later I got my degree in Biological Illustration from UCLA. It was the perfect major for me because it combined my interest in biology with my love of art and in those classes I learned technical skills and the discipline of accuracy. 

However, my most influential teachers came later; they were all of the watercolor masters brought to Dallas by the inspirational Southwestern Watercolor Society which held 4 or 5 workshops every year.  From them I learned the value of individualism, professionalism and good craftsmanship.

Where do you find your inspiration, and what inspired you to work on this piece for Music in the Mountains?

I invited my 5 year old self to create this painting, called ‘Tree Muse’, to honor the very first things that drew me to music and sparked my imagination. Our backyard treehouse was an endless source of inspiration. I spent many contented hours in solitude watching cloud shapes move breezily through leaves and branches while pondering any intriguing mental imagery that may have been prompted by the previous night’s bedtime story. Through the open windows of our house I’d listen to my father playing his cello just for the pure joy of making music! The little responsive flutter of joy in my chest eventually grew into my own passion for painting and this exuberant tree full of musicians is my note of gratitude.

This piece has extraordinary meaning for me because the ultimate “discovered imagery” experience was finding all those little musicians and even a conductor and a grand piano emerging from the branches of a rainbow colored treehouse! My intention was to express the absolute joy of hearing and making music. The painting was actually started in Portland, OR where the high humidity makes painting in watercolor a whole new challenging experience; the paper never seems to dry and completely unpredictable things happen with the way pigments interact with each other. It was finished in Durango but it was hard to know when to stop because I kept seeing more little musicians every time I look at it!

What's your favorite thing about Durango?

Definitely my favorite thing about Durango is the healthy outdoorsy lifestyle of our nature loving, energetic and creative people! We’ve never had better friends anywhere – they’re interesting, resourceful, kind, generous, talented and have a social conscience. The spectacular natural beauty of our mountains, valley and the river is what called to all of us.

What's your favorite piece of music, classical or otherwise?

I hava always painted to music. In my early Dallas days, I’d listen to Windom Hill CDs, my favorite 60’s folk singers, and any other kind of music that lifted my heart gently.

I am very moved my powerful music and avoid trying to paint while something is so dramatic that it completely takes me over. I really do have eclectic tastes when I’m choosing music to paint to but just the right music helps my creativity flow. When I’m listening to classical music I usually just want to completely pay attention and immerse myself totally in the music.

Get ready for this year’s festival!