This is my "Artist Profile" for the Easton Irregular Newspaper, April 2018 issue.
The paintings of New Jersey artist Lisa Bonforte Harmuth are instantly recognizable by their sweet tenderness and attention to detail. It’s not a contrived sweetness, but rather an authentic expression of Lisa’s spirit and her deep love of nature. In particular, the oil paintings depict the beauty of animals in natural settings. She renders wild and domesticated creatures with a respectful and delicate touch. Her paintings radiate a quiet dignity; the colors seem to glow softly, with reverence.
Even as a child, Lisa always liked to draw, animals in particular. When she was young, she even drew on the walls of the house! However, although her parents preferred she use paper rather than walls, they were always highly supportive of her talents and encouraged her artistic inclinations. After high school, Lisa went to the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts, where she met her future husband, the artist Will Harmuth. (See the “Artist Profile” in last month’s edition of The Irregular, in which Will was featured.)
In school, Lisa studied illustration, a field which then became a successful career for her for 25 years. During this period, she illustrated over 200 books, including sticker books and coloring books for children. 50 Favorite Birds, a Dover Nature Coloring Book, is still popular today. After graduation, Lisa and Will worked side by side for years in the illustration and commercial arts businesses. They helped each other in many ways, offering support and feedback on each other’s work, despite significant differences in their styles. Eventually they had a daughter, and Lisa was able to find a good balance between work and family responsibilities while they raised her.
At a certain point, however, the deadlines and stress of working as an illustrator began to take their toll, and Lisa felt burnt out. After 9/11, when their daughter was in middle school, a lot of changes happened in the art world. At that time, many galleries went out of business, and Will’s own commercial art business died out. It was a stressful time for the couple. Fortunately, they used this setback as an opportunity to try something new: going to outdoor art shows and fairs. Thanks to a lot of hard work and perseverance, they were able to make a living this way for a while, selling their artwork at many outdoor events.
Eventually, Lisa realized she didn’t want to return to the illustration business. She wanted to try painting for herself, instead. She didn’t want to have to work under tight, oppressive deadlines. So she entered a new chapter in her art career. She painted for her own enjoyment, and she started doing pet portraits on commission. Since she was her own boss, she no longer had to feel pressured by outside deadlines; she could work at her own pace.
A few years ago, Lisa decided to try something a little different: human portraits! Currently, she has been spending time creating these portraits of family and friends, and she is eager and curious about trying something new, although she still continues to paint animal portraits. Recently, Lisa was commissioned to do the painting, “Rusty”, a portrait of a comfort-dog who helped people who were traumatized after the 9/11 attacks. In this painting, Lisa painted the dog’s portrait, and Will did the background, including the flag. One of the benefits of having a spouse who is also an artist is the ability to collaborate on occasion!
Lisa now enjoys the freedom of doing what she wants to do, and taking as long as she needs. She doesn’t adhere to strict studio hours, but just works when it suits her. Although she describes herself as “not driven”, she nevertheless produces delightful paintings with regularity. In this way, she is able to avoid the burn-out of earlier years.
For Lisa, painting has always been a way of life, and on a deeper level, it’s how she makes the world a better place. Her love and compassion for animals is apparent in her work, and she regularly donates pet portraits to fundraisers for Common Sense for Animals, a local no-kill animal shelter in Warren County, New Jersey. Through her paintings, Lisa manifests the calming effects of beauty and nature, and ultimately, that is her real gift to the world.
A Farewell Note:
This is my last "Artist Profile" for the Easton Irregular. A year ago I was offered a position as staff writer and I learned so much from the experience. It was truly a pleasure to have this job, and a great way to meet other local artists. It happens that my studio work has become more time consuming, and I now am too busy with commissions to continue writing for the paper regularly. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity, and I am very happy to introduce the next staff writer: Dawn Ouellette Nixon. firstname.lastname@example.org
A Year of Writing for the Newspaper:
Writing and Art (my thoughts after being offered this position)
Published! Introducing Myself as a Writer April 2017
Devyn Leonor-Briggs: June 2017
Charles Stonewall: July/August 2017
James Gloria: September 2017
Nancy Bossert: October 2017
Kenneth Browne: November/December 2017
Jessica Bastidas: February 2018
Will Harmuth: March 2018
Lisa Bonforte Harmuth: April 2018 (this is it)