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Iowa Artist

Renee Watkins

8/5/2020

Renee Watkins learned early on that mistakes could be covered up with Gesso, a type of white primer paint.

Renee Watkins of Des Moines has spent most of her life creating art. As a child, her grandfather taught her different techniques as they painted together.

Her grandpa, also a boxer, jingle writer and yachtsman, painted landscapes and boats in San Diego. One tip she learned was that mistakes aren’t serious.

“He always made it clear that, if I made a mistake, I could fix it or cover it up and start over,” she says.

Watkins moved to Iowa in 2012, and she has served on the arts committee for Westminster Presbyterian Church, teaching art classes for Family Promise. She’s displayed her artwork at Ritual Café and the Charles City Art Center.

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Watkins paints with acrylic watercolors but also does graphite and designs jewelry. Her style has been influenced heavily by the street artists of Venice Beach — she previously live in Marina Del Ray. Lots of color graces her art pieces, along with Lisa “Frankish” look.

Her favorite painting is a self portrait. The original piece started out looking robotic, with geometric shapes. She “hated it” and covered it with Gesso. She then took a photo of herself in a bathtub, outlined her face and then added in water effects.

“There’s something about it,” she says. “It looks emaciated and unnerving, but I like it. It’s pretty but not too weird.”

People who view her art desire to attach a meaning.

“A lot of people — especially those who aren’t artists — want to find meaning in art. I can’t fake that,” she explains. “If I thought it (my artwork) looked nice or interesting, I just did it. I’m not gonna lie and say there is meaning in all of my pieces. I do what I like looking at.”

She’s succumbed to frustrating dry spells, which have lasted up to three months.

“For the life of me, I can’t come up with something to do,” she says. “But when I’m finally in it, I’ll go three days straight to get it done.”

That’s one reason she likes sharing her secrets and teaching private art classes to children.

“With a formal class setting, they can get discouraged,” she says. “I found ways for them to make it easy on themselves. My grandpa instilled a fearlessness with experimentation.”

As Watkins is attending the University of Iowa for a writing degree, she finds happiness and contentment in staying creative, whether it’s with her poetry, writing or art.

“When I get in the flow, I can feel the smile stuck on my face,” she says. “I like the joy, focus and control to manifest what I see in my head to the canvas in front of me. In life, there are so many things we can’t control. With painting, I have the satisfaction of creating the reality I want.” ♦

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