MIDLOTHIAN, TX — The beautiful bass fish looked out at the world through long luxurious lashes. She was only one of many gaily decorated fish in a collection painted by Helen Lundberg. Helen explained the bass, “My friend and I were planning a trip to South America, and we were going to go down the Amazon. My husband said, ‘I’ve always wanted to go down the Amazon and go peacock bass fishing.’ So, I picked up a painting of a bass while I was down there. My daughter and her husband have peacocks, and she gave me a bunch of feathers.” Helen used her creativity with the feathers to design that extra-eye-catching look in the tail, gills and those lengthy eyelashes.
Helen’s talent and skill with art was hard won, with many lessons behind her. Born and reared in a small town in northern Oklahoma, Helen has lived all over the country. She got into art when the family moved to Lubbock, Texas, from Los Angeles. “One of my neighbors encouraged me to take an art class with her. That was in 1980, and I have been taking classes ever since.
I had never done any artwork in my life. It was very intimidating, at first, because the other people in class knew how to paint. My neighbor was very encouraging, so I stuck with it. As we moved around the country again, I tried to take lessons wherever I was. I am still taking lessons.”
Although Helen did not grow up painting or creating art, she still has a very important ingredient any artist must have. “I think one of the major factors in being able to do artwork is being able to see it,” she explained. “For example, to see a tree and not just see an object, but to look at it and say, ‘Oh, the tree is round. It has leaves on it. It has holes in it where you can see the sky.’ You can look at it and think it is a beautiful tree with the shapes of the leaves and of the branches. You look for those things when you are doing a painting. You have to be observant.” Helen learned to be more observant, with the assistance of her art classes. Another key point she learned was how to make a flat piece of paper look three-dimensional. “You do that with different colors and your light,” she said. “If you are working in pencil, then you do it with shading.”
When Helen first learned to paint, she started out with oil painting and then learned the other different ways to paint. “My favorite is pastels. I’ve been doing pastels since 1990.” Laughing, she explained why she enjoyed pastels so much. “You get in and get your hands dirty. It just seemed like a fun thing to do. I enjoy it a lot. I can do watercolors and acrylics — it just depends on the painting and what I want to accomplish. I’ve gotten a little back into oil, with water-based oil paint. I get bored with one thing, so I move on to the other mediums.” Helen’s art studio is a testament to her style of creating, with a different project going on in just about every corner. Implements for woodcutting are set up on one table. On another, she works on completing a painting of the Texas flag for her
son’s office. Helen also enjoys pastels because that style “lends itself very well to portraits of people and object paintings where you have one subject in the painting.” This has proven to be very effective with one of the ways in which she derives inspiration for painting. Many people collect postcards of different places they have visited. Bringing home a picture she took during a trip, to be painted later, is Helen’s forte. “I’ve traveled extensively, and I take pictures in many places.” Those pictures are the impetus for many of her paintings. One such example from her trip to Morocco is a painting of a man riding a donkey. From Peru, a pastel painting titled, The Care Giver, is of a striking little girl, holding a goat, dressed in a wide-brimmed green hat and a garment of vivid red, green and purple, who is holding a goat.
One of Helen’s more creative works of art is a water-based oil painting of a buffalo on handmade paper and mounted on Egyptian papyrus (an ancient form of paper-like material made from the papyrus plant). Each corner embellished with block printing adds another dimension to the painting. “I made the blocks out of wood that I dipped in paint and then stamped it onto the material,” she stated.
One very interesting painting with a three-dimensional element is of a woman in the evacuation of New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “I saw this black and white picture in the newspaper of a lady misplaced from Katrina, and she was wearing this cap with all of these items pinned on it.” In Helen’s rendition of the picture, she painted the lady with her knitted cap and placed various miniature items, such as a guitar, duck, elaborate pins and buttons, onto the painting.
Not all of Helen’s work is of photos from different places. “I am not fond of doing landscapes, so I tend to do things in series. Maybe I’ll do a bunch of people or a series on Mardi Gras masks. I’ve done a lot of fish.” In addition to the beautiful peacock bass displayed in her home, there are several different paintings of brightly colored fish. One koi fish grabs your attention, with its glitzy accents. Koi are naturally beautiful, just as they are, but Helen added grandeur to her artwork by painting the fish swimming to the bottom leaving a trail of swirling blue and gold. To achieve the multitude of rich colors in the painting, she used mixed media of watercolors, pastels and gold leafing.
Helen has also painted florals. One room in her home is brought to life with the painting of a flower in brilliant red, highlighted with bright yellow. The combination of yellow meeting red could be interpreted as a flower ablaze, but unconsumed by flames.
Helen stresses that she is not a professional artist. “I do this for fun,” she said. “I don’t try to sell them.” Smiling, she pointed out that “her family has an obligation to hang her paintings.” No doubt, that is a beautiful obligation to have.
Written by Betty Tryon.