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Visual artist went from showing dogs competitively to painting and teaching

Visual artist went from showing dogs competitively to painting and teaching

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Growing up in the farming area of Baltimore County, Md., Ginnie Conaway was always around critters from dogs to chickens to cows.

She went on to show dogs competitively and started drawing them, as well as the dogs of competitors.

“I showed Dobermanns and Whippets for decades,” Conaway said.

In 2003, after spending her adult life in Wilmington, Del., and getting a divorce, Conaway decided to live elsewhere.

“I bought an RV and I started traveling around the country to figure out where I wanted to live,” Conaway said.

Her traveling companion was her last show dog — Travis, a Dobermann.

After a stint in West Virginia, she turned her attention to a city in a neighboring state.

“Winston-Salem, which was close relatively, had the reputation for being ‘The City of the Arts,’” she said.

Conaway, 71, has lived in Winston-Salem since 2005. It’s where she met her current husband, Bill Forrest.

Also, in 2005, she was hired by Sawtooth School for Visual Art to teach watercolor. She teaches drawing and painting primarily to seniors in the personal enrichment program at Forsyth Technical Community College. She is also an art instructor for Senior Services Inc. and Brookridge, a Baptist retirement homes community, both in Winston-Salem.

The connections she makes with people are important to her, including when she does commission work.

“When I do a commission and it produces tears, you know you’ve nailed it,” Conaway said.

Q: How would you describe your art?

Answer: The term "contemporary realism" best describes my painting style. I love to get deeply inside a flower blossom until the image becomes somewhat abstract, while at the same time my portraits of animals and people are realistic. Most of my landscapes are of real places, but I’m not above moving or adding elements to improve a composition.

Q: How have you evolved as an artist?

Answer: Like so many artists, I always drew as a child and that love of drawing has never ceased. During my 20s, I showed dogs competitively. I started drawing the dogs around me, and competitors began asking me to paint their dogs. Again, like so many artists, I’m self-taught. I started out in oils, but oils took too long to dry, so I switched to acrylics.

Being competitive, I joined several art organizations and started taking part in exhibits and outdoor festivals. An artist friend and mentor suggested I try watercolors, and I fell in love. It wasn’t until I moved to Winston Salem that I began teaching. First at Sawtooth School for Visual Art and then at Forsyth Technical Community College. I’ve taught drawing, portraiture, acrylic and watercolor at Forsyth Technical Community College for 15 years and love doing so. My students become family, some staying with me for 12 to 13 years.

I’ve served on the boards of Associated Artists of Winston Salem, eight years on the board of the Watercolor Society of North Carolina and am the vice president of Muddy River Art Association.

Q: Who has influenced your art?

Answer: Prior to moving to Winston Salem, I lived my adult life in Wilmington, Del., which is considered Andrew Wyeth country, or the Brandywine School. Although I admired his techniques and subject matter, I also loved color, and once I moved beyond dog portraits, the colors flowed off my brush. I’ve also been influenced by Georgia O’Keefe and Brigit O’Connor. I don’t think we ever stop learning and trying new techniques and subject matter.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

Answer: My current challenges involve my teaching — instilling the love of drawing in my students and the confidence to believe in themselves. We all want to start painting and splashing color around but few want to really learn to observe and draw first. Teaching my students to "SEE" is prime, and it’s such a joy for a student to finally "get it," for them to really see the different colors in a single tree.

Q: What does art do for you?

Answer: Art is a way of sharing my love of a subject with the viewer. It’s a way to invite someone into my world and share the magic of nature. It has also enabled me to connect with a wide variety of fellow artists and art lovers, plus (it's) allowed me to share that wonder with my students.

Q: Any advice for other artists?

Answer: You don’t need a degree in art to be an artist. Don’t judge yourself by others. Each artist has their own story to tell, in their own way. Enjoy and have fun in what you do.

Fran Daniel writes about artists — visual, musical, literary and more. Send your story ideas to fdaniel@wsjournal.com or call 336-727-7366.

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