Getting better with age

Like good wines, many artists improve with age.

Even Shirley Pittman, 82, whose talents were recognized in her teens. Since her husband died two years ago, the mother of four and grandmother of 10 has focused even more on her painting.

“Rather than sit around, I just try to stay busy,” she said.

Eight of Pittman’s new watercolors are at Big Sky Cafe, which she transported from her Cambrian home.

“Richard (Big Sky owner Richard Myers) takes them in and hangs them,” she said, taking some of the load from her shoulders.

Pittman is also showing 30 paintings at the Allied Arts Association’s Cambria Center for the Arts, where she is featured artist through Oct. 30. She hired a crew to deliver those for her.

Plus, she still has paintings in the Botanical Garden for the San Luis Outdoor Painters for the Environment (SLOPE) exhibit.

Pittman was among a select group of local artists who were invited to paint along with 50 painters nationwide for the recent San Luis Obispo Museum of Art’s Plein Air Festival.

Pittman does a lot of her paintings with the Wednesday Irregulars, a group of outdoor painters who gather on Moonstone Beach Drive and head to various locations.

“I try to get there every week,” she said.

Most of the works at Big Sky were painted during her outings with the Irregulars and SLOPE. They include Edna Valley, Pismo Beach, Avila Beach, Bishop Peak, and the San Luis Obispo Mission.

Other sojourns with the Irregulars include the beaches and farms closer to home, plus the Casa Grande at Hearst Castle.

“You couldn’t have a more beautiful place than Cambria to paint,” she said, noting that as a Christian, she feels it’s all God’s creation.

Unlike a lot of painters who finish work in their studios, Pittman goes from a blank sheet to a completed work in watercolor on site. For some recent paintings in oil and acrylic, she does some finishing touches at home.

In addition to frequently painting, she’s kept her skills honed through workshops with such artists as Rex Brandt and Milford Zornes.

After retiring at age 60 from teaching art on educational television in Orange County, Pittman painted and exhibited for 10 years before resettling on the Central Coast in 1999.

She’d attended the Art Institute in Chicago and Chouinard Institute in Los Angeles and later studied art at Cal State Long Beach, and has exhibited statewide, and won Best of Show for two years for the Aquarius watercolor exhibit.

It wasn’t until a friend was doing a resume for her a few years ago that Pittman realized the significance of an honor she received while in high school.

“I received an award from Salvador Dali,” she said, chuckling that the name of the judge meant nothing to her when she was 16.

That was a long time ago.

“I’ve been painting all of my life,” Pittman said. “I’ve been thinking, maybe I should slow down.”