Lori Hight was one of those people who gravitated to all things art as a child; she was the little girl drawing and painting while everyone else was outside playing baseball. She was known in her family as the artsy one, and made all her birthday and holiday cards from scratch from the time she can remember.
A Boulder Native
Born in Boulder, Lori moved to Longmont because her dad wanted to raise his five children in a smaller town. “At that time, around the late 60s, Longmont was like the Midwest, small and quiet,” Lori says. They lived close to Main Street and in high school she was the cartoonist for the newspaper. Drawing, mostly people and objects, was her passion. As she put it, “the landscape thing came later.”
Lori went on to get a fine art degree at CSU and after graduation went into graphic design, a field where landing a job was a certainty. The first few years were fine, but graphic design was becoming more digitized and less focused on actual people who did actual drawing. Lori noticed that the little bits of illustration she was still able to do were so much more rewarding for her than the computer-centric stuff.
Taking a Chance: Making Art a Priority
So she made a choice. “I just said I’m taking a leap of faith, I’m going to go for it. I gave myself that. And that’s when the whole struggle began.”
Like it is for many in an artistic field, making a living is difficult. Lori, who had gotten married by then and was soon to have three children, liked contributing to the family finances. “I’m practical, and it’s hard to figure out how to make art pay,” she says. “It’s plagued me and lots of other fine artists for many years.”
It was made even more challenging because Lori decided she was going to be a painter. She hadn’t had any painting instruction in college, so she started out in watercolor, which still relied heavily on her illustration skills. She took a class at the Y, took a ton of photographs, and threw herself into painting them as best she could.
Maintaining a studio space was important, as was being available for her children. The art worked around them. Lori became the youngest member of The Mustard Seed Gallery, a Boulder art co-operative, where she was mentored by several older women.
The Switch to Plein Air Painting
Success came fast. “When you have early success with your art, you think, ‘Wow! Okay! Here we go; this is going to be great!’ ” But even though her paintings were selling, Lori knew she had a lot left to learn. She was running out of favorite photos to paint, and she couldn’t help but wonder if painting from a photo that was perfectly cropped, in just the right light, was a form of cheating. “You start to ask yourself, Could I really paint that tree just from looking at it?”
Two changes resulted: Lori made the switch to plein air painting (French for “in full air,” or outside) and she also packed up her watercolors and started working in oil. She loved it. “You kind of have to use your brain to figure out the composition. I started to feel that I was doing the outside justice,” she laughs.
Pursuing Her Art on the Big Island
Lori joined a local group and painted with them, and continued in the plein air style when she and her husband relocated to Hawaii’s big island for four years.
Working in Hawaii was a different game. “I went from painting pine trees and peaks to ocean and palm trees. It probably changed my art a little bit, gave me a whole new palette.”
Making It Work Because It Matters
Lori was in the very first Open Studios tour in Boulder, and continues to participate in and be a huge proponent of it. She teaches oil painting to private students in her home and does demos and workshops. Last year she was chosen as the artist to paint Boulder’s holiday star card, the one the Chamber puts out every year of the iconic star on Flagstaff mountain.
Lori’s advice to anyone about to dive into a micro business with their art is: “Get ready. It’s not easy. It’s a great hobby but not a great business unless you can supplement the income. The artists I know who are living off their art are all doing with with creativity — teaching, commissions, festivals. It’s hard work.”
Contact Lori or view her work here.