Barbara Conaway


"My passion for art is in the process.  I love to study and experiment with the techniques and tools of oil painting.  I love the struggle of getting a realistic expression of my subject out of the abstraction of shapes and colors bringing the painting together visually.  It is thrilling when others like my work as I believe it is both an honor and a privilege to be able to call myself an artist."

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We recently asked Barbara about her outstanding work, which has been so popular at the Bubany Gallery. Below is what she shared with us.


1. When did you first start drawing/painting?

I played a lot as a child with crayons, yarn, material, and finger paints. I never thought I could draw and I loved the colors of the media I was playing with, so I never considered drawing. I was afraid to try and when I took an art class in middle school, the teacher was very critical. I decided at that time that I didn't have the talent to be an artist. A drawing class was required when I was majoring in Interior Design in college. The teacher used "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" and I learned how — believing that if I could learn to draw, anybody could. That was in 1980, and in 1983 I changed my major to Electrical Engineering because I thought I had to do something "serious" as a career.  For years, my creative energy went toward occasional classes in fiber arts, photography, and glass.  I started painting when I was almost 40 when a friend and client of my husbands started an oil painting class. I was hooked. A couple of years into it, I decided to start showing my work.

2. What is your preferred medium?

Oil paints.  However, I have been playing a lot with water soluble media and ink recently.  I'm having a great deal of fun with it and hope to share it with others soon.

3. What inspires your art?

Oh, there are so many things. Predominately, nature and animals. I see something and want to capture the moment. The connection I have always had with animals became stronger after having aphasia and thinking they are a lot smarter than we give them credit for just because they can't speak. Watching animal interactions with each other and with people are inspiring. The aphasia I had was a result of complications from having a brain tumor removed in 2010.  

4. What are some of the challenges you face as an artist?

As a child, I didn't get any encouragement or direction from the adults in my life because "you can't make a living" with art. It's a common stigma forced upon youth but when you have a desire to do something creative, no matter what your age, I believe it's important to your own self-care to pursue it. Now my biggest challenge is finding the time to do all the things that I want to do.  


5. You are an advocate for brain health. Since May is Brain Tumor Awareness month, tell us how others can help?

My brain tumor played a major role in becoming an advocate for mental health. It's very common for brain tumor patients to experience anxiety and depression - you deal with a lot of loss and fear when confronted with a brain tumor.  Some of the medications I still take also cause anxiety and depression. There is a strong stigma attached to mental illness because people suffering with it often look fine, so they are considered lazy or just not trying hard enough. People view it as a weakness when it's not a weakness. I feel very lucky that my limitations are not greater and often look at homeless people thinking "there but by the grace of God go I."  I had a lot of love and support from family and friends - others are frequently not be so lucky.  People can help by showing kindness toward others.  Know that "it is okay to not be okay," and getting help is not a weakness.  

6. You teach a unique class on drawing. Tell us about it?

Drawing is something that can be taught to anyone. It's a technical skill that if a person is taught to see something without their brain interfering, they are more likely able to render something more accurately.  If you combine breathing, mindfulness, and focus in the moment, your drawing practice can become a meditation relieving stress and improving overall brain function.  It really has nothing to do with talent.  You can think about what you might do with your new drawing skills after the class.  Aside from the mental health benefits drawing can give you, I highly recommend a drawing class before painting because the principles learned are important when used in representational painting.  

7. You show at Bubany, how eles can patrons see your art?

I show my work at the Four Corners Gallery in the Tucson Desert Art Museum, my website, and on social media.  

8. What is the best thing about being an artist?

It took me a long time to be able to call myself an artist - I preferred painter up until my brain tumor.  Painting up until that point was just something I loved to do and lucky enough to have the skills necessary.  I felt very lucky to get into juried shows, be in a gallery and sell works occasionally.  After the tumor I realized that art is more than putting something pretty on your wall.  There is an emotional connection that is expressed without language getting in the way.  There is a purpose to being an artist and I am truly honored to be able to call myself one now after the obstacles I went through to get here.