Oils & Robots: Artist Chrissie Forbes explored her creative side after her retirement

Artist Chrissie Forbes dabbled in watercolors, but found her true calling in painting oils, such as this one titled “Springtime in Brenham.”

Retirement for Chrissie Forbes meant the end of teaching, but it opened the door to a colorful new beginning as an artist.

This avid artist explores color on canvas and creativity with found objects, especially her “robot art.”

She’s dabbled in watercolor, but prefers oils, which she says help give her paintings the desired color depth and vibrancy. She’s done plein air, but typically paints from her own photos of landscapes.

The walls of her Vancouver home feature many of her paintings — among them scenes from the Portland Japanese Garden, Victoria, B.C.’s iconic Butchart Gardens, peaks of Washington’s Olympic National Park, and breaking ocean waves. She also has painted pieces inspired by the dramatic images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Finding her creative side

Forbes, now 65, grew up in southern California, where she was a good student who also enjoyed embroidery, weaving and pottery. She graduated from high school early, and accompanied her older sister on a road trip, traversing the United States in a camper van and visiting national sites, from the NASA space centers to Niagara Falls.

Her family moved to Monroe, Oregon, when Forbes was 16 because her father sold his slide rule company and bought a 2,000-acre ranch. She attended the University Oregon, where her professors deemed her as most likely to succeed at teaching.

After graduation, Forbes stayed in Eugene, teaching elementary education for 30 years.

She came into art toward the end of her career as she began to consider what she would do after she stepped away from the classroom. A friend suggested they take a watercolor painting class together, an eye-opening decision that launched her fascination with color and how to mix paints to create myriad shades.

“It struck me how I had never really noticed color,” she says.

In Eugene, Forbes took classes and a lesson from Oregon artist Sarkis Antikajian, soaking in such things as how he mixed paint and how he painted in a “loose” fashion — the latter something that Forbes was trying to achieve in terms of her mindset and brush-stroke rhythm while painting.

She realized she had to “be willing to make mistakes,” she says. “When you’re loose, you tap into your creative energy and it feeds your soul.”

Another of Forbes’s teachers, who focused on watercolors, told her that she wouldn’t totally “get it” as a painter until she had created 100 paintings.

“That was freeing,” she says. “You don’t have to create the masterpiece. I could appreciate one aspect of one of my paintings.”

The Impressionists, particularly Vincent van Gogh, are major influences of hers.

Forbes’ painting and scope of art shifted gears when she moved to Austin, Texas, where she began painting longhorns, birds and dramatic landscapes showing sweeping skies and wildflowers. Soon, her neighbors were buying her paintings and Forbes had several art shows.

She used the money from her art sales to return to the Northwest, where she could be close to her daughter’s family.

But first, she began creating robots out of metal objects with another artist friend. They scoured secondhand stores for items in all sizes, and Forbes learned to use a variety of tools to create the pieces.

The “robot art,” she says, “really fits my need to create and the need for whimsy. The elementary school teacher in me attracts me to the whimsical.”

Forbes, who sells her art at an annual fair in downtown Vancouver’s Esther Short Park and at chrissieforbes.com, creates a tag for each robot piece featuring its name and an accompanying story.

Some pieces are relatively small, such as a coffee pot with critters climbing from the top. Others are large — including an 8-foot-by-8-foot chess board using linoleum tiles for the squares, and metal creatures from found objects for the pieces.

A workspace in her home, which also features her painting studio, includes hundreds of single metal objects on shelves waiting to be transformed into art.

Forbes has only one rule for her found object art: “If it makes me laugh, I know I’ve got it.”

It’s also an eye-opening creative outlet. “If you turn something upside down, it’s completely different,” says Forbes, picking up a simple teapot. “This could be a head. Every painting and critter is a problem to be solved. And I like to solve problems.”

She’s always had a thirst for learning. In the midst of her teaching career, she returned to school, where she learned how to work with both learning disabilities, and talented and gifted. She also took an astronomy class, “just because I wanted to learn more about it.”

Forbes says she used her creative energy to raise two children and work full time. These days, that energy goes into her art and spending time with her three grandchildren, ages 3 to 6. She says art is all about being inquisitive and having fun.

“I’m just really curious about learning things,” she says.

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