Painting the Light

Posted On May 7, 2020

Lexington artist attests that various artistic mediums share the common elements of composition, value, color harmony, and balance.
by Mary Ann Hutcheson

Talented Lexington painter and artist, Michael Story, arrived at his art through a combination of genetics, mentorship, persistence and risk-taking. It remains a lifelong progression for the artist.

Both Michael’s maternal grandparents were creatives—his grandfather a professional artist, his grandmother a piano jazz musician. His great uncle was a saxophonist.

Story relishes his yearly family visits with his grandparents in Wisconsin as “creative treats.”

During childhood visits, young Michael and his sister experienced his family’s gifts for art. His grandfather would create a pencil sketch of the two grandchildren. And each year, he marked a pencil line against the basement wall to update each child’s current height.

An evening was not complete until their talented grandmother entertained the children with one of her lively piano performances.

Often, Michael’s grandfather took him to his outdoor advertising business. One of his employees, a glassblower, created unique, handmade glass gifts for his little visitors.

“This artistic side of my family fueled me over the years, keeping me excited and reinforcing what I wanted to do with my life. Because my grandfather was successful as an artist and creative person, I was encouraged along that path.”

His grandfather once commented, “Michael’s going to be an artist,” begging the question from Story’s mother, “Are you just saying that because it’s what you want for him?”

His grandfather’s simple response was, “I can tell by the way he holds his pencil.”

Sadly, Story’s grandfather died when he was a freshman in college. He would have been fittingly proud of his grandson’s work as an artist.

Learning the Craft

After school, and during the summer of his senior year in high school, Story found a job painting billboards at Turner Advertising in Charleston, SC, where he learned to “paint large,” as he described it. Story’s supervisor, a Polish WWII survivor from a Nazi prison camp, was a brilliant and talented mentor. He taught his protégé valuable, enduring skills as an artist.

 Story started painting in the shop, then later up at the billboards themselves from a platform 75 feet in the air. The dangerous process was challenging, but it taught him the techniques of painting large, allowing his work to be viewed appropriately from a distance.

Story went on to earn his BFA in art in 1975. He maintains that his early training as a sign painter taught him things that he might never have learned in a classroom.

After college, Story worked as a graphic designer and illustrator. He learned that graphic design, illustration, and later painting, all share common elements—composition, value, color harmony, and balance.

Taking Risks

The 1990’s economy, and the burgeoning industry of computerized graphic design, brought Story to a crossroads in his career.

He says, “I knew if I didn’t make a move, my future would involve sitting at a computer screen with a mouse in my hand all day.”

It influenced his decision to finally commit to painting pictures for a living. Once that decision was made, he could now choose what to paint.

He would need to become more familiar with those subjects so he could start to see differently. No longer satisfied with simply capturing a likeness, Story was challenged to evoke mood and emotion in his work. He abandoned watercolor as his medium for pastel and oil. He would re-learn how to be an artist, becoming fascinated with “painting the light.”

In December of 1993, images of the marsh, beaches, geese, birds, skies and portraits filled canvases in Story’s first one-man showing. Patrons engaged particularly in his coastal scenes, which became his turning point and subject matter for numerous works.

These days, the artist balances his time between studio painting and teaching art. Over the past decade, Story has taught regular art classes in his Lexington, SC studio, in addition to conducting workshops throughout the United States.

Reflecting on his painting process, Story says, “I realize now that I never enjoyed painting at all when I was an illustrator. I was always working under pressure, watercolor paint drying in front of me with a deadline looming. Presently, while working in either pastel or oil, I’m deciding what I want to paint, which allows me the luxury of slowing down. These days I spend much more time thinking and planning before putting that first stroke on the canvas. I’m in control with a clear focus and working at the pace that best suits my creative process.”

Social Distancing

With classes suspended during the current pandemic, Story encourages students to continue painting and sharing their work with him.

Story says, “These times are a gut-check. We suddenly have less options in our daily lives, yet a unique opportunity to concentrate on those who are most important to us. Call and check on our family members and reconnect with old friends.

For creatives, I think this has given us a unique opportunity to work on ourselves. What are we really all about? What fuels us? If you are a writer, search for new ways to observe the world around you. If you are a musician, write a new song. If you’re an artist, practice your craft and stretch your boundaries.

Right now, I’m trying hard not to have a worried mind while keeping a positive approach. I’m going to try and re-dedicate myself to my painting, to make the most of this time and make it count.”

Read More About Michael Story at michaelstory.com