After moving to Sequim from Phoenix six years ago, George Zien saw the relocation as only an artist can.
"We had the warm colors in Arizona, the yellows and oranges," he explained. "Out here we have more blues and greens, so my paintings are changing."
Zien, who estimated he spends about five hours a day in a studio he and his wife, Janet, built adjacent to their home just outside of Sequim, said he only has one requirement for his pieces: Each must have a tale behind it.
"I love portraits, people," he said. "I’m not enchanted with flowers. Landscape is okay, (but) I like something that has a story in it."
Due to his love for painting something with life in it, Zien has gravitated toward portraits, but insists on taking a photograph of the subject himself and then working with it.
"I have had people sit for me, but I basically work from photographs," he said. "I need to see (something) to make it look real."
Painting portraits for people, however, can be challenging, according to Zien.
"It’s got to look painterly," he explained. "If people wanted a photograph, they’d have the photograph enlarged."
To avoid that problem, Zien said he plays around with shadowing.
"When you’re doing a portrait, your freedom with art is with the shadows," he said. "(Shadows) are the soul of the painting."
He added that he takes his own photographs, mainly so he can get a feel for the person he will be capturing with paints.
"You get a feel for what and who they are," he said.
Spending hours on end cooped up in his studio has produced brilliant works, but Zien said he has become, as many artists can be, sort of a homebody.
"I tend to be a recluse," he said. "My wife is the people person."
To combat that, Zien began hosting a weekly drawing group in his studio about two years ago. The artists meet for about two and a half hours and draw a model, usually nude, that has been invited to sit for them. Zien said the artists have the freedom to do what they wish with the drawings – people use pencils, charcoals and paints.
"There are some really talented people in the group," he said. "It’s good to be around other artists. I enjoy the company."
It’s easy to see why the artists enjoy coming to the studio – it is comfortable, peppered with Zien’s paintings, but not narcissistically so. Portraits of cowboys ("They remind me of the Southwest"), Italian carnival actors and Zien’s own grandchildren, are piled up against the walls.
Zien points to a portrait of a smiling bearded man wearing a bandanna that hangs near the center of the studio.
"We were going to Marymere Falls (in Olympic National Park) and saw what looked like well-to-do hippies," Zien recalled. "I stopped to get a picture … he saw me with my camera pointing at him and he smiled."
The result was a portrait that Zien said captured the moment perfectly.
"Someone told me they saw him somewhere," Zien laughed. "Maybe I’ll run into him again."
Another picture Zien said he particularly likes is "Chefs," one he created from two separate photographs. Zien said he took a picture at a restaurant of a chef, painted it and then brought in a man from another photograph to create a seamless piece.
"I try to change pictures to make me feel like I’ve created scenes," he said. "Painting doesn’t feel like work to me. It’s something that I enjoy doing … it’s something that grabbed hold of me."
Although Zien can shoot off stories for each of his works, he said he can’t pick a favorite painting or a favorite story.
"My favorite’s always the one I’m just about to do," he said.
is one of January’s
Artists of the Month for the
Blue Whole Gallery and his work will be on display at 129 W. Washington St., Sequim. For more information, contact the gallery at 681-6033.
To take part in one of
Zien’s weekly workshops
or for more information
on Zien’s work, visit