AN INTERVIEW WITH MEAGAN BLESSING
Written by Kim Weeks from her interview with Meagan Blessing
She is a figure skater, horse trainer, singer, coach, personal trainer, triathlete, musician, mother, author, and, of course, a painter. She is all of those things, and because she is so accomplished, people will naturally be inspired by her. And that’s the true nature of Meagan Blessing’s life. It’s the highest compliment. Her most generous gift and her life’s work, regardless of her vocation. To inspire.
Meagan calls herself a dreamer, a visionary. She believes in the idea of limitless possibilities and has always lived that way. She is unapologetically spiritual and believes in and relies on God as a motivator and taskmaster. And she believes that He is there for everyone, regardless of where, how, or even whether they worship.
“This whole thing of, well, you need to do all this stuff and then you'll be acceptable, that's religion, and I'm not a fan of religion. I'm a fan of relationships,” she said. “I believe that God is for all of us. And so, when we can grab a hold of that and say, ‘Hey, you know what? There's somebody that's rooting for you, that wants you to fulfill your destiny.’ … How can you figure out what that is, and what are the steps that you take, from where you are now to where you are intended to be? Those things are already in your heart.”
In part, Meagan is talking about assignments from God or what she calls “divine downloads,” signs, or “nudges” from God that manifest as ideas or interests. Seemingly, Megan has been receiving these divine downloads in a variety of ways for her entire life, which has led her to be inspired and to inspire people along the way.
Meagan was born in Germany but her family moved to the Pacific Northwest when she was a toddler. Growing up, she worked with horses and was musically inclined, playing a variety of instruments and singing. Painting, however, was not in her repertoire until much later.
“Performing arts are actually where I started in the arts. I've always been a creative person. My brother actually had talent to draw right out of the gate, and I always wanted to. I always said that I can't draw a stick figure, and I wish I could,” she said.
Meagan was also a competitive figure skater, with the drive and talent to compete in the Olympics, but the training costs proved to be too much for her family at that time.
“I had the same coach as Rosalynn Sumners, who won the silver in 1984. We both had the same coach, and I was supposed to do that. But at that time, because you couldn't be amateur if you took even a dime from anybody, so the financial burden was on the family,” she said. “And it was going to cost my family two-thirds of my dad's annual salary just to send me to training. It wasn't doable, so that was the end of that.”
Just before Meagan’s senior year, her family moved to Fairbanks, Alaska, where she finished high school. But Meagan was always drawn to Montana, even as a youngster. So, armed with a music scholarship, Meagan headed to Billings where she received a degree in equestrian studies and music.
“I had always wanted to go to Montana. In fact, when I was nine years old, I tried to run away to Montana and scared the pee out of my parents. I got a few miles down the road and they were like, ‘Nope.’ [but] I was going to go get a job on a dude ranch,” she said. “In college, I was a vocal performance major, but I also was on a French horn scholarship. I [also] played piano and guitar. I played the vibraphone in jazz band -- just any of the keyed instruments -- and then the French horn.”
Soon after college, Meagan got married and became a full-time mother, having four children in six years. She continued with her music as time would allow, and as her kids got older, she received a certificate in personal training and found her way back to competitive figure skating, winning a silver medal at the US Adult Championships, and coaching young skaters. It was not until she was 30 years old that Meagan discovered painting. On a dare.
“A friend of mine dared me to paint a picture. We were in a coffee shop and I saw this picture of a coffee cup, … but they wanted quite a lot of money for it,” Meagan said. “[My friend] had gone to art school, and she said, ‘You can draw that. Why don't you paint one? And I'm like, ‘I can't paint.’ And she says, ‘Anybody can paint. Yes, you can. I dare you.’ Well, my competitive nature kicked right in on a dare, and I was like, ‘Oh, it's on.’”
So Meagan and her friend, Jacqueline, drove 80 miles to Great Falls and got her outfitted with basic supplies for oil painting.
“I set up a still life with a coffee cup and a spoon that was the wrong size, because I only had a demitasse [spoon]. I did everything the hardest possible way, because I didn't know what I was doing, and I didn't really know that it was hard. I just figured, ‘Well, I should be able to do this,’” she said. “I worked on this painting for three months. It was a 24 by 36 [inch painting]. I didn't start with a little 8 by 10. I was like, ‘I'm going to make a real painting.’”
When she finished the piece, Meagan sat back and evaluated both her painting and her future as an artist.
“I didn't think that I would enjoy that because, in my mind, visual artists were morose, really quiet. They didn't like to talk to people, and it's always a little sad or angsty or something, and that is not me. I am a joyful person,” Meagan said. “But [Jacqueline] said, ‘Did you have fun?’ I said, ‘Yeah, actually, I did have fun.’ She said, ‘You could do this for a living. You have an ability to see, and you can do it.’”
Meagan Blessing's first ever oil painting.
Amazingly, that coffee cup with the mismatched spoon sold for four figures and, thus, Meagan’s career in art began. She started by taking a few watercolor courses but quickly decided that was not her medium, so she went back to oils and began to learn by doing. Her first subjects were animals, all types of animals, but she found that she did not yet have the foundation in anatomy to portray them accurately. It was then that she received wise words from her husband, fellow Montana Trails Gallery artist, Michael Blessing, who told her to focus on the animal that she knows best, the horse, and helped her to simplify her color palette.
"He basically took this myriad of choices that I was dealing with, and he said, ‘Let's just narrow it down, and let's just work with these things, and why don't you work within these boundaries until you get comfortable there. And then you can start adding your variables back in.’ That was extremely good advice, and it was really helpful, so I did that. I used three basic complementary color schemes, and [painted] horses for several years, and my painting just grew by leaps and bounds,” Meagan said.
While it was important to portray her subjects accurately, it was more important to Meagan that her paintings evoke some type of emotion or connection with the viewer.
“Emotion, to me, is a really big deal, but you can't take a tube of joy and squirt it out on your canvas, and [say], ‘I'm just going to put joy in my painting,’ or ‘I'm going to put inspiration in my painting.’ That's not the way it works. You're translating an emotion into a visual language that is then able to be picked up by somebody else and received in that way,” she said. “Because that's why people buy art. There's a heart connection to it. … That's the reason that I want people to buy my art.”
She learned that by focusing on the her subjects’ eyes, she can achieve that sort of connection with viewers and draw out the kind of emotion she is looking for.
“I tend to make the eyes fairly hyper realistic. One of the first pieces of advice that [Jacqueline gave me was], ‘Get the eyes right. If you don't get the eyes right, the rest of the painting can be excellent, and it won't matter. Because the eyes are the window of the soul, and if they're off, people may not explain why they don't like it, but they just are not going to connect with your painting,’” Meagan said. “A lot of times, I'll make the eyes fairly detailed, because I want people to feel like they are seen and that they matter … when they look at the animals, then I want them to feel that connection.”
Meagan says that over the years she has experimented with colors, paint varieties, techniques, and tools, and, like other artists, she has gone through phases in her journey. Interestingly, she says that she noticed a shift in her own work, as well as other artists’ work, just before the beginning of the pandemic, and as a result of that shift, and the phase after it, we are seeing more powerful, colorful and creative work.
“It seems like, going into the whole COVID thing, the 2020 shift where the world changed forever, there was a lot of movement towards really monochromatic work. You saw it a lot actually, people working with one color or a limited palette, lots of gray scale, really modern things. Gritty almost. And I remember I was drawn to that kind of work too, and it's almost like there's something in us that sensed that this is a serious time. There's something coming. We need to get down to the structure of things and take a look at what is occurring in the earth. I don't think anybody would've quantified it that way at that time … but the art reflected it,” Meagan said. “[Then] when you're in the middle of a squeeze point, joy is what keeps you going. This is when the music comes out. This is when the new art comes out. This is when the new ideas come. This is when innovation comes together. And, yes, you have a squeeze point, but you also have an explosion of creativity that happens in those times, because it is the equal and opposite force to the squeeze, and that's what I'm seeing now. As you look, you're seeing a demand for color, you're seeing new ideas, you're seeing a fusion of art.”
Both Meagan and her husband Michael are members of the MTG family of artists, and though they currently live in Alaska, Meagan says she has always been a fan of the gallery and is happy to be represented by them.
“I was recommended [to MTG] by another artist, and honestly, it has been great. I have always admired Montana Trails, since I have been in Bozeman, and they have been really great to work with. The communication is awesome and I am really grateful,” she said.
Gallery associate, Megan Molyneaux, said they love representing Meagan’s work, because not only is her artwork beautiful and uplifting, she is a genuine delight to work with.
“Her animal paintings are soulful and impacting, and she is an absolute joy to talk to. We are really looking forward to seeing new work from her in the future,” Megan said.
It was her belief in limitless possibilities that inspired Meagan to begin writing her book, Going to Extremes, in 2021. And that belief was also what led her and her husband Michael to make significant, seemingly impossible, life changes in the years prior.
“[Going to Extremes] is an adventure story. It's the true story of how Michael and I decided to sell everything we own and downsize into a 200-square-foot space,” she said. “We moved to Alaska in the middle of a pandemic. And the way that we got here was really nothing short of miraculous, because the borders were closed when we came through … And I've had people go, ‘Well, you couldn't do that.’ I'm like, ‘Well, I'm here. Define can't.’ And that's part of what I carry, too, is that I believe in those limitless possibilities. What if nothing is impossible? What if?”
At first, Meagan said, she did not want to be a writer, because, again, she didn’t think it meshed with her personality, but she received another nudge that told her that she needed to write this book.
“I did have a dream about it. I call it my crafting a message dream … I didn't understand what it meant completely, and maybe not even still completely. But I really felt like it was a divine directive to write the book, because the message is one of hope -- well, of faith, really -- faith in those possibilities, and not being stuck in a place, and being able to go on an adventure, whether it's an internal adventure or an external adventure, like we did,” she said.
Meagan believes that everyone receives these divine downloads, or life assignments, and it’s up to them to hear them and act on them. She feels that Going to Extremes is meant to inspire people to listen and to act on these directives, and if they don’t someone else will.
“If the person that [the directive] was originally given to doesn't know how to steward it and doesn't do it, and drops it, it's still there, available for somebody else,” Meagan said. “We think that we're not important. We think that it really doesn't matter. I think that that's one of the biggest lies in the atmosphere. I think it does matter. … and [the directive] is usually not this big booming voice [that says], ‘You must do this!’ It's not like that at all. It's this little nudge of, ‘Maybe I should. Well, I don't know,’ … And it comes back around,” Meagan said. “Then somebody else says something about it, and then you see something about it, and those are messages. Pay attention, because when you step in with your ‘Yes,’ even though you don't know what you're doing, everybody gets a blessing.”
Her book Going to Extremes was published in 2023, with her own painting as cover art. Writing the book inspired her to paint Into the Brilliant Unknown, which is a departure from her usual style and subject, and one which she sees herself continuing going forward. She said, originally, the publisher asked her not to submit any paintings for the cover, but another nudge told her that she should, thereby opening up the opportunity for other artists to follow suit.
“I just really felt strongly, ‘You’ve got to submit this painting,’ and so I said, ‘I know you said you don't really do this, and I don't know if it would make a good cover, but here it is.’ And they just glommed right onto it and took it, and that was a huge deal for me,” Meagan said. “And now, all of a sudden, all the other artists are having the opportunity to submit their paintings too, which is awesome. Because, what we do affects the people around us, but what we don't do also affects the people around us. We all have a ripple effect.”
Meagan is planning to make a series of paintings in the same vain as Into The Brilliant Unknown, which is painted in a style she calls “abstract expressionist.”
“I still enjoy doing my animals … but my interest is in exploration … And this new series is challenging my ability to mix color, see color, combine colors. The abstractness of this new thing is really difficult for me, because it's forcing me to really pay attention to lights and darks, because you're not depicting something that you can really see,” she said. “It's not completely abstract because, in the painting, I'm suggesting a figure. And so you can see a horizon line, you can see a light source, all those kinds of things, but, really, it's almost abstract in expression.”
Having avoided them in the past, Meagan is beginning to explore painting landscapes and is inspired by the magnificence of her Alaskan surroundings.
“It had been 30 years since I was in Alaska, and I just forgot that the immensity of what is here is stunning. And I am actually looking into doing some more landscapes, but they're a little more in the abstract. I'm not going to try to do the realistic landscapes. I see things almost in a dreamlike fashion, and I want to try to translate that onto canvas, and so that is what I'm playing with right now. … But the inspiration comes from that grandeur that I see up here.”
Meagan understands that not everyone will be drawn to her work, but she is the happiest when viewers can identify and connect with her paintings in some way.
“They'll come up and they'll say that they feel seen. And that is the biggest compliment, I think. They can insert themselves, whatever the situation in their life, whatever they're dealing with. There's something about the iconic nature of what my paintings stand for, identity, confidence, joy, peace, possibility,” Meagan said. “And I love to inspire people to say [to themselves], ‘You know what? You can do this too.’ Or ‘You can do whatever it is that you have on your heart to do. Don't tell yourself that you can't.’ That's usually what people see.”
No matter what Meagan has done in her past or what she does going forward, Meagan derives great purpose and joy from inspiring people through that work.
“When I was a figure skating coach, I inspired people. When I was a personal trainer working with geriatric demographic, trying to get better from knee replacements and hip replacements, my goal was to inspire people. And I did. And, when I paint, I want to inspire, and when I write, I want to inspire.”
COPYRIGHT MONTANA TRAILS GALLERY, INC 2023