Artist Profile: Michele Usibelli
Twenty years ago, Michele Usibelli’s husband gave her the best Christmas present. It was a gift certificate for an oil painting class just down the street from where they lived in Edmonds, Washington. “He knew that I always had a love of art,” says Usibelli. In fact, she predicted in second grade that she would grow up to become an artist. But it didn’t always seem like art would be her career path.
In her early 20s, Usibelli was working as an architect, but within a few years time she came to realize the work just wasn’t fulfilling her creatively. So she shifted gears and took on the job as director of marketing for the National Park Service, which afforded her the opportunity to travel the world. Then in her 30s, married with a 14-month-old and a newborn, Usibelli again needed a change of pace—as much as she loved to travel, she couldn’t continue such a job that kept her away from her family so much. When she received that gift certificate from her husband, Usibelli says she had no idea it would mark the beginning of a fruitful art career.
Within the last two decades, Usibelli, who splits her time between Woodway, Washington and Whitefish, Montana, has seen her paintings in numerous national and international juried exhibitions. After learning oil painting, Usibelli taught herself how to paint in acrylic and, as of recent, in gouache, an opaque kind of watercolor. She says she continues to hone her distinct impressionistic style—an enrapturing style that relies on color. “I view the world as a series of color shapes. … It’s really light and shadow that attracts me to paint much more than what the subject is,” says Usibelli, noting, “I can lead the viewer around the painting the way I want to with my use of color.”
Whether it’s a harbor scene, a Western landscape, a still life, a portrait or even an abstraction, Usibelli calls back to her draftsmanship skills, and approaches every painting by starting with her focal point. “I’ll put in my brightest focal point color, and then I’ll put in the darkest, hardest edge color next to it, which creates that contrast for the focal point,” she explains. “Everything moves out from the focal point toward the edges of the canvas; the colors are grayed down a little bit so your eye stays in the center of the canvas.” Before Usibelli begins painting, she tones her canvas in a bright gold color. As a result, “When I scrape away at the painting,” she says, “it creates a real warm glow, almost as if it’s coming from within the painting.”
There is a palpable life force in Usibelli’s work, and that’s no happy accident. “I truly believe there’s a difference between a pretty painting and a painting with life,” she says. “And I think all the conflicting elements in a painting—warm colors versus cool colors, thick paint versus impasto paint versus a thin wash of paint, saturated color versus gray color, a hard edge versus a soft edge—play together to create an energy in a painting. So that’s what I’m trying to achieve with everything I paint.” Usibelli adds, “My goal is to draw people in, and create a moment.”
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