Artist Brenda Roberts

by Rachel Perry
photo by Cindy Steele

In her sunny studio off Clay Lick Road, Brenda Roberts works her artistic magic. Lining the walls “salon style” are oil landscapes from jaunts to Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming as well as scenes from the artist’s back yard. Boldly colorful floral still lifes show off her prowess with watercolors. “My daughter says I paint like a brass band on a sunny day,” Ms. Roberts laughs.

“I’ve been trying to tone it down a bit,” she continued. “You know how tastes change. Recently I took a ten day intensive class out west with Scott Christianson and I can tell a big difference. I feel more in control.” Mr. Christianson, who teaches in Arizona as well as Jackson Hole, Wyoming, was selected “Artist of the Year” in Wyoming for 2006.

Brenda Roberts’s concern over her chosen palette has been evolving for many years. A student ten years ago with the late artist George Burrows, she simplified his palette to suit her own sensibilities. “I took two workshops with George before I really understood his palette,” she admitted. Another artist who has influenced her color choices is Kevin McPherson.

In addition to her traditional work, Brenda creates abstract pieces using a sand painting technique. “It’s very messy,” she said. “I use a watercolor board covered with sand and I wet the sand and move it around. Then I drop color onto it, cut shapes into it and let it dry. The painting shows the negative of what’s been applied.” The end results evoke interpretations of outer space or possibly an underwater environment, a contentious argument between her offspring, who often name the paintings.

Not afraid to tackle figure-drawing and painting, Brenda’s studio display also includes a full-length nude. Brenda tells the story of the painting’s title. “My grand-daughter was looking at this painting at a show and several people were there. She said, ‘That’s my Mommie’s bottom!’ It really wasn’t, so we named the painting, This Is Not My Daughter.”

Also presented in her studio are photographs of the different phases of the creation of a painting. They begin with charcoal “thumbnail” sketches, then progress through the stages of color additions. “I like to get the values (darks and lights) worked out before I use the paint,” she explained. “People often ask how I achieve the finished paintings, and digital photography is really great for showing the work from beginning to end.”

Brenda’s many painting trips have inspired innovative travel methods, in addition to expanding her subject matter. She likes to glue her linen directly onto Gatorboard because the supports are light to carry around. When dry, she uses Liquin as her final varnish, producing a pleasing finish that is neither dull nor overly glossy. She also uses pizza boxes to transport wet oil paintings. “When I went through security at the airport, they asked, ‘What’s this?’ And I said, ‘Those are wet paintings.’ And they handled them really carefully,” she chuckled.

Blessed with a talented artist, Maphajean White, for her mother, Brenda was born and raised in Indianapolis with four siblings. “All five kids have ended up here (in Brown County),” she said. “My parents bought many acres on Clay Lick Road when I was in grade school. My dad would come down and fish on the weekends. Mom was interested in the arts and rented an apartment in Wabash Village for years.”

Brenda started drawing at an early age. Although she attended Leir-Siegler Business College in Indianapolis, she took classes at Herron School of Art and Design in sculpture, painting and drawing. She met her husband, Gary Roberts, in grade school and the two married young and had three children. With success in the construction business, the couple moved with their youngest son to Brown County in 1988.

Brenda has worked for InterArts in Bloomington, and is now employed at Indiana University. Her initial part-time job has evolved into a full time position in the past six years. At the end of November, she’ll be leaving that position to allow more time for painting. Currently enrolled in a graphic design course at Indiana University, she no longer chooses to ignore her passion for making art.

“I ask myself all the time, why am I doing this?” she admitted. “And it always comes back to the fact that it fills something that’s missing. I can’t tell you exactly what that is. Maybe it’s a spiritual connection because when I’m painting nature, whether flowers, people, sky or rocks, there’s something connected to creation that I do. Nature feeds me and being able to create a painting of that feels right.

“Commuting has been good for my work,” she continued. “I see things early in the morning. We’re all born to worship and be creators ourselves, and it’s in all of us. People say they don’t have time to paint, but it’s always a choice. I always tell people to keep their brush wet!”

To see paintings by Brenda Roberts in her studio call
812-988-9096 or e-mail <> for an appointment.