Texas transplant trades longhorns for tall ships in Port Townsend

Laura Jean Schneider | Special to The Leader
Posted 6/29/22

Her hands are so cold she can barely hold her paintbrush. 

The wind whips along dunes, giving bunches of hardy grasses wild blowouts as she lays down color quickly with stiff hands, the …

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Texas transplant trades longhorns for tall ships in Port Townsend

“Seascape” by Port Townsend artist Joyce Hester.
“Seascape” by Port Townsend artist Joyce Hester.
Image courtesy of Joyce Hester

Her hands are so cold she can barely hold her paintbrush. 

The wind whips along dunes, giving bunches of hardy grasses wild blowouts as she lays down color quickly with stiff hands, the clouds shape-shifting above her.

The resulting painting, “Follow Me to the Sea” is an arresting invitation: A single urgent moment that somehow contains almost infinite movement bound by 8-inch-by-8-inch canvas. 

And that’s no accident.

Underpinning Joyce Hester’s dedication to paint outside in such weather is a calculated plan, what she refers to as a motif, the foundational idea she’s trying to get across. 

“That informs every other part of the painting,” she said. “You just kind of go with what you see and what you feel. And that one went there.”

“And I was so cold,” Hester added, “that you know, you are kind of grabbing that brush and shaking it. And so you couldn’t do, like a straight, even line, if you wanted to. 

“But that’s exactly what it needed to do in that painting.”

From the get-go

“I’ve always identified as an artist,” Hester said, confessing that she still has a portfolio of work she completed in kindergarten. (No, she was not willing to share those images with The Leader.) 

“I guess I was 9 years old when I got my first set of oil paints,” she said. 

After setting up a paint studio in her basement, she said she “slogged” through figuring them out. 

“You really shouldn’t give oil paints to someone that young,” she said, laughing: They’re a huge mess paired with the hand-eye-coordination of a child. (That learning curve, however, taught Hester to be a tidy painter.)

Plugging away in her childhood studio, she couldn’t have known she’d eventually set down her brushes to leave Wisconsin, work for the Navy as a weather observer, and enter the workplace in Texas as a certified public accountant. 

Or, that in the 1990s, she and her husband Craig – “We are adventurers in spirit,” she said – would spend several years in a beautiful Russian village just outside of Moscow, ultimately inspiring her to paint again.

“The Russians love their arts,” she said. 

During this rare period of time when Hester had weekends free, she’d visit museums, marveling at the talent and her beautiful surroundings.

“And you just couldn’t help but get back into it,” she said of painting.

“It just really drew you back in.”

Know your subject

“Our first longhorn was a birthday present to my husband,” Hester said. (Perhaps it’s a Texas thing.) 

Soon enough, the couple realized that their steer was lonesome for bovine buddies, and the herd started to grow. As they bonded with Hester, who started spending time out in the pasture painting them, she actually purchased some as models. (She does not recommend buying cattle for their coat colors alone.)

“I would sit out in the field with them on weekends and I would start sketching them, because you’ve got to know your subject,” she said. 

“I absolutely loved them.”

But in 2017, the Hesters decided it was time to see new country.

Port Townsend popped up in an article about the best small towns in America, and it checked all of their boxes. 

Amazingly, the longhorn herd was able to move in entirety to another ranch, where the original steer (whose horns spanned over 8 feet) and his best friend will live free from ever becoming ground round.

To help get situated and aware of her new environment, Hester took a beach naturalist course that spanned several weeks. 

“I wanted to understand the beaches and the water,” she said.

“I love the Boat Haven,” she exclaimed, adding that it’s a very complicated place to work. With the amount of detail on each craft, she keeps it to “large value patterns.”

“Values are the number-one thing that I look for,” she said.

A working artist

“During the summer, I try to get outside, just like with the cows, outside where I can observe and absorb the feel, etcetera. And then in the winter time, I’ll take studies into the studio, and generally do other works from that,” Hester said. 

While she paints locally, she finds inspiration nearby, too.

“The San Juans are just a limitless place to get ideas,” she said.

In the past few years, after someone “shamed” her into opening an Instagram account (she laughed), she posts images from the life of a full-time working artist. 

“I can check to see how paintings respond to people,” she said.

Lately, there’s been a lot of response to her work in gouache. With a cold and wet Port Townsend spring, she decided to mix things up. The past few months, she’s been focusing on gouache tree studies, and lately, studying landscape painting and color harmony via Zoom classes.

“Boy, have my eyes opened up to color,” Hester said. “It’s amazing what you can do when you start limiting.” By “limiting,” she means working with colors across from each other on the color wheel. She’s created her own two-and-a-half-foot in diameter model with all of the colors she paints with. It’s a tool that’s earned a prominent place in her studio.

Something to work on

Just as each of her paintings begin with a motif, Hester continues the process with a great deal of intention. 

“I’m trying to get that certain message across,” she said. 

“You’ve got to know your subject,” she repeated. She does small studies to determine value and composition before adding color. 

“From my old days in finance, we always used to do plans …. and I’ve been working on a plan.”  

She said. “It’s really to get a strong foundation and build my skills.”

“I do self-assessments on a regular basis,” Hester said. 

Perhaps that’s been one of the reasons she’s been so successful since she picked up her brushes again. Currently, she’s part of the 2022 artist’s showcase “A New Year, New Beginnings” at Northwind Art’s Jeanette Best Gallery. (This is the third time she’s been included; all entries were judged blind.)

Hester’s aim is to keep building her skills and entering in increasingly competitive shows. In the past year, her work was selected for the 2021 Oil Painters of America Western Regional exhibition in Kansas and the American Impressionistic Society.

“It’s actually thrilling,” she said. “But then, my next, ultimate goal, is to get an award.”

Then the CPA in her emerged. 

“Now, that’s probably farther downstream,” she said, “but it gives me something to work toward.”

“And you know this,” she added, “art is just in your soul and you’re going to do it anyway, even if you never showed it to anybody, even if nobody ever bought it. You’re still going to just do it.”


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