Nature’s color and whimsy

Homer artist expresses her passion for natural beauty through paints and plants

This year’s Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival artist, Homer artist Torie Rhyan, creates colorful and whimsical paintings of birds, whales, octopus, otters, moose, flowers and more.

Her depiction of the festival’s featured bird — a red-necked phalarope — is on the cover of the festival program and featured on festival merchandise. The painting, which shows the female bird in breeding season painted in bright colors and with geometric shapes incorporated, can be viewed in person at Land’s End Resort until May 11 and is being auctioned off online as a festival fundraiser.

As festival artist, Rhyan is hosting a watercolor workshop on Friday, May 10 from 9-11 a.m. at the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center on the Sterling Highway, where participants will learn how to draw and paint the red-necked phalarope using basic shapes.

Encouraged at a very young age by an art teacher to pursue her passion and talent for drawing, Rhyan moved to Homer 23 years ago as a 23-year-old dreaming of a simple life in a tight-knit, creative community.

“As an only child, drawing was escapism for me and was a way to express my inner world,” she said. “In 2000, it was time for a change and I wanted to live somewhere where people worked and pulled together, took care of one another and where I could continue to explore my creativity.”

Arriving with four dollars in her pocket and a set of fine point pens, pencils and a sketch pad in her suitcase, Rhyan was inspired by the artists around her and began pursuing her art, teaching herself acrylic painting in order to bring more color into her work. At first intimidated by the painting process, she began by focusing on brush strokes and shading and studying geometry to learn to create images by putting shapes together, a process she continues in her paintings to this day.

In 2013, at the encouragement of friends, Rhyan showed her work publicly for the first time in an untitled solo exhibit at what was then K Bay Caffe. She displayed nine paintings that were a mix of acrylic, watercolor and fine point pen. During the opening reception she sold three paintings, and by the close of her exhibit, another four.

“Sharing was the first step, but having my work be so successful really encouraged me,” she said. “Showing my work at K Bay allowed someone like me who had been quiet about my art to feel more comfortable about displaying my art. When I realized how supportive people were, that lit a fire underneath me.”

The following year, she showcased another body of work at K Bay Caffe called “Fun, Fine Art by Torie Rhyan.” This exhibit of acrylic paintings incorporated metallic acrylic and sparkle paints and with subject matters that included marine life, wildlife and a retro cow, inspired by a photograph of a Scottish Highland cow. Later, she exhibited at The Bagel Shop, where all of her pieces sold within the first two days.

Rhyan became known for her unique, colorful and whimsical paintings and began to offer custom commission drawings and paintings. Her first commission piece was a large caricature of a man’s wife, drawing the woman as a mermaid. The husband loved the drawing so much that he commissioned her to draw his entire family. These four paintings hang in the family’s arctic entryway.

Inspired by the ever-changing view outside the windows of her cabin, Rhyan has transitioned from painting primarily for herself and exhibiting locally and instead now paints solely on commission. She also prefers today to paint on wood rather than canvas.

Over the years, a few of her favorite commission pieces have included a lively octopus painted to match the colors of a community member’s bathroom and a white poodle and a pink flamingo that combined another individual’s love for her dog and a favorite bird.

“I’ll paint whatever somebody asks me to,” she said. “Most people ask for Alaskan themes — otters, moose, puffins, octopus, cranes — but if someone wants something different, like the poodle and the flamingo, I always find that challenging and fun and I welcome people’s unique ideas.”

A lover of animals, sea life and nature in general, Rhyan is equally passionate about gardening as she is painting. Her shift to commissions allows her to pursue painting in the winter months, gardening in the summer months and working part time year-round.

“In the summer, being outside is very important to me and so my easel gets put away when I go into the gardens,” she said. “And then once the gardens go, my easel comes back out.”

When turning her focus from painting to gardening, she approaches her property with her artist’s eye — landscaping, creating habitat for birds and other creatures and practicing permaculture.

“I consider my gardens as much my art as my paintings,” she said. “The landscaping is a blank canvas and a piece I return to time and again, adding more details.”

Within the 1.3 acres of land she owns 6 miles out East End Road, Rhyan has been actively putting bird feeders out for years, as well as planting native species of trees, plants and flowers to attract birds like nuthatch, chickadee, woodpeckers, blue jays, sandhill cranes, snipe, thrush and swallows, one of her favorite birds for their early arrival every spring. She recently hand dug a wildlife pond to encourage even more birds to come on to her property and has been working to attract bumblebees and butterflies as well, creating intentional gardens and habitat.

“Seeing, hearing and watching birds calms my soul,” she said. “Every year, more and more species come to my neighborhood and knowing that I’ve been participating in bringing them here is very satisfying.”

A self-taught artist and landscaper, Rhyan is painting from nature and creating a microclimate.

“My gardens are a living painting,” she said. “I like that art is a part of my life and I try not to place restrictions on my creativity because that allows me to grow and feel freer in my art. If I was full-time artist at home, I might not have the social interactions with people that are really important to me. Right now I have a perfect balance of time with people, time with my creativity and time in my gardens.”

Today, her paintings can be found year-round on the walls of The Washboard, what she refers to as the Laundromat Gallery, where she has worked for 24 years. Currently on display are eight paintings, including one titled “On Guard,” that features a sandhill crane pair with their babies.

“Working in the public and serving people at the same time all these years in customer service and as a therapist of sorts, I’m that familiar face that is constantly here for them and that has made me feel good in life,” Rhyan said. “I’m not a mother and I don’t have a set career, but I’m a constant for people in this town and that has brought me a lot of fulfillment.”

Often bartering her art for taxi rides across Kachemak Bay and vegetables from local farms, she is grateful for the support of her fellow community members.

“As I get older, I’m more and more humbled by just how much this community has embraced and encouraged me and my art,” she said. “My personal and creative growth has come from the type of and diversity of people I have in my life. They are all so different and so accepting of me and my work.”

As she continues to grow her gardens and expand the living landscapes around her, Rhyan is also considering a solo exhibit down the road where she would show large-scale pieces that reflect her experiences in Homer and that would be a combination of realism and fantasy.

See Rhyan’s paintings in person year-round at The Washboard Laundromat, 1204 Ocean Drive, and her Shorebird Festival painting at Land’s End Resort, 4786 Homer Spit Road, through May 11. To bid on her original painting and for more information and to register for her watercolor workshop, visit Find her online, Torie Rhyan on Facebook and Instagram to view more of her work and to connect for a commission.

Homer artist Torie Rhyan is photographed on her porch on a sunny day in the spring of 2024 in Homer, Alaska. Photo provided by Torie Rhyan

Homer artist Torie Rhyan is photographed on her porch on a sunny day in the spring of 2024 in Homer, Alaska. Photo provided by Torie Rhyan

“Sandhill Crane,” a acrylic on wood painting by Torie Rhyan, was painted in the winter of 2023. Photo provided by Torie Rhyan

“Sandhill Crane,” a acrylic on wood painting by Torie Rhyan, was painted in the winter of 2023. Photo provided by Torie Rhyan

This acrylic-on-wood painting of an octopus by Torie Rhyan was completed as a commission in June 2023. Photo provided by Torie Rhyan

This acrylic-on-wood painting of an octopus by Torie Rhyan was completed as a commission in June 2023. Photo provided by Torie Rhyan