George Schoonover, of Yachats, tries to paint at least two hours every day. “It wipes out the world,” he said of how he feels after heading to his studio and taking brush in hand. And he wouldn’t feel right, he said, if he didn’t get in those two hours.
“I feel guilty if I don’t paint,” he explained. “I enjoy creativity — I sculpt, I write and I love my garden. Art is my way of life.”
Schoonover is 90 years young, and that pathway through life is one he created for himself many years ago.
Originally from California, Schoonover grew up on a farm and always had horses. Western themes — including horses — are frequently portrayed in his paintings. “You draw what you see and go from there,” he said.
He moved from Newport Beach, Calif., to Yachats 34 years ago, after 30 years teaching high school art classes in the Long Beach, Calif., Unified School District. Schoonover received his master’s degree in 1957 from Long Beach State and began teaching that same year, offering classes in drawing, painting and jewelry production. After a day of teaching, he would paint after school and in the evenings.
He said he has been interested in art his whole life and would draw whenever the opportunity arose — including using the walls of his stucco house as if they were an Etch A Sketch.
He began entering his paintings in competitions in 1969, and continues to do so today. He is a signature member of 11 watercolor societies.
“I’ve been in over 400 international competitions and won over 200 awards,” he said matter-of-factly. “I enjoy it. I’ve stayed involved for so many years that many curators call me to enter.
“I entered eight shows this year and was accepted in seven,” he added, noting he won the W. Emerson Heitland Memorial Award for his painting “Dog Walkers” in the Philadelphia Water Color Society’s international “Works on Paper” show three weeks ago.
His devotion to art brings him to his studio just about every day, whether it’s to spend two hours in front of the easel, two hours drawing or a couple of hours doing research for his paintings. “I lost my wife three years ago, and all of my contemporaries have long since departed this earth,” he said. But painting keeps him going.
Schoonover started painting with oils, then turned to watercolor in the ’60s and then to acrylics. These days he paints mostly in acrylics, noting that transparent watercolors are too susceptible to fading in sunlight.
“I prefer acrylic — you don’t have to deal with the smell of the paint and turpentine, and it’s not going to crack and peel as time goes by,” he said. He uses watercolor paper as his base for his acrylic paintings.
He and his late wife, Robbie, chose Lincoln County for their retirement after spending summers driving the coast to visit his brother in Seattle. They had originally planned to move to Newport, but found a house that met their needs in Yachats.
Schoonover considers himself self taught. His original plan was to be a cartoonist and to work as an illustrator for Disney, and for 15 years he drew newspaper cartoons.
He noted that his first studio was a chicken house in his backyard; now his studio is 70 feet long by 14 feet wide, with a gallery attached. These days he is “thinking about thinking about” whether to consider moving to a smaller house. “I’m hoping COVID will be over by summer, and then I will have the biggest garage sale in the history of Lincoln County,” he said with a laugh.
His paintings have been exhibited at such venues as the Fallbrook Art Center in California and the Salmagundi Club in New York City, and closer to home, he’s had a retrospective of his work at the Runyan Gallery of the Newport Visual Arts Center. He was included in the list of top 10 watercolor painters over the age of 65 in the United States, and won the Jack Richardson award at the Northwest Watercolor Society.
His subject matter is primarily women — he started painting figures in the mid ’60s — and his wife was his model for just about all of his paintings for many years. The women he portrays resemble people we might see on the street or at the beach, not someone’s idealized images of female beauty.
His paintings are also filled with detail and with bright colors. After he got involved with Pilates, he did many paintings with that as a theme as well.
“A painting is a happening,” he said. “I start with a drawing, then go on paper to develop it. It’s a creative process — I work from my imagination. You plant the seed on paper with your pencil, and it grows. Every painting is a jewel, but some are more interesting than others.”
And not much goes to waste. “I have a drawer full of failures but frames full of successes,” he said. “And the beauty is I can paint on the back side of my failures.”
For the past 65 years, Schoonover has drawn his own Christmas cards as well. “They always have animals in them, usually my dog,” he said. “And I just finished a pencil drawing of a horse.”
One of life’s pleasant surprises results from Schoonover’s years of teaching, when he hears from students he taught many years ago, some of whom have become art teachers themselves. “When I was teaching, I always tried to instill becoming involved with art,” he recalled. “Once you get a taste of it, it’s always there. I think learning to be creative is one of the most important aspects of growing up.”
Schoonover concluded, “I love to draw, and it’s fun. You can start with an idea and by the time it’s a complete painting, it can be 180 degrees from the start. Things happen when you start painting.”