Rediscovering her childhood passion for art, Renee Veldman creates paintings that combine gouache and archival ink and showcase her sense of playfulness and gratitude.
Her painting “Sealscape” is one of three pieces of her work on display in Homer Council on the Arts’ community exhibit, “Fun With 5×7” that opened in November and is on display through the end of December. This painting depicts three seals’ heads poking up out of the water, two staring at the viewer and the third with a seemingly amused expression. “Sealscape” was inspired by the harbor seals she encounters while swimming in Kachemak Bay.
“I’m a huge open water swimmer, and in the summers here I put on a neoprene wetsuit with a hood, booties and gloves and swim along the Spit,” she said. “Every time I’m out there, seals will pop their heads up out of the water and watch me, and sometimes they follow me. I’m always amused by their expressions, like maybe with my hoodie on they think I’m one of them. This painting shares the gratitude I have for the beautiful views of Kachemak Bay that I love so much, as well as the pleasure I get encountering seals.”
As a youth, Veldman enjoyed ink drawing and was inspired early on by her father, an art teacher and ice carver.
“He was always doing something creative and including me, fostering the importance of creativity,” she said.
In middle school and high school, she took the few arts-related classes her school offered, including photography and graphic design. Also passionate about science, when she went to college she decided to shift her focus from art and set herself on a science-based trajectory, studying marine science with a concentration in biology.
A Homer resident for the past year and a half, Veldman first found her way to the community as an intern for the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve, then as a volunteer for the organization and then working a seasonal job for the Alaska Department of Fish & Game.
“I made so many great connections every time I was here, and I fell in love with the landscape and the community,” she said. “When my seasonal job ended, I wasn’t ready to leave.”
So she stayed, moving into a dry cabin and finding work as an after-school coach with the nonprofit organization, Project Grad, which provides educational enrichment for under-served youth. With the STEAM program (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) at Chapman School, Veldman’s love for art has been re-ignited as she shares her passions for art and science, introducing youth to forensics, sculpture, circuits, photography and more.
Veldman began writing poetry a year ago, and then she started drawing again. Buying a set of paints, she began to explore painting and found a love for gouache, a type of paint that is like watercolor, but with the addition of a white pigment that makes it opaque.
“An artist friend introduced me to the medium of gouache and I started experimenting with it,” she said. “I immediately enjoyed how delicate and fluid it is.”
Combining gouache and archival ink, Veldman found her mediums and her creative niche.
“I started incorporating ink stippling into my paintings and I got really excited about the shadows that stippling adds that helps draw the focus to certain areas,” she said. “The interconnectedness of the mediums reminds me of the way of the natural world, and incorporating ink feels like a return to my younger days of drawing, which I’m really enjoying.”
Working full time, she strives to paint and draw every day in her tiny dry cabin, but when she can’t, her weekends become her studio time. Veldman describes her work as playful, detailed and nature-inspired. The first painting she created was a shorebird for the 2022 Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival’s open call for art. This past June, she showed work at Grace Ridge Brewing. This fall, she had several paintings at Kraken Coffee Shop and since November, in the HCOA exhibit.
For Veldman, publicly displaying her work serves the practical purpose of creating more space in her cabin for new work. It also provides the opportunity to introduce her art to community members.
“It can be a bit nerve-wracking putting myself out there, but it’s also fun,” she said. “My work depicts a sense of playfulness for something I’ve seen that amuses me, like the seals, and gratitude for something beautiful, like Kachemak Bay, and I hope these themes resonate with people.”
Inspired by the natural beauty around her, Veldman is grateful to have found such an active and supportive art community.
“I’ve met so many creatives here who work full-time jobs and create art on the side, and the Homer arts culture is incredibly robust,” she said. “It’s all very fun and cool, and I’m eager and excited to be a part of that.”
Currently working to expand the business end of her art, Veldman is building a website, engaging her social media presence and seeking opportunities to exhibit solo, collaboratively and year-round as Renee Irene Art.
“I want to make a business out of my art to be able to sustain it and keep it going,” she said. “I also want to keep growing and developing my style. I’ve only been working and painting for a year, so there’s lots of room to grow and play with different mediums.”
While Veldman continues to nurture her creativity, she is eager to find space for science in her life.
“I see room for science in my future, though I don’t know what that might look like,” she said. “I’m really enjoying education, so maybe something in that field. I’m not sure. I do know that whatever I do, I want to create a balance between my creative outlets alongside scientific pursuits.”