Painting from the heart with Linda Israel– the full interview

Works in progress at Linda Israel’s Grand Lake studio.
Works in progress at Linda Israel’s Grand Lake studio.

by Mister V

In under a decade, Grand County artist Linda Israel has become a highly respected and internationally collected painter. I spoke with Linda in her Grand Lake studio, where we discussed art, nature, and “Are You Bob?”

MRV: I’m interested in your color palate. It’s very vibrant. Very bright. I’m wondering where that came from?

LI: Well, I love color, and I love mixing color and experimenting with mixing colors. And so I don’t ever use anything right out of the tube. And I just love seeing animals in a different way. It could be easier to just paint them in the color format that they are, but for me to mix vibrant colors and just try to capture energy in my colors. Then it’s sometimes like SHAZAM! ‘Cause it’s fun to me. I just like mixing really vibrant colors. The more colors I can put on a painting the better I am. When people ask me to paint more subdued, I’m like I’m not the right artist to you. Not the right painter. Because I just don’t do well with just browns. I don’t have black in my palate at all. I don’t own black paint, but I mix dark paints from different dark blues and greens together, but I don’t use black.

MRV: Who do you draw influence from as an artist?

LI: I don’t even know. It’s funny you ask that, because I draw inspiration from the animals. I didn’t study with anyone. I kinda made this up in my mind. I have a background in interior design, so I have a background about color. I’ve always had a love of animals, so it kind of just came together. No formal or professional training. I once was going to go to a teacher I really loved, who always painted these farm animals, and she captured the light behind them and it was just beautiful. I signed up for her class and I was going to go to Fredericksburg, Texas. It was this huge financial commitment and I had to sign up for the class and get a hotel room and an airplane and a car and all this stuff. About a week before, I realized, and I cancelled the trip, because I realized I didn’t want anyone to influence me. I wanted to generate this from within. So I don’t want anyone to teach me anything as far as how to paint and do their style. I want it to come from myself, instead of going to a class, and this is how you do light and shadow and everything. The funny thing is no one can tell me that that llama doesn’t look like that, or that bear doesn’t look like that, because I made it up. When I do people’s dog portraits, I have to try and capture the energy of that dog, and that person has looked into the eyes of that dog a million times, and there’s so much love. I really have to focus and try to bring that energy through my painting. It’s a much harder job. So I’m inspired by animals and people, but I’m really inspired by watching the animals.

MRV: I thought there was some sort of background there. It’s amazing that you’ve been able to build a career just like that. Like, I’m going to do it my way. That’s so Sinatra!

LI: Exactly! And not having to have an outside influence. Because when you go to a class and study with people they have their thoughts, and it may help expand you, but truly this view helps me expand. Just being in the outrageousness of color and life and animals and the beauty. It’s like a higher vibration here. So I just kind of hang out in that and paint from there. You’ve really just got to do what speaks to you. I paint for me, knowing that if the painting doesn’t sell it’s going to come back and stick back in my house. So I have to love every painting that I create for ME. So it’s really just like an inner dialogue, kind of spiritual practice.

MRV: So I know you paint animals. Is that all you paint?

LI: That’s it. I don’t paint people very well. I don’t know how to draw faces at all. I’m not a great drawer. I’m a better painter. I can express myself with paint and color rather than with pen or ink.

MRV: Landscapes?

LI: I can paint them, but they don’t bring me as much joy, and they don’t come across as well. When I first started painting, I was like, “I’ll paint this bowl, and the fruit, and an umbrella, and a rainy scene, and then a street scene.” I used to paint trucks, old trucks, and I loved them, but they never sold. I have one in the bathroom. It never sold. I have one downstairs, I gave one away. Nobody wants my trucks. Everybody wants my bears. I can’t paint enough red background bears. That’s the truth.

MRV: Can you list for me all the animals that you’ve painted?

LI: All of them?

MRV: Yeah. Do your best.

LI: Let’s see… farm animals, y’know, ducks, chickens, cows, sheep, goats, all different kinds of cows, Texas longhorns and highland cattle. There’s a whole smathering of those. Then I’ve done bison and wolves and fox. I’ve done marmots and penguins and a sea turtle. I’ve done a majority of bears. Probably 300 bears. I’ve done a ton of birds, oh my gosh–pelicans and swallows and robins and kingfishers and eagles. I have not painted a tiger or a cheetah or a leapard… yet. But I’m thinking I’m gearing up for that. Some African animals, because I don’t know if African animals will talk to anybody. I want to do the stripes of a tiger in the crazy colors, and just see.

MRV: Do you paint mostly local animals?

LI: Yeah. Moose, elk, all that. Because that’s what speaks to us. It’s like, this is the fox that comes to our neighborhood. There’s a fox, I call him “Are You Bob?” Because our neighbor, Bob, used to feed the foxes. When he was gone to Texas in the winter, when the animals are really hungry, the fox would come out. There was this one really beautiful, sunny day, like in February. It had been so cold. The sun was coming out, and up the road comes this fox and he looks at me and he’s like, “Are YOU Bob? ‘Cause I’m here for my hotdog.” I was like, “What?!” I don’t feed the animals. I feed the birds. But he was like “I’m here for my hot dog. I heard there were hot dogs.” Seriously. Then he just curled up on this big rock up on the hill, and I ran and got my camera and took a picture of him. And that’s why I call him “Are You Bob?” So yeah, most of the animals I paint I have seen here. All the moose. And you go to rutting season up in the park, and it’s amazing.

MRV: Do you have a favorite subject?

LI: I think the bears talk to me the most, just because I feel them the most. I don’t know why. I’ve never really seen that many bears, but I feel bear energy the most. So I can paint bears all days long. It’s funny, because if you look at all my bears, even my husband just this week said, “Wow, it’s so strange. You don’t paint the same bear. Ever. And you’ve painted hundreds of bears. They all look different. I can really see it now.” Even if I use the same photograph, a different bear comes forward. Sometimes it’s hard to keep generating the same bears. All the galleries want bears.

MRV: What is it about bears that attracts you?

LI: Well, bears I think have been in my life my whole life. I’ve raised and shown these (Berner) dogs for twentyseven years. They look like a bear. MY HUSBAND looks like a bear and loves to take naps. In the winter, he sleeps all winter. He would just like to take a nap every day. He wants to hibernate. So I think that I have always had bear energy, the strength of bear, the solidness of a bear, I’ve always had that kind of energy around myself. I’ve surrounded myself with these dogs, my husband, and when I really started painting full-time, it just kind of came out. Bears seem to be the ones that speak to everybody. But I think I have surrounded myself with bear energy forever. I probably have bears as totems, I’m sure. As power animals. I like bears. But then I also like those little mice too, so I don’t know.

MRV: Where have your paintings gone in the world.

LI: They’ve gone to Germany and Poland, the UK, Austrailia. They’ve gone to Mexico, Canada.

MRV: Every continent?!

LI: Maybe not Russia, but Europe for sure. They’ve gone to France. I think it’s amazing that there are so many artists and so many people who are creative and yet, my paintings are being honored in people’s homes. You have a lot of people to choose from, so when people ask me to paint their dogs, I’m like “It’s an honor.” Because they have a lot of people who would paint for you, and you’re reaching to me. I take it very seriously, as an important job, to commemorate this animal in a beautiful portrait that you will have forever when the animal’s gone, ‘cause our animals never live as long as we wish them to live. They just don’t. So yeah, it’s been a great adventure.

MRV: What message to you hope to deliver through your paintings to your audience?

LI: We need to support each other. I’d like people to come from a more soulful place in themselves. I know that I paint from a soulful place in myself. It’s about being good and loving. Feeling good about who you are and stepping into your own power of who you are. I feel really grateful and so lucky, but I also know that I paint from my heart. That’s why my paintings touch people’s hearts. There’s something about the level that I must bring through that comes out in my canvases, in a very spiritual way. That I am working in tandem with my heart, and that people feel that. That’s why my artwork talks to them. I get love notes from people, which is beautiful, that people would contact me to say “I just wanted to say I saw your work and I feel happy. I don’t know why this chicken is so important, but I had to have it.” Or, “This bear made me feel like I could do anything.” You get love notes from people. So I think it’s about sharing from that soulful place.

MRV: What does the future hold for Linda Israel?

LI: Just keep doing what I’m doing, I think, as long as my arm keeps up. ‘Cause there is a little bit of a process here that goes all day.

MRV: I believe that. A lot of your picture planes are very big…

LI: Yeah, it’s fun to paint big. But I also know that when I’m painting, if things don’t go very smoothly that it’s not gonna come together. I know that if I fight with the canvas to try and make it come together, it doesn’t come together. So now I have learned to just start again. It’s okay to start again. This view of that animal’s face isn’t good, it’s not going to happen. It doesn’t translate well to canvas. It’s hard, y’know? When you take pictures and you think it will translate, you want to make it translate, but it doesn’t always.

MRV: That’s a great skill to have…

LI: Yeah, to just stop, and say, “Hey, this isn’t working. It’s okay. I can do it another way.” But I remember for me, I think I’m just gonna keep painting, and keep watching animals, because really I do love to watch animals. They do bring me a sense of peace and connectiveness. I feel really good. If I could have run a zoo or something like that, done something incredible… I used to run a rehab for animals that were injured in Washington, when I lived there for many years. That was incredible, to have all these animals, to be helping them, and to set them free. It was so great.

MRV: So you worked with WILD animals…?

LI: Oh yeah. We put the raccoons back out. You don’t hug anything. They weren’t pets. I did that for maybe five years. I saw this man one day on the newspaper feeding a baby deer, and I was like, “What is HE doing? I want to feed a baby deer!” So I went to him, and when I got there, there were like, eight volunteers. When I left, there were EIGHTY volunteers. We had 24 clocks of people, because these babies need to be feed. We had everything from Merganser ducks to elk to deer to skunks to porcupines that you couldn’t go near but you had to feed them. It was an interesting thing. You knew you’d have to wear gloves and we had eagles. When I finally left we had built the largest raptor cage, other than the one in Anchorage, Alaska. So that kind of hands-on experience with animals drove it home even deeper for me. I just love animals.

MRV: Was this your first hands-on introduction to wild animals?

LI: Yeah. It was great.

MRV: That’s a heck of an introduction.

LI: Yeah! It was fun! It was amazing. We had so many barn owls and babies. I had ducks in the bathtub, until we got this facility kind of upgraded. This farmer just gave us this land, and we had these vets that worked for free. They would help us set wings. It was amazing. It was like the community came together. The telephone company delivered telephone poles, the fire department came with their bucket trucks, and we put up these telephone poles, and we built the biggest raptor cage, so that they could exercise so that they could be free. Otherwise they’re in these little cages and they’re not exercising. You let them free and they don’t have a clue how to hunt or anything. So I’ve always been inspired by animals. For me, it’s just to be able to spend time with animals and watch animals, to be in their… peacefulness. In the moment.

Linda Israel is currently showing paintings locally at Whispering Pines in Grand Lake. She is also a featured artist in the Center for Visual Arts in Steamboat Springs and UpTripping in Winter Park. For more on Linda and her incredible paintings, visit