HAGERSTOWN — There is no better time for painting than the morning hours, Rachel Stevenson insists. This is when the sun is gentle, the day still soft and the creative juices are ready to flow.
And there’s no place she’d rather start a day than in her studio, tucked behind her Hagerstown home and filled with early light that settles perfectly on her paints and canvases.
If she had her way, it’s a routine that would seldom vary.
But as a mother who home-schools her children and occasionally does daycare, there’s no such thing as routine.
Instead, she catches moments to paint whenever they present themselves.
“I try to steal an hour here and there,” Stevenson shared.
With an upcoming art exhibit, however, the local woman has had to find bigger blocks of time to retreat to her work area.
She will be among the artists featured in a “Be My Valentine” exhibition at The Mansion House Gallery in Hagerstown’s City Park. Presented by the Valley Art Association, the all-member show opens Friday, Feb. 3, in the North Gallery and continues throughout the month.
Stevenson said those expecting to see paintings of hearts and flowers might be surprised.
“It’s an exhibit that takes place in February — a month associated with Valentine’s Day — but artists can display anything they wish,” she explained.
Stevenson will be showcasing three of her oil paintings, two of which are water scenes — “Outside the Walls” and “Reflections.”
“They’re particular favorites of mine,” she said.
Stevenson said she doesn’t remember a time when she didn’t enjoy art.
“I loved to color and draw as a child,” she recalled. “But I felt like I was never good enough to be a real artist.
“Compared to others, I never thought I’d go anywhere with what talent I had. I lacked confidence. But I kept doing it, mostly as a hobby.”
When it came time for college, Stevenson decided to major in English and art at Shippensburg University.
Although she didn’t graduate from Shippensburg, “it was my mother who encouraged me to stay involved with art,” she said. “She was always telling me I was good.”
Following marriage, Stevenson said she and her husband lived in Connecticut and New Jersey, where she found jobs in graphic design. She also continued to take art classes.
Her art background, she said, is “a hodgepodge as far as painting goes. I draw, do acrylics and watercolors. And I think you can learn something from every medium.”
But her current passion, she said, is oil painting. “I’m loving it to pieces,” she said.
Stevenson said she is taking classes to improve her oil painting technique and enjoys working with an art teacher who gives her freedom and “lets me paint what I want to paint.”
She often gets her inspiration from boxes of photographs, she said.
“My brother in-law is an amateur photographer, so I raid his pictures,” she noted. “I also take photos of people and scenes that catch my attention. I never know what I’m going to paint. But if it’s something that calls my name, so much the better.”
Stevenson joined the Valley Art Association about a year ago, she said, and appreciates spending time and exchanging ideas with other artists.
“It’s nice to have someone to talk to about classes, what projects you’re working on, where you’re exhibiting,” she said.
Stevenson said both she and her husband are children of missionaries and, in their early years, traveled the world.
“When we started a family, we wanted to find our own little place to call home,” she said. “We felt comfortable in Hagerstown and decided to buy a house and settle here. It was very exciting.”
She’s also excited and proud that she returned to school and last year received her Bachelor of Arts from Ashford University, based in Clinton, Iowa, and offering online courses and degrees.
In addition to The Mansion House, Stevenson said she has exhibited at Yorkfest Fine Arts Festival in York, Pa., and the Harrisburg Patriot-News Artsfest, as well as several community art shows.
“I’d like to do more local shows, more Maryland shows,” she said. “Since coming here, I’ve found that there are people who really appreciate art. And that’s really neat.”
If you go ...
WHAT: Valley Art Association’s “Be My Valentine” exhibit
WHEN: Friday, Feb. 3, through Sunday, Feb. 26
WHERE: Mansion House Art Center, 501 Highland Way, City Park, Hagerstown
CONTACT: Call 301-797-6813 or go to www.valleyartassoc.com.