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  • Writer's pictureJulie Finlayson

Creator of the Month: Mary Swann

Recently I visited with Mary Swann, this month’s Creator of the Month, in her Fairfield Harbour home. Even with two absolutely adorable Golden Retrievers and a breathtaking view of Northwest Creek all begging for my attention, I found it easy to ask questions and listen as Mary talked about her creative history and what led her to her current creative passions: photography, pastels, and watercolor.

Mary, how did you get into so many creative activities? Was this something you did as a kid, or did it come later?

As a kid, I started to paint and I'd end up making the picture too busy. I was artsy, but I wasn’t really into that. As a young adult, I had crafting abilities and things like decoupage. I never really took art classes. When my kids were little, I started doing ceramics. And I just had a creative touch. I did some furniture projects with my sister—she was really the painter and the artist (she works in acrylics, oil, pastels, and watercolors). And she’d taken art class before. I also enjoyed making horse name plates for the barn for other horse owners. I’d use photos and decoupage and surprise the owners for Christmas.

But the photography started when I was getting my Health Sciences degree, I took an art class and it was photography. I didn't have a DSL camera. I just had my husband's camera, but you didn't have any lenses to attach. And I did such a nice job, he got me another camera. That was not a DSL, but it would go to a larger frame and the lens would extend out. I was doing so well with that, he got me my first DSL for Christmas. And that kind of started it.

And then I went to the New York Institute of Photography for Professional Photography. It's an online course. I loved it. And then I did one for landscaping also.

As fast as you want to move through. I think you have to complete within two years, which I did.

So that’s how it all started?

That's how I got started in photography. I started donating the pictures for fundraisers and then got my Fine Arts website. My goal really was to be a stock photo artist, but other things came along, so I got a stock photo website. I’m on Alamy, but I don’t really pursue it like I used to.

I've done a lot of Christmas cards for people with their families and their horses and stuff but I'm not “typical.” For example, my kids wanted their family photos with their dogs. And instead of having that nice family sit-down, we were outside in the backyard. They all had Christmas hats on and the dog kept trying to run away. And when Catelyn would try to catch get the dog, she'd be falling over. And those were the snapshots I took. And I love stuff like that. I don't like the typical. That's not me. And so usually when I do something with families and stuff, it's going to be fun and spontaneous and we're not going to plan this, you know? We're not going to look perfect.

Some of Mary's photography projects

When did you start using Photoshop?

I had to have that for my photography class when I was finishing up my bachelors, which took me a while—I think I was in my 50s. So probably 13 or 14 years ago.

How often do you create projects where you layer multiple photos in Photoshop?

I used to do it every month, but now I do it probably two or three times a year at the most, usually Christmas. Making a Christmas card of some kind. Maybe a gift for my husband. We went to a Jimmy Buffett concert and I took some pictures of us and I put them together in a collage. And I had to use Photoshop for some of them.

When did you start in pastels?

In 2017/19 when I moved here and I retired, I was going to do the photography thing and work hard on that. My friend, a very good pastel artist, and I had a little business together. At least we were trying to. She would do the pastel piece and I would photograph it and manipulate it so that we could use it in a blank card. You could send it or take it out and frame it if you wanted to. And they were mostly all of horses--couple were of cats and dogs because she's really good at animals.

We got the cards made up and then COVID came. So we sold some of them, and we kind of split up the cards between us. I use them as cards for gifts sometimes and things like that.

So I was thinking, “This looks like it would be fun.” So I tried it [pastels] My friend also does pastels, was taking classes, and was in The Pastel Society. So I sent her a picture of my first one, which was really bad. The feedback was: keep working it. I must have received that feedback about 10 times, and then I finally got: well that looks good.

Some of Mary's pastels projects

What about watercolors?

Two years ago my husband says, “Why don't you try watercolors?” To take pastels on the boat [the Swanns have a trawler] they’re messy! I've ruined carpet before, so you know they're messy, but they're fun.

So I tried the watercolors and I didn't know anything. When I was in Florida I took a lesson at a studio where you can go on a Wednesday, pay $5, and stay there all day and paint with other artists. I took some lessons online. Just, you know, watching videos and stuff--YouTube and it didn’t cost anything.

Some of Mary's watercolor projects

Is there something that you would like to try that you haven't tried?

I'd like to take a drawing class. Because that's one thing I'm not good. You can do all kinds of stuff without really being able to draw. But sometimes being able to draw is really important.

Do you have any artists that you particularly gravitate towards?

P. Buckley Moss. She does a lot of farms and barns and horses and cows. She does some ships, sailing ships and things like that. I love her.

Do you have a favorite medium that you would prefer?

Depends on my mood. I love photography. The problem is I got lazy because you can do so much with the new iPhones. It’s amazing. I’ve also learned how to take them off and put them on my computer so I can still mess with them in Adobe or Lightroom. So that's kind of fun. And I I like the painting, whether it's the pastels or the watercolors, it's very soothing and comforting. Some people love to sit down and read a book. I love to sit down and paint.

Thank you, Mary, for sharing your love of art with your community. It was a pleasure to learn more about your life and to view some of your beautiful artwork!

To view more of Mary’s work, please visit her websites listed below.

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