Finding the Perfect Balance

Colorado Homes & Lifestyles - August, 1998
Janna L. Graber

This Denver artist blends photography and paint to craft elegant works.

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Wendi Schneider has an eye for beauty – whether it’s in the intricate detail of a magnolia blossom or the simple lines of an antique teacup.  “Sometimes I see things that just make my heart flutter,” Wendi says.  “It inspires me to recreate it.”
The result of that inspiration is invariably a stunning and unique work of art.  As both a photographer and painter, Wendi combines the two mediums to create dream-like images of romantic days gone by.

While she often draws on the elegance of the past, the artist’s work also includes her love of flowers.  “Flowers are the embodiment of perfect design,” says Wendi, who is fascinated by the details in each object she paints. “For me, it’s all about creating something beautiful and pleasing in a balanced way – so balanced that it’s peaceful and pleasurable.

Works like Wendi’s Dappled Roses I strive to create that balance by integrating light, shadow and texture with the tiniest details.  To do this, Wendi hand-paints her own black and white photographs.  But unlike traditional hand tinting, which involves applying color and wiping it off, Wendi builds up subtle and very thin layers of paint.  Each piece requires hours of drying time between wendi-schneider-dappled-roses-1 layers, and Wendi usually works on several projects at a time.  She varies between using photo oils and regular oils, and limits her work to editions of ten in each size.  Each finished piece displays differences in color.

Wendi also utilizes a photographic process using Polaroid transfers.  “I shoot a 35 mm slide and then convert it to a Polaroid which is then printed on watercolor paper,” says the fine arts and editorial photographer.  “After that I go back with color pencils and watercolors and enhance certain areas. It’s a very delicate process.”

The 43-year-old artist does most of her work in her latest studio – the sunroom of her 1935 English Tudor home in Park Hill.  “Most of my work is with natural light,” she explains, “so the sunroom is perfect.”

But Wendi’s journey to her studio in this lush Denver neighborhood has been a long one.  Born in Memphis, Wendi was the youngest of three girls in a very artistic family.  “My mother and grandmother were both painters,” she says, “and to me, the smell of oil paints is like roses.  It reminds me of home. Art has always been part of my life.  I remember going to antique shops with my mother when I was very young.”  It was only natural then, that Wendi should study painting and art history.  After graduating from Newcomb College in New Orleans, Wendi chose to stay in her adopted college town.  “New Orleans was great for antiques,” she recalls.  “I got my first job in the hotel business, but was painting and selling work on the side.”

Wendi’s first creative job was doing promotional work for theNew Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper.  It was then that Wendi was introduced to photography.  “A friend recommended that I buy a camera to do reference shots of my models.  I just loved photography, and really got into it,” she says.  “But then I missed painting.  So when a friend gave me some extra photo oils, I started painting on top of my photographs.”
Wendi’s hand-painted photographs were a hit.  “I had a show and sold a lot,” she recalls.  Soon after, the newspaper asked Wendi to redesign and reissue a 1901 edition of The Picayune's Creole Cook Book to mark the paper’s sesquicentennial.  “I got to design, produce and shoot the photography for the book,” she says.

From then on, Wendi was submerged in her artistic endeavors.  “As much as I loved New Orleans, I thought that New York would be a better market for my work.  I wanted to do book covers and use my photography, so in 1988 I decided to leave my good job and move to New York and find freelance work,” she recalls.

It was no easy task at first.  “The first few trips I made to New York were discouraging.  I would drop off my work, and no one would give me the time of day.”  But eventually, Wendi was introduced to a few key people, and things began to change.  “The first year, I could only afford a one-room studio apartment in New York, and even bartered one of my prints for a month’s rent.  But after that I was doing well.”

Wendi’s unique style met with immediate success.  She soon had work painting vintage photos, doing advertising work, and photographing and painting book covers for major publishing houses.  When Heart’s Victoria Magazine published her work, more editorial assignments came in. During this time, A Gallery for Fine Photography in New Orleans also began representing Wendi’s work.

Then, in 1992, Wendi’s life took a dramatic turn – she met Eddie Lehrburger.  A Colorado native, Eddie was in New York on business when Wendi’s sister introduced them.  By all accounts, the two were from separate worlds.  “I was in New York, and Eddie lived in Gunnison!” she recalls.   But Wendi was hooked, and the pair married in 1994.  “Eddie had family in Denver, so we settled here.  It was culture shock at first, but I’ve met some really nice people,” she says.  “I knew that when I left New York I would lose some work, but I have other benefits by living here.”

One of those benefits is a better environment for raising a family.  Wendi and Eddie, a real-estate developer and entrepreneur, are the parents of two-year-old Leo, who has brought a new valued dimension to his mother’s life.  “I didn’t paint at all while I was pregnant (because of the toxins involved),” she says.   And like many mothers, Wendi strives to balance family and career.  “I try to work while the baby’s sleeping, or when Eddie is here with him,” she says.
Living in Colorado has other benefits too. “The weather is great here.  The sunlight is perfect for shooting and painting,” Wendi says.  “I love living in Park Hill, with the old homes and restorations.  Colorado offers a wonderful quality of life. I get to do gardening of my own, and hope to grow some of the flowers I paint.” The couple is also designing a handcrafted Mountain home near Gunnison, where they live part time.

Wendi’s elegant work can be seen in Victoria Magazine and on many gift books and greeting cards.  The Denver-based artist still enjoys photographing book covers, and has completed many of them, including the cover for Mary Higgins Clark’s bestseller, Loves Music, Loves to Dance.
Wendi’s timeless images are exhibited in Denver and New Orleans, and are part of private collections around the world. But Wendi has no thoughts of stopping there.  “I would like design more book covers, and publish my own book someday, possibly one on urns.”

“My work – and my life – are very intuitive.  I just feel something and I do it,” says Wendi.  “My art isn’t a social statement, it’s more about feelings and putting beautiful things together to create a perfect balance.”   For more information on Wendi’s work contact Wendi Schneider at (303) 322-2246 .
For more of Janna's work, visit www.jannagraber.com.

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