How did Roxanne Steed go from a Medical Record Administration major in college, to a water and oil alchemist teaching workshops in Ireland and France? Roxanne Steed, oil painter, watercolorist, writer, and teacher, has some answers for military spouse artists. From making the most of heartbreaking moves, to allowing the role of painting in her life to evolve through the different seasons of her life, Roxanne reflects on her career so far as a painter. We are just lucky enough to read along with her on her journey as an artist- underpainted by her role as a military spouse. Thank you so much for sharing your work, wisdom, and life, Roxanne!
Without further ado, here is Roxanne in her own words…
Hi Jess, I love what you’ve put together with this blog! Reading all these wonderful and varied stories really was amazing. I’m constantly reminded that my military family friends are so interesting – and have some great stories to tell!
MilspoFAN: Tell us a bit about yourself, how did you meet your spouse, how long have you been ‘in’, where you are now?
Roxanne: I’ve been an artist as long as I can remember. Though it’s not how I started my ‘career path’. My degree in college was in “Medical Record Administration” (now they call it Health Information Management). At the time, back in the ’80s it was difficult finding the equivalent level of work without a long commute at some of the submarine bases where we were stationed. I met my husband ice- skating in Orlando, FL. It was 1982, I was living in Orlando, commuting to Cape Canaveral Hospital, and he was at Nuclear Power School with the Navy as a submariner. Over the next twenty-six years we moved ….well, too many times to count – and even though each move made me a bit anxious to leave the “current great spot that I had planted deep roots”…we moved after each tour to another amazing place and got to repeat some that we really loved! Though I’ve never lived overseas, we did have plenty of travel opportunities – which was the best thing ever! Finally, when our twins were twelve years old, we brought them along to Singapore (instead of leaving them with grandparents as we had always done before). My girls love travel as much as their mom! Even though we had never intended to end up in New England, we love the town of Mystic, in our southeastern corner of Connecticut. Our last tour of duty was here where my hubby ‘retired’ from the Navy as Commander, Submarine Squadron Two – and began his own consulting business. This is the longest we’ve stayed anywhere in our adult lives! So we are both southern transplants to New England!
MilspoFAN: How did you become a painter?
Roxanne: Submarine bases are in some great places! We married and started out in Charleston, SC. From there we went back to Orlando, FL; then to Groton, CT, followed by northern Virginia; San Diego, CA; Virginia Beach, VA; then back to Connecticut. Once I had my twins, we were in back in Orlando, near my parents, where I had the luxury of “free childcare”, still working in the healthcare industry. Once we moved away, my girls had just reached toddler-hood and I realized that I really did want to be home with them. I spent their nap-times in any creative pursuit that I could get my hands on; mostly sewing, smocking, quilting, and knitting. About the time they outgrew the “little smocked dresses” of toddlerhood and started wearing jeans and t-shirts like their mom, is about the time I started painting. And I spent time getting them to draw and paint as well! I felt like I had re-ignited the spark from my younger self. From that point on, I knew that I would become a painter, and spent every spare moment exploring and bettering my craft.
MilspoFAN: How did your PCS moves affect your artistic endeavors?
Each duty station I would spend the first week scouting out art classes and art organizations to take part in. I also home-schooled our daughters during these early years- so there was a LOT of learning going on at our house. Homeschooling gave us great stability, and our Navy family friends were some of our closest. Our submarine wardrooms provided great support for each other during long deployments. My children found life-long friends there as well. By sixth grade though, I knew I had to seek out a school district that could offer what I no longer could (or was willing to). They had a transition year at a private school before we moved to San Diego. We all thrived there during my hubby’s first command of a submarine! The girls loved their school and new friends, and I loved the whole big fabulous art community in San Diego. It proved to be a real turning point in my life.
I had been working in oils and pastels for the most part. There were some great opportunities with local arts organizations to show my work there. But one of my first art friends that I met at the Escondido Art Association, was the fabulous Jane LaFazio. She’s a watercolor, multi-media & fabric artist and really opened the door to so many new insights for me! The biggest was joining the San Diego watercolor society. They had a large membership (at least 700 at the time), and could support a large gallery space where we would host demos and workshops each month with the best watercolorists in the nation. Also, we had paint-outs every Wednesday morning, where we would meet up at a designated location just to paint. From 9-noon we’d paint, bring a sack lunch, and we’d have a critic led by one of the ‘older members’. These older fellows were retired Disney illustrators, all in their mid-80s at the time! They had the most amazing stories of working with “Mr. Disney” on films such as Bambi, and Dumbo…. ah, pinch me- was I lucky or what? Every week for this three year tour, I was out there learning, watching, listening, from these guys who were so generous with their time and talent. When it was time to leave San Diego, it was yet another move where I felt up-rooted from something truly wonderful.
From there we moved to Virginia Beach. During the previous three years I became serious about selling my work. A mentor had recommended that I stick to a ‘serious medium’ like oils, as it has the “highest perceived value”. So I took the advice, and continued painting and began selling more. I joined an artist’s co-op called the Artists Gallery (which has been in business around 25 years) – and another wonderful opportunity for me! My girls were in high school at this point. My work day consisted of getting them out the door to school, going in to my studio at the co-op; painting, staffing the gallery, and getting home in time to take them to cross-country practice or Irish dance lessons, and competitions. It was a constant whirlwind, but it was all so much fun! Probably my favorite duty station yet! Life just kept evolving and getting better and better – even though I lamented every single move. My husband had to remind me that it was definitely a pattern for me: elation at developing a great support network in each place with my art friends, then desolation at leaving it behind. The toughest move was yet to come though.
What happened when a PCS and the ’empty nest’ hit at the same time? Leaving Virginia Beach was like closing the last page on a great story, shutting the book, and placing it on a shelf. My girls graduated from high school and had scholarships at Florida State University. Ron was leaving his job as PCO Instructor, and the TRE Board. His next command was Submarine Squadron Two in Groton, CT. This was the hardest move for me! While I thought I was ready for the ’empty nest’ of daughters leaving for college far away, I wasn’t quite ready to leave the comfort of my art co-op. Although I was moving back to an area that I loved, it had changed, and I had changed. Luckily- (and this is what saved me), the internet was the newest, great thing. Emails were great ways to communicate with far flung friends. Sounds so ‘quaint’ now. I mean, I already had a website that I could manage on my own, and felt fairly computer savvy – but those emails became my life-line. Especially when my former studio-mate recommended that I start selling online. Another turning point in my life! This changed the way I put my art out there in the world, and sold it. I decided this was way better than the outdoor art festivals, which I did during those Virginia years. I loved being out on the boardwalk in Virginia Beach, selling my paintings, but the lug-work of hauling out tents, poles, panels, AND paintings in all kinds of weather and wind made me re-think how I wanted to spend my selling time. Selling online gave me the freedom (and a wider audience) that I was seeking. Things did come to a screeching slow down during the recession, but it has picked up again – and I continue to learn all things possible about social media and marketing and selling my work online.
MilspoFAN: How would you describe your artwork work and aesthetic? How has your work evolved over time?
Roxanne: As I developed as an oil painter, I had found that I was ALWAYS drawn to the colorists. When we moved to Connecticut for the last time (yes, that traumatic move) I learned that I could study with one of the painters whose work I had admired for years. So I began to take private lessons with Leif Nilsson. I can’t say enough about what a great teacher he is- he was another turning point in my art life. He really taught me to see color in a way that I had not ever before. He helped me break some bad painting habits, and learn more about painting in general than I ever had up to that time. It was truly a case of “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear”. I took some workshops with Camille Przwodek as well. Both Leif and Camille had studied with Henry Hensche in Cape Cod. Hensche’s influence on colorists is remarkable – you can see the connections in his students works. After studying with Leif for a long while, I knew I had to ‘go on my own’ and just PAINT. And continue painting until the process was like breathing. Eventually, when you have the tools to get where you want to go, it’s exhilarating!
Now, of course I loved those oils….rich buttery texture, intense lush color, what’s not to love? I painted outdoors on location all over the place- taking part in plein air competitions and shows. Even flying overseas with all my oil gear to either teach a workshop or take a workshop! About four years ago though, I got out my old watercolors. Oh my, getting familiar with them again was like going out on a blind date. My color was very pale and tentative at first. With a bit of practice, it started coming back to me, like riding a bike. Those years of painting with my ‘Disney buddies’ in southern California were a great foundation. I started taking my sketchbook out on location instead of all my oil gear, even though I still kept the oils going in the studio, and I’d paint in oils in my garden as well. But I could hike a great deal further to more interesting vistas with the lighter gear of watercolors! I was hooked!
MilspoFAN: How did you become the Artist in Residence Artist-in-Residence (AIR) at Manassas Battlefield National Park? What did that involve and what was your biggest takeaway from the two weeks in Manassas?
Roxanne: I had been selected to take part in an Artist-in-Residence program with the CT Audubon Society at the Edwin Way Teale property in the summer of 2015. There were great vistas right outside my door, so I painted in oils that entire week. I knew that I wanted to do another residency, so I began to search for possibilities.
My husband came across an application for an Artist Residency with the National Park Service at the Manassas Battlefield National Park! When we lived in northern Virginia, we lived in Manassas. At that time I owned a horse and boarded her at a farm that backed up to the Park grounds, so we rode all over that area! I had always wanted to return at some point in my life and paint the bluebells that grow in Spring along Bull Run. It’s a magnificent sight. But twenty years had gone by and I hadn’t made it back there yet. I submitted the application, and as luck would have it; I was selected to be their first ever AIR chosen for their new program this year! I got to stay two weeks, living in the park in one of the ranger- residences, paint every day, find areas in the park that I had never seen before and even teach a workshop on Nature Sketchbook Journaling with watercolor as an official park event! When I packed my car for the two weeks trip, I took all my oil gear, as well as my watercolors. After the first day of dragging oil gear in on a long hike to a vista I had been wanting to return to…I decided that this trip I would spend the rest of the two weeks with watercolors- and painting larger works in oil back at home. Making this choice really locked in this strategy for me. It gave me the freedom to cover a lot of territory with much less gear and gather so much more material for future paintings. (I also call it, “how to lose 50 pounds and still eat the chocolate, drink the wine”).
MilspoFAN: You value and deftly wield both rich, dimensional oil paints, as well as the weightless washes of watercolors. From reading your blog and seeing your work, I imagine that this play between bold and demure creates a vital tension, driving you along as an artist. Why is this dichotomy so central to the way your work as an artist and how does each medium feed you artistically?
Roxanne: “Who Says Oil and Water Don’t Mix?” – I don’t use both mediums in the same painting, but there’s a lot I love about each one individually. Sort of like children, I love them both, couldn’t live without either one of them. I have a fascination with surface texture – and the chemical properties of each medium. They behave in ways that the other one could never do. Watercolor flows and blooms and granulates into the paper in a way that oil never could. And oil holds a bit of surface texture in a way that watercolor never will. Understanding color, and knowing which ones are transparent, which are opaque give you a stronger way to express your thoughts in an image. My watercolor journals are personal, but they are also ‘data gathering’ mechanisms for future oil paintings.
MilspoFAN: There’s an intimacy in the work in your sketchbook entries that seems to show your personal and artistic lives seamlessly interwoven. Do you feel a need to balance your personal and artistic lives, or is it all just one life?
Roxanne: The reason I do love sketchbook work is for the very reason that it IS so personal. We don’t do it to enter a show, display, or even sell. It’s for our own pleasure, no one else’s. We can be as self indulgent as we wish. That’s what I find so gratifying about teaching this form of creativity. I have various sketchbooks for varied topics, and if I’m around my family where we have a lazy afternoon (after Thanksgiving dinner is a great time!) it’s really fun to include some of these moments in my sketchbook as well. They may or may not make it into a larger finished painting, but they are great memories for me. I haven’t always done that, but the more time I spend with sketching these family scenes, it does become easier. They’ve become personal treasures for me. I do think this has been something that has grown over time. When children my children were small, they were my priority, and my art was secondary. My husband is very supportive of my business and the time I put into it, as it has grown over the years.
MilspoFAN: How did you begin teaching? Tell us about your online classes, Connecticut classes, and the Watercolor Sketchbook tour of Ireland.
Roxanne: A friend of mine from Virginia lives in Ireland part of the year. She began running an art retreat over 10 years ago, and her circle of art friends were her first ‘trial run’ to see how it would go. She began hiring teachers, and asked if I’d like to teach plein air oil painting – so I did. I had a few students in my studio at the time, but I still didn’t feel quite sure of myself teaching – even though I had painted in oils for at least 15 years at that point. Once I got back into the watercolor sketchbook keeping, I knew this would be something I could teach well! I love it, and it has been well received. So I’ve taught the sketchbook journaling class in Ireland the last two years, and we’ve scheduled another trip for August of 2018! I never get tired of going there, though I do have a few other places I’d like to return to as well! I’m wanting to return to the southwest area of France in the Lot Valley. It’s incredibly beautiful, I’ve been brushing up on my French, and at some point – next year? The following year? I’m going back to teach! Let me know if you’d like to come along! This September I’ll be starting a new group of artists in my home studio how to use watercolor and sketchbook keeping.
MilspoFAN: You’ve been blogging consistently for ten years. Recently you moved your blog and renamed it. Why the change and what (if anything) is going to change about what you are writing about and sharing?
Roxanne: Blogging, and the blogosphere – for the last 10 and a half years, I’ve been blogging. I really began in earnest to get juried into the original group DailyPainters.com. But I also found it a great way to describe my process, and share things that I thought were important about the location or any other information about what I was painting – or the meaning behind WHY I painted that. I started on the blogspot platform in 2007, then moved it to FASO (Fine Art Studio Online) which supports my current website. At a certain point, I moved it back to blogspot, then back to FASO- I liked the indexing of topics better. That being said; I am currently building a new website on SquareSpace, and will end up moving my blog there as well. I’m still working on trying to save some favorite blog entries, that I just don’t want to lose. Currently I’m making oil paintings (to sell), and using watercolor for my personal sketchbooks and teaching this process of keeping sketchbooks – so those are going to be the focus of my online journal (blog). I’m hoping to convey that joy of creating. I truly believe that we were all created to create – no matter if there are some among us who have convinced themselves otherwise.
MilspoFAN: How has your role as a military spouse impacted your work as an artist – creatively, logistically, or otherwise? How did you meet other artists or plug into the local art scene when you PCS?
Roxanne: I’ll turn 58 this September. I’m still thrilled to wake up everyday and paint. And I love sharing this fun with others. The biggest and best opportunities I have had, have happened because we are a military family. The biggest steps of growth came from those painful times of leaving behind things I loved. But in the long run, I never lost those things I’d fear that I’d lose. The friendships I enjoyed most are the ones I’ve kept- both military and my civilian artist friends. My children have grown up with a confidence that I never had until I was a middle aged adult. Our PCS moves and travel opportunities have taken me places that I likely would never have ventured out of my hometown in Florida to see. Once it became possible for a bit of online research before a move, I was able to scout out artist groups, galleries, museums, classes before I left one home town for another. I’d show up (stepping out of my introvert self) make new friends and become involved in whatever way I could that would help me learn and feed my soul.
MilspoFAN: How do you cultivate your creativity?
Roxanne: “Notice what you notice”. As artists we are seeing beautiful things every day. I may find myself turning pages in a magazine or catalog filled with gorgeous pictures, when suddenly the image makes me draw in a sharp breath, saying ‘wow’ out loud, notice what that thing was that just knocked your socks off!
MilspoFAN: What is the most practical piece of advice that you would give to other military spouses who are artists?
Roxanne: Call ahead. Who do you already know in the ‘next town’ (location of your next PCS). Find out what art organizations might be helpful to you. Be ready to ‘hit the ground running’ in these new places to enhance your art life. Your military friends understand the deployments in a way that your civilian friends can’t. Your civilian friends will likely offer you support in ways that your military friends can’t. Have friends in both camps! You’ll need the support of both of them. Embrace the lifestyle and the opportunities that come with your military life. Remember that the painful times of leaving behind loved ones at your last duty station are followed by new opportunities for growth in your next town!
Thanks for the opportunity to do this interview Jess! I hope having the ‘long view’ of things, I can share some insights with younger military spouses, especially those that are artists. It is indeed an honor to be a part of this large military family.
Find Roxanne online at:
Who Says Oil & Water Don’t Mix: https://roxannesteed.com/blog
Press: Exhibit shows a year in color at Barn Island: http://www.theday.com/article/20140909/ENT16/309099984
Press: Six days in Eden: Writer and painter serve as resident artists at Trail Wood: http://www.theday.com/article/20150802/ENT18/150809994
Roxanne, I have been so grateful for this opportunity to get to know you and your artwork. I look forward to keeping up with your painting over at your blog!
MilspoFANs, do you have a question or comment for Roxanne? An anecdote or thought that your deeply relate to as an artist or art enthusiast? Please share your comments here or over at Facebook on our Group or Page.