Lorraine Manley’s studio was glowing with soft morning light.
She had a large acrylic painting propped up on her easel with tall supple trees rising out of a yellow ochre field, splotched with pastel colors. The trees flanked the canvas like a parted crowd, and behind them, in the middle of the painting, a cotton-candy pink sunset blistered behind a wall of deep green.
Manley said the painting had sat unfinished for months, waylaid by the holiday season and sickness.
“I was almost ready to just paint it all white – gesso it. But then I thought, ‘No, you’re better than that,’” she said. “I guess I just saw it as a challenge to make a painting of it.”
Manley almost exclusively uses a pallet knife when she paints and approaches the canvas with a loose hand, capitalizing on imperfections, scraping away what she is unhappy with and reapplying. She said her style developed slowly by simplifying, until she was mostly reliant on the one tool, freeing herself from the finer details a brush permits.
“They all have something in common, apparently; people recognize my work,” Manley said, looking at the canvas in front of her. “I can’t do anything about it because this is the way I paint. And it still may evolve, who knows.”
She called her work impressionistic, separating her colors and using lights and darks to capture a moment. She works from black and white photographs she takes with her phone, using the images to guide her composition. The end results are vibrant and sometimes intense depictions of nature, with names like “Autumn Canopy,” “October Sparkles” and “Crimson Foliage.”
“Sometimes the least amount of information is probably better for me,” she said, holding a photograph she’d used as a guide. “Because then I can go on my own.”
Manley said her paintings don’t require true colors or representations and described her work as “undisciplined.” She pointed to what could have been weeds or bushes in the foreground of her painting, simply referring to them as “shapes.”
“It can be anything. Basically, it’s just color,” she said.
Manley lives in a small home on her family farm on Manley Road and used to paint the property’s myriad picket fences before turning to the trees, which are just as straight, stretched out into lithe bands up and down the canvas in many of her works.
At one point, Manley walked around her studio covering up the trees on her canvases and revealed what remained: without the trees as a reference point, her paintings morphed into almost abstract works – fields became less discernable, looking like a patchwork of color; the crowns of trees sometimes looked fantastic and cloud-like.
Manley works in steps, allowing her to reevaluate the painting along the way. She uses a warm yet vibrant palette and integrates the colors throughout the canvas. She takes pinks and blues from her sky and incorporated them into the field below.
Her inspirations are the impressionists, she said, like Van Gogh and Monet, as well as more contemporary artists like Wolfe Kahn, whose influence is the most identifiable.
Manley was born in St. Albans and first took studio art classes while studying at the University of Vermont. When her son was five, about 30 years ago, she said picked it up again and helped co-found the Milton Artists’ Guild.
Manley usually paints in the mornings and afternoons, with a Montreal classical station on in the kitchen, drawing the shades when the sun gets too bright. From her house you could see Arrowhead Mountain through an east-facing window, where there were sugar woods, and wild turkeys trotted across a west-facing slope.
Manley said something about the “linear” aspect of trees keeps her coming back to them, her favorite subjects.
“It could go back to childhood when you used to climb trees,” she said. “Who knows? Maybe it’s their interesting shapes – beautiful shapes. And it’s life.”