By Marcy Stamper
Photography by Ken Libby
It’s hard to encapsulate a physical, sensory experience in two dimensions. But Margaret Kingston amplifies the color and details of snow-covered mountains and sky so vividly that the glittering landscape of ultramarine and white becomes palpable.
“I usually paint from great days, from natural experiences in the mountains,” said Kingston. “I’m looking for dramatic lighting, balanced composition. Can I convey a feeling from that experience through this image? Sometimes I exaggerate on purpose.”
Kingston’s landscapes are not dreamy pastoral scenes. Instead, her paintings are characterized by dramatically delineated rays of light, pronounced shadows, and saturated colors.The compositions are so expansive that people – and even trees and sea stacks – are dwarfed by the monumental settings.
VIEW the ART Magazine center spread featuring Margaret – CLICK HERE.
“Even though I paint snow over and over again, it’s still exciting,” said Kingston. “And I do paint other things. I’ve done plenty of sunsets. I seem to have a thing for dramatic skies.”
Although Kingston has been involved in making art her entire life, she didn’t consider herself a professional painter until she moved to the Methow Valley from New Hampshire four years ago. It’s fitting that so much of Kingston’s work focuses on winter landscapes, since she first discovered the North Cascades on a ski vacation.
Kingston credits an early exposure to art – and the freedom it gave her to develop an original approach to problem-solving – with building her career.
She also had an early exposure to skiing. She started skiing at age 3 and was a competitive racer in high school.
In fact, these two big influences – art and nature – have seemed to merge throughout her life. “Art was always supported; there were always classes. It was just part of my life, like going for a hike,” said Kingston.
Growing up in New Hampshire, Kingston had weekly art instruction starting in kindergarten, and less-formal opportunities even before that. Her parents always encouraged creativity and hands-on projects, she said.
“People think you’re just born talented.” said Kingston. “I wasn’t a prodigy child – I was just always interested in art, and always practicing, trying really hard.”
Her father signed her up for her first oil-painting class at a local senior center when she was in high school. She was the only teen in the class, but she discovered a means of expression that has remained her focus ever since.
“I had a feeling of success with oil painting, and a sense of accomplishment. It was tackling a new challenge every time, with every painting and every scene,” she said.
While she has tried other mediums – she learned watercolor, printmaking, sculpture, and ceramics as part of her training to be an art teacher – Kingston has never wavered from oils. “For me, it’s the rich colors, and being able to blend and get such soft clouds, highlights, and shadows,” she said.
Kingston briefly put art aside in college, thinking she couldn’t make a living as an artist, but she missed it. She studied art education and got her first job teaching art for kindergarten through eighth grade.
With a full-time job as an art teacher, Kingston didn’t focus on her own painting until moving to the Methow Valley. Their first winter here, she and her husband began exploring the mountains on backcountry skis.
“I took pictures like crazy and started painting what I call my ‘ski-bum series,’” said Kingston. While the mountains loom large and majestic, many of the paintings include tracks curving through the snow and tiny skiers on the horizon.
Kingston’s aim is to create paintings that capture her experiences and the emotional high connected with them. “I remember where I was, who I was with, the weather, the changing clouds and skies. I put the excitement of my day in the image – that’s how I communicate,” she said.
Some artists use their art to explore inner struggles, but Kingston wants to share the positive aspects of her experience. “I’ve always had a ‘Huh?’ feeling when I look at art that’s disturbing,” she said.
Kingston’s paintings are all drawn from personal experiences. She takes dozens of photos when she is out skiing or hiking, and then selects the ones that convey what made the day special. But she’s also attracted to the idea of using her art to increase awareness of the need to conserve the wild places that make those experiences possible.
“I’d paint someone else’s photo for a cause – for example, the preservation of natural parks and public lands,” she said. “To use resources for greed, oil, or money – versus putting our own two feet on it – stresses me out beyond words and makes me want to cry.”
Even in the four years Kingston has been in the North Cascades, she has seen alarming changes. “The landscape is permanently changing with every passing year. Glaciers in the North Cascades have already disappeared. I want to record the view as I experience it,” she said.
Last winter, Kingston had a three-month artist’s residency at Confluence Gallery in Twisp. Having the freedom to focus on a body of work produced some of her best work, she said. The residency culminated in a solo exhibit, aptly entitled “Winter Above 5000′.”
She is currently working on a series with more muted tones. “Some of my latest, favorite pieces are monochromatic – one color with white,” said Kingston. “I’m focusing on how much I can do with one color.”
When she was teaching art, one of Kingston’s coworkers commissioned her to paint her dogs. After the woman’s friends saw the painting, it took off, said Kingston. “I did five dog portraits in New Hampshire. There was one picture of a child, but mostly dogs,” she said.
Kingston enjoys doing the portraits. “It’s a good challenge, to capture their features. People will know if something is off because they look at their pet all the time,” she said.
Noting the formal pose in one of the portraits, she said, “It’s kind of funny – it almost looks like a school picture, but it’s of a dog.”
A portrait of a fluffy white dog reveals Kingston’s talent for bringing out subtle characteristics and personality, whether of an animal or a landscape. After laying down a thick base coat and the main elements of the composition, she uses tiny, dry brushes with just a dab of paint to add detail, depth, and texture. The technique uses so little paint that it functions like a transparent glaze, but it still alters the overall color of the painting.
Kingston is as passionate about arts education as she is about making her own art. Through Methow Arts, she teaches a weekly class in the foundations of art and design at several elementary schools in Okanogan County. She also runs an after-school art club at Methow Valley Elementary.
Kingston is disappointed that Washington allows schools to incorporate art into the overall curriculum, rather than making it a dedicated class. “Why is there music and phys ed, but no visual arts? Kids won’t even find that interest if they’re not exposed to it,” she said.
One of Kingston’s greatest satisfactions is cultivating the ability to experiment. When she shows up at school to teach, the kids say, “‘The art lady’s here.’ They start cheering. I am treated like a rock star,” she said.
Kids learn early on that there are certain expectations of them. In a subject like math, a student’s answer is either wrong or right, she said.
Kingston is trying to counter that tendency. “I get asked for permission a little too much. Kids are not used to the freedom, because they don’t have regular visual art lessons,” she said. “Art projects give kids a chance to come up with their own unique answer. Everyone’s piece looks different.”
Children who struggle in other disciplines can blossom when given the chance to express themselves through art. “Kids need to develop that skill and the creativity to see something – even if nobody showed it to them,” she said. “I love when kids come up with a unique thing. They get so excited.”
Art has applications that extend far beyond aesthetics, she said. “It’s not just making pretty pictures to feel good about yourself. It’s learning to think by yourself. Modern businesses of all types need creative thinkers.”
One of Kingston’s greatest satisfactions is cultivating that ability to experiment. When she shows up at school, the kids say, “‘The art lady’s here.’ They start cheering. I am treated like a rock star,” she said.
Learn more about Margaret and view photos of her works on her artist page CLICK HERE.