O'Neill local and mother of five Ranell Otte is used to being in the library, but this month it is her watercolor artwork that will be featured there, in conjunction with the Ranchland Art Group and the greater Nebraska Association of Nebraska Art Clubs. As part of the Ranchland Art Group, Otte meets monthly to discuss upcoming shows and to share art news and inspiration with other local artists.
Otte's passion for painting is apparent in her work, an interest which began in childhood.
"The best Christmas gifts were new crayons, clean white paper, markers, anything Crayola," Otte said.
Although all forms of art appeal to the Elgin, NE native, watercolor is her preferred medium. When it comes to watercolor, Otte emphasized the necessity of letting go of control.
"Watercolor is so gentle. Luckily, I fell in love with the results of what the paint and water do on its own before I learned technique. This allowed me to trust that letting go of control is essential, and inviting."
Otte was not an art major in college, though her minor in graphic design at UNK did require her to find a fine arts course. She chose a watercolor class.
"I never got higher than a B- on any assignment. When [husband] Matt and I lived in Augusta, I took a college level workshop with professional watercolorist Michael B. Pearson, who opened my eyes to paint and brushes that did not say Crayola. Huge, heavy pieces of watercolor paper, paints in a tube beyond the 8 cake trays I’d always used. Broad brush stokes, bold color. I was hooked."
As to subject matter, Otte readily admits that flowers are her first choice.
"Both the colors and shapes [of flowers] lend well to the looseness of watercolor--they don’t always demand exactness. I try to pay close attention to good shadows and a strong light on whatever subject I am working on. Shadows and light placed properly not only give the painting depth and a sense of reality, but they simply make the painting more interesting. I take a lot of photos of flowers on my kitchen windowsill around 4 or 5pm. Gorgeous light."
A large part of her inspiration comes from other artists, whose focus may fall outside her realm of expertise.
"I love to look at art, especially the mediums I don’t use or don’t do well. I am too impatient to draw, so I am always inspired by well-executed pencil or ink drawings."
Judging by many of her pieces, which range from large-sized paintings to greeting cards, it's no secret that Otte has a good grasp of the natural world, something she readily attests:
"Nature is a constant inspiration. Flowers, leaves, and trees [are] very forgiving subject matter. And our kids—innocence just begs to be captured. Faces aren’t my favorite to paint or draw, so I love photographing the kids when they are deep into being themselves, but their faces aren’t showing. A good photo inspires me to want to capture it in watercolor."
Some of her latest work has been inspired by the writing talents of her older brother, Dwaine Spieker. Spieker, who lives and teaches English and poetry in Wayne, NE, has published two books of poetry in the last six years. His first, Garden of Stars, earned the 2010 Nebraska Book Award in poetry from the Nebraska Center for the Book. The Way Magellan Must Have Felt, his second book of poems, was published in 2014. Spieker's work has also been featured in a large number of publications, including Nebraska Life. Otte's recent painting, Jars of Tomatoes, is based off of one of Spieker's poems titled the same.
With five children ranging in age from 12 to 2, it's difficult to grasp how the busy mom finds the time to attend monthly art meetings, let alone complete an entire piece, but with a bit of effort and ingenuity, Otte manages to carve out time to spend with the brush.
"There is so little time to paint with kids around, but I usually get an hour or so during naptime in the afternoon. If the kids want to paint, I have a bunch of old supplies and scrap paper so I just set them up at the kitchen table with me."
While Otte plans to continue her painting for enjoyment indefinitely, others are showing a keen interest in her work.
"I do commission work once in a while. The best jobs are when someone gives me a direction, either subject matter or color scheme, and then says, 'Do whatever you think.'" When asked about her future plans for her art, Otte responded like a true artist. "I am not sure how far I will take my art work intentionally. It’s hard to put a price on something one loves to do. For now, I plan to enjoy the mere minutes each day I get to play around with my paints."
Jars of Tomatoes by Dwaine Spieker
Just out of the boiling water, they are as warm as hearts and seem to glow—sealed inside is the growth of a whole summer.
Within their glass containers, they’ll hold onto summer through fall to help make our winter soups Valentine-colored. And here, Love,
I give you my own heart, sealed just for you, like a jar of tomatoes. It’s fragile but full of summer, So warm for you that it glows.