Jeanne Crider paints on anything she finds —  rocks, leaves, light bulbs, suitcases — in a studio built as an extension of their home by her husband, Lee. After a couple of years, their insurance company said she had a business, as she sold some products retail. Lee detached the studio with his chain saw. Later, when she stopped the business, it was OK to have a studio attached, and he patched it back together.

Jeanne Crider with a Dodge pickup tailgate she is touching up. Photo by Colleen Slater

“I can teach anyone decorative art,” Crider says. “I’ve never lost a student.”

It’s a learned art, and she says it’s one the student or practicing artist needs to keep learning.

Crider began tole painting over 30 years ago to encourage a friend. “I can’t even draw a straight line!” she told her friend. Six months later, she was hooked.

Tole painting became designated as a decorative art, and in 1986, Crider received her Certificate for Decorative Artist, after a competition of 240 people with 22 certificates awarded by the Northwest Pastel Society.

About 15 years ago, she began doing fine art. The difference is decorative art uses someone else’s pattern, and fine art is creating something original. Crider used to attend many conventions, with five or six teachers per convention. “I’ve probably had over 100 different teachers,” she notes.

Eventually, she thought it was time to share her knowledge with others, and she not only has classes in her studio, but has taught at conventions herself.

“There’s no more satisfaction than seeing a student excited,” she says.

A full “meal” of rocks, courtesy of Crider’s creative touch. Photo by Colleen Slater

Her weekly ongoing classes teach the basics as well as new theories. Some students have returned for as many as 15 years, as a way to continue their artistry and be encouraged.

Crider loves to be different, experimenting with unique items. On camping trips, she picks up the first thing her eye lands on and paints it. She calls this “found art” —  “I found it and I painted it.” One project was a leaf, and she had to think about that for awhile. When she showed it to her friends and students, everyone else had to try one, too. That turned into a Santa Claus, and her various Santa objects form quite a collection: light bulbs, spoons, rocks, records, CDs. One Santa was a shotgun shell.

Her most fun project occurred in Arizona. “It’s a total idle place,” she says. She set up her canvas outside to paint scenery. A man stopped to ask if she could paint a bear. Yes, she could. “On a motor home?” She thought she could. He showed her a postcard with a bear in huckleberries, and she produced it on his motor home, with plenty of curious and amused onlookers. She spray-painted the backdrop, and Lee had to hold up large pieces of cardboard to prevent the wind carrying paint to other trailers.

She and a small group of friends, “The Thursday Girls,” get together each week to paint. “We’re hard on each other,” she says of their critiques. All are practicing artists, and they have an annual show of their work at Gig Harbor’s Kimball Espresso Gallery in October. This fall the theme will be “Year of the Dogs.”

“That doesn’t mean we have to paint dogs,” she says with a grin. “It might be a dogfish, a hot dog…” There will be some traditional dogs, but there will be another artist or two who, like her, opt to be creative and surprising.

Walls, cupboards and various items in her studio display her work. It’s a comfortable space where Crider, artist friends, students and grandchildren love to be.

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