The Tortoise and the Hare
Slow-and-steady watercolorist Yvette Creel creates her own niche
By Emily NemensPosted Jun 27, 2012
Speckled river rocks, peeling tree bark, and shiny, round objects – these are typical subjects for a watercolorist who wants to show off her technical chops. But scary little bunnies? With a series of cute, evil thumpers, and her innovative approach to a conservative medium, local artist Yvette Creel is making a name for herself in not one but two of Baton Rouge’s art communities.
A watercolor way of life
Creel, a Baton Rouge native, started watercoloring at the city’s Fine Arts Academy when she was 12. Even as her academic and professional focus turned to graphic design, she kept painting.
“I really like the fact that it’s so fluid. You can’t really make any mistakes, so maybe you go a little slower, and it’s not so whimsical,” Creel said.
There’s also a pragmatic motivation to picking watercolor over oil or acrylic paints.
“Because you can’t make any mistakes, maybe it’s a little harder. Maybe there’s not as much competition out there.”
There are other watercolorists, of course.
“We’ve got a very strong watercolor society here in Louisiana,” Creel said. But for all the painters out there, she said few are making work as “painfully detailed” as hers.
Creel’s method is slow going – a big work can take up to 80 hours – but the payoff is high. She’s not one to show it off, but she’s got a drawer full of ribbons from local and regional shows.
With the no-mistakes mantra of the watercolorist, what does she do to unwind? She had to think about it for a minute, but decided cooking and biking help. Oh, and she occasionally makes the trek to Burning Man, California’s epic alt-culture festival.
Facets of surface
Creel’s nature series spans from rocks to rhinos. To develop her technical mastery of texture and pattern, she worked on spheres for a number of years.
“They evolve from being metal and engraved on leather and silk to wood, tamed from natural fibers.”
Currently she is working on a series of blown up chessboards and giant chess pieces.
“I just liked the contrast of the sharp black and white,” she said.
Is she a chess player?
“Not well,” she admitted with a laugh.
Creel also has an ongoing series of paintings centered on the demonic bunnies Chaz and Whitman. The models are two wooden rabbits she got at a New Orleans antique store. In the past few years, Creel has gotten them into all sorts of shenanigans. Creel said her usual audience wasn’t too responsive, but then, she continued, “I took them to a Stabbed in the Art here in Baton Rouge and sold five of them in one night. They’ve done well ever since.”
World traveler, back home
After starting her artistic journey in Baton Rouge, Creel went to school at New Orleans’ Loyola University, and then moved to Houston, where she studied at the Glassel School of Art. After having some fun in London, she landed in San Francisco, where she worked for Disney until the dotcom bust sent her back to Baton Rouge.
More recently, Creel met and married her husband.
Their house has a sun-drenched painting studio, and she’s spending more time there now that budget cuts meant leaving her full-time design job. Creel is making lemonade from lemons: She used to paint from 8 p.m. until 1 a.m., and now has all day to work on projects and build her freelance design practice. “It feels great” to be full time on her own, she said.
She just finished showing at the French Quarter Fest, and she has work up in the St. Tammany Art Association Summer Show in Covington. She’s represented by Martin’s Gallery in Baton Rouge and is looking for a gallery to sell her work in New Orleans.
Minding the generation gap
Creel is also gearing up for another semester of graduate school at LSU, where she’s getting a master’s degree in Graphic Design. She’s glad to be back in school. “Graphic design classes really force you to be creative. In my corporate job, it felt like there were a lot of standard operating procedures… In my new projects, it’s, ‘Do whatever you can, be as crazy as you like. Fold it up, set fire to it. That’s cool, too.’”
Going back to school is just one way Creel spans the generation gap. She enjoys the vibrant young arts scene in Baton Rouge.
“I see a really active young crowd. I only see it growing,” she said. But she’s very involved in the watercolorist associations as well.
“Some of the art societies that I’m into seem a lot more conservative. They don’t seem to have a lot of new members.”
Both the young guns and the old stalwarts may be working in Baton Rouge, but Creel said, “It doesn’t seem like the two groups are doing the same art in the same place.”
While she hopes Baton Rouge can support a gallery somewhere between the two, for now she’s happy to hop between the two scenes, painting all the way.
Creel’s work will be on view at Haven Gallery, 651 Laurel St., Friday, June 29, from 6 to 10 p.m.
For more information on Yvette Creel and her work, visit www.YvetteCreel.com