A painterly discipline: Megan Stineman

By Kate Hayden, khayden@charlescitypress.com

For a painter, Megan Stineman spends a lot of time chasing people down with a camera.

She tries to catch a little bit of everything in life, but focuses on her favorites: coffee, kids and landscapes. When she takes an adequately large enough collection of photos, Stineman dumps the files into Photoshop and begins editing images into the most perfect piece she would like to paint: merging backgrounds, sometimes dimming the sun or adding more color to an object. Once the photo is perfect, then she can begin adding oil to canvas.

And every half-hour, Stineman attempts to detach herself from the project for a mind break on her “sofa of contemplation”.

“You’ll hear artists say they paint to release stress. I’m not like that at all,” Stineman told the Press during a paint break recently, on the phone in her home studio. “Painting is stressful for me, and I have to take it in small bites. It overwhelms my brain to the point where I can’t think of anything else. I can’t help it when I’m in the middle of a painting.”

Oh, that we all had her focus at work!

Thirty of Stineman’s meticulously delivered portraits and landscapes are now on display at the Charles City Arts Center, which hosts a reception tonight at 5 p.m. Most of those pieces are studies of an item or concept Stineman wanted to practice painting — cats to practice fur, or a misty landscape to practice fog. Many of the portraits are of her own four children; a landscape that greets visitors to the Arts Center is of her parents’ farm.

Stineman, a 1997 graduate of Charles City High School, has only been painting with oils for the last three years — but her background was first in pencil drawing, and later in dry bristle brush portraits with black oil paint. After a while, she decided she needed color.

“(Oil) is the perfect medium for me to give intense color, but still stick with the foundation of realism I had with drawing. If you know how to draw, you don’t necessarily know how to paint,” Stineman said.

Stineman has an art degree from the University of Northern Iowa, but felt that experience didn’t give her the education in strict realism that she wanted. So she sought out a week-long workshop with artist Mark Carter in Austin, Texas.

She copied what she saw for 25 paintings. She learned to color match her own skin to ensure the painting was the same color. To Stineman, there was no room for interpretation until basic skills were mastered.

“I had to learn those basics in order to do what I want to do … I see a lot of parallels between music and arts,” Stineman said. “Lots of people wouldn’t bat an eye at learning theory before composing music, but not everyone thinks that way about art.”

“It taught me to be a student. It taught me to be disciplined in my painting, and go at it in a strict mindset.”

Shading and color values are intensely important to the style of portraits Stineman desires, and her pencil drawing background had already built a foundational knowledge. Stineman is still practicing many of those stills, but she is also refining her style, especially with portraiture.

“It’s harder than any other subject … I don’t want to make it photographic — I want to show this person alive and moving. That’s hard to portray, but that’s eventually where I would like to take it,” Stineman said.

She tried hyper-realism, which wasn’t a good fit. It’s not that it’s not challenging enough for Stineman — she loves a good challenge — but it’s more important for her to have the right energy of the scene reflected in her work.

“The judgement and decision making is gone in hyper-realism. The balance is not to give all the information — If you give too much, they get bored,” she said. “There’s a little bit of magic when it starts to come together … the brain interprets it into more of a moving thing. I’m trying to go for that.”

She’s made certain to put herself in the right environment to work — Stineman and her husband took about a year to add a studio and coffee bar on top of the garage attached to their Cedar Falls home. As the two both work from home, the coffee bar turned into one of the most-loved additions of the project — three of the pieces in Stineman’s Charles City show showcase the joy of java.

“We both love coffee, so now it’s within ten feet of where I sit,” Stineman said. “It works beautifully now, I love my space.”

Considering the detail of her work, it’s hard to believe Stineman still has some practice to do. Cloud formations in particular, she said.

“Landscapes are a study in itself, as I don’t see green shades as well as red shades. Not as many crayons in that green box as there are in the red box,” she said.

She’ll keep accepting as many portrait commissions as she can, though.

“It’s one of my favorite things to do … I enjoy that challenge,” Stineman said.

“I don’t stop until I feel like I can stop.”

Outside of the Arts Center, Stineman’s work is available for viewing at megstineman.com, on Facebook as Megan Stineman Fine Art, and on Instagram as Megan Stineman.