In the expansive and ever-evolving realm of modern art, creativity recognizes no limits, surpassing various mediums and challenging the limits of expression. In this feature, Galveston Monthly delves into the captivating worlds of four distinct local artists, each utilizing their chosen craft as a means for artistic conversation.
From the intricate realms of Rebecah Thompson’s mesmerizing photo/digital compositions to the tactile wonders crafted by Brenda J. Bunten-Schloesser through fiber sculptures and textile mosaics, the ethereal watercolors and Urban Sketches by Richard Scruggs that seem to breathe life onto canvas, and the meticulous artistry of Barbara Parker in the realm of glass mosaics, these visionary artists invite us on a journey where the convergence of imagination and skill paints a kaleidoscopic tapestry of creativity.
Join us as we uncover the narratives behind their diverse mediums, offering readers an exploration of their creative expressions and the underlying influences that shape their work.
Digital painting, an umbrella term encompassing various forms of digitally created art, has emerged as a prominent avenue for artists seeking a fusion of traditional techniques with modern technology. This method, supported by tools such as Adobe Photoshop, a graphics tablet, and a stylus pen, allows artists like Galveston’s Rebecah Thompson to use their stylus in a manner similar to a traditional brush or pencil on a digital canvas.
“Digital art is really the same as any other creative art. You must learn, practice, and gain some level of ability,” Thompson said. “It’s another form of artistic expression, but it involves different tools and technology.”
Various forms of digital art exist, encompassing not just creative photography but also compositing, painting, illustrating, and 3D modeling. These mediums can be enriched with elements like typography, animation, and beyond, extending their reach to printing and augmented with mixed media, she said.
“I use virtual brushes which are created to be very similar to real brushes, producing paint strokes in all the various mediums and requiring similar techniques in how the strokes are applied with a stylus and tablet. With a graphics tablet, drawing and painting are very similar to painting on a real canvas. It’s just done on a screen, with a lot less mess to clean up.”
The progress in technology and greater availability of digital tools have fueled the expansion of digital arts education, elevating its presence in exhibitions and artistic discussions.
Advocates of digital art contend that it represents a natural progression in artistic expression, reflecting society's shift towards a more technology-centric environment. The adaptability of digital tools empowers artists to explore a wide array of techniques, ranging from intricate detailing to creating expansive, dynamic compositions.
The seamless integration of various mediums and multimedia elements introduces a level of complexity that traditional forms find challenging to emulate.
On the other hand, traditionalists posit that the tactile and tangible aspects of paintings and sculptures provide them with a distinctive and irreplaceable quality.
Thompson, who has been published multiple times in the international digital art magazine, “Living the Photo Artistic Life,” said she’s been challenged by some who think her medium isn’t ‘real art’ since “I haven’t physically painted it on an actual canvas. But learning a skill in any creative venue is very real, and mostly I think they just don’t realize how much goes into it.”
Last year, she taught a digital art class at the Texas City Art Festival, which helped bring about some understanding of the process of creating digital art in this way.
“It was very well received, which doesn’t surprise me. It’s so much fun.”
The Galveston Art League also provided the medium with support and validation after Thompson submitted numerous pieces in the photography category for their juried/judged shows.
“The board understood a need for an additional category - Digital Art - and added it as a sixth category,” she said. “It has opened it up for other digital artists to also become members of the Galveston Art League. The support of the amazing Galveston art community has been instrumental towards my continuing success.”
Creating a digital piece often requires a significant amount of time, occasionally extending for days or even weeks.
The majority of Thompson’s time is dedicated to crafting unique compositions by blending photos, and she extends her artistic process by using a stylus and tablet to paint, carefully applying each brush stroke. While this is her typical approach as a digital artist, she also has numerous pieces that consist solely of composites and others that are purely paintings.
“For me, the creative process almost always begins with an idea or a concept. I think about what I want to create, sometimes sketching the idea before starting,” she said. “Of course, sometimes I’ll begin with one idea and the canvas will carry me off in another direction entirely, but that is part of the fun,” she said.
Once Thompson starts, she gathers different photos, creating the arrangement and merging them to give form to her envisioned concepts.
“As I work, I add in shadows and lighting, I bring in textures and employ blending modes, add colors, and introduce various painterly effects, even draw and sketch in more material as the canvas takes shape until I reach the final effect that satisfies.”
Galveston serves as a plentiful source of inspiration, featuring breathtaking beaches, enchanting sunrises, unique architecture, and a wealth of nature and wildlife. Thompson is particularly captivated by the birds of Galveston, with a focus on pelicans and egrets, evident in the majority of her artistic creations.
“I have a love of pelicans, and my favorite piece that I’ve created combined eight different photos of white pelicans on the pier near Harborside Drive,” she said.
“I then cut them out individually in Photoshop and placed them in new positions in and around a bathtub as if they were all bathing and preening in the tub. I then added lighting and shadows to make them look as if they had always been in the scene. After adjusting some colors and adding in a background, I think I nailed my original idea. It’s a fun piece.”
In addition to avian-inspired pieces, she depicts various landscape scenes, highlighting dunes and picturesque sunrises. One standout among her creations is a composite piece inspired by the old, abandoned train in Galveston.
“All I need to do is look around, and I’m struck again with new ideas. Many of my pieces are influenced by the colorful events hosted year ‘round in Galveston. I get such great inspiration from Dickens on the Strand, the Lone Star Rally, and especially Mardi Gras. Taking photos of the people all dressed for the events makes it easy for me to incorporate into my art pieces.”
The goal is to craft images that intricately weave narratives, encouraging viewers to explore the deeper significance behind each visual story.
“I really enjoy creating composites that tell a story and make the viewer wonder more about the piece. I especially love creating surreal scenes of things in places where they wouldn’t normally be or sizes that don’t match,” she said.
“I want the viewer to wonder what the story is, what is the main subject or character doing or why is that strange object placed there when it doesn’t quite seem like it belongs. I like creating moments of curiosity and wonder.”
For more information about Thompson’s work, visit www.rebecahthompson.com.
Brenda Bunten-Schloesser, a textile artist, is committed to creating intricate sculptures and mosaics that uniquely redefine traditional fiber techniques. Descending from a line of skilled women across generations proficient in sewing, crocheting, knitting, and needlepoint, it was the world of fiber art that captivated her passion because it enables her to push the limits of artistic expression and challenge people to rethink their perspectives.
Bunten-Schloesser feels a sense of fulfillment when a viewer realizes that her artwork transcends conventional two-dimensional visual art crafted using pigments and brushes. Instead, it stands as an almost three-dimensional piece that exists in physical space, characterized by depth and structure crafted from fibers.
Her tools include looms, dyes, cotton fabric, yarn, and other textiles and an unbridled imagination.
She begins by crafting a composition, selecting materials and colors with care. Then, she meticulously brings the image to life using textiles, frequently layering various fiber techniques to enhance depth. Each artwork demands a significant investment of time and effort.
“Fabric, yarn, and raw-ginned cotton are dyed in the spring and fall when the weather is above 70 degrees, so the dyes will cure right, and under 90 degrees, so not too hot that I can’t work outside,” said Bunten-Schloesser, who has more than 35 years of experience in creating graphic designs and professional artwork.
“I split my time between two studios - one a home studio in League City and the other at Winter Street studios at Sawyer Yards in Houston.”
Observing the laborious process through which she crafts each piece is impressive. She hand-dyes the fabric on a large board (referred to as a hurricane board), which then undergoes multiple steps of washing and repainting for the desired image or feeling, and then she employs discharge paste to remove dye selectively for highlights or texture.
The fabric is then brought inside, where it is cut and assembled. Dyed yarn is utilized for weaving on a floor loom located in the home studio or for needlepoint pieces, which are later affixed to the artwork.
“When people ask how long each piece takes, I tell them that I can get six to seven textile mosaics done a year and one fiber wall sculpture.”
When at her League City studio, she utilizes her garage for much of her work “because [the art] is very messy, and I can just hose everything down with the garden hose when done.”
While at the Houston studio, she invites visitors to come and witness her creative process. “People are always welcome to stop in at Winter Street but call first because my schedule changes.”
On the second Saturday of each month, Sawyer Yards, a former rail yard that now hosts studios for hundreds of active artists, galleries, loft offices, and creative enterprises, invites the public to explore their studios from noon to 5 pm.
In Galveston, Bunten-Schloesser’s art is available at René Wiley Gallery, 2128 Postoffice Street in downtown Galveston, where she has been for 15 years and is April’s featured artist.
It is in Galveston that the artist uncovers a rich source of inspiration, drawing from its unique features, stories, and collective experiences.
“The coastline, with its dynamic skies, the wildlife, and the historical architecture, are what regularly appear in my work,” said Bunten-Schloesser.
Several of her pieces serve as tributes to the life force of Galveston - the residents and business owners who unite in times of adversity. “He Stilled the Storm to a Whisper” and “Crushed but Not Destroyed” evoke the aftermath of a terrible storm, when the ocean's waves have calmed, the winds are gentle, and a sense of recovery envelops the scene.
The works of art were generated in reaction to Hurricane Ike, a powerful Category 2 hurricane that struck Galveston on September 13, 2008. Its massive storm surge wreaked havoc on buildings and businesses along Galveston's Seawall.
This incident remains one of the deadliest and economically impactful storms, causing an estimated $37.5 billion in damages. Despite facing significant challenges and a seemingly never-ending cleanup process, residents and business owners demonstrated resilience and determination.
Her mosaic fiber works titled, “Strong Tower” and “Ray of Light,” are a nod to the historical architecture that graces the island.
Her textile mosaic panels involve building complex layers of painted cotton fabric, cotton batting, dyed raw ginned cotton, and cotton yarn. She employs various traditional techniques such as weaving, coiling, needlepointing, and stitching to push the complexity of each piece. These layers are assembled with acrylic mediums on a duck canvas-wrapped wood panel attached to the wall with a French cleat.
Through her mastery of the medium, Bunten-Schloesser aims to instill a sense of awe and contemplation, encouraging viewers to connect with the art on a profound level and unearth the beauty that emerges when conventional techniques are approached with innovative vision.
For additional information about her work, please visit www.bjbsart.com, follow her on Instagram @brendabuntenschloesser, or connect on Facebook at facebook.com/bjbsart.
Richard M. Scruggs
The creative journey of artist Richard M. Scruggs, which began more than 12 years ago, is marked by a passion for watercolors, a transition from studio to urban sketching, a focus on storytelling through art, and a deep connection to the Galveston community and its diverse subjects.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve admired painters and their ability to represent a three-dimensional subject in two dimensions in a way that told a story and engaged the audience,” Scruggs said.
"On vacation, we’d visit art galleries and festivals. In Galveston, we’d stroll ArtWalk. Along the way, we collected a lot of paintings.”
During the Thanksgiving weekend ArtWalk in 2011, a serendipitous encounter with Galveston watercolor artist Sallie Anderson sparked his artistic inspiration.
“I admired her paintings, and we started talking about technique, difficulty, and what people gravitated to,” said Scruggs, who earned a degree in engineering and built a career around working in the technical arenas of IT biotech and fintech.
“Along the way I said, ‘I’ve always wanted to learn,’ and she responded, ‘And I teach classes!’”
Scruggs enrolled the following week and quickly found he could incorporate his engineering background into creative expression.
“While the technical side of watercolors appealed to my logical side, I found that painting challenged me to use the other side of my brain,” he said. “This combination has kept me going for 12 years now.”
Scruggs continues to attend Anderson’s Thursday evening art classes. “Today, I think of her more as a coach as much as a teacher.”
As an engineer, he was naturally drawn to realist artworks, which aim to capture everyday life, ordinary people, and common situations truthfully, without artificiality or exaggeration. But he gradually transitioned to a more relaxed style.
“Lines and angles had to be just right. I wanted colors to be spot on. It was fun and I learned a lot about shape, color, light, and how much detail was too much detail. Over time, I started trying to loosen up. Always a challenge for an engineer.”
About five years ago, the artist decided to pursue two objectives. Firstly, he sought to infuse a more narrative element into his paintings, particularly one centered around people.
Secondly, he aimed to portray them through direct observation instead of relying on photographs. It was during this time that he encountered Jim Richards, a distinguished landscape architect, artist, and urban sketcher.
“He was teaching a workshop in Costa Rica and my schedule was open, so I jumped on a plane and went. That class opened my eyes to art from observation,” Scruggs said.
“While still rooted in realism, it was more about the energy, people, and place than perfect lines and accurate colors. I fell in love with this style and have been exploring it ever since.”
For more than five years, Scruggs has been a member of the Houston chapter of Urban Sketchers, a nonprofit organization supporting and representing a grassroots community of sketchers.
The artist draws inspiration from Galveston's historical architecture, including its churches and spaces where people come together.
“I love the venues where people gather - fishing piers, the Pleasure Pier, up and down the seawall. One thing I hope to do with my sketches is show the energy of a place, people interacting and engaging,” he said. “It isn’t just about the landscape or the building.”
Wherever Scruggs goes on any trip, he makes sure to take his artist’s instruments.
“My sketchbook and paints are now part of my standard kit whenever I travel, whether it is for business or pleasure. In addition to Galveston and Houston, I’ve sketched across much of the United States, as well as in Europe and the Caribbean and on cruise ships. I’ve also taken them to events like the last Astros World Series parade,” he said.
“In every venue, I bring home great memories of the place and people.”
Sixteen pieces showcasing his urban sketch style of work were included in the January 2024 exhibition hosted by the Galveston Art League. Executed on location with minimal tools, each sketch aims to capture a moment and location on the Island, providing a visitor's perspective.
The response to the sketches “has been overwhelming,” he said, adding many of the prints purchased have been by individuals who say they feel a personal bond with the depicted subjects.
Every work of art is accompanied by a written description delving into its historical context, anecdotes about individuals encountered, and insights into the artist's creative process. This narrative is intertwined with each sketch, aiming to provide the audience with a deeper appreciation of the setting.
Over the past decade, the artist's work has evolved from studio paintings to on-site urban sketches, capturing the essence of various locations, including Galveston. The island’s vibrant community of artists, accessible venues, and laid-back atmosphere have played a crucial role in shaping the artist's creativity and experimentation.
“There is a vibrant and accessible community of painters and other artists here. From galleries to workshops and festivals, you can meet and interact with many like-minded folks. I’ve found them to be open and giving of their time, advice, and stories,” he said.
“I want to learn and be good, but here I don’t feel the need or expectation for perfection.”
For more information about his work, follow him on Instagram @rmshouston and connect on Facebook.
On Galveston Island, where the waves whisper tales of the Gulf of Mexico and the sunsets paint the sky in hues of magic, resides Barbara Parker, a glass mosaic artist whose creations are a symphony of shattered fragments and renewed beauty - much like her own journey.
“I’ve had many challenges in life. They turn into opportunities for me to rise up, reinvent, adapt, and become something new and improved,” said Parker, who relocated from Houston to Galveston 11 years ago. “After losing my husband, I was lost, and I had to find a way to adapt and to reinvent myself.”
The laid-back vibe of Galveston beckoned, and she answered.
“Galveston allowed me to slow down. Here, I feel like I can breathe. Being close to the magic of the Gulf - the sound of the waves, the sunrises and sunsets were just what I needed. The Galveston Island ‘state of mind’ has definitely influenced me therefore my art. The beautiful architecture, the rich history, and the wildlife definitely influence what I create.”
The walks on the beach, where she finds sea glass and unique and colorful shells, “could inspire any artist.”
Stained glass mosaics are elaborate and vibrant decorative art pieces that entail arranging small, colored glass pieces to craft visually captivating compositions. These mosaics usually comprise of individual glass fragments, referred to as tesserae, meticulously organized to create a larger image or pattern.
The tesserae are bound together using a medium like grout or adhesive. The incorporation of stained glass into mosaics has a rich history spanning centuries, evident in examples across diverse cultures and historical eras.
Parker utilizes her surroundings to create her pieces. The historic structures, designed by visionary architects and constructed by skilled artisans, also contribute a swell of inspiration.
“The amazing stained glass in the old churches and historic homes inspire me. I use the vintage windows and the old wood for my frames,” she said, adding she finds immense satisfaction in sanding the aged wood, uncovering the unique hues of bygone years. The fractured bowls and vases discovered at estate sales in Galveston also become components of her mosaic artworks.
Besides the loss of her husband, Parker has been burdened with a series of significant health challenges.
“I’ve had diagnoses that could have stopped me from living. I had a double mastectomy, two different kinds of cancer in 2022, and multiple sclerosis. I’ve lost many good friends and people I love. Just living life on life’s terms can be challenging. But I never quit. I’ve learned the hard way how precious life is.”
Art, she said, is a saving grace. “My faith is my strength, and my art is how I give back to a life I’m so grateful for,” she said. “Right here, right now is all we really have. I try to paint it as a masterpiece, one day at a time.”
The local artistic community of Galveston, which Parker refers to as a “nurturing family,” has played a pivotal role in shaping her artistic and life journey.
“John Connor was the first artist I met here. His work is brilliant - wildlife and landscapes - and his kindness and encouragement [mean so much]. I am blessed to have known him. Several years later, I got to show my work right alongside of John’s at From the HeART Gallery. What a thrill that was for me.”
Jennifer Peck, founder of Pecks Fine Art, has played a big role in my art. “She gave me my first job on the island. She taught me a lot and suggested that I pick up my paint brushes and stain glass tools as a great way of healing. My art would end up being my saving grace and thanks to her, I painted my first painting in a very long time. I painted a bird of paradise, and it sold right away.”
Parker also picked up her stained glass instruments to start making small stained glass earrings. The essential tools/items needed for this craft are: glass cutter, running pliers, grozing/breaking pliers, grinding stone, copper foil tape, solder, soldering iron, and flux.
“Jen allowed me to sell them in her little gallery, and I could barely keep up with the demand. I’m grateful to her for giving me that opportunity.”
Peck consistently motivated the artist to persist in her endeavors, and she played a pivotal role in guiding her by introducing Parker to numerous individuals within Galveston's art community.
“Everyone’s been so supportive here. Scott Hanson has also been a great inspiration. He shared his love of creating something new with vintage wood and his love of Galveston is contagious.”
Parker is dedicated to giving back and actively engages in charitable initiatives to reciprocate the support she receives. She regularly contributes to different causes and nonprofit organizations including UTMB Mobile Mammogram Project, the AIDS Foundation, Artist Boat, and the Alcohol/Drug Abuse Women’s Center (ADA).
“I’ve been engaged in this philanthropic endeavor for an extended period and aspire to explore additional avenues through which my art can benefit the community,” she said.
Parker also serves as the art director at "Living Life the Happy Way," a platform that provides personalized life coaching and workshops for individuals, businesses, small groups, and retreats in Galveston. The organization was established by Rachel Stokes, a certified professional life coach and artist specializing in glass, mosaics, and mixed media.
“It’s a very exciting time for me,” said Parker, who also teaches “Glass Heart Class with Barbara Parker,” a workshop that takes place at The Shoppes on Postoffice, 2201 Postoffice Street in downtown Galveston. “I love teaching. It’s thrilling to see students surprise themselves.”
She makes her home and has her studio in the heart of Galveston’s Arts District. Being surrounded by creative energy exhilarates her.
“ArtWalk is my favorite event. Postoffice Street becomes alive with live music, all the artists are sharing their process, meeting new clients, and saying hello to supportive clients. It’s a lot of fun.”
She navigates through life with the insightful words of her friend and fellow artist John Connor resonating in her thoughts.
“He said, ‘Don’t give your paint brush to anyone. Don’t quit five minutes before the miracle.’ I never quit. I’ve learned the hard way how precious life is.”
To learn more about Parker's mosaic art, visit Reflections in Glass on Facebook, reach out via email at email@example.com, or follow her on TikTok and Instagram.