Phyllis Thornton had just retired after a long career in graphic design when a friend asked if she wanted to take a painting class with her.
It had been years since the Shoreline artist felt the freedom of a brushstroke that wasn’t meant for an advertisement, so she said yes.
Her friend quit the class two months later, but Thornton kept painting. Eventually she studied with a cadre of local artists such as Michele Usibelli, Mike Wise and Liana Bennett, who helped her hone in on the finer details of oil painting.
“It was fun to get back into that creative world and paint what I wanted, when I wanted,” Thornton said. “I just like to paint what I see — and sometimes what I don’t see.”
About a dozen of Thornton’s impressionist, abstract and still-life paintings will be on display in April at Mountlake Terrace Library. The exhibit, a collection spanning 12 years of painting, is presented by the Mountlake Terrace Arts Advisory Commission.
One of Thornton’s favorite paintings was inspired by a picture her friend took in France. The painting, titled “A French Path,” shows a curved cobblestone street lined by village-style houses. An archway topped with greenery draws the eye.
“The street leads you into the painting,” Thornton said. “That’s what you look for in a good composition — you want something that interests you and brings you into that painting.”
Her other works include a field of red poppies, an impressionist painting of a gazebo and koi swimming in a pond. She describes her work as vibrant and sometimes exaggerated to make them feel more alive.
“Don’t all artists take liberty with colors?” Thornton said. “That’s why you’re an artist. You want to do what you want, and do it the way you want to do it.”
Thornton is a member of the Seattle Co-Arts organization and previously was a docent at the Seattle Art Museum.
Janice Patterson, a member of the Mountlake Terrace Arts Advisory Commission, has been familiar with Thornton’s work for the past seven years as a fellow member of Seattle Co-Arts.
“A lot of people paint basically the same thing over and over — I know an artist who always does birds,” Patterson said. “Phyllis is much more diverse. She just does a nice range.”
Thornton knew she wanted to be an artist from an early age, but societal norms for women in the 1950s (their careers were typically limited to being teachers, nurses or secretaries) nearly got in the way of that.
She stuck to her passion and graduated from the University of Washington in 1957 with a bachelor’s degree in commercial art. She went to work for a small advertising agency in Santa Monica, California, where she drew a cartoon character named “Sammo” for Santa Monica Bank.
She eventually returned to Washington to work for J.C. Penney, creating murals at Northgate Mall in north Seattle, then became a graphic designer for Boeing for the next three decades.
Thornton’s career often challenged her creatively, but she prefers the freedom she has when painting. She finds inspiration in landscapes, pictures from magazines and her grandchildren.
Her work has been shown at several businesses in Edmonds, including Cafe Louvre, Coldwell Banker Bain and Walnut Street Cafe.
In 2017, she was one of 33 artists published in “Art State: Washington,” a book featuring watercolor, oil and acrylic paintings.
Evan Thompson: 425-339-3427, firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ByEvanThompson.
If you go
See an exhibit featuring Phyllis Thornton’s oil paintings from April 1-30 at the Mountlake Terrace Library, 23300 58th Ave. W., Mountlake Terrace.