Biographical Sketch

A version of this sketch originally
appeared in VoyageLA online magazine in 2018


Today we’d like to introduce you to
Elizabeth Preston.

Every artist has a unique story. Can
you briefly walk us through yours?

My grandfather was a successful
interior decorator.  The colors and fabrics in his workroom provided a “playroom”
of sorts for me as a young girl.  My budding artistic efforts were
squelched by humiliating classroom criticism from a junior high art teacher.
 With that, I wouldn’t pick up a pencil or paintbrush for the next twenty
years.  My life moved on to being a corporate wife, raising children, and
enjoying art history and fine art as a spectator.  Then fate stepped in.

I was a housewife and young mother
of two in St. Louis and I was unexpectedly afflicted for six weeks with a
systemic viral infection.  The illness and prescribed bed rest, with
normal activity stopped in its tracks, relying on others to care for my
children, caused a deep depression and despair about my life.  In bed, I
read of an exhibit coming to the St. Louis Museum of Art.  Memories of my
teenage aspirations to draw and paint came to mind.  I decided to visit
the museum as soon as I could get strength to walk.  At last, weakly, I
joined the long line of museum visitors.  I left pride aside and asked
people in line near me to allow me to rest beside the line, catch up, rest
again and repeatedly rejoin the line.  They honored my fragile condition
and fervent desire to see the exhibit.  Finally, I entered the main
exhibit area.  I’d never seen an original van Gogh, although I’d seen many
reproductions in books and magazines and I knew about his troubled life.
 Then fate stepped in: looking up in front of me, there it was!  Pink
peach blossoms in his Souvenir de Mauve clinging to the
twisty gray tree branches, myriad shades of pink and pale coral against blues
of many values – breathtaking!  

something more than beautiful - the tree standing alone on the hillside with
colors raging reached into my soul.  In the flash of a moment a hope came
alive inside of me that, just maybe, I could learn how to create such
beauty.  My life changed in that instant from being that of a housewife
among pots and pans and cleaning and caretaking.  Instead, I was someone
whose hands would form lines and shapes and blend colors – I would create
art.  From that day forward, a desire to paint has never left me.


I began experimenting with a variety
of media, then happened to move to an area where some of the top watercolorists
in the country lived.  They became my inspiration and teachers.
 Being a corporate wife afforded me multiple moves and many fine teachers,
finally bringing me to Southern California.  My children grew up, married
and moved away, my marriage eventually failed and other life challenges were
met, but art has always provided me with balance, inspiration, and a reason to
live.  Eventually I took a Master’s Degree in Theories of Learning and
Behavior and studied art education at the J. Paul Getty Center.  I became
a teacher of children and of teachers and encouraged art teaching in elementary
classrooms.  I continued to develop my own skills with instruction from
various fine artists, including Barbara Nechis, Gerald Brommer, Robert
Burridge, Stephen Quiller, Milford Zornes, Fealing Lin, Betty Hook, and Mary

I am somewhat unusual as an artist
in that I work with whatever medium I find appropriate to the subject, the
occasion, and, basically, to my own inclination or inspiration at the moment.
 I’m at home with, and enjoy, both representational and abstract styles.
 I do have “runs” where I stay with a particular medium or method over an
extended series of works, but I enjoy variety and I’ll change my approach on a
whim.  (In teaching, if students have not settled on a preferred medium, I
use a format I call “Following in the Footsteps of the Masters,” by which I
teach sequentially a set of methods and media used by the various masters of
fine arts.  I provide exercises in drawing, watercolor, pastel, gouache,
and oil, and then add modern mixed media/collage, acrylic, and photography).

After twenty-five years of private study,
teaching, and home-based work, I opened my own studio in Claremont, California,
now in its twenty-fifth year.  It hosts my “Art for Life Gallery” and
provides facilities for my own work and for teaching adults and students
privately and in small classes.  Art, both teaching and doing, is my
passion and my life work.  But eventually, during a two year long recovery
from a traumatic injury, I became personally acquainted with the healing power
of art therapy.  I took training and
certification in a form of expressive arts therapy called “Creative Journaling
Expressive Arts”.  Now I provide support
through art for individuals and by facilitating group workshops at a local
hospital to benefit cancer, cardiac, and stroke patients and care-givers.
 A prized possession is a painting one of my workshop clients gave me that
simply says “Art Saves Lives.”  Art has nurtured me spiritually and
emotionally since seeing van Gogh’s painting in St. Louis.  I am now blessed to assist others with the
healing aspects of artistic expression.

Please tell us about your art.

Inspired by a variety of accomplished
artists, it took some time before I discovered my own unique style.  I
spent many years refining my skill in representational art.  Then once
more fate stepped in: I believe I was divinely inspired.  I developed a
process of sculpting abstract forms with gesso on canvas, then layering
multiple sequential washes of acrylic colors over the sculpted forms.  The
abstracts range in size from 10×10 to 40×60 inches.  They found favor and
led me to world travel.  In Australia, I had the great privilege of studying
painting with Aboriginals in Alice Springs, and I had an exhibition in Sydney
attended by the U.S. Consul and other patrons.  I made a pilgrimage to
Monet’s Giverny and later visited the British Isles, Italy, and Dubrovnik,
finding inspiration to paint abstracts that sing with multilayered, sculpted

I am pleasantly surprised when a
friend or former client stops me in town and says, “I saw one of your paintings
the other day.”  They recognize my style.  I am especially pleased to
be exhibiting in venues that are using art for healing in one way or another.
 It was my privilege to curate a permanent exhibit that provides “Healing
Walls” at a facility for underinsured and underserved patients in the Claremont
area.  I have joined and encourage a rotating art exhibit at a local
clinic for a program designed to eliminate the stigma of mental illness and
benefit those who are suffering.  I have witnessed and firmly believe in
the power of art to provide hope, comfort, and dignity to the human soul,
qualities that are sorely needed in our troubled world.

As an artist, how do you define
success and what quality or characteristic do you feel is essential to success
as an artist?

That’s an interesting question. Van
Gogh reportedly sold only one painting during his lifetime, but he was a “successful”
artist, I think (his Laboureur Dans Un Champ auctioned at $81 million in 2017).  Sales of works can surely be part of “success”
as an artist, but they aren’t essential, even though we enjoy the appreciation
of our work that sales indicate.  We’re
warned, as artists, not to quit our “day jobs,” since few of us can live (now
or in any era so far) by art sales alone.

I’m blessed to be one of many
artists who enjoy teaching and who teach well enough that that can be a “day
job”.  I had a day job as an elementary school
teacher for many years, until I “successfully” opened my own art studio for painting
and teaching art as its own day job.  So,
for me (before I die and my paintings sell for millions) “artistic success” partly
comes from the joy of teaching history of art and teaching students how to develop
their own artistic expression, such that art becomes an important part of their
life, either as an avocation or profession. 
When one of my young students goes on to enter or graduate from art
school and begin an artful profession, I get a feeling of pride that’s a kind
of success that few people get to enjoy in life.   

Apart from the joy of teaching, there’s
another kind of “success” that I often enjoy, but one that’s hard to define.  Van Gogh, again, provides a nice example of
this. Van Gogh initially aspired and trained to become a Christian minister,
but he failed to satisfy the church powers at the time.  As revealed in his letters, after expulsion
from the church ministry he was determined to “minister” anyway, but by painting.  He wanted his paintings to be able to connect
a viewer with the sacred, or the divine, that he saw underlying the world all
around him.  He wanted his paintings to “proclaim
the glory of God”.  What he meant by that,
as with anyone’s deep spiritual beliefs, will always be a mystery to
outsiders.  But I think artists are “successful”
to the degree that our work captures what van Gogh interpreted as “the glory of
God.”  We try to capture a part of whatever
it is (the sacred, beauty, truth…) that makes van Gogh’s and other master’s works
“successful” in the extreme, keeping in mind that such concepts as “sacred” and
“beauty” are widely defined and appreciated (in fact, through the ages works of
art themselves contributed to the very definitions of “beauty” and “sacred” and

So I think that one most essential
quality for success as an artist is a capacity to sense “whatever it is” that’s
beautiful or sacred in the world, and an ability to transmit (or create) “whatever
it is” in a physical medium.  For me, “the
still, small voice of God” provides enough of “whatever it is” to compel me to make
and teach art as my profession.  Once in
a while, I paint a painting that nails “whatever it is” and the feeling I get
from that is, for me, the absolute ultimate in “success” as an artist.  I know other artists have known the same

How or where can people see your
work? How can people support your work?

As well as showing in my own gallery
in Claremont and in local exhibits, I show in an artist’s cooperative, the SoHo
gallery, in Montclair, California.   A sculpted acrylic abstract I painted while
feeling the joy of being newly married, called “Life Bubbles: Conception” was
featured in North Light Books’ 2017  “Acrylic Works 4: Captivating Color – The
Best of Acrylic Painting, (available at!)  In April 2018, my
work appeared in Southwest Art magazine, a long-sought nod to my artistic

People may support my work by
contacting me either through my studio, Elizabeth’s Art Studio in
Claremont, CA, or through Gallery SoHo in Montclair, CA, or through Creative
Minds Gallery at Tri-Cities Mental Health Center in Pomona CA.  My
also has a contact page.

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