“I perfected gradation
because I feel it takes the
place of over-the-top detail,
therefore providing an
overall peacefulness and
serenity to the beholder.”

“I love the ride to Sanibel.
Crossing the causeway
bridge takes my
breath away.
The beauty of it all
reminds me why I am
here in Florida.”

Christine Reichow
art & nature

by Carol DeFrank

WHEN A YOUNG CHILD shows a strong interest in any of the arts, sports, or anything for that matter, parents have an obligation to nourish that talent and encourage them to pursue it. This is something that watercolor artist, Christine Reichow firmly believes and fortunately, her parents feel the same because she attributes who she is today to the encouragement and experiences she received as a child.

Reichow has been painting for as long as she can remember. “When I was little and asked my mother for something to play with she’d send me outside with art supplies,” she recalls. “I’d paint flowers, trees and anything else I saw. It was my introduction to nature and it didn’t take me long to realize how awesome it was.”

Her mother was an amazing portrait artist. Christine says, “I still cherish an oil she did of me in my prom dress. While I admittedly got the art bug from her, I am much more aggressive. But it was a different time. Painting was something my mother could do without leaving the house and that was important to her. Turning her talent into a business wasn’t a priority, but it happened along the way because she was that good.”

All through school Reichow was considered the class artist. Anytime there was a need for art of any kind, the teachers called upon her. “When I graduated, my plan was to improve my skills in college. However in the 50s many of us chose marriage over higher education. Then I had three children.” She continues, “But I still painted whenever I had a free minute. I believe that practice is as important as a formal education. It’s the first thing I tell serious, young artists; carve out time each day to hone your skills. Also read everything available on the subject and take advantage of the great videos available online.”

In her early 30s she took classes at Michigan State University in interior design, art, and clothing and textiles. “I loved it all but then my mother became ill and I felt my priority was to take care of her so once again I put college on hold,” she explains.

When her mother passed away she utilized everything she had learned through classes and experience and started to create hand-dyed and hand-woven clothing using natural textiles. She opened a storefront in her hometown of Howell, Michigan with inventory so creative and original that it was considered wearable art. The business was an instant success and soon morphed into a women’s contemporary clothing store. In order to keep up with sales she eventually had to add ready-made clothing to her shelfs. “Granted, working with textiles is very different from what I do today, but experience is never wasted. I learned artistic methods like color blending and design work. It was another step closer to finding my love of watercolor.”

After ten years she was ready to move on. When her husband Dick took a job in California, the couple moved to St.Helena. Reichow was in her glory when she discovered that all of the art classes at Napa Valley Community College were free. “I took every class offered and studied every medium possible until the day I walked into a watercolor class. It was love at first sight, I had found my calling and didn’t have to look any futher. I found watercolor exquisite and immediately wanted to learn more, she says, adding, “Dick’s sincere praise of my work was all the encouragement I needed to pursue the challenge.”

Watercolor is one of the hardest mediums to perfect. What makes it beautiful is the same thing that makes it difficult; water control and saving space for the whites and light. When working in oils to change a dark color to a light the artist simply paints over it. This is not so with watercolors. There’s a lot of planning involved. But Reichow kept at it and her persistence turned into sales and before long she began participating in art shows. Watercolor has been her medium of choice ever since.That was 1998.

After celebrating the millennium in California, her husband retired. “Dick and I were ready for a change so we packed up and moved to Estero, she says. “Since I already had the equipment to do art shows I got involved in some very nice events. I was a little worried at first because there didn’t seem to be much interest in my work, but then I realized that my paintings were geared more for Western decor than Southern.

Photo jaunts in wooded areas and snapping lots and lots of pictures solved that problem. “I’d gather all the images and use them as a muse to create paintings, she explains. “My art started to sell and it’s business has been strong ever since.”

Along the way she developed a noticeable style. Friends and clients told her they could recognize a Reichow painting from across a room. The give-a-way was the gradient wash of background colors that appear in almost every print. Reichow says, “I perfected gradation because I feel it takes the place of over-the-top detail, therefore providing an overall peacefulness and serenity to the beholder.”

She has become very active in the art culture in Southwest Florida, currently serving a two year term as president of the Tower Gallery on Sanibel, the oldest art gallery in Lee County. It’s a co-operative of 24 diverse local artists working with oil, acrylic, watercolor, photography, ceramic, wood, glass and metal, as well as an eclectic collection of historic black-and-white photographs.

To participate each artist must agree to pay an annual stipend, plus a commission on sales. The amount of space in the quaint cottage dictates the number of artists that can be accommodated. Before a new artist is added to the roster, one has to resign.

“We are required to volunteer for three working shifts a month, she explains. “I love the ride to Sanibel. Crossing the causeway bridge takes my breath away. The beauty of it all reminds me why I am here in Florida.”

Reichow has come a long way from that little girl painting trees and flowers with her mother’s art supplies. She is a Signature member of the American Watercolor Society, National Watercolor Society, Transparent Watercolor Society of America, Florida Watercolor Society, and associate member of Watercolor West, Florida Artist Group and Southern Watercolor Society.

If Reichow had one wish it would be that everyone had a place to go where they could relax and lose themselves. She says, “My place is out in nature, creating. I get extreme pleasure from painting. When I’m working I go into a meditative trance and have a happy feeling. Everyone should have such an outlet; be it reading, sewing, whatever. Just a place to go and veg.”

“I don’t worry about running out of things to paint, she says, “There will always be another bird, another flower.”

Besides Tower Gallery on Sanibel, you can find her work at local art shows as well as galleries on Captiva and Punta Gorda. Reichow will have a booth at Artfest in downtown Fort Myers the first weekend in February. She has a ‘by appointment only’ show room and warehouse in San Carlos Park.

Reichow also works on commissioned pieces. She says, “Client requests vary from painting special items to needing a piece of art to match their decor. I did an entire egret family for a client, that was really neat. Now I’m doing something I’ve never done before – painting of a condo for children to give their parents as a gift. •

January-February 2016