Juggling Art and Life

A flash of saturated color; bold ink lines; a curvy, spirited mermaid; a grumpy blue crab who looks ready to pinch your fingers. You’ll find these images and more in the art of Reba McConnell, an internationally known artist who was born and raised in Virginia Beach. Reba’s lifetime dream of being the featured artist for this year’s official poster for the 62nd Annual Boardwalk Art Show has come true, and she is absolutely thrilled.

Reba is a self-taught watercolor artist and mixed media painter, and her art conveys a sense of playful whimsy, of possibility and dynamic movement. Her exuberant watercolor palette is both refreshing and energizing, capturing the essence of the beach life that draws so many to the Tidewater area year after year. Let’s meet Reba and learn more about her.

TW: The “job” of an artist differs widely from, say, an accountant or a nurse. What was it like to transition from a normal job to your life as a full-time artist?

Reba: I was in the food and beverage industry for about 18 years. A lot of corporate experience—and great times. I was relieved from my job when the economy went down. I kind of floundered for a little bit, but then I took on this thought process of “fake it ‘til you make it.” I still haven’t “made it.” There are some days where I don’t have two nickels to my name, but I have something—fire. I will dig a ditch before I work for somebody else again. I asked myself, How hungry are you? I actually have to remind myself of that fairly often, like, how hungry am I? It doesn’t matter what it is—how badly do I want it? How badly do I want to commit myself to running every week? To learning? What am I doing now that’s reaching other people and creating that energy that I need to keep pioneering.

TW: Were you always drawn to art?

Reba: Oh yeah. But once real life happened, it was really hard to do it full-time. My kids were growing up and I was working. I was a million miles away from being an artist.

TW: What would you say to someone considering going into the arts, if that’s their passion, especially when we downplay the role of art in society?

Reba: How many times to do I hear “Is that your real job?” This is not peace, love, and happiness all the time. This is a full-time commitment. I guess I go back to what my mother always tells me: Do what you love. If you do what you love, you’re always going to be happy.

TW: How do you approach the business end of your creativity?

Reba: It’s 75 percent what I desire to do, and 25 percent giving people what they want. I really listen to the feedback I get. The joy for me is hearing “Oh, I get my own seagull” or “Your figures are so beautiful. You’ve given me permission to feel good about myself.”

TW: How does everyday life intrude on your creativity?

Reba: There are times when I’m painting and I’m like, this is too tight, so forced, because I’m not giving myself the freedom to express. I’m busy thinking about making dinner, or I’m stressed out.

TW: Real life stuff.

Reba: Yeah! But when I get dialed in, I’m a mad scientist. I’m so in the moment of art, and when it’s gone, I’ll walk back into the house and think, “Do I even know how to paint anymore?” It’s really a frame of mind, and it might take me a month or two to harness it. I wish I could just spritz it over me all the time, but when real life is happening, it’s really hard to juggle that.

TW: Tell me some of your personal goals as an artist.

Reba: I want people to say “That’s Reba’s art. I recognize that.” That’s a big part of what I’m doing.

TW: I love the three panels that will be featured in the poster for this month’s Boardwalk Art Show. Can you share how it feels to have your work recognized?

Reba: This is the first year that there are three images on the poster. It is the biggest feather in my cap. I was born and raised here [in Virginia Beach] and I’ve been going to that art show my whole life. People come here to get a piece of the beach life, have a vacation and a good time.

TW: What do love about sharing your art?

Reba: It literally thrills me to hear people say that they feel the energy in my artwork. They get to take that home. It’s a privilege of mine, and it’s really humbling.

The Virginia Beach Boardwalk Art Show will be held June 15-18 on the boardwalk between 20th-35th Streets and features great art, music, entertainment & more. 757-425-0000 (VB)

Leia Safshekan is a writer, military spouse, and mother, raising her family in Va. Beach. A California native, Leia likes reading and exploring nature with her family and dogs. Leia was awarded the Dickseski Prize for Fiction and is a student at ODU.

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