Artist Ally Morgan

Drawing on the Humanity of Animals

Ally Morgan teaches students at the Yellow Barn and Greenhouse Studios how to paint animals, typically one Saturday per month. Her own animal portraits give the observer an uncanny sense that they know exactly what the subject is feeling. There’s a connection.

How to teach that? “I think there is a secret but it's kind of different for everybody to find that. A lot of it comes back to finding your truth. If you know what your truth is, you're going to be able to find and capture whatever it is you're capturing a lot easier.” Her strongest connection is to dogs, in particular her dog, Zelda, an Australian cattle dog mix and one of Ally’s muses.

She found her passion for painting dogs while working on her MFA at Arizona State University, when she ended up painting herself with dogs as a commentary on how we see animals and women. “Growing up Catholic and being taught that animals don’t go to heaven – I always had a hard time believing that. So, I began creating these spiritual pieces where animals and people were the same thing.... They mimicked each other and looked at each other and the audience.” From professor Jinchul Kim, she learned sumi-e ink wash painting, which she says became “a sort of philosophic and spiritual technique I use when I paint.”

Now she often paints with her three-year-old son Ronan. Her upcoming solo show at the Artists’ Gallery in Ellicott City, Maryland, “Unfamiliar Waters,” runs July 27 through August 29. In it, “I paint symbolic and surrealist narratives of animals in a state of melancholy as a way to visualize and understand my own relationships with grief, peace and hope,” specifically with her grief over her dad’s passing in June of 2020.

Her tips for aspiring painters:

1) Get to know your materials. Your paints, pencils, pastels, etc. should feel like close friends. Know them inside and out, know their strengths and their weaknesses and understand how well their work with each other. 

2) Take time to experiment with unconventional compositions, techniques and ideas. You never know what will work out in the end!

3) Sketch and Plan. Paintings can and should be allowed to grow and change throughout the painting process, but if they have a plan, the process will be much smoother. Otherwise, you could lose focus on your message.

4) Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. That’s how we learn, grow and get better!

5) Draw and paint from life whenever possible. It will help improve not only your techniques but also how you “see” and translate 3-dimensional forms on a 2-dimensional surface.

6) Critique often. Getting honest feedback about your work can help you see your work from other perspectives.

7) Write and rewrite your artist statement. Taking the time to write about what your work is about is a great way to focus. 

8) Research and get to know other artists, ideally contemporary artists working with similar subject matter. 

9) Be kind to yourself and to your art. Art making is a journey and we are all at different places. It takes time to get where you want to be, and you’ll end up a stronger artist if you work keep working through the difficult pieces.

10) Have fun!  Painting isn’t easy but it should be enjoyable. 

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