An award-winning watercolorist reflects on decades of inspiration

Photos by Ariana Allison

Art is more than the combination of colors on canvas; it’s a personal culmination of an entire lifetime of emotions and experiences. That is the philosophy 86-year-old painter Judi Betts reflects on as she continues to paint in her house tucked away in a wooded corner of Baton Rouge.

Even now after six decades of painting and teaching art, Betts is as vibrant and full of enthusiasm as ever about art and its importance to society, continuing to teach even into her late 80s.

Painting in watercolor since she moved to Louisiana from Chicago in 1959, Betts has had her artwork showcased across the world, including at the Taiwan Art Education Institute, the Federation of Canadian Artists and Walt Disney World’s EPCOT.

Her art has also graced mediums ranging from national television, DVDs, over 35 books and even wine labels, which she won five awards for. Named by the Transparent Watercolor Society of America a Master of Watercolor, she has also served as judge for over 150 national and regional competitions.

Her art, which she has received the Louisiana Governor’s Award for Professional Artists, the state’s highest artistic honor, has also been featured in the rotunda of Louisiana’s Governor’s Mansion, as well as California’s Oceanside Museum of Art and the New Orleans Museum of Art.

“I’m painting in my mind, even if I’m not at the easel,” she explains.

Artist Judi Betts holding “Cowboy Tales”

In a studio covered wall-to-wall in her paintings, ranging from whicker chairs and cowboys to coastal Floridian homes, Betts remembers the exact meaning and purpose behind most every piece of art she has painted, explaining that she has anywhere from two to 10 paintings in various stages of completion at any time.

“All creative people tend to work in a series,” Betts says. “So lately I have been working with palm trees and boats quite a bit.”

Recently, she explains, experimentation has become a regular part of her artistic routine. One of her recent forays into tampering with the traditional formula has been 3D paintings that combine negative space with colorful depictions of butterflies to create a new viewing experience depending on the angle one views the piece at.

Perspective also helps Betts’ creative process in the painting stage, utilizing various perspectives to achieve the optimal subject, even if it isn’t exactly true to life.

“I’m accustomed to using a mirror,” Betts says. “I look at them in the mirror because you can see them backwards and you can see your composition and say ‘oh, this needs to be darker,’ or ‘oh, this needs to be bigger.’”

Originally born in Chicago in 1936, Betts and her twin sister Janet grew up on a dairy farm before attending college at Indiana University studying jewelry making.

While her career making jewelry didn’t blossom after college, it was her early life on a dairy farm that become one of her central muses in her later career; even today, she paints farm animals, specifically cows and goats.

Keep reading the full story from our sister magazine, 225.