By: Alice Osborn
The minute you walk into Lori White’s studio you instantly feel the calm and quiet she captures in the still moments of our busy world: herons at the coast, fog over a lake, sailboats tied up at the harbor, city streets after a heavy rain, and old tobacco barns abandoned on the side of the road.
Before becoming a contemporary realist painter of landscapes and still lifes 15 years ago, White worked for the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and NIEHS (National
Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) in scientific and administrative roles. She says, “I loved the work I did there. I think it really made a difference in protecting the environment, and in my art I want to continue that, but in a different way, by making people aware of what we’ve got and how important it is, how beautiful it is, so we can maintain it.” Her paintings reflect her commitment to preserving not only a moment in time where the land and water meet, but the coastal ecosystems themselves— the fragile coastlines, marshes, and bays—that are a vital part of North Carolina’s magnificent landscape.
Most of White’s oils and pastels are created outside the four walls of her studio where she employs the principles of plein air painting technique that involve the astute observation of light and movement. When White heads out to the marsh to paint from her kayak, she uses a cigar box as a paint box holding her small tubes of paint. “The trick is to anchor somewhere where the boat doesn’t move because otherwise your scene keeps changing. And it’s just really peaceful sitting out there in the marsh.” While she enjoys painting solo, many times she and other plein air artists gather together for excursions, workshops, and conventions, laying in their compositions and mixing their palette to paint shifting clouds on a sunny, windy day. “I’ve always liked to hike and just be outside,” White states. “So being a plein air painter in general is a way to do everything I want to do.”
Being organized and flexible are vital skills for any artist, and even more so for the plein air painter who needs to make the most of their time outdoors due to changing light and weather conditions. Lori White only recently became a full-time painter earlier this year. She knows the lessons of wise scheduling after years of blocking off time to paint on weekends and evenings after work and not being tempted by last-minute invitations to see a movie or go to dinner. What are her words of advice to an emerging artist? “Hard work, believing in oneself, perseverance and collaboration. Sometimes you don’t realize that, but it ’s important to connect with other people who are doing what you’re doing and believe in what you do.”
Raised in New Bethlehem, a small coal mining town in western Pennsylvania, White’s life changed in an instant when at 11 years old she was hit by a car while crossing the street. Her two broken legs took months to heal and even after she was out of the casts she couldn’t walk well for a while. She was looking for something to do and found Isabel Hepler, a local artist with a store-front gallery, who became White’s first art teacher from the ages of 12 to 15. “I would paint along with her and she taught me how to use oils and mix colors, and atmospheric perspective, things like that.” White took drawing classes in high school, but she answered the call of biology in college, not art. After 9/11 she started reevaluating\ her priorities. “My two kids were getting older so I had more time and space. They were less dependent on me. In 2002, I made a trip to see Jill Flink, when she still had her gallery and little art supply store at Cameron Village. I bought a few art supplies, took workshops, studied on my own and haven’t stopped since.” She joined the Local Color gallery in the Carter Building at the intersection of Hillsborough Street and Glenwood Avenue in 2002 and that artist group has evolved into Tipping Paint Gallery at 311 Martin Street in the heart of the Warehouse District in downtown Raleigh.
Now, as a full-time artist whose paintings are frequently featured locally, regionally, and nationally, Lori White is on a mission to educate more of the public about the importance of buying local art. She remarks that many of her buyers are “people who have an appreciation for art and who like the local landscapes and want to have something in their homes that remind them of where they’ve been or the places they’ve lived or where they grew up.” She believes a greater number of people would buy art if there was more art education in the schools. “For example, whatever subject matter you’re choosing to paint, it allows you to really look at it—it’s about learning how to really see things. Artists have been saying that for years and it ’s absolutely true. When you’re on vacation and you’re taking photographs trying to snap everything, often you’re just so busy taking photographs that you don’t actually stand there and look at what’s in front of you. So by painting something, especially landscapes, it necessitates that you really look at it and take it in.”
Find Lori White’s paintings at Tipping Paint Gallery, 311 W. Martin St., Raleigh; Fine Art at Baxter’s, 323 Pollock St., New Bern, NC, 28560; Ambleside Gallery, 528 S Elm St Greensboro, NC, 27406, and Hill Country Woodworks, 2113 Old Greensboro Rd., Chapel Hill, NC.
Learn more about Lori White and her work at