Photos by Mary Fehr
Allison Chapman has always loved the controlled chaos. She has never been afraid of trying something new to see where it takes her, in her life and with her paint. She might pick out the colors, but she allows her paints to do their own work to come into being on a canvas. Today the end results of all sizes and mediums adorn the walls of her Vestavia Hills home that she shares with her husband and two young girls. .
While she loves working with various types of paint, acrylics are where she feels most at home. “With acrylic it’s an easier experience because you can blend colors so elegantly and you don’t have to be as patient to wait for all of the paint to dry to start your next layer,” she says. “But it really is a layered process. Each new layer brings something different and can change the entire way you view the painting.”
Most of her paintings are a created with a combination of pouring, palette knives (she has a vast collection), and sometimes random tools that she thinks will move the paint in an interesting or unique way. She rarely uses a brush because it does not reflect the unbridled energy she looks for in her work. “I don’t know why, but every time I use a brush it looks too controlled,” she says. “I want the paint to do its own thing and become its own unique pattern. I feel like brushes too often make the painting look like I was trying too hard.”
Allison is originally from Nashville but came to the University of Alabama for college to study advertising with a minor in art and English. Although creativity was a huge part of her education, she says she did not fully focus on painting or more physical forms of art because she felt graphic design lay more in her prospective field of advertising. It wasn’t until 2016 when she was pregnant with her second child that she decided she was going to make some artwork for the baby’s room.
“I’ve always had a mind for art,” she says. “Whenever I travel, I go to museums, I look at other artists’ work and I always have had this sense of, ‘Oh, I want to try that!’ I went out and bought a bunch of supplies, and I just went to town on canvases. I just found it to be so much fun…It was a great way for me to get outside of my head.”
Allison started with abstract work with acrylic paints on canvas and kept building her style by trying new techniques. From there she experimented with watercolor paints and seeing how the different textures danced together on the canvas. “Acrylic on its own has its own texture and its own way of laying itself out on the canvas, but if you add water, it can get really wild,” she says.
After exploring watercolor, Allison got the urge to try acrylic pouring, a technique involving thinning acrylic paint using a medium like floetrol and pouring it out onto the canvas. “Those are really exciting because you have no idea what you’re going to get once you pour it onto the canvas.”
“I think for me it’s like every canvas is sort of a new adventure. It’s like, ‘Well, what do I want to try different this time?’…It always takes shape, and it’s always exciting to see what it looks like.”
Allison’s inspiration comes from a wide variety of muses. When she travels for work, she makes it a priority to visit museums and take in local art exhibits. At home, sunsets and sunrises in her backyard create a spark whether it be from color or emotion.
She’s also inspired by her two daughters who she says are “obsessed” with painting. “They come in every night when I’m painting, and they’re like, ‘Mommy, use this pink!’ or ‘Mommy, use this green!’ So I often let them inspire me to be a little bold and courageous with the color choices. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it does not, but that’s okay.”
Her children are also fascinated with counting the many layers of her paintings. Working with acrylics, Allison says, can often lead to multiple layers of paint on the surface. Allison’s paintings have up to 20 layers on average. “I have some 16-by-20s in my studio right now that I’ve been working on for about a week and they’re on like layer 15,” she says.
The layering and mistakes are all part of the messy but rewarding painting process. To her, it’s a metaphor for life. “That’s the beauty of painting,” she says. “I’m sure there are other art forms where you don’t get to just paint over your mistakes. And sometimes what you hated about the last layer can peek through the new layer, and I like seeing remnants of the past layers. Maybe I didn’t like that dark color originally, but maybe if I cover it with a light color and it pokes through a little bit, that adds dimension and character.”
Allowing that bit of chaos to peek through is pivotal to her creation. Allison says her art is in many ways a reflection of herself: “Trying to be bold and be less controlled and not take things as seriously. I think that’s so important when you’re painting.”
That’s something she is trying to teach to her daughter, Maggie, too when she messes up on a painting or a drawing and is upset. In those moments, Allison tells Maggie it’s okay, that they can calm down and move past it. “When things happen in life sometimes you just have to build a bridge and get over it…You just have to let it go,” she says. “And I think that’s what painting is for me is losing a little bit of that control and letting things happen the way they need to happen.”
The Happy Place
In the past pandemic year when there has been so much sadness, Allison has found her relationship with painting has been her constant. She also encourages other local artists to continue to create to find their happy place.
“Really, it’s just for fun,” she says. “Try to find something in your life to enjoy, and if that makes other people happy then all the better. I see all these other artists out there doing their thing. It’s really great to see people enjoying themselves in a creative way.”