Student artist Amy Gabriel redefines blank canvas

Artist Amy Gabriel sits in front of some of her most recent paintings, Jan. 22. 

NAU features nearly 300 extracurricular clubs and organizations, all of which provide opportunities for students to explore their passions and develop skills in various fields of interest. However, some students like senior Amy Gabriel choose to make their way down a path less traveled and delve deeply into personal interests, crafts and side hustles.

Gabriel is a local freelance artist and painter. She began selling her artwork in high school and continues to do so as a college student. She makes her works available for purchase online and in local markets.

Gabriel said that, as a child, she was always covered in paint. As she grew older, she harnessed the creative energy of her youth and honed her skills on the canvas.

“I used to cover my hands in paint during class and just touch them all over pieces of paper,” Gabriel said. “I always had fun messing around while all the other kids were reading books.”

Gabriel said she began with simple doodles and, to her surprise, realized she was pretty good. She took a few art classes in high school and learned the basics of her craft.

“I started to learn the real fundamentals of art and how to draw portraits and shadows,” Gabriel said. “After I gained all those tools, I was like, ‘this is awesome,’ but I eventually stopped [taking classes] because I felt like I already knew how to paint.”

Gabriel had found her niche in painting. She felt that out of all the artistic media she worked with, painting provided her an outlet to create more original and personal pieces.

“With portraits, you have to look at a picture and copy it,” Gabriel said. “I got bored with that and wanted to make something of my own. I found that painting was a way to do my own thing and get away from black and white.”

When Gabriel first began, she said she had limited resources to support her practice. She bought paintings from Goodwill and spray painted them white in a frugal attempt to recycle canvass.

“I didn’t take myself very seriously back then,” Gabriel said. “I was just looking for the cheapest way to do art. People who bought my art would get my painting on the front and then, on the back, an old painting would still be there.”

Gabriel found her own sense of style through the use of bright, contrasting colors. Gabriel’s roommate Karlee Crenshaw said Gabriel’s art is one of a kind.

“Her style is so unique and specific that you can tell it’s hers,” Crenshaw said. “She has so much talent.”

Gabriel said her style comes largely from her ability to see colors in a unique and fascinating way. For instance, one of Gabriel’s portraits features a nude female body whose shadows are filled with brilliant colors, as opposed to dull, murky tones.

“It just hit me one day that I was seeing colors like crazy,” Gabriel said. “When I see a shadow, it could be blue or purple. Some of my colors are flipped. With black and white you can only do so many things, but, in my paintings, black and white turn into a wholly different story.”

Landscape photographer Jordyn Osborn sold art with Gabriel at a First Friday event in downtown Flagstaff. Osborn said the event drew an interesting crowd. He claimed that his work attracted the interest of older residents, while Gabriel’s work attracted a younger demographic.

“Amy attracts younger crowds because [her art] is super creative and fits her generation,” Osborn said. “Everything about [her art] is super bold and different. She pushes people’s comfort zones.”

Finding people who share similar artistic vision didn’t come easy for Gabriel. There were multiple occasions when she said her work was criticized or turned away.

“I took a studio art class and [the instructor] rejected my portfolio,” Gabriel said. “That was a big letdown to my confidence as an artist. It’s funny now because I look back on it and no one else in that class continued to do art.”

Gabriel found confidence as an amateur vendor at a First Friday event in Phoenix, where she said she successfully sold over 40 pieces of art.

“I was so overwhelmed because there were 20 people in my tent at once,” Gabriel said. “I was proud of myself for the first time. I felt like [painting] might be something I could actually make money with.”

The amount of time and personal energy spent on Gabriel’s art is represented in her choice of tools for the job. Paintbrushes and spray cans are Gabriel’s go-tos, but she said she’s also not afraid to get her hands dirty.

“You can tell, in some of my paintings, that my fingerprints are all over them,” Gabriel said. “I think that’s kind of cool because that’s literally me on the painting.”

Gabriel’s said her art is an expression of herself and how she views her life ­— a clash between vivid color and darker energy exists in each of her paintings.

“All of my paintings are a mixture of really bright colors and creepiness, because that’s what life is,” Gabriel said. “There are really cool and awesome parts of life, but there’s also sad parts. I like to create a balance in my paintings that represents that.”

The ancient Chinese philosophy of yin and yang resonates heavily with her, and is a primary thematic element in many of Gabriel’s pieces.

“The yin yang describes my art to a ‘t’,” Gabriel said. “My paintings can be creepy, they might have drips on them, or subjects may have no eyeballs, but the paintings might also have something cute, like a giraffe with glitter all over it. It’s weird, but I think it works.”

Gabriel said creating a piece of art typically takes up to eight hours to complete, which often makes it difficult for her to give away finished pieces.

“Sometimes it’s really hard to part ways with my paintings because I’m super proud of them and because they help me grow as an artist,” Gabriel said. “But it’s cool when I can part ways with a painting and know it’s going to be hanging in someone’s house.”

Gabriel’s art is now sold primarily through her Instagram handle, which she said appeals more to a younger audience. The price of her works typically ranges from $200 to $650 based on time spent and intrinsic value. She also offers more affordable prints for college students on a budget.

Gabriel does commission work and sometimes takes special requests for things like murals, shoes and tattoo design. She said one of most unique requests she’s fulfilled was to paint the interior of someones closet.

“I’ve sold random things. People have asked me to paint their shoes or design tattoos for them,” Gabriel said. “I feel honored when people ask me to do something so personal for them.”

Gabriel is proof that homework doesn’t have to be the only productive thing a student does outside of class. The artist plans to sell some of her art at Flagstaff’s First Friday events once the weather begins to heat up. Until then, she recommends readers check out her works online.