Romona Youngquist talks inspiration and distinctive style
Expansive landscapes mark Romona Youngquist's painting style, and these days those images are shown in galleries across the country and even internationally.
The Dundee artist's work is inspired by the sights and colors of Yamhill County and Youngquist said her images are often influenced by scenery she's driven past numerous times without noticing a certain aspect.
"And then that one night, summer, early evening, it's an amazing painting," she said. "You just have to be there at the right place, at the right time, with the right feeling and inspiration."
In a recent interview, Youngquist expanded on her background as an artist and how she came to develop her characteristic landscape style.
An early start
Youngquist knew she wanted to be a painter by age 4. She recalls one day in preschool, when her teacher had all the students drawing. Always an animal lover, Youngquist drew a portrait of a rooster, and afterward, the teacher held up the drawing in front of the class.
From then on, Youngquist said, she knew she was an artist.
"The thing was, I remember the feeling, even way back when, how much joy I got from actually doing the work," she said. "And every time I did my art from then, it had that same feeling."
She grew up in a small, rural Oklahoma town, which didn't have art galleries or a local arts scene. Instead, she focused on the nature around her.
"I remember studying the landscape, at (ages) 5, 6, 7, I would stand out in the road and study the trees and skies," Youngquist said. "I still, to this day, use what I remembered from my skies, what I learned from studying way back then. I use it all the time."
At age 11, Youngquist's family moved to California and lived in the foothills, and she later attended college in Fresno. There was beautiful scenery in the foothills, she recalled, but it was "hotter than hell." So much so, that she next moved to Juneau, Alaska.
There, she had her first showing in a gallery. It went well, she recalled, but even now she looks back and can think of changes she'd make to those paintings before putting them out in the gallery.
She and her family lived in Juneau for a decade. It was rainy and beautiful, Youngquist said, but it wasn't quite what she was looking for. When they were looking to move, they decided on Oregon and came to the Newberg area to scout it out.
'This is the place'
Youngquist and her daughter came to Newberg during the summer in a rental car, grabbed a newspaper and found a rental to look at. As they explored the town, they got a firsthand look at the local culture.
"This was in July and we go to find the rental and we end up in the Old Fashioned Festival parade by accident," she laughed. "This is the place," she recalls thinking.
She and her family moved into a home on Wynooski Street and the first scenes she painted after moving featured some of the houses in the neighborhood.
"It seems like my career really took off when we came here. … I did this landscape and you could just see the passion of it," Youngquist said. "Things just started to work out here."
Now, her paintings are featured in galleries nationwide and beyond. She has been featured in magazine profiles and her work has gained much acclaim in the arts world.
"I would tell anybody starting out to paint outside," she said. "Go outside. Paint for a couple years. Don't worry about trying to get your stuff in galleries right away. You might have to do a regular job, but just learn, don't worry about the rest of the stuff. Have fun."
Developing a style
Youngquist's style is sometimes referred to as contemporary impressionistic. She paints realistic, representational landscapes, often featuring a house nestled within a sprawling nature scene. People rarely factor into her paintings, but wildlife is common and Youngquist doesn't have to go far for inspiration: on her farm, she has seven dogs, a couple cats, chickens, and she occasionally raises orphan squirrels.
Her work is marked by its size: at the time of this interview, she had just started on a 48-by-72-inch landscape slated for a December show in Scottsdale, Ariz.
"It seems ridiculous to try to do it," she said of the massive canvases she paints, noting the size can complicate the logistics of transporting them for gallery shows and sales. "The chance of failing is right in your face — it can be hard."
But the sprawling size lends itself to capturing the landscape and Youngquist said she has a hard time trying to narrow her images into small canvases.
"When I do big pieces, it's like a project, and I just have so much fun doing them," she said. "I want the viewer to feel like they're there, that they can just walk into it."
The large size, she said, is essential for pulling off the desired impact and has become synonymous with her work. But even with her established look, Youngquist is still evolving her technique. She says her paintings used to be tighter and more realistic, but she's beginning to leave more details to the imagination.
"I want to get more to where the viewer really uses their brain and finishes the painting, too," Youngquist said. "I want to leave some mystery, I guess, for the viewer to figure out."
When she finishes a painting, Youngquist said it can almost be disappointing if the piece didn't quite reach that point. But that leads to the next painting and the next, providing a constant challenge to get closer to that goal.
"I want to master the landscape," Youngquist said. "There's something I'm trying to do. And I've been trying to do it since I was 4."