Paintings that evoke feelings of home. Cary Reeder is a house painter, but you won’t find her on a ladder with a roller in her hand. She captures the mystery and untold stories of a single neighborhood, bringing soft colors, pastels, and a keen sense of shadow with a nostalgic effect in his paintings of her house.
In the neighborhood
For his Neighborhood series, Reeder didn’t have to go far. The series reinvents the 1920s bungalows, Victorian homes, and gun shacks of its Houston neighborhood. One day, while he was painting his kitchen, Reeder noticed notches measuring a child’s varying height marked on the door frame. It sparked Reeder’s interest in imagining the neighborhood’s untold stories in a series of house paintings. Due to gentrification, houses are in danger of being demolished and replaced; painting them is Reeder’s way of preserving his neighborhood history. In this way, he documents a fading past playfully and subtly.
Reeder’s house paintings capture that place at the intersection of the familiar with the unknown. Immaculate shapes, clean lines, and an eerie sense of shadow transform the homes of everyday suburban subjects into surfaces that disturb our expectations. The houses look like they are made of cardboard, like folding assembly pieces. By hiding house interiors, withdrawn shutters, and stealth fences, our suspicions and imaginations are curiously awakened.
Effort without effort
Although his house paintings are now instantly recognizable by their acrylic color plans, Reeder hasn’t used the medium. To make her work more photorealistic, Reeder claims she started as an oil painter. As her work deviated more and more towards a flat and sober style, one of her instructors, discovering that she was painting with oils, asked her, why do this to yourself? This pointed question about her prompted her to try acrylics. To accommodate the quick-drying nature of acrylic, she spends a significant amount of time mentally drawing a pencil image before placing the brush on the canvas.
When she starts a new painting, Reeder walks around her neighborhood and takes reference photographs. You never know when you’ll find something. Because of the important role shadows play in your images, she searches for subjects in the mid-morning or mid-afternoon. Once she finds a subject worthy of a painting, she resizes the image using Photoshop to refine the composition. She draws the plan of the painting on a much smaller scale. Then, after digitally enlarging the one line drawing on an engineering copy and tracing it on graphite paper, she transfers the image to the canvas.
It takes two to three weeks to complete a painting from start to finish. Most of the time is spent perfecting the color swatches to create the mood you want for a piece. Most of the time, she doesn’t use the color of real houses. Many of Queen Anne and Victorian townhouses that line Houston Heights have painted the same shade of white. To capture visually stunning colors that aren’t often seen, Reeder mixes her colors. Hours are spent refining the color values used in work; Reeder combines colors on a palette rather than on a canvas.
She conjures up countless samples, getting the perfect shades and shades. She helps Reeder teach color theory at the Art League Houston, a community art school. Many of my color choices are intuitive, which helps evoke a certain mood and atmospheric texture on the canvas. Reeder uses gold paints for their consistent high quality and dilutes his paints with water. Typically, he applies three coats of acrylic to the canvas.
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The Neighborhood series aesthetic – sharp edges and clean geometry – is done with duct tape and Golden Matte Medium, which Reeder uses to seal the paint after it has been on the canvas. It helps its surfaces look continuous and deceptively effortless. For his more precise lines, which are drawn freehand, he uses smaller, rounder synthetic brushes. There are some elements I don’t register because I want the viewer to see my hand as I work.
It is evident in the silhouettes of the bare trees projected on the facades of the houses. She says that freehand painting is meditative and admits that restraint and patience can drive others crazy. Interestingly, Reeder’s approach to shade intentionally contradicts the theory of color that influences other elements of her painting. Instead of using a complementary color for the shadows, she uses a darker shade of the same color. It can take her a long time to create the perfect shade for an awning or window.
An encouraging pursuit
Although Reeder hasn’t always painted for a living, art has always been in her blood. In most families, the artist is the outlier of the family, but for Reeder, it is the norm. Her mother was an artist, as was her older sister and granddaughter of hers. In my house, being a professional was good. It was encouraging. Reeder started making art at an early age. But after high school, she enrolled in a technical school because she didn’t know how to be an artist. It was there that she learned graphic form. You have spent 10 years in food advertising and packaging, dealing with the layout and layout of products such as off-brand pastries and fertilizer bags.
She says his time as a commercial artist undoubtedly influenced his style of painting. An advertising artist is trained to create accessible images that grab attention and tell a story quickly; Reeder’s house paintings follow the same rubric. But where advertising is meant to inform, Reeder’s enigmatic homes have no problem leaving the viewer curious and contemplative.
Art must come first
After discovering the ability to write, Reeder spent 20 years as a graphic artist and as a fine art artist working as a scholarship writer, fundraiser, and administrator for nonprofit organizations. That was until she visited Italy with her husband. After seeing so much beautiful art, she had a moment where she realized that she wasn’t following her destiny that it was to be a good artist. This epiphany led her to enroll at the Glassell School of Art in Houston, where she learned the theories and techniques behind the art and how not to be intimidated by other artists. I didn’t care if I was the most genius ever. I was going to do this.
Although she started with a loose and expressive style, her experience in commercial art helped strengthen her paintings. She started drawing on the canvas and using a ruler to get her pictures as accurate as possible. Going into local art exhibitions helped her build her confidence in painting for a living. And she started cutting hours on her work as a writer. Art has to come first.