The Art of Storytelling: A Conversation With a Nature-Inspired Painter

Ruthanne's artistry blends her love of literature and gardening.

Lauren Thomann is an antique dealer, freelance writer, and editor with 16 years of experience and a B.A. in English and Linguistics. She specializes in antiques (mainly Victorian through Mid-Century), antique jewelry, old house renovations, and lifestyle and home-related content.
Custom heirloom quality artwork from Etsy seller
Credit: @4witsend

Welcome to Heirloom Stories: Artists of Etsy. In this series, we’re stepping into the studios of the gifted artists who create not just art—but future heirlooms. This edition spotlights Ruthanne from 4witsend, an Etsy artist whose work echoes Victorian elegance.

“Gardening, for me, was like taking a mini-mental vacation: It was peaceful because none of my children wanted to help (thus, I named my little paradise ‘Wits End’).”

— Ruthanne, 4witsend

Can you tell us about your journey as an artist? How did you get started, and what inspired you to choose this path?

View on Etsy

Like so many little girls, I was horse-crazy, and my parents would take me to the library every weekend so I could check out yet another book written by Marguerite Henry and illustrated by Wesley Dennis (Album of Horses, Misty, King of the Wind, Born to Trot, etc.)  I’d read all the beautiful stories about horses and study and draw from Wesley Dennis’ amazing equine illustrations over and over again.

After I had all my children, I went back to drawing and then painting for family while also developing a passion for gardening. Gardening, for me, was like taking a mini-mental vacation: It was peaceful because none of my children wanted to help (thus, I named my little paradise “Wits End”), and I got to know flowers close up and personal.

My gardens grew to great perennial beds, arbors, and pergolas.  I wanted to find a way to help fund my obsession with gardening  (exotic perennials can be pricey!) yet be a stay-at-home mom to our four children, and I was encouraged to sell my paintings (mostly garden signs, etc.) through the, at the time, very young Ebay.

From there, I self-taught acrylics, pastels, and oils, which pretty much brings me to today.

What is your creative process like? How do you go from an idea or a ‘story’ in your mind to a finished painting?

I, more often than not, have a story in mind before I start a design. I spend much time developing a design that reflects, to some extent, my story.

Now, sometimes my story changes or develops more as I work out a design. They rather go hand in hand. Once I have that feeling that my image and thoughts are married together, it’s off to the easel. 

Yet the process remains fluid until the painting is done, my idea is tweaked, or my painted representation can be refined.

How does your love for writing influence your artwork? Can you share an example of a painting that was directly inspired by a story you had in mind?

I’ve always loved writing … not so much formal writing like books but articles or little pieces for garden clubs, antique clubs, online groups, schools, etc. My sister is a poet; I am more of a short-story antidote sort of writer. I think my penchant for little snippets of thoughts, of stories, goes hand in hand with each of my paintings. 

Sometimes a painting idea sparks a story in my mind, but more often I have a story image in my mind and try to recreate that little thought onto canvas. 

Probably the most obvious example, to me, of a painting that was inspired by a story is a little painting of a fledgling hummingbird called First Solo Flight

Oil painting of small bird in antique frame
First Solo Flight

We are an aviation family:

  • My husband is a pilot and has built or rebuilt numerous planes.
  • We live in an airport community with a landing strip, etc.
  • One son is an aircraft technician and our other son is a corporate pilot and owns a flight school. 
  • Our children have flown in small planes from the time they were toddlers. 

I was imagining a little bird, ready to leave the nest.  Excited, perhaps a bit apprehensive, but up for the challenge while momma bird waits on the sidelines…

…every bit as apprehensive as her fledgling.  I know that feeling!

Can you share a couple more of your favorite pieces and the stories behind them?

This painting is The Secret Keeper

The Secret Keeper

 The story I envisioned was that of a young girl of tender age. The joys and the angst of that age are often shared in diaries, but sometimes the need is felt to voice them. There’s an old tree in her backyard, behind her garage, that she goes to when she feels like running away with her thoughts. There, she could go and cry or scream or pray or whisper her deepest wishes and heartbreaks, questions and joys. To this day, that tree has kept her secrets close.

This is Fancy Felicity

Fancy Felicity

Felicity fancied herself a be a lady. No scruffy, tangled fur for her. Each day she would don a new satin ribbon; each day had a color all its own. And, of course, it was daily tied in the daintiest, most lady-like of bows.

Your work seems reminiscent of Victorian paintings, and you frequently use antique-style frames. Can you talk about this aesthetic choice?

Yes, the vast majority of my frames are vintage or antique. I think it is because the pieces hold stories of their own … of past generations that have enjoyed them, of the loving memories they once held. I do try to choose one that aesthetically complements the painting or further advances the mood of the piece.

An ornate frame might reflect the formality of a particular painting, or one with a border of gold gesso foliage seems just right for a woodland scene. Even a more simple old frame of wood polished deeply over the years might be fitting for a still life of autumn acorns and berries.

Support 4WitsEnd

By purchasing Ruthanne’s heirloom-quality art, you’re not only acquiring a timeless piece for your collection but also supporting an artist who pours her heart and soul into every creation.

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