Painter’s Plight: How Leesburg resident Christine Olmstead finds light in the dark

From her home studio, the abstract artist is approaching each day with thankfulness, continuing to live in every moment behind the canvas.

woman in brown dress in front of paintings
Photo courtesy of Christine Olmstead

Since truly finding her voice as an artist in 2015, Christine Olmstead has hoped to evoke feelings of peace, calm and hopefulness through every abstract, mixed media painting that she creates. Plus, each piece of work tends to incorporate elements of silver, gold and metallics as a reminder to never stop seeking the light. 

And now, as the global pandemic has altered daily life, causing increased stress for millions of Americans, her underlying messages are more important than ever. 

As someone who paints from personal experience, memories and social concepts, the current “season”—as Olmstead refers to what’s happening in the world right now—has provided inspiration to live and paint with attention, despite the cancellation of upcoming shows and a decline in commissioned work.

Here, we chatted with Olmstead about her new series surrounding human touch, the power of meditation and the little things she’s thankful for right now.  

Talk to me about how the coronavirus has impacted your day-to-day routine, both as an artist and as an individual. 

As a full-time artist, my studio is in my home and I work in solitude from home all of the time, so my routine hasn’t changed at all from a work perspective. The biggest work change is that I no longer have in-person client consultations and all of my upcoming art shows have been canceled, which has been disappointing. I’m also sad that the shows of my artist friends have been canceled as well and I can’t see the work they’ve been slaving over for months or even years. It’s really disappointing to have been working so hard on paintings for that long with so much excitement and anticipation building toward a show, only to have the works sit and not be enjoyed by anyone. 

In my personal life, my husband has been out of work for almost three months now, so it’s been an adjustment having him home all the time. Plus, becoming the primary earner during this season is a real shift. I’ve enjoyed having him around and he’s been tackling all of our house projects and a lot of the cooking, which has been a real treat. 

 

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It’s a beautiful day to do what you were made for. Nothing but thankfulness today for all of life’s rich blessings. . I’m thankful for so many things in this season but one unexpected blessing has been my improved running practice. I’ve always loved to run, but I didn’t realize how much of a rut my practice had gotten into until Corona. . Because my usual running trail is now packed with people and police are posted every mile or so, it’s gotten very uncomfortable to run on my normal trails. . This season has forced me to brave new routes, change tactics, and has resulted in longer, faster passes, more pleasurable running sessions. An unexpected joy in this season of confusion. . Can you tell me one unexpected pleasure you’re experiencing in this season? Tell me below. 🏃🏽‍♀️ . #practicemakesprogress #paintingvideo #artistatwork #runningpractice #runbetter #acreativedc #doitfortheprocess #ibelieveintheartist #abstractmag #showyourwork #thejealouscurator #huffpostarts #tapancollective #superfineloves

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What has been the most challenging aspect of this new reality for you?

Professionally, the most challenging aspect so far is that sales have slowed significantly and all commissions have come to a halt. I understand that I make a luxury product, but it’s been challenging to see sales dry up in a season when I need to work now more than ever. It’s also challenging to get over the disappointment of shows that aren’t going to happen, when I had been so looking forward to them. The most challenging part for me personally though is keeping my distance from my 94-year-old grandmother who lives nearby. I know she’s lonely and it was my habit to see her several times a week before the outbreak, and sadly I can’t do that anymore. I wish I could do more for her. 

Have recent world events had an affect on your artwork? 

My style has not changed at all, but I have been working with a new color palette and exploring a couple of new techniques. The series that I’m working on has been focused on touch, largely driven by the fact that I miss hugging people. I miss the little touches and little close interactions with family and friends that make relationships more intimate and sweet. The conceptual nature of the paintings I’m working on all surround the feelings of what different touches look like. 

meditation series -- gold paintings with words
Photo courtesy of Christine Olmstead
Tell me more about your series of pieces, titled “Meditations,” that you’ve been posting about recently on Instagram. 

My “Meditations” series was one I started last fall and actually it just sold out at the end of March. Those pieces were works I made pre-stay-at-home orders. However, they were very timely for the season we were about to enter. Each piece in that collection was a limited-edition work, only five of each meditation were made. Each piece is plaster, 24-karat gold leaf, on 300-pound, cold-pressed, 100% pure-cotton fiber paper. 

The intention behind these works was to share the phrases that I meditate on daily. I practice repetition of certain phrases throughout the day when I find myself in different situations. Each phrase in the meditation series stems from a specific trigger or story. These meditations are the responses I meditate on throughout the day. In no particular order the meditations in this limited-edition series are: “You’ve Got Time,” “Breathe,” “Practice Thankful,” “Seek the Light,” “Choose Peace,” “Let Go,” “Make Beauty,” “Be Present,” “Take the Risk,” “You Wont Get What You Don’t Ask For.” This blog post shares more details about the meaning of each individual piece. 

Do you have any other projects or partnerships in the works that you can tell readers about? 

Most of my exciting projects have come to a halt or have been canceled, but the ones I’m still working on are some educational materials for fellow artists that will be coming soon. I’ve also been hosting Instagram Live chats with professional artist friends from around the world once a week, talking about our work, how things are affecting our careers, as well as how things have changed and anything positive they’ve experienced during this season. It has yielded some really fun and enlightening conversations from a global perspective on how this pandemic has affected artists globally. 

piece of art above table
Photo courtesy of Christine Olmstead
What are some of the regimens you have been taking part in to stay positive during this uncertain time?

I’m not the most positive person by nature; I’m inclined to melancholy and realism. Positivity has never been my strength but because of that, I have a lot of rituals in my life that I’ve been practicing for years to boost my positivity and mood. Those rituals were part of the impetus for my “Meditations” series. I made those works for me, because they are the words that I needed to hear, the words I preach to myself. All of the phrases are all mandates. So, meditating on the words from my “Meditations” series is one thing that keeps me positive and going during these times. But the practice of meditating on, acting upon and choosing these things is one I’ve been working on for years now. 

I’ve also zeroed in on the little things that bring me joy and make me feel good. Perhaps silly and frivolous, but it means a lot to me to do my hair and makeup every day and to always have my nails painted. Walking past a mirror in my house and feeling good about myself goes really far in boosting my positivity and making me feel like I can tackle anything. I’ve also focused on my running practice more. I really enjoy running and it always calms me down, mellows me out and lifts my spirits. Due to the virus, I’ve been forced to find new trails since running on the W&OD and other trails has become too congested and uncomfortable, so my running practice has improved; resulting in longer, faster runs. This is very pleasurable for me and keeps me positive. 

What are you most looking forward to doing when the stay-at-home order ends?

There are too many things to narrow down to just one. I can’t wait for art shows to be scheduled again so that I can support my friends. I can’t wait to walk to my favorite local restaurants with friends and share drinks and a meal together. I can’t wait to hug my grandma. I can’t wait to go on the trip my husband and I had to cancel. There are so many things to be thankful for that I cannot wait to enjoy again. But life is pretty sweet right now, in its own new ways. I’m soaking in the cozy romantic dinners at home. I’m enjoying the increased number of phone calls and video chats with friends. There are so many little things I’m thankful for during this pandemic as well, that I would never want to skip over just to get back to the way things were. Thankfulness in all seasons, living in every moment. 

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