By Jayme Eng / Photography by Craig Stocks
“I don’t like painting flowers because everyone’s done it,” says Peoria, Illinois artist Barbara Unes. An avid watercolor painter, Barb enjoys branching out from her usual medium of choice and works to create art for herself and what she enjoys.
Barbara Unes is a native of Illinois and grew up in the Chicago area before finally settling back in Peoria in 2003. Barb taught in District 150 before retirement. During that time, she created art and painted. “When I was a child, I was always interested in doing creative things with my hands.” Barb recalls.
She credits most of her growing passion for art throughout her high school and college years to the teachers and professors she had. Barb refers to her professors at Western Illinois University as “inspiring and constantly encouraging creativity.”
What made her go into teaching art came during college as well? “I’m a very nurturing person, and to me teaching is a way of giving back to students as I was with my professors in college.” Barb taught for 27 years as a watercolor teacher before retiring, and continues to teach one or two classes at ICC.
During her teaching career she worked in District 150, which Barb said was “the most personally meaningful teaching experience” in all her 27 years of teaching. At Roosevelt Magnet School, Barb felt that she was truly making a difference teaching art to students. Both teacher and student have to participate when learning, especially art. “The teacher has to love children, and the students have to want to learn,” both of which Barb feels happened at Roosevelt Magnet School.
Barb’s time as a teacher was very fulfilling, but as a result, she didn’t have as much time dedicated to herself. According to Barb, teaching is very time consuming. “I would paint, but only in the summer,” but since her retirement, she has been able to paint throughout the year. She particularly likes to paint when it rains and will go into her basement where her studio is and work on different projects.
Through her love of watercolors, Barb has begun to dabble with other forms of paints such as acrylic paint. She enjoys and loves watercolors very much but finds acrylics a much more pliable paint to work with. “Watercolor is very unforgiving,” Barb says. She has also begun to work in mixed media such as gathering sand from beaches and rubbing it into paint to create a different texture. Barb hopes to start working on large scale and contemporary canvases in the near future as well.
Sand isn’t the only thing Barb has been taking from the places she visits. Most of her paintings come from her mind or from photographs rather than physical arrangements she’s created. To prepare for a painting, Barb likes to have a plan. “Most of the time, I’ll sketch and do studies on paper to figure out shapes and shadows before I actually paint.” Even then, Barb says, she sometimes changes the layout as she paints.
When asked what inspires Barb and her paintings, her response was simple, “You can get inspiration from anywhere.” Barb is interested in the shapes and shadows of what’s around her and from the photographs she takes.
For Barb, currently all the artwork she’s making is for her own personal use and she does not participate in galleries and shows very often. She has a few shows under her belt, but they are not essential for making her art. “I’ve done commissions and shows, but I don’t actively seek out the business.” For Barb, her artwork is about “her life, her home, herself,” and she enjoys the leisurely pace she is currently on to experiment in different forms and styles of art.
For more information about Barbara Unes and her artwork, visit http://www.peoriacac.org/.