Sylvia Torres paints what she wants to paint. She doesn’t take commissions or instructions, she’s neither a conformist nor a follower. This multi-talented mixed media artist with a love of encaustics was once a beekeeper in Oregon and an art director in Texas. Now she’s settled back in California to give her children permanent roots in the state where she was born.
It began in Glendale. By the age of 8, she already loved to paint – purple fields and pink skies. Her grandfather was a traditional artist whose mountain scenes had little cabins with smoke coming out of the chimneys. He wanted to teach Sylvia his methods, but she found it too painful and turned away from art until high school when her teacher encouraged and nurtured her. She entered and won a competition and was off and running. “She gave me permission to be me,” Sylvia says of her first mentor.
With on-the-job training, Sylvia became a graphic artist, working her way up until she was an art director at an ad agency. Then she took a course in computers (the closest she came to making art in those days) and switched directions in her career, selling commercial printing for many years.
At one point when a neighbor, a stay-at-home mom, asked Sylvia a pointed question: “Aren’t you afraid that your life is going by and you’re not in it?” the words resonated. With her husband’s full support, Sylvia quit work, went to Ventura College, asked around to find the best teacher, and when she found Hiroko Yoshimoto she never left her classroom. Painting, drawing…she took every studio course. Sylvia, a very young grandmother when she was at Ventura College, even took her grandson to printmaking class with her! (She and Hiroko are best friends to this day.)
Every artist has a medium that feels like them and encaustic is me.
“I never had an interest, unless it could be magically given to me, in getting a degree, though,” Sylvia says. “If I did that I’d have had to quit painting!”
“I subscribed to every art magazine and kept being drawn to encaustic, so I signed up for a workshop in upstate New York at the R & F Encaustic Paint factory and never looked back,” she says. “Every artist has a medium that feels like them and encaustic is me.” Sylvia joined Studio Channel Island, took a 1200-square-foot studio space with high windows, where she worked in her beloved medium until 2010.
The medium itself, the layering, scratching and scraping that is intrinsic to encaustic and almost all mixed media art, are among the reasons Sylvia likes Ampersand panels so much. “I tried many boards and they would warp. I love Gessobord because it doesn’t warp!” Sylvia says.
Sylvia moved to La Quinta where she now works in a much smaller studio, a casita next to her home. Without the kind of ventilation needed for encaustics, she now works in oil and cold wax and acrylics. She had an adjustable wall easel built that holds four paintings at a time, allowing her to use all available vertical space since there isn’t much floor space. She has given up encaustics for now and can work outdoors from December through April, so she hasn’t given up her tools and supplies.
The move was a major emotional upheaval for Sylvia, but she has never allowed herself to get stuck or low. She immersed herself in the arts community, joining the Artist’s Council at the Palm Springs Museum of Art, and on the day that she was bringing her submission to a juried show she met Andrea Raft. They and two other artists, Meg Walling and Pat Kodet, went out for a spur-of-the-moment lunch that lasted for hours as the four became friends. (Sylvia is part of the year-long challenge, Abstracted States of Mind, featured on All Things Ampersand, with these three other mixed media artists.)
After the move, Sylvia also explored acrylics and did quite a bit of teaching (children and adults) as well as teacher training, but in 2017 decided not to continue in the classroom. “It’s glorious to have the time back,” she says. “I do value when someone likes my painting, and I like when it sells, but I won’t paint what’s in style or popular.”
When asked what advice she’d offer to someone who wants to try their hand at art, Sylvia’s voice was firm and clear, and it only took her a second to say that “It’s never too late to change your life with art. It will teach you who you are at every moment.” It has done so in her life, no question about it.
A fun side note about Sylvia Torres: You’re getting to see a bit of her work up close as part of this profile, but you have glimpsed it many times without ever realizing it! A friend of hers who works in set design invited Sylvia to show her work to a company who provide props for television and movie studios. They buy and/or rent her abstract paintings for shows like Big Little Lies, Grey’s Anatomy, Criminal Minds, Chicago Med, American Crime Story, Superior Donuts, NCIS LA, and a long list of commercials and other series, even though you won’t find her name in the credits.
Sylvia is a native Californian, a contemporary artist, and art educator. She works in mixed media, acrylic, oils, and encaustic. Her work reflects complexity and depth containing bits of nature, pieces of memories and items others cast aside. Sylvia was an Artist in Residence for 11 years at Studio Channel Islands Art Center and on their Board of Directors. As an art educator she taught at the Carnegie Art Museum in Ventura County, at Studio Channel Islands Art Center, in K-12 classrooms through the Art In The Schools program, Ventura, CA, at Venus Art Studios, Palm Desert, Idyllwild Summer Arts Program and various organizations.
Her work is widely exhibited nationally in solo and group exhibitions. Prior to her work as a fine artist, Sylvia was a graphic artist, an art director, and a print salesperson.