Nature on canvas: The art to be a blessing

A Q&A with visual artist Helen Hicks

Nature on canvas: The art to be a blessing
Artist Helen Hicks with her seascape painting she had donated to the silent auction at the Fundraiser Supper organized for the David Thompson Bible Camp.

By Beverly Lomosad

For Helen Hicks, there was no mistaking when she first got interested in visual art: it began that day, at a young age, when her older brother showed her his drawing of a beautiful, huge tree. “I mean, it was gorgeous, and it sparked an interest in me. I aspired to be able to do it as well,” she said. That brother had talent, she added, but never really had the chance to do anything with it. He went on to pursue and obtain a doctorate in theology. At about 12, Helen took her first stab at art: she drew a girl with a cigarette in her mouth to replicate a “Do Not Smoke” advertising artwork, which was a common sight back then.

Then life took a busy turn: she became a nurse and a pastor’s wife with whom she raised two boys together. Art had to be tossed to the back burner momentarily. She didn’t pick up the paint brush again until many years later.

How did you learn how to paint?
Sometime in 1996, while we were living in Seba Beach, my husband registered me for six sessions of art classes and, along with that, also bought me some basic supplies – a couple of paint brushes, a canvas to paint on, and some basic oil colours. He said to me, “You could either use it or waste it.” Well, I wasn’t going to waste it. So, I started attending the art classes. I always had an interest in art. I had also always wanted to have nice pictures on our walls at home. Everybody had nice pictures, but we could never really afford anything of quality. I also learned a lot from watching art shows on PBS (Public Broadcasting Service), especially the concept of colour and distance.

Is it difficult to learn how to paint?
Growth is a process. Some of my earlier work looks pretty pitiful. But that was the best I could do at that point in time. And, over time, you get better the more you do it. I can still probably get better. As you mature in your art, you begin to have an understanding of what works best and learn the finer little details that actually make a big difference in your art.

What would you say to someone interested to go into painting?
You should study and decide on your medium. The techniques for each medium are different, especially between watercolour and oil. I think I would have trouble with watercolour. I settled on oil because it’s more forgiving as a medium. For instance, I could have a painting I may have started over a year ago, and I can still touch up on it and tweak it.

How much time do you spend painting?
That depends on what’s going in our personal lives. My husband, Mike, is the pastor of Bethel Chapel of Wanham, and my winter season is usually fairly busy with teaching in the Bible study for the ladies in our church. Preparation and study take up quite a bit of time. I mostly paint during spring and summer. On average, I would say I probably have 6-7 paintings each year. I think I have given a painting to just about every home that’s part of our church family over the years.

Talk a little bit about the painting that you have donated to the silent auction at the November 18 Fundraiser Supper organized for the David Thompson Bible Camp.
It’s a 16-by-20 inches (width-by-height) seascape painting. I painted it off a photograph I had taken on Kauai Island in Hawaii while we were there on a vacation. That trip, which we took with my sister, was deeply personal. She had travelled extensively to many places with her pilot husband, but this trip in 2004 was unlike any other for her – this was one of her final wishes as she battled against brain cancer and on the verge of dying, and she had wanted us to go with her and her family. She passed away a year after that. I took the photograph while we were standing on the mainland, looking down on the ocean. I toned down a bit the original colours from the photograph, and it wasn’t quite finished yet. But it will be before the silent auction. I always liked the ocean, and I have painted ocean scenes before, which I copied from somebody else’s work, so I could not put my name on it. I am always very careful not to take credit for somebody else’s work – that would be plagiarism. But this painting for the silent auction is one I can sign my name on.

Do you paint better if the subject is something you are moved by?
I always feel good – a feeling of accomplishment, if you will – after I’ve finished a painting. In 2012, I had an open-heart surgery, and I was in intensive care for 42 days. Doctors told us that I would never come home, that I would go to a rehab hospital after I got out. But I did come home. The first painting I did after that experience depicts a forest scene, with majestic trees and a gentle beam of light piercing through the foliage and illuminating a winding road – my attempt at bringing home the message of coming out of darkness and coming into the light. That painting hangs on our wall at home.

Do you paint from imagination then?
I often start with some reference and, from there, I just let my heart and my own ideas to guide me as I continue. I have a painting that started off as I was moved by one of the works of Thomas Kincaid, his use of colours more than anything else. He was known as a painter of light. (I’m aware he had some shortcomings that came to light after his passing, but this is about his art, not him.) In the end, the painting took on more and more elements as I had fresh ideas in the next several months of working on it, and it became a composite image of different concepts and ideas.

How are you setting yourself apart as an artist?
I try to make my art glorifying to God. When I sign off on a painting, for example, I often include a cross on top of my name to signify the lordship of Jesus Christ in my life. My paintings, the best I can, are a small reflection, no matter how inferior they may appear to be, of the beauty and the grandeur of God’s creation. Although I’ve sold a few of my paintings, I have not really tried to seriously sell them. I have given many away to bless family and friends with, including those in our church family. So, in a way, my art hobby is also some kind of ministry for me. I had the same mindset while working as a nurse, a profession I held for 43 years until my retirement after I hit 65. I had wanted my work as a nurse, in the way I cared for people, to be glorifying to God.

How long does it usually take you to finish a painting?
Depending on the complexity of the subject, some paintings could take more time to finish than others. Some of my paintings took me a couple of weeks to finish while others took several months.