Artist Profile by Rebecca Whitman
In the thriving arts district of Downtown Goldsboro, NC, there is an artist who sees the world in layers of light, color, and geometric shapes and translates her visions into masterpieces of paint and mixed media. This is the story of who she is, what inspires her, and how she became a full-time visual artist.
For Tracey Penrod, the question was never when did she see herself as an artist; the question was when did she not.
Growing up, creativity was nurtured by her mother (a teacher) and grandmother (a quilter). Tracey remembers enjoying dime store coloring books with watercolor brushes and embedded paint in the pages. Those early watercolor experiences became a lasting influence on her creative voice; many have said her work reflects a watercolor effect without the application of watercolor.
She laughs at the memory of “Patch the Pony”: an early poster figuring out how to make mixed media work using glued food on a horse. Tracey still sits in wonder under the memory of her grandmother’s quilt frame. She remembers the square, rectangle, and circle shapes raising a canopy of filtered light over where she played as a child. These shapes left such a deep impression that they are a feature replicated in many of her works today.
Creativity wasn’t the only thing that Tracey learned growing up in rural North Carolina; she also learned the value of order and cleanliness. Her mother set a standard of excellence for her home that was hard to live up to at the time but, in the long run, prepared Tracey for successful work habits as an artist.
“I was the sloppy teenager leaving messes in my room and stuffing stuff under my bed to clean up when I was told to….Now I can see how disorganization hindered my art and how taking the time to organize makes me able to see my supplies and work quickly in the studio now.”Tracey Penrod
Take a peek inside her studio…
Such an inspiring childhood would seem like a fertile soil for translation into art as a business, but it didn’t work that way. Like so many artist stories, Tracey didn’t know what opportunities were available to her as an artist in business when she graduated high school. That lack of information and vision caused her to pursue career paths in college that were close to her calling but not actually in them. She started pursuing being an art teacher then switched to Commercial Art and Advertising Design.
Then the doubts settled in–the same doubts we have all heard at some point or another in our artistic careers–the doubts that say: What am I doing? There’s no money in this! Nobody in my small corner of the world is going to pay me to do this! I need to just go find a real job and let this just be some hobby thing for me.
Those doubts made Tracey feel like it was a waste of time to pursue a career in art, so she gave up on creativity and chose what seemed logical at the time: a career in teaching. In 1999, she graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Middle Grades Education: Social Studies and English Language Arts. From 2000 to 2021, Tracey devoted herself to her teaching career and spoke life into the hearts of many young people.
Teaching children was both rewarding and challenging for the artist heart of Tracey. While she loved being able to make a difference, the effort took all her energy and left little to give back to herself for her own creative work. Nevertheless, Tracey began to see the need to purposefully pursue her art while she was still in her teaching career. From 2012 to her teaching retirement in 2021, she allowed her teaching career to be her bridge job transitioning her to a full-time artist career.
During those bridge years, Tracey took advantage of opportunities to elevate her level of mastery in her craft and grow in her business acumen. She challenged herself to create professional quality work, learn how to frame with exhibition-level standards, enter local art shows, and get her work seen by a larger audience. She attended workshops and artistic events both locally and abroad including Gathering of Artisans in western North Carolina. She learned new techniques and how to apply professional finishes like cold wax to her work. She continues to gather inspiration from other artists on podcasts and Instagram.
You never stop learning; however, the time spent on mastery of one’s craft can’t be undervalued. It took Tracey over 20 years to step into her calling as a Christian artist, but her customers would tell you that the time spent in mastery was not wasted. What she can offer clients now sets Tracey apart from hobbyists and drives clients to her that are expressly wanting professional work. In fact, ownership of a Tracey Penrod original is considered a privilege for most of us. While those 20 years in the desert of another career felt a lot like striving to be an artist, they led to where Tracey is in business today.
For more about her business and the advice she would give other artists today including her top 4 Spotify Podcasts recommendations, don’t miss our companion article on Friday at The Bohemian Princess Journal. If you have been a client or colleague of Tracey Penrod, please take a moment to comment below and share how her art and work partnership has been a blessing to you. If you would like to connect with Tracey Penrod, visit her website, Facebook, Instagram, or studio.