“What draws me is super bright colors – what the eye does not actually see,” says artist Mickey La Fave. “Color is my whole thing. I couldn’t use a brown to save my life.”
La Fave’s paintings employ vivid colors to accentuate her subjects. She uses hydrus watercolors that come in a glass bottle because they are more saturated with color and more vibrant.
Her specialty is pet portraits in watercolor.
“Painting pets and other animals is the most passionate thing for me. I love animals because I connect with them. I can tell when they are happy, angry or curious.”
In addition to her watercolor paintings, La Fave creates jewelry and multimedia pieces in her Arvada home studio. She says her style is all over the map but typically fantastic and mystical.
“I can’t stick to one style, despite advice to stick with one thing. The only thing consistent about my style is nothing is realistic.”
La Fave grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, in Escanaba, close to Lake Superior and Canada.
“It’s rural, beautiful and depressed.”
She started making art when she was 5 and at 6 won a first-place ribbon at the county fair with her rendering of Paul Bunyan. In high school she was inspired and trained by local artist John Gustafson. After studying art at Central Michigan University, La Fave left Michigan because there was no work.
“There were no jobs there except at the paper mill.”
She moved to Houston and worked as an insurance adjuster, then as an investigator in the unit for arson and fraud claims. She transferred to Colorado in 1982.
“I didn’t paint for a long time,” she says. “It was eating at me that I’d never be an artist, which was what I always wanted.
“What got me painting again was a trip to Santa Fe with friends in 2011. We decided to create original gifts to exchange for Christmas. The idea appealed to me because I needed a purpose to paint.”
Once she got started, she went full force.
“I did tent shows all over. I took classes with watercolorist Janet Nunn at night. Everything I do, I learned from Nunn, including using hydrus watercolor paints. She was influential because she is not about realism, just color.”
La Fave moved to Arvada in 2016. She lives with her two cats, her dog Harley, a sheltie, and a small parrot named Kanani. She retired in 2018 to become a full-time artist.
She said she relies on six spirit guides to help her with her art.
“I have a team of artist spirit guides who work through me, including a great great aunt named Caitlin, an artist who lived in Canada. I had recurring dreams about her three-story house until I realized who she was. She’s always there helping me.”
Another of her spirit guides is Gustafson, her high school teacher, a watercolorist and potter.
“I saw him in Michigan in the late 2000s and he asked me, ‘Are you painting?’ I felt bad to tell him ‘No’ because he had inspired me so much. After I started painting again, I went back to tell him, but he had died. I was disappointed because I wanted him to know and to be proud of me. Now he coaches me from the afterlife. Now he knows. Every time I paint, I invite my guides and they help me. I picture them and thank them for their guidance.”
In addition to her animal subjects, La Fave paints nature scenes, old vehicles and buildings, and a few abstracts.
“I love to paint old rusty vehicles because I see so many different colors like turquoise, magenta and yellow. I blend them so they pop, and it makes a cool painting. I love old buildings, too. I make a dark background, then a band of colors above the building. Often there’s a flying witch.”
La Fave uses watercolor glazing to paint her colorful skies. With glazing, colors are applied in thin, transparent layers, one at a time, letting each one dry before adding another layer. Last summer she offered glazing demonstrations at Art on the Farm, a monthly community event at Neighborhood Gazette Publisher Guy Nahmiach’s Wheat Ridge farm. (Art on the Farm is returning this year – for more information or to participate, email WheatRidgeCreates@ci.wheatridge.co.us.)
Her community involvement also includes her work as president of the Arvada Fine Art Guild and as director of the Arvada Art Studio Tour.
La Fave often gets her inspiration from photos or other images.
“Images can speak to me, either my own or my friends.’ If something makes me smile, laugh or feel expression, I want to know the story behind it.”
One inspiration was a photo she took in Europe of a hunched-over woman carrying a load, with many cats following her.
“I painted her because I wanted to know, what is her story – her struggle? Why were the cats following her? Was she coming from the fish market? I don’t know why, but she filled my heart.”
La Fave branched out into jewelry and multimedia because she needed a break from painting. She said her other media are also all about color.
“With jewelry, I start with a semi-precious stone as a centerpiece and find colors to complement the stone, to make it pop.”