Unwilling to be pigeon-holed, island artist demonstrates versatility
Artist Elizabeth Punches produces a variety of work, but painting is her favorite medium, she said. And not just any kind of painting. In fact, she creates her masterpieces using the “recipes” devised by the 16th-century artisans and mounts them on linen stretched over birch wood panels.
Punches lives and works in the National Hotel Artists Lofts in downtown Galveston with her trusty dog, Sandy the Ferocious. Her studio, 403 22nd St., is in the same building. As a student at Virginia Intermont College in Bristol, Virginia, Punches was fascinated by Renaissance artwork and came across an article describing early methods of painting and fashioning art. She kept researching these approaches until she was comfortable in applying them to her own work, she said.
“This method, using the traditional Italian oils and other ingredients, changes the color as it draws out the moisture in the air,” she said. “The colors last forever.”
When learning the recipes of Rembrandt, for instance, she realized he used a bit of sand in his pigments to make them thicker. She sometimes carefully uses fine, crushed glass on her projects, which gives the paint a jewel-like refraction on the panel.
“It is tricky to work with, and dangerous — mask and gloves required — but once the glass is in the oil, it’s OK,” she said. “This technique is so beautiful.”
Punches, who grew up in Oklahoma, visited Galveston frequently as a child because her mother was from Vidor, Texas. They visited the island every time they traveled to Texas and she knew ultimately she wanted to live in Galveston, she said. She raised three sons, moved to Northern Maine and then moved to Galveston in 2010. She worked at local galleries, but yearned to finish college, so she left to go back to Virginia for two years and complete the degree requirements. When she returned to Galveston in 2012, she set out to work full time as an artist.
Sometimes, it’s difficult, but she has persisted, she said.
“There is such a healthy art world here in Galveston and the art community is so supportive of each other,” she said.
Her favorite art projects are commissioned works, when she and her clients collaborate on what they want, she said.
“It gives me a chance to connect with that person and communicate the reason why they want this art,” she said.
“That is what fine art is — a communication between people,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be complicated. It is just something that means ‘this is the best thing’ for me.’”
The city’s ArtWalk, during which hundreds of people tour studios and galleries on the island every six weeks, has become a very special time for her, she said. In her studio, she sets up a silent and live auction where she sells many of her smaller, non-commissioned pieces.
“This is so much fun,” she said. “People come in during ArtWalk who maybe never bought an original piece of art and they bid on it. At the end of the night, they take their items with them. We have a good time with the live auction.”
She prefers not to become pigeon-holed or known for any one type of painting, she said. She has done a series of dogs or cats in regal poses reminiscent of aristocratic Renaissance art, but she also dabbled in a series of 13 small, tightly cropped faces in a variety of emotions painted on round panels and mounted in a circular Polynesian wood frame.
She often is contacted to do serene but discreet boudoir art for clients who request anonymity and privacy, and she doesn’t post those paintings on her website or display them in her studio. She also does some graphic art for local businesses and creates unique menu boards for their restaurants. She spent some time painting butterflies and caterpillars, which she said signified life changes.
“As long as I have a paint brush in my hand, I can do anything,” she said. “I am willing to try new things. I don’t fear change. I think we have the right to fail and to try things and no one should be allowed to tell you that something can’t be done. You owe it to yourself to try. I would rather try something and fail than never try it at all.”