Q & A with Laurinda O’Connor, Pastel Artist


Q & A with Laurinda O’Connor,  Pastel Artist exhibiting 1/17/-3/16/20. From a Local Perspective gallery show at the Milton Art Center Gallery. Opening reception, Friday, January 24, 6-8pm.

Questions by Joan Clifford, Executive Director at the Milton Art Center

Tell us about you, your background…

I have my BFA from UMass Amherst. I took time off and studied for a year at Montserrat Art School in Beverly before going back to UMass. During my junior year I went to England for a year in a study abroad program. It was an awesome experience travelling to museums all over Europe. I then worked as an illustrator / graphic artist for a bit before getting my MFA in graphic design at Boston University. I’ve always continued drawing and painting from the figure, worked, but took a break to start our family.


During the recession, I was laid off in 2009 and that is when I got into pastels. I took several classes with Donna Rossetti-Bailey at South Shore Art Center as well as taking workshops any chance I could.  Taking a workshop with Tony Allain was a huge eye-opener for me, helping me to loosen up my strokes.  Same with taking a workshop with Debora Stuart, an abstract painter, she helped me enormously. The more you paint, the looser and more confident you get. I try as much as possible to push past what I’m seeing and stay open to listening to the painting, to see what direction it should go.


I’ve studied with many other teachers too, Liz Haywood-Sullivan, Doug Dawson, Jen Evenhus, Margaret Dyer, Nancie King Mertz, and Jacob Aguiar. I started teaching kids for Milton FAVA in their afterschool program as well as at South Shore Art Center where I taught all ages. Then from there I went on to teaching pastels to adults and teaching art part time at St Mary of the Hills.


When did you start taking art classes, I remember you telling me about a life drawing class you took when you were in high school?

I started taking art classes in elementary school, I believe. Could have been later, since I could just paint with my parents. But my first figure drawing class was when I was 16. I was pretty shy and was amongst adults, so it was a bit intimidating, to say the least! I remember wanting to crawl under my drawing pad when the instructor referred to my drawing and told me my breasts weren’t lined up! He critiqued everyone, but again, I was shy and didn’t have great self-esteem, so this really stuck with me!!


What was the first inkling you had that you wanted to go into art

I have always wanted to be an artist. Growing up watching my parents paint and always having access to any medium I wanted made it seem like a natural decision. Though my father wanted me to go into computers and paint on the side. I eventually had to get into computers as I pursued graphic design for a career. J

Both your parents are artists….   were they your greatest influence?

Yes both of my parents, Theodore Nicholas Phakos and Judith Hulse Phakos,

are (were) professional award-winning artists. They worked as freelance greeting card and commercial artists full time. My father was a well-known watercolorist with memberships in the National Watercolor Society, the Copley Society in Boston, and the Salmagundi Club in NY, among other societies and associations. He also painted for the National Wildlife Federation and taught later on in life. My mother still paints, at 93! She was also a figure painter with oils as her medium. Now she has been painting flowers from her garden in acrylics and sells them at the Milton Artisan Fair!


Were all your siblings interested in art?

Yes, but I am the only who pursued it as a painter and teacher. Though both are very creative, (one is an architect and the other is a social worker) always going to shows and museums- they are big supporters of the arts.


What inspires you now?

Other artists constantly inspire me, the challenge of loosening up, and pushing past the scene before me into the feeling and emotion I get from the landscape.


Why pastels? Your subject matter, landscapes, why landscape?

I used to draw and paint figures only, using charcoal, oil, and washes. My mother met a pastel group down at South Shore Art Center and thought I would enjoy it. She was right! So I started up with this group in a landscape class, and we still get together and paint and show together! Landscapes are always changing and offer so many ways to interpret and get lost in. I love how the light, shadows, and various times of day can inspire me. Also, my father always painted the landscape, and when I painted in watercolor I would paint landscapes.

I love pastels. The hundreds of colors and their creaminess are very versatile. You can wet them as an under painting and layer over that with dry strokes creating another effect. I love the feel of them and the linear and brushstroke-like quality I get with them is freeing.  There is immediacy as well so I can be very expressive with them. But, it is an addicting medium. It is hard to resist buying more especially after someone comes into class with a new set! They are just delicious to look at and very enticing!


Are there particular places that you go to for inspiration?

I enjoy walking around ponds, parks, hills, and trails for inspiration. Many of my scenes are very local, i.e. Turner’s Pond, Cunningham Park, Houghton’s Pond, the Arboretum, down the Cape and around New England.


Is there a particular piece in the show that you are pleased with?

Hmmm, not sure I have a favorite.


This has been a big year for you, for honors and awards, tell us the highlights.

I was invited to be a Copley member artist in 2018 after filling out an application. There were over 300 applications that year, I’m very happy to have been one of those selected. It has allowed me to sell my work through their small works shows; I’ve sold 11 paintings already! Other recent high points were being selected to the juried Pastel Society of America in New York for their National Exhibition, winning Best of Shows for both the Juried National exhibition of the Pastel Society of Maine and for the Pastel Painters Society of Cape Cod. I also placed 2nd in the National Juried exhibition of the New Hampshire Pastel Society.


You teach at the Art Center, other South Shore art centers and at St. Mary’s of the Hills- do you enjoy teaching?

I love the camaraderie of teaching and connecting with students; I have made a lot of friends by teaching adult classes. And, I love it when there is an Ahha moment (young or adult) and the student gets excited about what they are doing. It is very rewarding.


I asked a few of your students who have been in your Monday night pastels class about you and both commented on your wonderful laugh.

I hope they say they get a lot out of my classes and that they have fun in the process! Most of my adult classes are filled with repeat students, which keeps me upping my game. They become close, it’s like a club. I also find that many feel the time painting is very therapeutic, they get lost in their work, a sort of meditation.

Cynthia Hague said “She doesn’t just teach us, she inspires us, all the while making our classes interesting and fun, especially with that great, contagious laugh of hers! When I’m feeling like my painting is one toss away from the wastebasket, Laurinda enthusiastically points out all the positive aspects and offers constructive suggestions on dealing with the challenging parts of the work. She’s the best, and if I had her as an art teacher, when I was younger, I would not have waited so long to take art classes as an adult.”

Susan Love, “
I appreciate that Laurinda draws out and develops the unique creative style of each student. She introduces and demonstrates techniques at the beginning of class, and celebrates the way each person makes it their own artistic expression. We begin the class with blank pastel paper and basically the same art supplies, and at the end of class it is always a delight to view the array of uniquely rendered, color-rich paintings. And of course Laurinda’s sense of humor—and her wonderful laugh—makes me laugh, too. We are so fortunate to have this award-winning, talented instructor at the MAC.


What advice would you give to someone who would like to go into the arts?

Start with drawing lessons. The more you draw the better you get, same with painting. Also try many mediums until you find the one that you connect with most.


Is there anything you would have done differently?

 I think teaching earlier would have been good. Teaching has taught me to research more and to break down the process to better explain it, and in turn it has create a better understanding of my own art. It has also given me more confidence and a stronger willingness to experiment more, freeing my style.

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