Background image

My Journey
Shirley Bales, artist.


Why art?

Even as a child, I spent endless hours drawing, escaping and dreaming.  I was born into a family that valued art and believed in me, and because of them, I had the courage to pursue my dream.
Early Influences
Growing up I was influenced by Impressionist Art. My grandfather was a listed western artist Ralph Mason, who had been a student of Sergei Bongart, a renowned American Impressionist that studied under Nicolai Fechin, the Russian Impressionist Master. Surrounded by art, becoming an artist seemed a natural path to me.
The Early Years
After graduating high school in Riverside California, I married my high school sweetheart and we are still together to this day. It was 1996, and I had just spent the last couple years at Riverside Community College learning the fundamentals of art from a forensic portrait artist, in an unusually challenging art program that emphasized first learning the visual language, from life, then encouraged self-expression. This community college served in many ways as a farm school for Art Center College of Design Pasadena, a school that provided a great deal of artistic talent to Disney, Hollywood, Fortune 500 companies and the Silicon Valley. I spent the next few years studying the fundamentals of art and design, from life, in preparation for admission to the Art Center.
The Portfolio Review
I believed at the time, that I needed to go to an art school if I were to make a career in art. After several years of honing my skills, with the encouragement from peers and instructors, I decided to pack up my small family and made the 40 minute drive to Pasadena to attend a portfolio review at Art Center. A portfolio review is where faculty reviews an applicant's portfolio and provides feedback. In my portfolio, I had included one of my favorite graphite drawings of an old woman, weathered by time. Beyond technical ability, I felt I had captured emotion in her face and was sure that my aptitude as an artist would be evident. My portfolio review did not go as planned. While the man who, I did not know, standing behind a folding table, did acknowledge my ability on artistic merit alone — he quickly changed his opinion once I introduced my husband and one-year-old daughter. He stated that the program is rigorous, and not for women with young families, especially one that lives 40 minutes away. I responded that I am extremely committed and have a large support system, and could move closer and make it work. He dismissed me and moved on to the next candidate.
My Journey
I let this man's prejudice of me change the trajectory of my life. That was the day that I decided that I needed to pursue a different path. Although I never stopped creating art and never gave up on my dream of being a professional artist, because of him, it would just take longer. I participated in the Plein Air Movement early on, and attended paint outs by The Laguna Plein Air Painters Association (LPAPA) and SOCAL PAPA. I also attended the Virtual Art Academy of Barry John Raybould and exclusively painted outside for over 20 years to develop my unique color sensibility. While I continued my self-directed art education, I embarked on a successful career as a real estate agent and even made The Million Dollar Club as a rookie, earning recognition in the local news. Yet, the success that followed felt hallow, for it wasn't my authentic self. Ultimately, the real estate crash and subsequent recession, altered my life path for me.
Shortly after, our family relocated from California to Arizona for better prospects following the great recession of 2008. For a while, I found joy as an artist again, and began selling my work online and I was painting outside en plein air. In my first years in business, I sold several hundred paintings. I also participated in the Little Treasures Exhibit at Tubac Center for the Arts and joined Tucson Plein Air Painters Society. In the early 2000's, I had the unprecedented opportunity to study online from masters, and collaborate with peers, on methods and materials like never before. I attribute most of my technical knowledge to the Cennini Forum, comprised of forerunners of the Classical Realism & Atelier Movement.
New Mexico
By the 2000's, as a self-represented artist, I was doing better online than most gallery artists I encountered (in a recession). That man at Art Center had underestimated me, and he wouldn’t be the last. My success would be short lived however, when an unexpected corporate restructuring caused us to relocate once again. The events that followed were a low point in my life, I had claimed ownership of other's problems and internalized them. In being there for them, I lost myself and precious time.

We abruptly left Arizona for New Mexico, "The Land of Enchantment," for better job prospects. I joined Plein Air Painters New Mexico, painting with and exhibiting with PAPNM including at Millicent Rogers Museum in Taos New Mexico. I continued my higher education and earned my liberal arts degree, was even on the Dean's List at UNM. I participated in multiple shows, winning multiple awards, including the NM Art League Enchantment Award and Cloud Appreciation Award given by the Cloud Appreciation Society. I had found my joy again painting outside, but I was still living my life for others. Once again, when faced with tragedy, I let it all overtake me and put my dreams on hold to care for loved ones suffering from addiction and cancer. Art helped me through this very dark time, and it became my quiet refuge. Ultimately, we decided we needed a fresh start and looked to Colorado to provide it.
Moving so many times, and putting your dreams on hold to take care of people, causes you to lose yourself. Recently, I returned to my hometown and I didn't recognize the place. There is a sadness in knowing that everyone and everything that made you who you are, is gone. The world is changing fast, and many of us share in the loss of forced migration.

Shortly after moving to Colorado, I joined Plein Air Artists Colorado and life was good for a while. I participated in and exhibited at plein air events including: Victor Celebrates the Arts, Alla Prima Westcliffe, Steamboat Art Museum SAM, Alla Prima Westcliffe, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument Plein Air, and received Honorable Mention at Littleton Plein Air at the Art Depot Gallery. I also returned to New Mexico and exhibited at the 7th Annual Plein Air Convention and Expo Show and Sale in Santa Fe, NM.

Then we had a house fire . . . life is a series of deaths and rebirths. I was at an all-time low personally, and needed desperately to be around people who understood me. I rented a studio at Cottonwood Center for the Arts hoping to connect with other artists. I had the opportunity to exhibit at: The Reception Gallery at Cottonwood Center for the Arts, First Congregationalist Church, Solace-Women of the Trees at Kreuser Gallery, Bite Me-Works Inspired by Food at Cottonwood Center for the Arts, and Gratitude at Kreuser Gallery.
A Calling
I recently felt a calling to share myself, beyond my family and local community, to connect with a wider audience and share my story. This is the reason that I am primarily a self-represented artist.

When COVID emerged, my first reaction was to draw in, to be quiet and listen. The time to be silent, however, has passed. I have to emerge, to have a voice, and bring beauty and light to the world. To rise from the ashes and begin again. More people are buying art online than ever, and I am so grateful. Let the things that surround you be meaningful — a daily reminder of where you have been, are now, and will be. Never give up on your dreams. This is my journey to becoming a more courageous person, to live out loud—to experience more, be more, discover more, and find my tribe. This is why we recently bought an RV and plan to take "the show on the road." I look forward to in-person events, art fairs, and more!
Finding Meaning
It all meant something. These places and people are not gone, they are alive in me. Curate your life. Only let the deserving in and don't have space for the meaningless, and for those who don't value you. Be beautiful, courageous, live your authentic life and elevate the world.

I am discovering, creating and envisioning a brighter future through paint and luminous color.
Live a more meaningful life by supporting artists, makers and small businesses.