Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Hello, I'm Dr. Lisa Belisle and today I am in the studio with artist Whitney Heavey. It's really a great pleasure to have you here today.

 

Whitney Heavey:

Thanks Lisa. It's great to be here.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I'm enjoying this piece behind us. It's called Holiday and appears to include pink beach roses.

 

Whitney Heavey:

Yes. Although beach roses are definitely a source of inspiration for me (I see them a lot) I wasn't looking at beach roses specifically. They are a little bit abstracted in this painting. But they are probably my biggest flower reference from the coast and wild phlox sometimes too.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So wild phlox. What color are wild phlox,

 

Whitney Heavey: 

They are a kind of a pinky lavender. and I think it blooms on Cape Cod around July. I think that's what it is. I should look it up and make sure

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I know that happens to me all the time where I'm out  running and I'm like, okay, can I remember this long enough so I can get home and look up this flower that I'm so interested in watching as I'm going by.

 

Whitney Heavey:

You probably get a lot more miles in because I stop and I take a lot of photos on my runs.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I think you'd be surprised.

 

Whitney Heavey:

Oh, really?

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

<laugh> Yes. I also get very easily distracted. So yes. Which is not the worst thing.

 

Whitney Heavey:

That's how we take in the outside world and all this nature. If I was just focused on the ground in front of me, I wouldn't be able to paint what I paint.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So looking back at this piece behind us, tell me a little bit about your process. Do you stop and take a photo while you're running or when you're otherwise out? Do you work from a photo? Do you work from memory? How do you do it?

 

Whitney Heavey:

I don’t always work the same way. I use sketchbooks a lot. I use photos. I also use videos because I feel like it can capture air quality and the sound of the birds or a breeze or the humidity level and sometimes I use the sketchbooks to write a little bit about the scene. Sometimes paintings evolve. They start with a physical location or a physical area but then they evolve to a little more. I take a little more license sometimes. We had spent time in Cape Elizabeth and it was a different season and I just imagined coming back during the summer, or a different time on a holiday. So sometimes they take a direction of their own. I kind of let the painting decide.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle

That makes sense. So if we're looking at this one that is called Holiday, tell me how you came to evolve this piece.

 

Whitney Heavey:

Today we were talking about failure at a workshop I was at at the Portland Art Gallery. The presenter was asking us about a failure you had had in your studio and what that looked like. And I was thinking about this painting. If I had walked away this would've been a failure. Painting it was a struggle.

I've done a lot of work on shifting my mindset in recent years. And this painting was an epic battle. If you picked it up, you’d notice that it’s very heavy. It’s got probably 30 layers of paint and maybe three of them would've been good as they were. But I kept painting and I look at it instead of as a recovered failure. It was a great teaching opportunity. And I feel like the paintings that I struggle with the most, I learn a lot from whether it's about myself, the process, color, anything. so this one really was a challenge, but once I shifted it to, okay, this painting has a lot to teach me. I came to a better place with it.

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Why the name Holiday?

 

Whitney Heavey:

I have ADHD, so I'm definitely all over the place at times. And I like music. I like eclectic mood music. I also am a sucker for old movies with actresses like Doris Day. I love the idea of going on holiday, not necessarily a holiday, but using the term holiday for vacation. And in this day and age where work follows us 24/7, and it's very hard to delineate non-work time for both my husband and I and I just love that sort of old fashioned term going on a holiday with the Doris Day outfit and jetting off somewhere. And the idea of it being play time, time away from work time for leisure time to read, to slow down. It's a very happy thing to me. And I would think most people would think that. It's something I strive for just to get to a place where we can just play. <laugh>, you know, it's hard to fit that in when you love your job and you wanna work all the time.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So in looking at this piece, what's also interesting, as you're describing the process, is that you put a lot of work into it. You put all those layers, those 30 layers on it, so that when you keep to the end, things did open up for you I'm imagining.

 

Whitney Heavey:

Yes, definitely. There are times where I have to step away and come back to my paintings. I know when they're done but with some it's a little harder to know, and I have to be careful not to keep going into them. Sometimes that struggle leads to a painting you're happier with or a painting you're excited about.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I would think that it is an interesting challenge to know when a painting is done versus not done versus overworking something and spending too much time and going back to it. How do you try to figure that out?

 

Whitney Heavey:

Well, it's definitely a challenge. A lot of artists are afraid of a white canvas. They're intimidated by it. I love jumping right in. I love the unknown. I don't plan my paintings out. I might have a general idea of color or place or intention but I like to jump right in. And a lot of times I do an underpainting first. When I start painting,  on top of the underpainting, I get some kind of exciting things happening. But finishing paintings, that is a little harder for me. With some paintings, I know right away that this is it, this is good and I walk away. <laugh>  But other paintings have more to teach me. And I have to spend more time figuring out what they want to say.  I'm selling my paintings to people who have worked hard for their money and  I feel like I have to put my best work forward. So I don't want to just put out work that I'm not happy with. I want to be proud of the work that goes out into the world. So sometimes that means more and more time with it. 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Do you think people would be surprised to know that this idea of failure being important in art is actually a thing? Do you think that people understand that sometimes the first time you do something that it’s not exactly perfect and that you have to walk away and come back and look at things differently? 

 

Whitney Heavey:

I think the beauty of Instagram is that a lot of people who aren't artists are getting to know artists more and the process more. So I think that maybe it gives some insight to that. And, to be honest, I think perfectionism for me can ruin a good painting because I think it's the imperfections that make it more interesting to me. I think it's good for people to hear that and see a little of the process. And, I've also had people ask “how long did this painting take you?” I've talked with several artists about this and we all sort of agree that It took our whole life. It took the failures, it took the paintings that we ended up scrapping, it took the successes. So I think if one painting comes together more quickly and one takes a lot longer, they both took my whole life up until that point. And I'm excited to see what the next paintings are going to be.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

That's a really profound idea because I think that a lot of times, well, I'll just use medicine as an example, when a patient will come up to me in the grocery store and say, Hey, could you look at my mole? It's no big deal. It's what you do. It's like, well, a lot went into my current state of this particular profession I'm engaging in. So it's not so simple as like no big deal, like, just look at your skin lesion in a supermarket. So I think that's a really interesting thing for people to know is that we might see something and think, oh, well, how hard could that be? Right. I mean, I hear this often about abstract art in particular, like a kindergartner could have done it. Well, not really. There's really a lot more to it. Art is so hard. 

 

Whitney Heavey: 

It's really hard. It's no, it's true. And, and I think so many people say to me, you're so talented, you're so talented. And I think personally, everyone can be an artist. I might, you know, upset certain people. If I say that maybe not everyone can be every type of artist, but I think for me, I've put the hours in, I show up every day, I paint every – it's years and years of learning, and I'm gonna deviate a little bit. <laugh> I think about there's certain things like yoga and tennis, that the more you learn, the more you get to know it, it's like suddenly you realize how much more there is to learn. And it's like a mind blowing moment. And I think art is like that, you know, the more you get into it, the more you realize, wow, there's so much more I wanna learn. And we're always striving to do the next painting better than the last. So I don't know if that I kind of went all over there, but 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

No, I think you answered it really

 

Whitney Heavey:

Well. Oh, good. Good.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I want to ask you about this reframing idea, this idea that you, in particular, this painting, you looked at it one way, and then you had to think about it a different way in order to look at it differently. And, and I, I think you also are doing this sort of thing even with your own life.

 

Whitney Heavey:

Yes.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So talk to me about that.

 

Whitney Heavey: 

Well, there's technically things you can do to reframe a painting like looking at it through a photograph in the editorial process looking at it in a mirror through a mirror to see it with fresh eyes, taking it to a different place to look at it. I often think I, I deliver a lot of wet paintings, but I need to or I would love to build in time to bring the paintings home and see them in a different setting. As far as sort of reframing my mental state or my emotional state, I'm, I'm trying to, you know, it's, it's been a really tough year for me personally. It's been a tough year for a lot of people personally, or a lot of people. But I also have an amazing life. So I've really tried to reframe my mind.

 

Whitney Heavey: 

And I do this practice that I started with three dear friends called “Glad.” And we did it daily for a while at the beginning of the pandemic texting and it's: grateful, learned, accomplished, and delight. And  one of the women who suggested it is a life coach and very wise. And, you know, there are days where it's life makes it a tough day and it's sometimes hard to look for the positives when, you know, it seems like everything's going, you know, I don't wanna swear, but you know, in a bad place. And this practice has just been good for me. You know, there's some days where a bed to sleep in or running water or <laugh> is a really good thing to look at. And also just, what am I trying to learn? How am I trying to grow?

 

Whitney Heavey: 

 and some days where you just have to say, I got up, I got dressed. <laugh>, you know, I got to my studio or whatever, anything basic. And then the delight I love because it's oftentimes for me in nature. And this past year and a half has been particularly tough because I haven't been running because I had an injury. And so often that was where I got a lot of nature and delight, it's all around us. I mean, there's so much beauty in the natural world, but you have to be present to see it. And you can't be thinking about all the things that are bad or going wrong, if you spend your whole time, when you're out in nature, letting the anxious thoughts, you know, the to-do list, the, everything, you're not as present. So I'm really working on trying to be present. Some of those things are practices that I'm working on, like the glad practice. Some are, I try things and maybe they don't stick. I got a nice comfy chair for my studio. So I'm hoping to do more reading about art, writing about art having a place, setting the stage, so to speak, and meditation.

 

Whitney Heavey: 

Oh, good grounding. And when I've grounded, well, when I'm grounded, it helps my art. although sometimes <laugh>, if I'm not grounded or things are crazy painting is therapy, therapeutic it's it's, I just love what I do, and I feel so grateful to do it. Even on the tough days, so <affirmative>, so

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I was telling you about a piece that is currently up at the Portland Art Gallery which I believe is Fair Winds and Following Seas.

 

Whitney Heavey: 

Yes. Fair Winds and Following Seas.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

There's something about it. I just sat there and looked at it for a while, and there's just this effervescence about it, there's this lightness. And I think when you and I were talking about it, you kind of mentioned something about the effect that you were trying to get. Talk to me about that.

 

Whitney Heavey: 

Well, that's amazing that you use that term effervescence because I've been spending more time by the water. Now that I live on the coast of Cape Cod off season, I see a lot more light on the water midday, whereas in the summer it tends to be more at the end of the day. I've always wanted to capture that in a painting, and it's a tricky thing to capture it in a natural way. Well, I wanna capture it in a natural way, but not necessarily a literal way. So that painting, I was in struggle with that one too, and not sure how I was gonna get there to the end. I had this one afternoon after that one has a lot of layers on it, too. I just painted in this like flurry and I was really trying to experiment with how I put down the paint.

 

Whitney Heavey: 

and all of a sudden it just started happening and I could have worked on a little more, but I stopped and I'm glad I stopped. But I think that kind of thing, being able to experiment with my work and how I apply paint and getting different effects. That was one that I was really happy with. I don't know if you noticed, but boats are in a lot of my paintings and someone at the gallery today was talking about another artist and boats representing people. And I think a lot about how boats are often in my work. And I think a lot about boats, sometimes reflecting or representing people; people that have left our lives. Also there's just something about being on a boat. And I, now I'm kind of like circling around, but I've become this big floater and this might go to mind shift.

 

Whitney Heavey: 

So I'm bringing it full circle. I'm trying to see if you can follow the path. So years ago, I wanted to learn how to float. I had read this book Blue Mind, and it was about you know, the science behind being on the water, near the water in the water and how, how it impacts us. I listen to it on audio, and it talks a lot about floating and the effect on the nervous system. I hope I don't get any of the information wrong, I'm not a scientist or doctor, but I was determined to try floating. So that summer, and I had never been a good floater as a kid ever, and that summer, I just mastered floating and, you know, I could be busy all day, but run down to the water on a hot day at the end of the day and float in the water. And I think I realized to truly float, you literally have to stop trying completely, like it was amazing. And the sort of, for someone like me who was so distracted visually, to sort of quiet all the senses and just still the mind, it's been magical. And so I think about boats and floating, and there is something, even though you're not in the water, when you're on a boat, you can get that sensation, that relaxation, that slowing down of everything. So anyways,

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

You may or may not know this but the person who wrote that book actually is related to another Portland Art Gallery artist Jill Hoy. The next time you see Jill, you'll have to bring this up.

 

Whitney Heavey:

I will. I've given away a lot of blue marbles in my life.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

Well, it's, I mean, because that individual, and I wrote a story about this, that's why I know this Because I interviewed that person and it's always funny how kind of things come around in life?

 

Whitney Heavey:

Oh yes, definitely.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I think you're not alone in this, this kind of acknowledgement that, that water and floating and kind of letting go is so important.

 

Whitney Heavey: 

Absolutely. And I think with technology, we're never bored. We're never bored, so we don't have as much opportunity to wander or to be slow or <laugh> and we need it. And I think we're all, I think it's sort of why so many people have taken up art or, you know, seeking out meditation or yoga. We're just so stimulated in so many ways. And so painting is, can be that for me, which is, you know, another reason to paint every day. So,

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

Well, I don't paint, but I still remember when I was growing up being on a raft in the middle of Little Sebago and just looking up at the sky mm-hmm <affirmative> and I could do that for hours and hours and hours. Oh yeah. My brothers and sisters, and I have many of them, they would be running around on the shore and they would require all kinds of attention from other older people. But I was in the middle of Little Sebago just looking up at the clouds and it really is magical.

 

Whitney Heavey:

It really is. And there's nothing like it. And it, I don't know. It just makes you feel like, I mean, you're such a small part of this universe and to just see the scope of the universe, when you look up the stars, I'm a huge stargazer and you know, you don't see those crazy comments or shooting stars if you're not looking up. So there's just so much wonder out there and delight and the glad practice. Now I'm circling back to that. It kind of is a good daily reminder to be looking for the beauty, the natural wonders in the world that do bring us that sort of feeling of awe or just spark our imagination or whatever. So

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

You also have water kind of running through your veins. Wasn't your father in the Navy?

 

Whitney Heavey: 

My father was in the Navy when he was younger.  He was a navigator for the first nuclear submarine. My paternal grandfather was the captain of an ocean liner called the SS United States which set a transatlantic record as being the fastest ocean liner. It was when ocean liners were majestic. He ended up being the Commodore of that fleet of the United States lines, of which there were several ships and then he was also in the merchant Marines. And so a lot of boats on that side. And my oldest daughter was a coxswain for a rowing team in college.

 

Whitney Heavey:

And then my mom's family also grew up on a bay. There was some sailing going on there and so a lot of boats were in the family. I actually have been thinking about the SS United States a lot recently, my father passed away in May. And so I was helping go through a lot of his stuff and my grandfather's stuff that he had inherited and the SS United States, it was such a cool looking ship. I think when I was younger, maybe in middle school, he was sort of the family celebrity. I mean, he met so many incredible people, Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor and Dwight D. Eisenhower. And but no one in the family was allowed to go on the ship because, if the ship went down, he had to be captain.

 

Whitney Heavey: 

He couldn't be a family member. So when I was in middle school I think, I did a wood cut of an image from the ship. And it's definitely something that I've toyed with trying to do some paintings from the ship because it's graphically and design wise just really cool. And it's such a history.  It's a part of our history that is getting further back and you know, it all changed with air travel. So it was back in the day when people traveled by ship. You might see some potential work in the future. I also love old fishing boats too, and row boats, and sailboats. I have a long list to paint. Lisa, I've got a lot of work to do in my future. <laugh>

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

Well, that's good. It gives us things to look forward to.

 

Whitney Heavey: 

I hope so. Yes. Yes, definitely. Me too. <laugh>

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

I mean, there's also something really metaphorical about boats. This idea that you do sometimes have fair season following winds. Did I say that correctly? And some days you have turbulence and you have hurricanes and you have, and just, you know, you're clinging to the boat just to stay alive.

 

Whitney Heavey: 

Absolutely. Absolutely. And you know, they're all part of boating and the sea was calm eventually and, you know, the storms pass and you're still afloat. <laugh> Boats are definitely a symbol of resilience and rolling with it. One of my favorite books was actually written, it's called First, you Have to Row a Little Boat. Do you know that book?

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

I do

 

Whitney Heavey: 

So that was written in the town that my mom grew up in Freeport Long Island on Great South Bay. And there's so many great lessons in that book about life. And, you know, sometimes the fastest way to the other Harbor, isn't a straight line or there's just so many good ones in there. And I think we can, we can all get a lot from that, those lessons, patience, perseverance, resilience, <laugh> rolling with the waves, et cetera.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

It also speaks to this sort of changeable nature of the sea that is represented even in the work that you do. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. So when you talk about putting 30 layers on canvas, I mean, that's, that is inherently the ocean.

 

Whitney Heavey:

Totally, totally. And I've been thinking a lot lately about layers and below the surface. And backing up years ago when I was in college, I painted a lot of trees and a lot of big sailboats. I had been on some big boats when I was younger. I was on a sailing team in high school, not very good, but I loved all the verticals of trees and sailboats when the boat was the main subject. I knew though that I always wanted to paint the ocean and it was more of a challenge to paint, a simple, I call it simple, it's not simple sea and sky and make it interesting because there's no physical structure if you're just painting sea and sky. I mean, yes, there's some land in this one, but some of mine are just water and air and nothing else.

 

Whitney Heavey: 

And I lost my train of thought again. It's funny how that happens. So I think, well well under the surface, that's what it was, you know, there's a lot under the surface of the water that can impact the action of the ocean or the surface. The surface of the water can be affected by a shipwreck underneath with the change in the floor of the ocean. It can be affected by weather patterns and wind and boat, traffic, and storm fronts and all that. So I think, I don't know. I'm just, I'm, I'm I think a lot about it and I, I definitely it's, it's always something I'm exploring. There's so much depth to the ocean and no two days are alike. If you look at the water multiple times a day, it's never the same. So I love that. 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

So it's interesting when, as I'm listening to this, that you're describing the importance for you of being grounded, because you are dealing with such a lack of groundedness in your work. So it actually makes a lot of sense to me that you kind of need an anchor so that you can at least keep your boat there long enough to get something on the canvas.

 

Whitney Heavey: 

Yes, definitely. Definitely. And I think there's a lot of my paintings that come across as happy and they feel joyful and there's some paintings I do that feel a little moodier or a little more stormy, and I'm a Pisces <laugh> and we're very sensitive people. And we take a lot in, and I try to honor my emotions and my feelings and not try to, you can't control the ocean. You can't control your emotions, but I think it's another one of my favorite books, the Untethered Soul, have you read that one? You know, that was a life changing book for me too. Just sort of letting the emotions come through you as opposed to holding you back or, or keeping you stuck. So yeah, so,

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

So that's a slightly different thing where you're allowing yourself to become one with the water as opposed to needing to anchor yourself. 

 

Whitney Heavey:

Definitely.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

So's kind of all the phases,

 

Whitney Heavey: 

Maybe the anchors sort of, I mean, there was a time period in this last year after my father had passed away and there was a lot going on, and I had to manage a lot and it was right around the time I was moving and some other big things to help my mom. And it was crazy. It was like the storm of the century. The perfect storm where all three weather systems sort of came together. And in those cases, sometimes you do need an anchor. And sometimes you don't  if you know there's a safe harbor and you'll float the right way. But I think it's sort of trusting those things when you need them. 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

Well, isn't that kind of a very pisces way of approaching things as a fish. And I noticed you're, you're wearing, I believe fish.

 

Whitney Heavey:

Oh, yeah. Fish today, although it's fish bones. So I don't know, but maybe it's and this I have a piece of beach glass, and it's a bottle a ring from the top of a bottle. And I always say, this is kind of like my spirit piece. It's just my link to the ocean. And my grandmother, my mom's mom, was a big beach glass collector. It was back in the day when there was a lot more beach glass out there. And my mom's a huge beach goer. A lot of people call her the beach lady. So I've had a lot of inspiration from her as well, appreciating nature. 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

Yeah. So it seems as though, even though theoretically, the idea of rootedness and groundedness in trees is a good thing for you. You probably won't ever be able to pull too far away from the water.

 

Whitney Heavey: 

No, for me personally, I'm someone who does best with rituals or practices. Like, I don't think I could ever be someone who just wanders around traveling without a plan. I like that maybe, we're going very nautical here. Maybe it's sort of like, you know, to go out in a boat, you have to have some equipment with you and have to have some navigation and some safety devices. And unless you just throw an anchor out right at shore and you're just floating in the boat and you don't really have to have a plan, but you have to know the situation and be prepared, but then go with the flow sometimes. So <laugh>,

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

Well, I've personally enjoyed having this conversation with you about the ocean and all of the nautical themes. I often think of life as being extremely metaphorical. It's always about the story and how it comes back to you as an individual. And clearly you've spent a lot of time thinking about this as well.

 

Whitney Heavey: 

I do, I do sometimes. And <laugh> we all need the ocean sometimes, so we can stop thinking too. <laugh> because we need that rest. And I just wanna say, thank you so much to you for all you've done. I've really enjoyed your interviews with other artists and  hearing other artists going through the stuff they've gone through. It makes me alone in my studio not feel so alone. And I really appreciate what you do and really what everyone at Portland Art Gallery does for us artists. They really seem to care about our ability to float and sail and, you know, be anchored in storms and everything. So it really feels, it feels great. So thank you.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Well, thank you. And it truly is my pleasure. I enjoy getting to know people like you and you in particular. And I was really looking forward to having the chance to talk with you because I know you've had an interesting year and you've made it through to the other side to some extent. So I'm glad that you took this time to come in and connect with me.

 

Whitney Heavey:

Thank you, Lisa. Thank you so much. I'm very lucky that I get to be here today. So thank you.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I've been speaking with Portland Art Gallery artist Whitney Heavey. And I know that if you take the time to go to the Portland Art Gallery, or the website, you'll really enjoy her pieces and particularly the ones that we've been talking about today. I can't imagine they're gonna stay on the walls or on the website for too long. Thanks for coming in today.

 

Whitney Heavey:

Thanks Lisa.