We had the great pleasure of meeting with Valérie Collymore, painter of great talent, who specializes in painting in the French Impressionist Tradition.

When did you move to Seattle?

I arrived in Seattle in 2002. After studying medicine in New York, my husband and I went to live in California, where my daughters were born, then to Denver, then Seattle.

Have you practiced medicine? What oriented you to painting?

I am a doctor by training and I worked as a pediatrician in big hospitals. I gave up medicine to devote myself to educating my daughters (one became a concert pianist and the second played volleyball at a very high level). This stop in my career lasted 17 years.

In 2008, after the departure of my daughters, I wanted to go back to work. Reason pushed me towards medicine. After a year of procrastination, I refused a job at Seattle Children’s Hospital: an inner voice pushed me towards art, which fascinated me. Mentors in the professional art field and family members encouraged me to follow this path.

Were you attracted to art as a child?

I was the child that was always drawing. My mother moved in the artistic world after she moved our family to southern France. She enjoyed taking visiting painters to the places where Renoir or Cézanne had lived. I followed them … By rubbing shoulders with artists, my mother became an artist herself, exhibiting one year at the Casino of Monte Carlo. I was at her side when she painted her lovely water color paintings en plein air.

When my father died, we did not have much to live on and my mother pushed us to go to graduate school and to be financially independent. I returned to the United States and went to New York to study medicine. Four years later, I began medical studies at Columbia University.

You decided to dedicate yourself to painting in 2008, can you tell us more?

A friend made me take the step in art making by dragging me to the art class at her Seattle social club. I was not at all convinced that this pursuit would be for me, and was not particularly tempted to join the club at first, but I let myself be pulled along, and began taking art classes. Now, 10 years later, I teach there!

During that first class, after a 30 year absence from all art making, I felt a powerful rush of emotions! I was unable to touch a brush, I just chatted with classmates and tried to ignore the feelings. During the second class, I put the brush on the canvas, and was off and running, unable to stop painting. It was a revelation to me and to my flabbergasted teacher!

I quickly realized that my classmates aspired to a relaxed, enjoyable and low-key experience. Whereas my passion was intense and all-consuming! I thought it best to take planes to study with six top living American impressionist Masters, including artists Charles Warren Mundy and Daniel Gerhartz.

When did you start teaching painting?

I started giving painting lessons in 2012. A mentor and teacher told me one day: “you have to teach” but I did not think I was ready for teaching at all … After a year of preparing a curriculum to teach the fundamentals of fine art and techniques of the French Impressionists, a doctor friend asked me to be her teacher: she was my first student. At last count, I have taught almost 400.

I had my own studio in Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle. I painted, I sold and I taught there.

Why did you turn to Impressionism?

Spending my childhood and teen years in Europe gave my mother the opportunity to take us to every art museum in Western Europe that she could fit into our summer travels. We often had picnics and plein air painting experiences in locations frequented by French Impressionist masters such as Renoir or Cezanne.

The landscapes of Saint-Rémy de Provence, Saint-Paul de Mausole are for me a source of inspiration. I am very sensitive to the painting of Van Gogh and it is by visiting the places that are dear to him that I gradually understood his way of painting (to express the movement in his landscapes). I like to be a detective, to look scientifically at what the Impressionists do, especially Van Gogh, Cézanne, Monet and Renoir. I’m trying to guess how they painted. It is this scientific analysis of the painting of the great masters that I can then teach my students. I pass on and share what I learn in art, as is the tradition in medicine.

I use a great deal of the psychology learned during my medical studies, helping my students in their fears and frustrations, pushing clients to dare to bring joy into this creative process.

Have you tried other painting styles?

In the past, my paintings conformed to a much more graphic, realistic style, and I mostly used gouache and watercolor paints. I greatly aspired to the Impressionist style of painting and will always be very grateful to the great painter CW Mundy for making this style accessible to me, through his effective teaching.

You paint landscapes of the south of France, dear to your childhood. Do you paint in the United States?

Early in my professional career, I painted Northwest landscapes, as a member of a lively group of plein air painters. Once the decision to only paint scenes for which I have a deep passion and attachment as made, I returned to the landscapes of the south of France. It’s also my way of feeling as if I am still in France, in between my yearly visits to those beautiful locales. I greatly enjoy painting landscapes from the French Riviera and Provence, french villages, the memorable limestone cliffs of the Calanques of Cassis, the pre-Alp areas of upper Provence, the Luberon … these places are very dear to me.

I think that a painter must look for and find subjects that fascinate him or her, that are dear to the heart, that are authentically meaningful to the artist. Often, such passions were easily obvious during childhood. During my classes and workshops, we also work to reconnect with those early passions and to allow ourselves to recapture the sheer joy of art making. With passion, support, and an effective curriculum which connects all of the dots, all of our jobs become easier, and painting simply becomes easier and more fun.

If you want to know more about Valerie Collymore’s exhibitions and classes: