Ann Sult is a mother and a grandma, but still, she’s not yet done giving birth. Her other children are grown and her official retirement date is four years past, but still. It’s just that these days, what she labors over isn’t flesh and blood, but paintings.
She does her work downstairs in her laundry room studio, a tiny berth where her finished pieces line the counter and where an ancient and wheezing freezer serves as a noisy companion. Those paintings: small, color-saturated landscapes and still-lifes done in oil, line the counter behind the piece she’s actively working on, an antebellum image of moss covered tree that she is taking from a photograph. The photo is a study of blacks and teals. Her painting has those, but it also has sly peeks of the deep reds that she favors in nearly every one of her works.
Sult started painting after finding herself at loose ends after mostly retiring from her work as a social worker, where she helped countless parents and kids make their way to better outcomes. A friend suggested she take a painting class, and while she didn’t feel like painting was something she could do, she decided to give it a try anyway.
Turns out, it was very much something she could do.
She started by copying paintings by other artists. One of those efforts, a take on a river scene by Monet, hangs in her living room and is the favorite of her husband, retired appeals court judge Jim Sult.
More recently, she’s been painting from photographs. The transition has changed the way she sees the world. She sees mountains, yes, but now she also sees the forms she’d render into a painting.
“Those hills on the way down to Phoenix,” Sult says. “All of a sudden, I started seeing shadows. I didn’t realize how grand shadows are.”
I ask her if it’s the shape. But no: it’s the colors. The colors in the shadows that mesmerize her newly developed eyes.
Sult says she still has a lot to learn. The extra splash of read in in her latest work, for example, comes courtesy of input from her teacher, artist Raina Gentry.
“I was trying to get her to play around with complimentary colors,” Gentry says.
I ask Sult how long it takes to complete a painting.
“It takes me forever,” she replies.
When I press, she concedes forever is around two months and that she works on and off during that time. She births them like children, she says. But when she’s painting, she loses track of the time. Hours pass like minutes when she’s painting and the effect is therapeutic. Once she finishes, she feels a big sense of pride.
“When I finish something, I’m amazed that I’m able to do it,” she said. “It’s an ability that I had no idea I had — something I never knew was there.”
“If you can still find something new and different and exciting, you’re not getting old.”
Erica Ryberg is a writer and adviser at Montoya Wealth Management, a fee-only investment and financial planning firm in downtown Prescott. Read more of her work and learn more about Montoya Wealth at www.montoyawealth.com/blog.