“Fail Fast, Fail Often.” The title of this self-help book by Ryan Babineaux and John Krumboltz has become a mantra for many individuals, from software engineers to entrepreneurs. The theory is that we should not overthink or overplan, but simply take action and embrace our failures. If we learn from our early mistakes, we can avoid making bigger ones later in the process.

 A software engineer herself, artist Betty Felenchak jumped into painting for the first time 10 years ago after reading the self-help book.

“A couple of my friends painted, and I wanted to try it, but could not draw at all,” says Felenchak. “They assured me that painting was an acquired skill, but I was hesitant. After reading the book I thought, why not just jump in and go for it? Most people create a lot of bad art while they are learning. The funny thing is that when I first started painting, I thought I was pretty good. I later looked back at those pieces and threw many away,” she laughs.

Felenchak began by watching YouTube tutorials and trying daily painting exercises. She then signed up for oil, acrylic and pastel lessons at a private art studio in Hampstead, N.H., and eventually came across information on Sanctuary Art Studio in Elliot, Maine, an hour away from her home in southern NH.

“Working full-time, I drove up there once a week after work for five years,” she says. “Last fall, when I learned that the class was full, I looked around for a local class.”

Now a Methuen resident, she signed up for a watercolor class in nearby Salem, N.H.

“Some of the other students encouraged me to join the Greater Salem Artists Association, so I did,” she said.

At her first meeting, she was invited to enter her work in their upcoming winter show, and to her total surprise, she walked out with a Best in Show ribbon.

“Honestly, I was flabbergasted,” she laughs.
 

The artist admits that she still cannot draw, but she uses a technique that many others employ. Working from her own photographs or copyright-free images offered to artists online, she downloads them to a program and prints out the photo to the size of her canvas or canvas board, then lays a piece of graphite paper onto the canvas and places the photo on top. Using a pen, she traces the outlines of the shapes in the photo, then uses a kneadable eraser to soften the lines that have been transferred to the canvas.

“I just keep the basic forms,” she says.

Painting mostly with oils, she then begins applying the layers.

“I prefer oils because I like the ultimate effect of the rich colors,” she says, “but I am not that patient with the fact that they take a long time to dry. I still sometimes start the next layer too soon and end up with a muddy mess.”

Felenchak paints whatever subject appeals to her, and her work is quite diverse, from barnyard animals and flowers to whimsical still life studies of popular candies. She often paints a series of three or four views of an item before moving on to another subject. While she loves Impressionism, the artist feels that her structured engineering background works against her achieving that style of painting.

“I look at something and want to replicate it,” she says. “I think my goal is leaning toward photo-realism, but I certainly haven’t reached that level yet. At this point, I call my style representational.”

Next up for Felenchak is to enter her work in Nevins Library’s Tiny Art Show in February. She has also signed up to take a watercolor class in Salem on spring flowers.

“It will be interesting to play with watercolors,” she says. “But the paint is so loose and translucent and there is not a lot of control, and no room for error.”

Yet she will dive in and make those errors, knowing that, in the end, they will make her a better artist.

To see more from this artist, visit dailypaintworks.com and search for Betty Felenchak.

Patricia Bruno is a Methuen native, currently living in Haverhill. A writer and photographer, she is also the owner of The Winged Rabbit gift shop in downtown Haverhill.