Stories are the record of our lives, and the glue that binds us together. For 71-year-old Dianna Earnest, of Battle Ground, watercolor painting is the tool she wields to tell her story, and the gift she shares with others.
Earnest earned an art minor in college, along with her degree in speech and drama, but she never aimed to become an artist. Coming from a large family of educators, Earnest wanted to be a teacher.
She taught school for six years, until her daughter was born. Her teaching took a different path when a childhood of piano lessons became a 32-year career as a piano teacher.
One day, she said to herself, “I’m losing patience with these kids, I need to quit.”
And she did.
“I wanted to do art,” she said. She still plays her piano for her own pleasure and for her church, but the student pianos were sold to make way for a painting studio.
She got started by taking drawing and watercolor classes at Clark College, but she considers herself mostly self-taught. Earnest doesn’t sell her paintings. She makes them for the pleasure of creating, and to give as a gift to the person who they are about.
“I said when I started, the only reason I will ever paint is not for commission, but just because I have something I want to say with pictures,” she said.
Earnest likes to paint scenes from her own life, such as a plate of raspberries from a neighbor’s garden and a glass of tea on a hot day. “It was such a picture that I had to paint it,” she said.
She painted the sunset at her niece’s wedding, the wooded lane to a friend’s home, the linked hands of a couple who lost a pregnancy. Her daughter’s backyard in Denmark. Scenes of the Colombian village where her two grandsons were adopted, and their arrival at their new home in Denmark. She painted the old lantern her husband’s father used when he milked his cows.
“I like my paintings to tell a story, usually a personal story,” she said.
Many of her paintings are given away as gifts, but not before she scans them and has a giclee print made by a local printer. “I like to keep a copy because I love my stories,” she said.
She created paintings of the pitcher and bowl that each minister at her church used for baptizing babies, which she bestowed to them as a gift. A landscape image depicts glowing luminarias leading to a home with golden glow in the windows. It was a gift for a friend who grew up in the Netherlands and carries on the holiday tradition in their American home.
Earnest usually paints from a photo, she said. She has attempted painting on site, called en plein air, but said she finds it difficult. Some of her paintings are almost alike. “I like to paint things more than once,” she said. It allows her to explore the image in different ways.
She also creates many drawings, jotting in her sketchbook wherever she goes – the Pomeroy House gardens, or model boat races where her husband races boats that he builds. The sketches are traced onto watercolor paper before she starts painting back in her studio. Her paintings don’t always mimic the sketch exactly, she said, but it “gives her the idea.”
Earnest also likes to have cards printed from her paintings for various holidays and seasons of the year, images that tell the story of her year.
Her painting studio is tucked into the day-lit basement of the rural Battle Ground home she has shared with her husband since 1972. They took a circuitous route to create the ranch home they have today, she explained.
When they purchased their 8 acres, they settled into a new 12 x 65 single wide mobile home they brought to the site. Wanting more space, they added a wood-vaulted living room addition with a basement, but the juncture where the two structures met had a leak they couldn’t repair.
The solution - build an addition to their living room, a whole house addition, which replaced the mobile home. The home nestles into a pastoral valley at the end of a dead-end road, where aging chickens still eke out a few eggs, a cat patrols the tall grass, and cattle graze the fields.
They enjoy travelling widely, including treks to Denmark twice yearly to visit their grown daughter and her family, including 3 grandchildren. Their family and the varied scenery provide material for many of her paintings.
Earnest collects the stories along the way. It’s much like the lifetime of Christmas letters her father wrote, she said, which in retrospect chronicle their family life for almost 60 years. Paintings are the medium she uses to save and share her stories.
“History is so important,” Earnest said. “That’s why I do them.”