By Julia Barton EDITORIAL ASSISTANT
BOZEMAN — Self-described “oil-ish” painter Whitney Hall, 34, stands in her laundry-room-turned-art-studio, adding pencil atop layers of resin and oil paint to form a portrait of a speckled horse. Less than 20 minutes across town her mother, Terry Hall, 68, works on an oil painting of a woman in a spotted hat, the Bridger Mountains peeking through her window.
Hailing from San Diego, California, the two made their way to Bozeman in 2008, letting inspirations of the West incite growth in their artistic careers.
Terry’s art education began with a focus in fashion design illustration, inspiring her to attend workshops and classes geared toward the subject whenever she could. However, time and circumstance ultimately led her to transition her skills into a land planning corporation.
The artist homeschooled her children, bringing them to work and allowing them to crawl under drafting tables and color on scrap plans. “It was a lot of making things look like something they weren’t,” said Whitney, recalling some of her mother’s mural projects, including an entire house Terry painted to look as though it was lifted straight out of a Disney movie.
As a result of Terry’s careers, Whitney spent much of her childhood immersed in a world of her mother’s creations. “I grew up just thinking that everybody did art,” she said, adding that her aunt and grandmother were often drawing as well. In between homeschool lessons with her mother and father, the young artist was constantly drawing and coloring, fostering both a love and a talent for creating art.
As she grew older and began searching for college majors, Whitney took some introductory art classes at Palomar College in San Marcos, California, and quickly caught the attention of her instructors. As she became more immersed in these classes, she’d bring her work home to show her mother. By Whitney’s second year at Palomar, Terry had joined her in painting and pastel classes.
“I didn’t go into fine art because they say you can’t make any money as an artist,” said Terry. Following years in the commercial art world and a stint painting murals in southern California, Terry decided to take the leap into fine art, despite its seemingly less lucrative prospects.
The pair shared supplies and a campus parking pass, often workshopping ideas or discussing their course materials with one another. “I think it helped us progress faster than a lot of the other students just because it was constant feedback,” Whitney said, reflecting on taking art classes with her mother. “It was the buddy system,” Terry added with a smile.
As they both learned skills from the same instructors and drew from the California Impressionism art they were exposed to, their styles looked nearly identical to one another’s. “If we didn’t sign [our work] nobody would know the difference,” Whitney laughed.
The more they developed their skills, however, their styles began to diverge into something entirely their own.
After moving to Bozeman, the pair found inspiration in the Western traditions of Montana. For Terry, this manifested as portraiture of cowboys and Native women, whereas her daughter was drawn to the wildlife of the Northern Rockies, focusing largely on horses, deer and avian creatures.
Terry works primarily with oil paints, often starting with photos she captures and sketches with the final linework being enlarged by hand and transferred to a canvas. “I find an emotional draw [in a photo] that pulls me into wanting to develop that piece,” she explained.
From there, her style can differ depending on the vision she has for the piece, often blending realism with bold patterns or varying textures. Terry will sometimes paint over gold leaf, a thin gold foil glued to the canvas, allowing the gold to shine through in certain areas as she paints over with oils; other times, she’ll focus on the basics of her subject, creating a caricature-like image.
As for Whitney, she often starts with a very limited color palette, sketching her work with oil paints, making thumbnail works of horses, flowers, birds and the like on thin pieces of clear plastic. “I’ve gotten in the habit of mostly going straight into studies,” she explained, gesturing to a series of small horse heads she’d painted from different angles.
Whitney then develops these into larger works on canvas, where Whitney plays with layering techniques. For her more traditional Western art, these layers are often limited to oil paints and pencils with the occasional gold leaf.
The soft, playful nature of Whitney’s personality bleeds into her paintings through edges that blend seamlessly into the background and organic sketch-like lines peeking through the layers of oil paints. Although Whitney and her mother share elements of their figurative style, Terry’s work often features a stark contrast between subject and background, making bold statements through her work as she does with her voice.
Although inarguably strong artists in their own right, the way their work plays off one another’s style hints to how the vitality of their relationship pushed them both to new creations.
Recently, both artists have shifted their focus from Western galleries to their personal ventures, allowing more creativity and experimentation to enter their work. “I got pretty well known for [Western art,] but it drove me into a bit of a rut. I felt like everybody was expecting a certain type of art,” Whitney explained.
These days, Whitney puts a portion of her time toward teaching workshops and sells much of her work on her website. Although she still draws from Western inspiration, she’s given herself more freedom to explore layers using materials such as resin to push her boundary as an artist, opting to paint the less expected.
Terry, who agreed she too felt constrained by producing for Western galleries, has moved much of her art sales to her website as well. She is moving back to her roots, painting less Western portraiture and incorporating elements from the graphic design and pop art styles she began her art journey with.
Despite their separate studios and art styles, the mother-daughter duo still often paint and sketch together. They each continue to grow their art styles and share their knowledge with the community through workshops and lessons, and their connection, as both artists and family members, is palpable when they’re working together.
“There’s a few couples and mother-son artists, but there’s not a lot of mother and daughter artist teams in Bozeman,” Terry said, smiling at her daughter who agreed.
See more of their art and follow their progress through their respective websites, terrycookehall.com and art.whitneymhall.com.