By Isadora Pennington and Martha Nodar
Artistic expression is an incredibly powerful tool for self-discovery and growth. Whether you’ve been making art since your earliest memories, or discovered a love for it later in life, it’s never too late to embrace your inherent artistic abilities. Research supports the connection between artistic expression and extended cognitive function and increased quality of life for seniors. By continuing to learn technique and practice making art, many creatives find great fulfillment in making art during the later years of life, when the distractions of day to day life fall away and spare time becomes more plentiful.
It’s not only the act of making art that inspires and enlivens these seniors, however: making art also serves as a testament to those parts of life which each artist values the most. When there are no limitations and no rules pertaining to what you create, many artists pull from their own personal experiences for their creations.
In some cases, as with the artists we interviewed, landscapes and natural scenes increase in popularity after retirement. The tranquility and beauty of those scenes that are found during walks and hikes in nature tend to stick around in the subconscious, begging for expression and realization. Light, movement, depth, color and shading combine to create complex and nuanced works that bring the viewer into the scene.
One such artist is Gary Baughman, whose pastel landscapes have won numerous awards throughout the southeast. Art has been a priority in Baughman’s life since his youth. “My playmate was a sheet of paper and a pencil,” he said with a laugh. As an only child growing up in the country, it was landscapes and farm animals that first piqued his interest as an artist.
Later, during his time at the Air Force Academy, Baughman revisited his love for art by taking art classes. Inspiration sprung from landscapes he saw while living in Colorado, and throughout his post-military career when he was working in real estate. “My goal was always to make enough money to take art classes,” he explained.
Despite the fact that Baughman’s parents were never able to afford private lessons, he developed as a self-taught artist as a young man and then refined his skills with classes later in life. “I couldn’t figure out what a medium was,” he said, explaining that it was the discovery of pastels which eventually caught his eye due to its brilliance.
Pastel is a medium that comes in fine powdery pigments of vibrant colors in the form of sticks or pencils.
Baughman first entered a piece into a show in 1993, and since then he has progressed to the point where he teaches others how to use watercolors, oils and pastels, mostly in Dallas, GA. Most of his work is inspired by things he has seen and experienced during excursions in nature, often at the Kennesaw National Battlefield Park near his home. As he explains it, he takes pictures of things he sees with his mind and then recalls them later for paintings.
While on a walk, he might come across a scene or location that speaks to him, and then “a month later that will show up in a painting.” Although most of what Baughman creates is intentional and pulled from his personal experiences, he also likes to step outside of the box to create emotive and expressionist pieces by throwing paint at canvases and then creating something from the forms that appear.
For Baughman, art has been a consistent part of his life since he can remember, and continues to be important to him as time passes. It’s when he’s at work with his paint and tools that he feels most at home. “They’re kind of like old friends,” he explained.
Smyrna artist and Georgia native Marsha Savage said she is a student at heart who approaches her craft with the goal, not necessarily to finish a piece, but to embrace the process. Savage is a lifelong learner who emphasizes that it “is about the journey, not the destination.”
Savage said she started painting at the encouragement of her best friend when she was staying at home as a young mother. Although she has attended some seminars in recent years, she refers to herself mostly as a self-taught artist.
For more than 40 years, Savage’s lush landscapes have been bringing the viewer to the scene, to feel the scene. She has painted in several mediums such as oil and acrylic, but it is pastel painting that has captured her heart.
“I like pastel because it captures the nuances of color and it’s immediate,” Savage said. “I have the ability to layer it; there is no mixing involved and dries a little faster than other mediums.”
She added that when she is painting she gets into a zone. “I let the painting tell me on which direction to go,” she said. “It’s about loving what I do and being open to the experience.”
Consistent with her love of nature, in “Protecting the Crop,” Savage captures the scenery of a farm in Cumming, Georgia. The piece depicts four scarecrows standing in attention overlooking the countryside. A relationship of implied vertical and horizontal lines between the scarecrows, the trees in the background, and the grass in the foreground all come together rendering this piece a balanced composition.
Always glad to share her technical skills, Savage is a mentor to many of her students. She admits that she learns something new every time she teaches.
She facilitates workshops in Georgia and sometimes out of state. One of her former students is Karen Margulis of Marietta, who alongside Savage is a member of the Southeastern Pastel Society and teams-up with her to conduct workshops.
“Marsha has a sensitive eye for the beauty around her,” Margulis said. “Her love of the environment comes through in her paintings.”
“I absolutely love to paint, and draw, and to make artwork,” said artist Arthur Jones. He admits to having a strong affinity for natural scenes, though he also enjoys inserting people into his landscapes. “I love people, and they are part of our lives,” he went on. Having characters in the works adds an element of relatability to the art and “I think it puts things into perspective, too.”
As a young man of just eight years old, Jones first discovered a love for art when he started drawing cartoon characters and airplanes. “It was the one thing I could do probably better than anybody else in my grammar school class,” he said, noting that this artistic trend continued throughout his high school experience. Ultimately, he wanted to be an illustrator and artist, and had his hopes set high when he started school at the Atlanta Art Institute.
After attending the school, however, Jones discovered that the shift to photography in advertising had a significant impact on his career prospects as an illustrator. “Times were hard,” he recalls, and therefore he made the choice to switch gears and went on to start and run two companies within the dental industry.
As an adult and with a family to consider, it was necessary to for a time turn his emphasis to practical matters and business. He never let those real-world circumstances deter him from making art, however, and continued to study under experienced and notable artists locally. After his daughter left for college and Jones retired, he was able to focus more exclusively on his craft.
“I am really happy when I’m sitting down in front of an easel with a brush in my hand,” Jones explained. “It’s a challenge, and it gets your mind off everything else. You lose track of time and your problems just sort of disappear.” The focus of making art is important and healthy for Jones, who has also benefited from joining groups of like-minded artists nearby.
Beyond the benefits of entering his artwork in themed or juried shows via these art organizations, he also notes the added benefit of inspiration, support and education. “As an artist, it helps to get involved with these organizations because it’s good to be around people with the same interests you have,” he said, “it keeps you going.”
Artistic expression is an important part of a balanced life at any age, so why do so many adults avoid starting something new, like picking up a new hobby, or finally painting that blank canvas that has been lingering in the corner? Perhaps it’s insecurity from lack of doing, or the anxiety that comes from lacking role models, but whatever the reason, don’t let that prevent you from taking on new challenges and learning technical skills along the way.
Join an artistic organization or society, host crafting nights with your friends or enter your work in local shows and exhibitions. Your story is worth sharing, so be like these inspirational seniors and learn to love your art!