By Nicole D'Amore
Luanne Hebner Perez is inspired by beautiful scenes she comes across in her travels near and far, and her representational watercolors record what she sees for others to enjoy and relate to.
"I know when my work is complete because I say 'yes' to my own question: 'Does this picture have a real sense of place?'" Perez said in her artist statement.
That place might be a Ventura County landmark, a New England barn, or an ancient European church or castle.
Two of her paintings are on exhibit in the 73rd annual Santa Paula Art and Photography Show, which runs through April 7 at the Blanchard Memorial Library, 119 N. Eighth St. Perez has participated in the show for the past three years and last year won a first honorable mention judges' award.
She regularly shows her work at galleries in Ventura County and has won other awards. She is planning a solo show in September titled "A Sense of Place" at the Harbor Village Gallery in Ventura.
"I am a California girl - born, educated, family, everything," the Fillmore artist said. She earned a bachelor's degree in home economics and secondary education from UC Davis. Her college courses included decorative arts and color theory.
"That gave me the basics of proportion, line values and all the elements of art," she said.
Perez started with fiber art, then discovered painting while living in Michigan for 10 years during her first marriage.
She signed up for a class after seeing an artist's work at a street fair and learning she lived in her neighborhood.
Perez enjoyed painting but balked after the artist kept giving her pictures to copy. "I said I can't do that - I don't want to paint like someone else," Perez said. "I wanted to paint my own thing, places that have interested me."
After her first marriage broke up, she brought her three sons back to California and got a job teaching life management and occasional art classes at Fillmore Middle School.
"I wanted to go to a small town so I could be close to the boys if they needed me," she said.
After two years she married John Perez and they took their first of many trips to Europe, trips that later would provide much inspiration for her paintings.
Perez also started taking classes with Gayel Childress of Ojai.
Up to that point she had been painting in oil, but when she retired in 2002, a friend, Lee Walker, offered to teach her watercolor.
She also has taken classes in Europe and with Sally Miller of Ventura, and participates in watercolor workshops every fall at the Product and Art Expo in Pasadena.
She likes the speed and immediacy of watercolor.
"I like the freshness, the way the colors flow, blending in the water," she said. "It does its own thing; you are just giving it the opportunity."
Since their first trip to Europe in 1982, Luanne and her husband have been back 35 to 40 times, she estimates.
In addition to longer vacations, they take a two-day trip every month, sometimes only a few miles away, to see things more closely or from a different perspective. While staying at a Best Western in Camarillo recently, for example, they drove up the Conejo Grade to Thousand Oaks and saw a sign for the National Park Service headquarters.
"Because we were on a 'trip' we took time to see it," she said.
"I do the driving mainly because when I want to stop, I can," she said. "My eyes are scanning all the time for anything that is unique and attractive."
She paints mostly from photos. "It's easy to find something to paint. I have over 12,000 pictures in here," she said, pointing to the computer on her desk.
Perez is a member of the Artists' Guild of Fillmore, Buenaventura Art Association, California Gold Coast Watercolor Society and Santa Paula Society of the Arts.