Sunrises, sunsets and seas, provide the colors for Taylor William’s palette. The 23-year-old Kill Devil Hills artist is a beach-inspired oil painter. She creates realistic seascapes, waves, and skies. William’s started painting in 2017 after returning from a month long stay in Hawaii. “I was inspired by the beauty,” Williams says. “I just felt very creative.”

Working from a cache of photographs she’s taken over the years, Williams works to recreate exacting scenes on her canvases. Sometimes it’s a closeup of cumulous clouds in brilliant mauves and pinks or a frothy crashing wave, other times it’s a skyscape or seascape at sunrise or sunset. The walls in her home and studio are covered with paintings in all stages, and her studio is stacked with blank canvases ranging in size from 4 x 12 to 24 x 36. She’s been working since January for her first solo exhibit that opened this month at the Dare County Arts Council — “Between Bridges” — something she never thought would happen this early in her career. Williams figured maybe after 5-10 years she might get an exhibit. “This is a dream,” she says. “I’m really glad they trusted me to have a solo show.”

Williams is a self-taught artist. “I would say it started in high school when I fell in love with art,” she says. “I would take projects home and work on them extra long.” After taking a charcoal class at a community college, she decided to try oil paints. “When I first started painting in 2017, I would watch YouTube to learn the basics,” she says. “I learned most by myself through trial and error.” She’d seen oil paintings online and fell in love with the realism they captured. Acrylics have too flat a look for Williams, and they dry darker than they appear fresh out of the tube. She loves the longer drying time of oils, their blending qualities, and colors. “You’re able to create more realistically,” she says. “I love how vibrant the colors are.”

When Williams started painting, she made it her mission to paint every day. Sometimes that means working from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. “That’s if I have a really good project that I am excited about,” she says. She has a studio with a window that provides northern light. Light diffusers generally used in a photography studio are set up so that the light falling on her canvas is even and soft. She loves working with tiny, thin brushes to get details, something she wasn’t sure she could manage at first. “I thought it looked really hard, but I just decided to go with it this year,” Williams says.

She’s notices her growth as a painter when she looks back at her first attempts. “The overall finished product just looks more realistic,” Williams says. “I’m always pushing myself.” She’s become more comfortable painting on larger canvases and not scrapping a painting when she reaches an impasse but relaxing and working through it. Even when suffering from headaches after being exposed to solvents used in painting, she didn’t give up. She discovered a natural oil – lavender spike oil essence, which was safer to use. Her headaches went away. And, the daunting task of creating enough work for an exhibition didn’t stop her. Instead of painting a work from start to finish, she started painting another before the first one was finished. “I knew I’d have to have more than I’ve ever made,” she says. “It’s helped me turn out more.”

Williams has an Instagram feed where she follows other artists to pick up tips. She also comes from a creative family. Her maternal grandfather is a photographer, and her mother enjoys photographing the weddings of friends. Her sister creates crocheted bathing suits that sell through her company, Seayarn.

As she keeps learning and painting, she bears in mind the saying, “Paint what you see, not what you know.” It’s about getting as close to the photographic image as possible. “Not what the brain comes up with,” she says. “I try to paint what’s exactly on my computer.” This includes achieving translucent waves, clouds that float, the delicate or raucous foam of a wave and the myriad colors of skies and seas. “I really love how it (painting) makes me feel,” she says. “I feel very relaxed, and I hope that helps other people to feel relaxed.” Idyllic Outer Banks beauty painted by a lover of such can’t help but have that effect.

Mary Ellen Riddle has been writing the Coast’s art column for more than 20 years and brings to her work a BFA in painting from East Carolina University and a profound passion for the role the arts play in society.

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