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Bird is the word: Artist Jeannine Emmett looks to the sky for inspiration

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Just a pane of glass separates the cats from the tantalizing birds, but every morning they watch and stare as their winged counterparts frolic about in the fountain and daintily eat seeds from the bird feeder, so close, yet so far. The visitors captivate the human in the house too, but for different reasons.

JUST PASSING THROUGH:  Jeannine Emmett catches a hummingbird zipping around in her painting 'Anna’s Hummingbird.' - IMAGE COURTESY OF JEANNINE EMMETT
  • IMAGE COURTESY OF JEANNINE EMMETT
  • JUST PASSING THROUGH: Jeannine Emmett catches a hummingbird zipping around in her painting 'Anna’s Hummingbird.'

Artist Jeannine Emmett often goes in for a closer look than the cats, stepping outside to get nearer to her favorite subject matter. In her Los Angles area yard, you’ll mostly find “city birds” like finches or sparrows. But Emmett ventures out to go camping or hiking any chance she gets, so she can happen across even more exotic birds to serve as her muse.

“I just love them,” Emmett said. “Birds make people happy.”

Naturally, she jumped at the chance to have her work included in the exhibit “Put a bird on it,” currently on display at Studios in the Park in Paso Robles. The idea for the exhibit came from an episode of Portlandia, which makes fun of how darn much people get a kick out of putting a bird’s likeness on just about anything.

Emmett started painting from the moment she was big enough to hold a brush, encouraged by her father who was an artist and an architect. But she didn’t always work as a full-time artist as she does now.

CATCHING AIR AND ZZZZS:  An owl rests its eyes in the piece 'Nappy Time' by Jeannine Emmett. - IMAGE COURTESY OF JEANNINE EMMETT
  • IMAGE COURTESY OF JEANNINE EMMETT
  • CATCHING AIR AND ZZZZS: An owl rests its eyes in the piece 'Nappy Time' by Jeannine Emmett.

“He inspired a love of art in me,” Emmett said. “I just never thought about making a living that way. A lot of people discourage you from it.”

Once more Emmett took inspiration from her father and pursued a career in landscape architecture, designing residential yards for clients. But the job came with a lot of stress and not a lot of gratification. After a health scare, Emmett’s husband encouraged her to take a break from work in 2008. She suddenly found herself with more free time and fewer blank canvases. 

“I loved it,” she said. “I’d get up and paint every day and I realized that this wasn’t a hobby anymore.”

Whether her subject matter is alive or just part of the scenery, Emmett gets the biggest creative rush from stepping outside.

BIRDER:  When artist Jeannine Emmett paints birds, her style gets a little more loose and fun. - PHOTO COURTESY OF JEANNINE EMMETT
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF JEANNINE EMMETT
  • BIRDER: When artist Jeannine Emmett paints birds, her style gets a little more loose and fun.

“A lot of the birds I draw, you won’t find in the city,” Emmett said. “You have to go out to habitats where they have room to be.”

Her styles range from impressionistic to representative to abstract. When she’s not painting birds, Emmett can be found painting landscapes in muted colors with painstaking attention to detail and precision. Her birds are a different story. They come in bright bold colors and have a sense about them of being painted quickly and freely, as if the artist was rushing to capture the winged creatures as quickly as they flit about. 

“Nature inspires me,” Emmett said. “I look at the world a different way now. It’s such a privilege to be an artist and see things through an artist’s eyes because you do see things differently.” 

Ryah Cooley is flying high at rcooley@newtimesslo.com.

- FLY BY:  The “Put a bird on it” exhibit will be on display at Studios on the Park in Paso Robles though June 26. The gallery is located at 1130 Pine St. and is open Monday from noon to 4 p.m., Thursday and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from noon to 9 p.m. Visit studiosonthepark.org and jeannineemmett.com for more information. -
  • FLY BY: The “Put a bird on it” exhibit will be on display at Studios on the Park in Paso Robles though June 26. The gallery is located at 1130 Pine St. and is open Monday from noon to 4 p.m., Thursday and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from noon to 9 p.m. Visit studiosonthepark.org and jeannineemmett.com for more information.

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