An Interview with Amber Blazina
Wildlife artist Amber Blazina is inspired by brief moments of stillness; by a pause that happens when an animal is considering its next move or contemplating its environment. She is fascinated by the instincts and behavior of animals. And, in her painting, she strives to help viewers feel that emotion, to see things in a way that they haven’t seen them before.
“When an animal is sitting there, and they don’t notice you. That’s what I really love. Or when the bison are walking through the Lamar Valley, it’s interesting to think, ‘Where are they going?’ They’re on a march, and it’s just so interesting to me that there is some instinct that tells them to go this way, and they all start walking this way,” she said. “I can feel something when I am painting them. I can feel, ‘Oh, they are pausing right now to look at this,’ or ‘They are thinking about this.’ I love the pause.”
Through her work, Amber hopes to bring out the same curiosity and excitement in the viewers of her paintings, using varying techniques and her instincts as an artist.
“The small moments are what I try to capture. That’s where all the magic is. It’s in those small moments. It doesn’t have to be this grand gesture of a huge scene. It can be simple, and still pack a punch,” she said.
A Montana native, animals have always been a part of Amber’s life and soul, so to bring those feelings out in her painting is an extension of that love for animals.
“I grew up with horses. I grew up with cows. I grew up in the middle of nowhere, so they were my family. They were my community. They were my friends. They were everything,” she said.
Amber always knew that she had a “knack” for painting and began working with oils in high school. When she went on to the Art Institute of Colorado, she first studied architecture, then switched to graphic design, graduating in 2001. After working as a graphic designer for almost 15 years, she realized that the passion was not there.
“[Graphic design] didn’t come naturally to me, so it always took me longer than I expected. There was a lot of tearing of clothes and gnashing of teeth,” she said. “It was definitely not a passion. So I just Hail Mary-ed into painting, and just threw my whole self into it.”
After finding encouragement and support through the community of the Montana Arts Council, Amber found that her paintings were quickly gaining momentum throughout the area.
“It just catapulted me into a different arena so that people could see me. It was a different style. It was a little fresh, and it got noticed,” she said.
After this warm welcome to the western art scene, including articles in Big Sky Journal, Amber was asked to display her work in the Bozeman Art Walks, which is how Maria Abad of Montana Trails Gallery discovered her work.
“Amber’s paintings are so original and beautiful, I knew our clients would respond to them, and they really have,” Maria said. “Her art is a perfect complement to our other works, and she is a pleasure to have as part of our MTG family.”
In the first year of her transition, Amber worked both as a graphic designer and an artist. After one year, she began painting full-time. From there she worked diligently, setting ambitious goals and attaining them, year after year.
“I hustled really hard in the beginning. I painted so many paintings, and it did pay off,” she said. “It’s been a really cool process. Do I think I’m maxed out? I don’t know but, I am happy where I’m at.”
Now that Amber is an established artist and the mother of a teenage daughter, she has backed off the hustle somewhat and is striking a balance between maintaining her artistic integrity while making a living. Inspiration for this can come from new techniques, contemporary works, and even fashion and interior design. But often, it comes from regular visits with her husband to Yellowstone and other natural areas.
“We are always out looking for animals, and when I look back through the pictures, that’s where I get a lot of inspiration,” she said. “[Several] years ago we were rolling through Yellowstone and saw a giant grizzly bear, and he put on a show for everyone. We have a very large lens so we could still get pictures from far away. And a couple of weeks ago we were driving through Yellowstone, and we saw him again. It was so cool to be able to see the same one. He had a notch in his ear and some scars on his face that were still there.”
Amber considers herself an alla prima – or wet on wet – painter. She strives to keep her process simple and true to her inspiration, and prefers to change up her approach to keep her work interesting, both for herself and for the viewers.
“I like to work when everything’s wet and just get it done, and kind of hold on to that first inspiration, so hopefully you see the energetic brush strokes. I think there is magic where that first stroke of inspiration comes from. You tend to have a lot of energy when you first start a painting,” she said. “Then, there is that awkward stage in a painting where you go, ‘What was I thinking?’ and then the hard work begins, where you have to make some very difficult decisions. I try to let those become intuitive so I don’t overthink the process.”
As a graphic designer, Amber said she found herself focusing on detail and realism, leaving less to the imagination for the viewer. As a painter, though, she strives for simplicity to allow the mind’s eye to fill in that detail, allowing room for emotional reaction.
“The eye can’t take in everything at once. So that’s why a lot of my stuff has some vagueness in it. So it’s not overwhelming, and you can just take in the feeling of the moment instead of being blasted by all these details,” she said.
Amber’s approach tends to be one of a “recovering graphic designer,” she said, planning the painting, organizing its components, then zooming out to see the most important elements. It’s there where the brush strokes, colors and expressionism come forth in her work. She uses smaller paintings, which she sometimes refers to as “recess paintings”, to play and experiment with strokes, paint saturation and technique. Then she brings what she has learned to her larger pieces.
“I have become a lover of abstract expressionism. I haven’t really given myself the time to explore abstraction without grounding it in some reality, be it a landscape or an animal. A buffalo is easy to give a little abstraction to and I have messed around with backgrounds and I’ve messed around with layers, but I kind of want to just do a series of just abstracts. It’s a little daunting, but I am excited to explore that,” she said.
Amber believes that art is a way of life, and it spills into everything she does and surrounds herself with. Likewise, she puts all of herself into her art and hopes that it impacts viewers on a soul-stirring level as well.
“It sounds so cliché but I really do pour my whole being into these paintings. I don’t know if there’s any other way. I think every artist does,” she said. “I’m trying to make something that will make [viewers] look at life differently. Maybe we don’t let ourselves feel all the emotions, and so to stop and look at a painting and feel an emotion that we haven’t felt for a long time…and even if it’s just the pure joy of wildlife, you know, seeing something in nature that just makes you gasp, or just something seemingly insignificant. If it’s painted the right way, it’s profound.”
Copyright Montana Trails Gallery 2022