Brr…winter’s been making an early appearance! Come in from the cold and warm up while taking in the beauty of this month’s ART@EPL exhibit by local artist Barbara Tracy.

Barbara taught art in public schools for 32 years before retiring and turning her focus to her own art career, which, truth be told, started back in third grade when classmates sought out her drawing skills. Little did they know they were lighting the spark of a lifelong passion for art.

We asked Barbara to tell us more about herself, her art, and how the pandemic has affected her daily work…

When did you know you were an artist? Tell us a little about your journey and what drew you to art.

I’ve been drawing and painting since I was in third grade. When my classmates came to me to draw things for them I knew that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Art, like reading, was a solitary endeavor that provided me with sustenance in establishing and growing my own path in life. I taught art education in the public school system for 32 years, all while taking classes and workshops at night and during the summers to cultivate my own art work.

When and why did you decide to pursue art as a career? Where did you get your formal training?

I decided after I retired from teaching art that I could have the time to truly devote to my own art path. Since I retired in 2012 I opened a studio and gallery in Bethlehem PA and I try to go there every day to paint. Along with my art educational training, during my years of teaching I have taken many courses and workshops to elevate my skills. I graduated from Kutztown University with an undergraduate and graduate degree in art education and I taught at DeSales University for a short time as an adjunct professor. I belong to many art organizations as well.

What’s been your biggest challenge, and how did you overcome it?

One of the hardest challenges in deciding to pursue a career in fine art is to overcome the feeling of inadequacy you might experience when coming to terms with the tremendous art talent around you and your own art abilities. I have found that if I stay focused on my own personal path of growth and continue to develop my skills and understanding of what I want to communicate, then I can progress. Focus, training, practice are the key elements in honing skills and confidence in the arts.

What successes or achievements are you most proud of?

I am super proud of my years of teaching art and then later, being chairperson of my K-12 art department in my school district. My students provided me with so much love and they allowed me to pursue my passion for creating every single day. Now that I am retired and painting on my own, I am proud of taking the business steps to opening my own studio and website where I exhibit and sell my art.

What’s your advice for anyone who wants to explore art, but can’t seem to find the time or feels intimidated by a blank canvas?

Every time I start a painting and stare at that blank canvas I struggle to go forth with it. I try to build an inner excitement about what I am about to paint in which I decide on styles, colors, values, composition and an approach that will communicate that excitement. I love nature so that is usually my focus. Sometimes I have to force myself to get started, put that first brushstroke on the canvas, and then it mostly flows from there. At some point while painting, I feel the action of the experience take over and intuitively and instinctually the painting almost paints itself. Perseverance and practice are key! Never give up!

Did the pandemic have an impact on your work or how you worked?

YES! I actually closed my studio because it didn’t feel safe at that time to go out. I brought all my art studio equipment and furniture home and set up a little space in my dining room to paint. Though it was a pleasant area, I felt cramped and distracted and so I did not paint as often as I did in the quiet of my studio. Fast forward… just recently, I found a new studio and I am back to a daily ritual of painting. And I have lots of space for a gallery to show my work to clients. I have the best of both worlds now.

Any parting thoughts you’d like to share?

I’d like to say that creating your own art is one of the hardest yet most satisfying endeavors I have ever taken on. If you have a passion for art, if you DON’T feel good if you are NOT creating, then you will find a way to eke out the time to do it. Art is a method of communication. It provides me with the opportunity to say, I was here, this is how I feel, this is a reason to BE.

[You can learn more about Barbara Tracy and view more of her work at her website and Instagram.]


ART@EPL is the library’s exciting partnership with the Lehigh Art Alliance and the Lehigh Valley Arts Council. The series is funded through a grant from PA Partners in the Arts, making it possible for area residents to enjoy free art lectures and workshops from local artists working in pastels, charcoal, sculpture, and watercolor among others.

Visit the ART@EPL page to see all the artists who have led workshops and exhibited work at the library as part of ART@EPL.