Artist profile

Dee Carpenter

Artist Profile Story by Amy Newman

Fairbanks painter Dee Carpenter says craftiness is in her blood. Her grandmother taught her to knit. Her mother was a master gardener. When her children were little she made curtains, bed spreads, even toys.

But it wasn’t until the 1990s, when her children were grown, that Dee “consciously set out” to find her art.

Her journey began with making polar fleece apparel, mostly for dogs, but she soon wanted to do something different. She took a stained glass class in the late 1990s and turned that into a business until 2001, when she moved on to making art quilts.

Becoming a painter took her by surprise, since she had never picked up a paintbrush with the intent of putting color on canvas.

“Painting was the last thing I ever thought I would do,” she says. “Once I started, my family said, ‘Oh, we always knew you were an artist.’ I was the last one to know!”

Unlike her other creative endeavors, Dee’s foray into painting was not initially a conscious decision. In 2005 she enrolled in a drawing class offered at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, hoping the course would improve the composition of her quilts. Impressed by her natural talent, the instructor convinced Dee to take his beginning watercolor class.

“He was the kind of teacher who gives you positive feedback,” she laughs. “And I fell for it hook, line and sinker.”

But, while she excelled at painting, Dee quickly became discouraged with watercolors, finding them to be a bad fit for her painting style.

So she taught herself how to paint with acrylics, oils and pastels, mediums she says are much more forgiving and allow her to create the richly detailed paintings she prefers.

It is those details that bring Dee’s paintings to life.

Each painting is based on one or more of the “literally thousands of photos” Dee has in her studio, many of which she took herself. She usually does one rough sketch of her subject before putting paint to canvas.

“I want to get right to the paint,” she says. “Some really good artists might tell me I’m not a good artist because I don’t sketch enough, but I don’t care. I consider myself a rebel.”

The backgrounds of Dee’s paintings are surrealist, while the subject is painted in the impressionist style, a blending of the genres that makes each painting pop.

“I really like to do that – make my background unreal, and then my subject is ultra-real.”

The vast majority of Dee’s subjects are wildlife – kit foxes, wolf pups, bears and moose have all been subjects – but her primary focus is non-domesticated birds.

“I’ve owned birds for years and years. I used to even breed some birds,” she says. “But beyond that I can’t say why I like birds.”

Whatever the reason, it is clear that others share her enthusiasm. Reprints of Dee’s bird paintings – particularly those of chickadees and ravens – are her most popular. In 2010, her 16x20 oil painting “New Arrival,” which depicts three black-capped chickadees perched high in the branches of a lush forest, was chosen as the image for the 2010 Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival poster, bringing her painting career full-circle.

Although she still makes small art quilts and other embroidered items – Dee plans to stick with painting. She has been experimenting with birch leaves and a combination of hand- and spray-painted acrylics to achieve a layered effect. She would like to improve her landscape painting skills, since “that goes hand in hand with wildlife.” And she says at some point in the future she would like to try her hand at painting people.

After almost a decade, it seems that Dee’s journey to find her art has finally come to a completion.

“I never considered myself an artist,” she says. “It just kind of ended up like that.”