By Josette Keelor -- email@example.com
After her younger brother died six years ago, artist Diane Artz Furlong decided life was too short not to follow her dreams.
Bringing to a close a career of various jobs that had found her working alongside her brother Frank Artz at his business. Shenandoah Family Homes, Furlong called it quits.
"That was such a shock," she said. "It just made me realize that our time is limited."
"I finally retired and got this nice studio setup." Her farmhouse on 14 acres in Oranda offers her a country retreat for inspiring her work.
Now, six years later, Artz Furlong, 62, said she's learned a lot but still has a ways to go.
Today an exhibit of her artwork will go on display at the Strasburg Museum and continue through Oct. 14.
"It's called Shenandoah Passages," she said. "My work consists of landscape, the scenes in our area. It's the mountains and the river."
Painting with pastels, Artz Furlong sometimes works from photographs she collects while traveling around the valley, using the early morning or late evening light to her advantage.
"It's just endless the inspiration, and I've done some scenes more than once," she said recently from a makeshift art gallery in a space born from a spare room in her farmhouse, where she and her husband have lived for 17 years.
One image she plans to display in the show she named Gafia Evening, which depicts a view of Massanutten Mountain from Gafia Lodge Road in Warren County.
Other times, however, she prefers to deviate from the literal, crafting scenes as they occur to her. A piece that has ensnared her attention for the last two weeks began as a skyscape, she said, but when she turned the picture upside down it shortly became a landscape with clouds.
"I think I'm at a place where I can break rules if I want to," Artz Furlong said. "You can break rules, but you have to know what the rules are to begin with."
An artist all her life, Artz Furlong said she began pursuing the hobby full time when she retired. That's also when she decided to focus her medium, choosing pastels.
Soft pastels, that is; not oil, she specified.
"Pastel is pure pigment that's rolled into this form using a small amount of binder," she said.
"It's so much nicer than paint," she said. "It's just the sticks." In her home studio, down the hall from the temporary gallery -- until her upcoming show -- she keeps several drawers of pastels organized by color, and she loves that there is almost no cleanup time.
"I also use brushes to lift off color," she said. "You can create texture that way."
"I also do a lot of blending with my fingers," she said, which gives skies the effect she wants. Raising her pinkie finger, she said, "Really, this is your best tool."
She might not be using paint, but she calls her work painting with pastels.
"I always begin painting by referring to photographs," she said, but added, "A lot of times there's a painting that really wants to paint itself. The painting will tell you what to do."
Working on archival sand paper, which holds the pastels more readily than canvas does, she said she doesn't even need to use a fixative and prefers not to because it can change the color tone of the painting.
"It's the only surface that I'll use," she said. "I just feel I have found what works for me."
Over the years Artz Furlong has dabbled in oil painting and charcoal drawing, but she said she realized her work would be more defined if she chose a medium to specialize in, and she chose pastels because it reminds her of her childhood, when she received a pastel set at the age of 6.
"I have a finite amount of time," she said, "and I want to paint what inspires me."
Still, she has found that galleries resist hanging pastel drawings, something she finds discouraging.
"I want people to know that pastels are the real thing," she said. She's heard comments that pastel images don't endure like oil does, but she's found the opposite to be true.
"It lasts, it does last," she said. "It is not chalk."
When asked if she has a favorite painting, she found difficulty to choose only one. Her favorites are ones that resonate with viewers -- as if they've come home -- and that's when she feels like she's made a personal connection through her art.
After retiring she took some classes at Lord Fairfax Community College, studying under artist Ann Currie, who, Artz Furlong said, since has retired. Currie designed a course for Artz Furlong that allowed her to work from home and bring in her artwork for regular critiques.
Since then Artz Furlong has participated in various art shows around the area and neighboring states, including a display for the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley's Art in the Halls program last fall, which she said promotes local and regional artists, and a show at the Art and Dentistry gallery in Bethesda, Md., last spring.
She also has been preparing for the Valley Educational Center for the Creative Arts' upcoming member show in Woodstock, which begins Monday and will run for a month.
In November she will team with Woodstock pastel artist Laurel Vaughan in a two-woman show.
"It's kind of a departure from what I really do," Artz Furlong said. Though normally she focuses on landscapes, she said for the show she has been painting skyscapes, and Vaughn plans to display waterscapes that show the effects of light on water.
Despite her success locally, Artz Furlong said, she has found difficulty in being able to promote her artwork as she would like around the area because of a shortage of professional galleries.
Much of the artwork she shows finds its way into rooms attached to restaurants -- in Strasburg, a back room in the Hi-Neighbor and a wall at Cristina's Cafe currently display Artz Furlong's work -- but for the exposure it would need to launch her career to greater heights, she said, she has begun searching around online, using social media formats to rub elbows with other artists, learning from them and making contacts.
"It's really been a mind-opening thing, and I enjoy doing it," she said.
"If you want your work out there, you have to be creative in finding it."
Artwork by Diane Artz Furlong will be on display at the Strasburg Museum Saturday through Oct. 14. For more information, visit www.dartzfineart.com.