Interview with Teresa O’Brien

Interview with Teresa O’Brien

PRESERVED! Artist Interview Series

Grandfathers add a special joy to our lives. They pull candy from their pockets when no one else is looking and they late us stay up way later than our parents ever would. Teresa O’Brien’s grandfather taught her the joy of creating art.

“My grandfather was my first inspiration,” Teresa says. “His medium was watercolor.  As a young girl I would watch him paint and then was thrilled when I got to accompany him and paint as well.”

Teresa’s mediums include pastel, ink, graphite, gouache, and occasionally acrylic. Based in Saugatuck, Teresa brings the local shorelines and forests to life with vibrant colors and brushstrokes that make the skies dance.

“My favorite pieces are the ones that capture the essence of the experience of painting,” she says, “most often those days outside when the wind is blowing, the light is reflecting off the natural surroundings and the sky is open above me.”

In addition to her grandfather, Teresa finds the work of fellow artists to be influential and encouraging.

“I do my best to seek out museums every time I travel and pay attention to what moves me,” she says. “My latest inspiration is a series done by a group of Japanese artists that hang in the Contemporary Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago.  They are in black and white and are about stroke and texture.”

But inspiration isn’t enough to create art. You also need strong work ethic.

“Artist’s block is not ‘solved,’” Teresa says. “It is about showing up to one’s work and stepping into what is uncomfortable until the flow of creating returns.”

In her work, her forests come alive with rich dots of reds and blues and oranges and greens. Everything is welcoming and joyous.

“[I want people to] sense the moment—the healing, grounding, and joy one receives from pausing in nature and taking it in,” Teresa says.

Like the impressionists who inspired her, Teresa finds nature to be a powerful and moving subject.

“[Nature plays a] primary and influential role [in my work],” she says. “It is my muse and inspiration.”

You don’t need to read the scientific studies on the therapeutic effect of nature to understand what she means. Most can related to the feeling of being refreshed after a walk in the woods, a picnic on the beach, or a nap beneath the shade of a leafy oak tree. For Teresa, capturing this effect in her work is about conveying “feelings, light, healing, pause.”

“The Preserved! program is the perfect confluence of a dedication to preserving nature, creativity, and a deep respect for both,” Teresa says. “My hope is that it exposes people to a deeper appreciation for what is essential to us all in nature. I am grateful to the Land Conservancy of West Michigan for the opportunity to celebrate their preserves while honoring our creative process and finished pieces as artists. I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to touch lives with what I create. May it serve others and our wild spaces.”


Learn more about the Preserved! program and read other artist interviews here.

Colin Hoogerwerf
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