Getting a four-page spread this month in American Art Collector magazine, a tie-in with her recent eighth solo exhibit at The Vault Gallery, doesn’t turn Libby Tolley’s head.
National recognition is nothing new for the Los Osos artist, who has been published in dozens of books and magazines, shown in more than 60 national and international invitational and solo shows and won numerous awards. She’s also enjoying the success of her book, “Oil Painter’s Solution Book: Landscapes,” which is on its second printing.
In addition, Tolley took best of show at the Glenna Hartmann Fine Art Invitational Exhibit in Santa Barbara in February. Vault owner Laylan called it one of the finest art exhibitions created on the West Coast. The award thrilled Tolley, but it was bittersweet, as Hartmann, who died two years ago, was a dear friend and fellow plein air painter.
Tolley derives much pleasure from other artists. She describes them and herself as “a bunch of square pegs that don’t fit into round holes.”
The first few times Tolley painted in the open air were with landscape painter George Gibson, who was recommended by her mentor Darwin Musselman.
“I do remember it and how daunting it was,” Tolley recalled, adding she needs to keep that in mind now that she teaches workshops, so students won’t be discouraged.
For Tolley, the biggest problem with painting on location was figuring out what to paint.
“There’s so much. That can be overwhelming outdoors,” she said.
Other than a few close calls with snakes, the elements also can take their toll occasionally.
“I’ve had a few disappointing times, like when the canvas came off my easel,” torn and blown by the wind, she recalled.
Tolley is a whirlwind herself, spinning from art shows to workshops and various painting sites between California and Maine. Last year her travels took her to Georgia and New Mexico. Early this month she and her husband went to Mariposa in preparation for the Sierra Foothills Plein Air Exhibit in August.
As she painted in a pasture there, a calf slurped at her leg with its wet tongue. She laughs about being a human salt lick, but it was distracting.
During that three-day trip, she whipped out three paintings a day. “I get up at dark, paint till dark, and at dark-thirty I come in,” she said.
These plein air paintings will become references for the larger, more detailed paintings she does in her home studio.
She basically locked herself up there for a month to complete 20 paintings for The Vault, which has represented her since 1995.“I was painting 10 to 15 hours a day,” Tolley said. “I’m highly distractible,’’ she added, so “I have to stay focused.’’
To successfully undertake such big paintings, she said, she must be prepared at the outset with a mental image. After that, “a painting just takes its own time to grow.”