Brooks artist transforms the traditional

Posted Feb. 21, 2011, at 6:02 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 22, 2011, at 9:12 a.m.

Petrea Noyes describes her artwork as “a cross between a painting and a photograph and God-only-knows-what,” all made possible by her skilled hands, old family albums and a Gateway computer. And while she has become proficient with certain software along the way, her experience with traditional art came first.

Noyes, originally from Connecticut, was raised by her grandparents. Her father was an airplane pilot, and her mother modeled in New York. Her grandfather Harold Wolcott was a realistic painter and taught classes in his barn studio.

“He wouldn’t let me paint until I learned to draw,” said Noyes, 65.

At a young age, she began painting in watercolor and acrylics, drawing and creating mixed-media compositions.

“I’ve been doing this since I was 5 or 6,” she said.

In the ’60s, Wolcott took his granddaughter’s artwork to shows along with his own paintings. He also brought her to stay in cabins on Moosehead Lake, a trip that stirred her dreams to someday live in Maine.

Noyes purchased her first computer from a New York camera company in 1982. It was an Apple II, one of the first successful mass-produced microcomputers. But she couldn’t get it to work so she gave it to a Goodwill donation center.

In 1992, she bought a laptop for work, but it wasn’t until 1998, after she had moved to Lincolnville, that she started using a computer for graphics. And it took her years to combine its digital tools with her artwork. What started as doodling with her mouse on the computer screen evolved as she searched for programs to aid her in photo manipulation and digital drawing.

“It looks like a painting, but it’s just pixels,” Noyes said.

Noyes is well aware of the stigma of digital artwork. Often people tend to think of digital art as cartoon clip art and effortless photo manipulation.

“[My art] is not traditional, but it has the same basic function,” Noyes said. “To me, what difference does it make if it’s a pixel or a pencil? It’s not just about paint; it’s about making a connection with someone else. It’s a joint process between the artist and the viewer.”

Two rooms of her home are designated for her art — one for the digital aspect of her work and the other for painting and stretching her own canvas.

She starts each project by scanning a photo and using various programs — Picture Window, Photoshop, Corel Painter and Adobe Essentials — to crop, rearrange and adjust contrast and sharpness of images. With an Intous tablet on the desk in front of her, she uses an electronic pen to draw or “paint” on the image on the computer screen.

“There’s about 40 different kinds of brushes in Corel [Painter], and about 40 different settings for those brushes. So really, there’s no end to it,” Noyes said.

She often works with black-and-white photos from old family albums — gifts from her Norwegian grandmother.

“There’s something about a black-and-white photo that just grabs me,” she said. “I’m drawn to doing people probably because I wasn’t raised in a typical family environment for the ’50s and ’60s. It was an odd upbringing.”

Ironically, though she chooses to have people as the subject of her artwork, she says she is more comfortable around her pug, golden retriever, horses and cats. She enjoys the quiet, rural life she has found in Maine and entertains the thought of being a hermit.

Out of the many collections of photos found in family albums and on the Internet, she chooses to work with photos that speak to her personally. A composition of her sister photographed in the ’70s is propped on an easel in the corner of her living room surrounded by people aboard boats, riding horses or on the occasional British motorcycle, which Noyes collected for several years. She’s currently working on photographs of cowboys from the ’50s and ’60s.

“It’s nice. You get to arrange your own little world. This is my world, and I’m quite smug about it,” she said.

Once she is finished manipulating a photo, she transfers it to a large sheet of rice paper with an Epson Pro 9800 archival 44-inch printer and uses a clear acrylic medium to adhere it to canvas. She then adds a layer of paint, sometimes with calculated strokes, other times throwing paint at it to add texture and obscure the image beneath.

“I just Jackson Pollock it,” said Noyes.

She paints the eyes with Liquitex Interference Colors, a transparent titanium paint that changes color when you walk by, and layers paint and another sheet of rice paper before finishing the composition with varnish or tabletop polyresin.

“You could take it out and throw it in the water and it would probably float,” she said.

Noyes now displays her artwork — ranging in price from $250 to $3,000 — in 15 to 20 shows each year. She has exhibited in Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, New York and throughout Maine. The calendar in her painting room is marked with submission deadlines and shows that she has already displayed her art at three venues this year.

“I treat it as a full-time job,” she said.

Now that her five children are grown, she has more time to devote to her art. In 2003, she and her husband, Christopher, moved from Lincolnville to Patch Hill Farm in Brooks. Their 1850s home, at the end of a mile-long driveway, is surrounded by 800 acres of meadows, ponds and forests. At about 800 feet above sea level, “it’s like being on the top of a big beach ball,” Noyes said.

She and Christopher, a self-taught painter, run an auto repair garage, but in the winter, business is slow and they have three months to stay at home by the wood stove with their art.

For information, visit pwnoyes.fineartstudioonline.com.

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