All Calm on West Falmouth Harbor
Artist Christie Velesig is using her talents to bring moments of peace and calm to the crazy world we live in.
Imagine a world where the waters are always calm, the boats are freshly painted and the world around you is at peace. While this might seem like a fantasy for some, one look at Christie Velesig’s peaceful paintings will instantly transport any viewer to a quieter place. The Mashpee based artist has been providing art lovers with moments of calm for years through her charming series of wooden boats on peaceful waters, with whimsical names and eye-catching colors.
After admiring artists for years, Velesig began painting in 1980, but exploring art hadn’t always been an option. Attending parochial elementary school and a high school that didn’t foster the arts, it wasn’t until Velesig started at the University of Louisville that she met a woman on her dorm floor who was an artist. Fascinated, Velesig would watch the artist work and it became the catalyst for a lifelong passion. After graduating, Velesig got married and moved to the Cape, attending Cape Cod Community College, where she attended every single art course available to students. And 10 years later, she began teaching there. Velesig has been able to share her passion for painting by teaching at not only Cape Cod Community College, but also at the Cahoon Museum of American Art, the Falmouth Artist Guild, the Cape Cod Guild of Fine Art, Chatham Creative Arts Center, and Woodruff Gallery, as well as hosting plein air and still life workshops across New England.
Velesig describes her work as “painterly realistic.” “Sometimes people tell me ‘Oh your paintings almost look like a photograph,’ because they’re realistic, but when you look closely, they really are painterly,” she says. But it’s been a journey to her current style and subjects. She began painting in a pointillist watercolor style which transitioned into traditional watercolor. She now works mainly in oils. “When I first started painting, I was painting everything; landscapes, portraits, I did pretty much anything and everything, I just loved it,” she recalls. “I believe it was in 2002 that I discovered some boats down by Ropes Beach that were just gorgeous and I would go very early in the morning. I loved the calm reflections in the water and started painting those, only in oil, and just took off.” But Velesig quickly realized there are challenges that arise when an artist’s subjects can float away. “One time I went to paint at West Falmouth Harbor, I had my painting half-finished, and the people got into the boat and drove away,” she laughs. “After that, I decided I would go out and take a lot of photos and at least have those as a back-up and paint from that.”
Velesig’s subjects of choice are the boats she finds floating in the water, though other motifs spring up occasionally. Without fail, whatever the subject, Velesig’s work imparts a classic Cape aura that brings peace to all who view them. But she’ll always come back to her boats. “I just love the wooden boats. I do commissions of fiberglass ones when people want it but for my own personal enjoyment, I love wooden boats. I name the boats myself; I do a lot of commissions and some of the names people come up with are interesting. I often will paint two boats with matching names, so maybe one is named ‘Making Waves’ and the other is ‘Don’t Rock the Boat.’”
Like many of us, Velesig knows the waters will not always be calm. Though she tries to bring peace and quiet to viewers with her work, sometimes there are feelings that can ony be expressed and understood through painting. When asked which of her hundreds of paintings has been her favorite, one would automatically assume it would be one of her classic pieces, one that makes viewers immediately say, “Oh that’s Christie Velesig!” But her favorite is one that holds more emotional weight than anything else. “I do have a favorite painting. Right now, it’s at the Cape Cod Museum of Art. There is an exhibit on 21 in Truro and it’s a very special painting to me,” Velesig explains. “I painted it when my mother got sick. My mother had a brain tumor, and it was very difficult for me to paint at that time. She lived in Rhode Island and I was there a lot, helping my father. When I would come home every few days, I worked on a very large watercolor. It’s called ‘Troubled Waters.’ It’s a very emotional painting for me. With the very turbulent, crushing waves, people look at it and say ‘That doesn’t look like your work’ because I’m generally a very calm person and I love calm waters. So, when they see that with the crashing waves and the woman alone on the rocks with her back facing you, it’s a very emotional painting compared the usual paintings I do.” In a statement written to accompany the painting, Velesig says, “Although my mother had friends and family who loved her dearly, ultimately, she was standing alone on a rocky coast facing turbulent waters as sickness took her from us. Tears are literally embedded in this painting as I cried with every brushstroke.” Though the theme and context of the painting is mournful, the brighter than expected hues of grey and blue project a sense of hope.
But Velesig generally prefers to keep things light for most of her paintings, thanks in part to the beautiful light that permeates the Cape. “I love when I see the sun come up and see the sunshine, I love the morning and the start of a new day,” she says. “I’ll go out and just explore and whatever looks beautiful to me, that’s what I paint. Right now I’m focused on boats but, I might be walking by a doorway, and just the way the sun hits the doorway can inspire me or the way the sun hits flowers. I mostly focus on the landscape with things that make me happy, things that make me feel alive and I just can’t wait to get a brush and colors in my hand.” Velesig ponders what makes the Cape such a special place for artists, as every one of her pieces is infused with its magic. “The Cape is one of the most beautiful places in the world. The colors and the sky and the water; the whole landscape is just so unique. It’s very inspiring,” she muses. “I can’t imagine being an artist and coming here, and not wanting to pick up a brush and paint. When I go out exploring and find an area I love, I can’t take enough photographs. There’s a painting every few feet. And then you turn around and you see it from the other side and there’s a painting every few feet.” As for her favorite spot to capture in her paintings, a dock by West Falmouth Harbor embodies the peace and calm that Velesig hopes to share through her work.
For Velesig, an important part of being an artist is the community that’s fostered amongst artists on the Cape. What started as a girls’ art week for Velesig and fellow artist Anne Boucher has since turned into an annual—going on 22 years—getaway for Cape based female artists. The group, known as 21 in Truro, gather every year in Truro to spend a week together, creating, sharing and supporting each other for whatever they may need at the time. “Anne and I always wanted to get together, and we loved the Corn Hill area in Truro. One day she said to me ‘Why don’t you and I rent a cottage out there for a week and just paint, no housework and no cooking, we’ll just get pizza every night and paint and photograph all week.’ I said sure that sounds great,” recalls Velesig. “We planned it out, and I was at Hyannis art supply later the next day and I ran into a fellow artist and told her about it and she said, ‘Oh I would love to do that.’ So, I said let me ask Anne, you can probably come too, and I went home and called Anne, and she said ‘I ran into someone else and they said they wanted to come too.’” Boucher and Velesig sat down and worked out the logistics of how to house as many artists as they could, figuring the Corn Hill cabins would comfortably fit 21 women. “We got on the phone and started calling; we just wanted women, and we wanted professional artists. We made some phone calls and had a meeting at my house. We decided we would go up and just do it. We named ourselves 21 in Truro and it was history from there. We love it!”
Poet Nayyirah Waheed said, “If the ocean can calm itself, so can you. We are both saltwater mixed with air.” An easy way to calm oneself would be to take a look at a painting by Christie Velesig. Her body of work certainly imparts the calm, peace and serenity felt by time spent by the Cape’s water. “I hope people take away a sense of joy. If you look at most of my work it’s very clam and serene and I try to use colors that are pleasant, at least to me,” she laughs. “I would hope that other people get that feeling; of beautiful color and serene calm, peaceful, and I would hope it would make their day more enjoyable. I also like to put a little humor in my work. I try to put things in there that would make people smile.”
You can find Velesig online at christievelesig.com, and view her work at Chapman Gallery in Cotuit, at the Christina Gallery in Edgartown and on display at the Woman and Infants Hospital in Rhode Island and Cape Cod Hospital in Falmouth. She also has pieces in the permenant collections at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum and Cahoon Museum of American Art.
Elizabeth Shaw is the senior editor at Cape Cod Life Publications.