Pop art with an agricultural twist is a good way to describe the work of Coupeville painter Stacey Neumiller.
Her favorite subject matter is farm animals and the barns and landscapes of Whidbey Island, painted in vivid, stark colors. Bright red barns sit among rolling green fields. Cows, chickens, pigs and geese stand out boldly against bucolic backdrops. Anyone who’s lived on the island for years has probably come across her art, whether they realize it or not.
Neumiller describes her animal pieces with a term she coined: “nouveau primitive.” The animals in the foreground are highly detailed and stand in front of simple backgrounds, reminiscent of folk art and creating an eye-catching juxtaposition.
Since her retirement, Neumiller has turned her eyes and brush on barns on the island, as well as throughout the state of Washington. The series of paintings is called, simply, “The Barn Project.”
After relocating to Whidbey Island from Napa, California, Neumiller took a job at Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery in Woodinville. Although Neumiller loved drawing as a child and found a passion for painting while attending college, she was concerned about making a living as an artist. She got a degree in graphic design and worked in the wine industry for 30 years, mainly designing wine bottle labels.
On her commute to the mainland, she noticed barns on the side of the road that inspired her to pick up a paintbrush after she got home from work. Sometimes she’d take Deception Pass bridge instead of the ferry and cut through Skagit Valley, just so she could admire all the picturesque farmland.
“Especially in the summer, at dusk the light was just – oh my gosh – just amazing,” she said.
Neumiller takes her camera with her everywhere she goes so she can capture paint-worthy scenes. The structures give her almost divine inspiration.
“It’s like a cathedral to me, a barn,” she said. “They’re just so magnificent.”
Along with her barn series, she has created a collection of small cards, each featuring a different animal painting. The origin of this series goes back to Neumiller’s time working as the master gardener program coordinator for Island County’s extension office. She worked closely with the Conservation District on the Whidbey Island Farm Tour, which allowed residents more access to local farms – a perfect fit for Neumiller.
“I love living in a rural setting with agriculture everywhere,” she said. “That’s what makes my heart happy.”
Neumiller designed posters and brochures for the office and ended up painting a different farm animal each year to go on the front of the Farm Tour brochure. All of the animals feature an outline of Whidbey Island hidden somewhere in their hair, fur or feathers. She now sells all of the paintings as a set of cards. The cards will be for sale this summer at Penn Cove Gallery in Coupeville, where Neumiller has a permanent collection.
In order to accurately paint so much livestock – or “critters” as Neumiller affectionately calls them – she makes friends with farmers. She once made a trip to Bell’s Farm in order to get close-up photos of the farm’s Ancient White Park Cattle and can count on other local farms for visits. Conveniently, she has her own chickens.
After taking a photograph of a landscape or animal, Neumiller will use her graphic design skills to PhotoShop the image into the perfect scene to paint. She often changes the composition, lighting, and takes out any unwanted elements. On the canvas, she uses a grid system to recreate the image as closely as possibly. She starts by penciling in the images with charcoal.
“I’m still kind of playing around with the type of paintings I want to do,” she said.
Very recently, Neumiller has started experimenting with using palette knives instead of paint brushes, which is forcing her style to change slightly. She said it’s a way to paint realistically but with a little more speed.
With palette knives, she creates much more texture on the canvas. The details are much more loose, which is what Neumiller is going for, although she said it’s unlikely she’ll depart from her graphic design-inspired style completely.
Her first painting using this method is of a landscape off Arnold Road, featuring a large tree and few sheep in a field. As is normal for Neumiller, she noticed the beautiful scene while driving by and had to recreate it.
For more information about Neumiller and how to purchase her art, visit www.staceyneumiller.com/index.html.