Painter finds her true passion in life

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By Sara Miller

Chris Coyle Orlikowski has finally figured out what she wants to be when she grows up. Tucked away in her second-floor studio in Evergreen, Coyle is downright giddy as she leads a tour of her creative haven and her artistic career.

“We finished the building a year ago,” Coyle says of the two-story garage that sits adjacent to her house, “but I had been planning this studio in my head for at least a decade. It’s tough to get me to leave; I just love it here.”

Coyle grew up surrounded by art. Her mother was a painter, and her earliest memories are steeped in the smell of oil paints. Coyle earned a fine arts degree in photography from the University of South Florida. Then reality struck.

“I decided that I could never make enough money to survive as an artist,” she says.

Coyle became a computer programmer and forged a lucrative career on Wall Street, working for companies like Solomon Brothers and Paine Webber. In the midst of her success, however, Coyle realized she wasn’t living the life that she truly wanted. She quit her job and went back to school.

Coyle studied black-and-white zone system photography at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Missoula, Mont. The zone system is a photographic technique popularized in the 1940s by Ansel Adams. The system is used to determine optimal film exposure and development through the exploration of 11 distinct tonal values or gradations of light.

Coyle opened a small photography studio and specialized in portraiture and architectural photography. After moving to Colorado in 1993, she started Northstar Solutions, a thriving website design business. She also expanded her photographic repertoire to include infrared and hand-tinted prints as well as emulsion transfers.

“I was always trying to express something with my photographs that went beyond the expected. Looking back, I can see that it was only a matter of time before I switched mediums from photography to painting,” says Coyle.

Five years ago, Coyle transitioned to working with oil paints and pastels. It’s obvious that her photographic experience informs aspects of her pastel and oil work. Coyle is gifted in her use of light and shadow to draw the viewer into her paintings. Her pastels are primarily landscapes that capture the glowing leaves of autumn aspen or the fading brilliance of a creekside twilight.

Coyle’s oil paintings cover a range of subject matter. The artist is a devoted animal lover. Her dogs, Freckles and Nubby, are often subjects in her paintings, and two foster bunnies, Thumper and Daisy, have a cozy home in her studio. Coyle has a knack for capturing the personalities of her animal clients. A recent painting of Riley, the neighbor dog, depicts the canine with a twinkle in his eye and a quirky cock of his head.

In an unlikely foil to her light-hearted animal paintings, Coyle has developed a deep love for still lifes. Her shadowy backgrounds and burnished colors bring to mind the work of the Dutch masters.

“I’ve been taking classes with Joshua Fallik, who teaches in the style of Rembrandt. The painting techniques have to do with the way light falls on objects. The paint texture, brushwork and glazing make the objects emerge from great depth and mist. There is a mystery to this type of painting that I love,” says Coyle.

Indeed, there is something about aspects of many painting styles that she loves.

“I’m always discovering something new to explore. I could honestly see myself painting as an old woman. It’s exciting to know what you want to do with the rest of your life.”

Coyle’s work will appear in “Passion,” the Artists With Altitude show opening Feb. 13 at the Center for the Arts Evergreen. She will also be the featured artist for the month of March at Frames for All Reasons in Evergreen. To see more of her work, visit www.chriscoylestudio.com.