From Painter to Illustrator to Photographer and back to Painter
JoAnne Meeker, at 60, has the fresh-scrubbed face of a teenager, complete with a freckle-splashed nose and enough youthful ambition to take on oil painting after a professional career as a photographer and advertising agency owner.
JoAnne proves we can reinvent ourselves at any time, as long as we’re willing to study, work hard and make mistakes. She began her training as a painter at the age of 11 in Destin, Florida, with private lessons and her mother’s encouragement.
“I always knew I’d be an artist,” JoAnne says. “And more specifically, a painter.”
Now, she’s picked up brushes again and is seeking her groove.
“Learning to paint is like learning a new language,” JoAnne says. “I’m trying different techniques, which often feel awkward, just like learning new words and pronouncing them wrong. People might laugh, but I keep going.”
After attending the University of Kansas School of Fine Art, the Kansas City Art Institute and the Art Institute of Southern California, JoAnne started her career in advertising as an illustrator in her 20s. She moved to California to be in the movie business. When that didn’t pan out, she started her own design agency at the age of 26 and called it “Kaos & Harmony.” Her firm specialized in marketing for the retirement industry.
As Art Director, JoAnne would visit retirement communities and scout out photographic locations and angles in advance, so the real photographer could step right in and get to work. Her photographs, shot as prototypes, were actually good enough to be the real thing, so she began photographing more projects for her clients.
In 2001, JoAnne transitioned back into the arts as a fine art photographer. For 15 years, her cutting-edge photography broke new ground in capturing the western lifestyle… because she saw the world through the “eye of a painter.”
Established Western photographers began copying her style!
In 2015, JoAnne transitioned back to her roots as a full-time oil painter. She is studying with renowned Wildlife painter Greg Beecham, Landscape painter Phil Starke and Equine painter Adeline Halvorson.
“When I wanted to get back into painting,” JoAnne says, “an old man told me I’d be miserable and frustrated. He was right. When I started painting again two years ago, it was frustrating. I tried to draw and it was awful. I had to regain eye-hand coordination after doing illustrations with a mouse on a computer my entire career. During my first workshop, I was embarrassed. It’s taken a lot of work and time to find my own style.”
As a natural cartoonist and animator, JoAnne loves to create characters. Her favorite subjects these days, however, are dilapidated trucks left rusting in fields all across the west.
“I used to paint portraits of people and animals,” JoAnne says. “Now I paint portraits of trucks. They’re classics with a life of their own and a unique story to tell. I like to imagine who owned each truck, where they lived and how they ended up abandoning the truck.”
JoAnne finds most of the trucks she paints on the road. She divides her time between Dubois, Wyoming, near Yellowstone, and Scottsdale, Arizona. She spent the winter of 2018 in Scottsdale, Arizona, as an artist exhibiting at the Arizona Fine Arts Expo, which runs from mid-January to the end of March every year. This was JoAnne’s first year at the Expo and she hopes to return next year.
In Wyoming, JoAnne’s art studio is on the second floor of her house with north-facing windows. She also has a workspace downstairs and a Giclee printer that produces works up to 44 x 90 inches.
When JoAnne retired in the late 90s from her design agency at the age of 40, she went to Europe. In Italy, she rode a horse through a marble mine, the first time she had ever ridden a horse and she was instantly hooked, though her love of horses actually started when she was a child.
A Cape Cod city girl with an air force pilot as a father, JoAnne wanted to be a country girl living on a ranch. Every Christmas she asked for a horse but it just wasn’t practical to own a horse and move so regularly; JoAnne attended 15 elementary schools between the first and sixth grades.
“After riding the horse in Italy, I began wondering how I could make a living riding a horse,” JoAnne laughs.
She eventually owned a horse and bought her own house in the wild country of Wyoming.
On a trip to a ranch in New Mexico, JoAnne spent a day photographing the branding of the ranch’s cattle. She printed the photos on really big canvases, when folks weren’t doing that yet. Her printed photographs sold well.
That’s when she knew the Western lifestyle would be her photographic genre. At art shows in Calgary and Texas, where the oil industry was strong, her work was in high demand. Between 2012 and 2014, oil was doing so great, overnight millionaires were building big houses with lots of wall space to fill with original artwork.
FORMAL ART STUDIES
JoAnne received a scholarship at 16 to attend art school. Back then, they used live models, and on her first day, a live male model was on display. She could barely look at him. Later, when she went to art school in 1976-77, she learned about the Law of Chance, as depicted in Jackson Pollack’s method of slinging paint.
“The instructors had students shredding brown paper for two weeks. It was monotonous and didn’t teach us art. When the shredding was done, the fragments were dropped from a high spot and left where they randomly fell. That wasn’t art! I wish they had taught me to paint instead.”
JoAnne believes painting can be taught. Some people may have a natural ability, but it takes practice for everyone.
For aspiring artists in the Phoenix, Arizona, area, JoAnne recommends the Scottsdale Artist School. Students can study with specific artists, according to their preferred genre. Additionally, twice a week they hold an open studio with a hired model and students can sit in and paint or draw.
JoAnne has successfully reinvented her art persona several times. But she also learned that reinvention doesn’t mean reinventing techniques. Learning from others is key.
“During the Expo, I was inspired by the creative environment, and being surrounded by artists of every medium. I welcomed their coaching. And painting every single day helped me advance my skills. Anyone wanting to improve as an artist can’t go wrong by painting every day, being open to suggestions from other artists and actually seeking out the company of other artists.”
JoAnne’s next reinvention of herself? She wants to get into plein air painting, and in a big way. She wants to go to France and Italy and paint plein air like the impressionists.
“I love it when I try to do something and it turns out exactly like I wanted,” JoAnne says.
Awards & Recognition
- 2016 Feature Poster Artist, San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo
- 2015 Feature Poster Artist, San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo
- 2014 Feature Poster Artist, San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo
- 2014 Best of Show, San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo
- 2013 Feature Poster Artist, San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo
- 2013 Commission, 100-page book “The Life is Art – A Photographic Journey of Ranching in Western Alberta”
- 2012 Feature Poster Artist, San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo
- 2010 Feature Artist, Rodeo Austin, Texas
- 2009 Best of Show Artisan, Western Showcase – Calgary Stampede, Alberta Canada