February 26, 2024

Fine Art as a Second Act

Painters Jennifer Lake and Linda Hankes-Smith
By Alexandra Dailey | Nov. 25, 2023

Some people dream of becoming artists from the time they are finger-painting toddlers. Others develop an appreciation for art, even find ways to bring it into their lives, but don’t exercise that side of their creative expression until later in their careers.

Both Jennifer Lake and Linda Hankes-Smith came from different backgrounds—graphic design and hairdressing, respectively—that eventually led them to putting brush to canvas. Here, they’ll paint a picture of their journeys and talk about inspiration, creation, and what it takes to chase that dream, whether you’re three or 30 or 70.

Escaping into Color and Texture

Owner of Brand Tonic, a branding and design studio in Traverse City, Jennifer Lake has been creating for clients for over 20 years, with painting being a relatively new skill in her repertoire.

“My career has been anchored in creative expression,” says Lake. “Design is intentional, beautiful, and precise, but with painting, there is a great sense of freedom and unpredictability that appeals to me as well. Design is my first love, but painting is a great addition to my creative endeavors.”

Lake earned her BFA in graphic design while taking a few fine art classes, too, but it wasn’t until around the time of the pandemic that she decided to snag some painting supplies and mess around with colors on canvas.

“It was all experimental,” shares Lake. “I found that painting gave me an incredible outlet through the challenging times, allowing me to escape into color and texture. It was meditative and rewarding, so I kept going, becoming more confident in my abstract style.”

As a painter, Lake favors acrylics for their quick-drying quality and ability to layer well and create depth. “I like texture and fast movements to create work that captures energy. I also use a palette knife instead of a brush. It was a new tool for me when I started painting, and I am drawn to the texture a knife allows.”

Color and what each shade and hue embody also inspire Lake. “I love color and how it evokes emotion. I am inspired by the beautiful color palettes of our region. I also photograph colors when I travel abroad and bring those combinations back to the canvas.”

In less than five years, Lake’s work has found its way into galleries, homes, businesses, and restaurants. She’s been commissioned to paint large-scale pieces, too. “The canvas size is always intimidating at first,” admits Lake. “But as the piece comes together, there is a great sense of accomplishment. I love getting lost in a large painting surrounded by all the detailed elements.”

And in terms of painterly high points, Lake says, “It is very rewarding when someone else connects with my work. Art is subjective and personal, and I feel honored when someone wishes to place my work in their home or business. When they feel something in my art, that’s success enough for me.”

Her advice for aspiring painters? “When starting out, just experiment and keep going. Don’t try for perfection, but instead, honest expression.”

Lake is pictured here with a piece titled "Harmony." Her work is currently on display at Tinker Studio on Old Mission Peninsula and Wren in Suttons Bay. juice-gallery.com.

Going with the Flow

Linda Hankes-Smith first stepped into the realm of painting in the early nineties, with her first oil painting show in 1992.

“I always liked art, and I didn’t like school because I struggled to learn,” Hankes-Smith says. “So at 15, I went to beauty school in Lansing, then I got into photography, and after that, I went into painting.”

Her journey to becoming a fine art painter included opening and running several salons in Michigan, seeing all of her children become hairdressers, and working for magazines as a photographer. Today, Hankes-Smith predominantly works in oils and sometimes mixed media and has shown work in Charlevoix, Petoskey, and Bay Harbor. Her pieces have found homes across the country in New York, Dallas, Chicago, Indianapolis, and Florida.

She’s developed a loyal following in her art career, too.

“I have four or five patrons that really want my work,” shares Hankes-Smith. “People find me when they’re visiting up here. Some go to Stella’s for dinner and see my work, and others have found my work in galleries over the years. My market is for the people who love my work—I like it when my art catches peoples’ eye, and they say they like something—and that doesn’t have dollar signs attached to it.”

She’s done representational work, portraits, abstract designs on giant canvases and glass pieces, and three-dimensional florals that involve five, six, and sometimes seven layers of paint, which can weigh up to nearly 40 pounds.

“I create a lot of big works—four-foot by five-foot, seven-foot by three-foot—that type of stuff. When I look at a big canvas, I have so many ideas in my head.”

Initially, Hankes-Smith started out painting smaller nine-by-twelve-inch canvases, but the size didn’t fit her style and personality. “It was terrible. So, then I went a little bigger and a little bigger and a little bigger. Then, I got canvases that were huge, and I realized that the size is what inspires me. That, and music.”

Listening to a wide range of music, from Indian flutists and classical baroque symphonies to jazz tunes and religious songs, puts Hankes-Smith into a creative-type trance.

“I realize that music takes on an image you don’t even comprehend initially,” she tells us. “If you can just paint and feel the music, I don’t see the image that’s in it until after it’s done. Music plays such an integral part in the spirit of whatever you’re creating.”

Hankes-Smith offers these words to new painters and artists—words she also lives by: “Just go for it. Don’t think about it. Just create.”

Hankes-Smith’s paintings are on display at Traverse City’s Trattoria Stella and her husband’s jewelry store on Front Street, James C. Smith Fine Jewelry. lindahankessmith.com

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