Renay Shaffer (formerly Piper) was born in White Rock BC, Canada in 1973. This small beach town was the beginning of her exposure to and love of the ocean, her local coastline becoming a place to escape, think and write throughout life. Being near water is an identifying part of Renay and many of her paintings from early on have featured water in its different forms: waterfalls, surface, the underwater world, beaches and coastlines.
As a child Renay was lucky enough to briefly mentor under Rod Penner, who at the time was an emerging photorealist painter, now a Master Painter and living in Texas USA. Rod introduced her to the influential work of Andrew Wyeth. To this day she remembers Rod re-creating the side of a vine-and-brick-covered apartment building on canvas, every leaf and brick painted meticulously, and her joy in discovering how fabulous it could be to describe the smallest of details in a scene; to really look and take the time to paint it. Her drawings exhibited extreme realism at a young age.
Art took a backseat as Renay entered the work force, married early, and got lost in a decade of young adulthood. Following her brother’s tragic death, chronic illness, divorce and depression, Renay enrolled at Trinity Western University to major in Psychology and took a couple of art classes as electives. Little did she know that this combination of study would catapult her back into creativity and she quit formal studies after only a year, finding herself painting murals and commissions, while developing her own work that expressed emotion through common urban scenes and the occasional waterscape. Her first major juried group show, the Sidney Fine Art Show on Vancouver Island BC, awarded her Honorable Mention for “Searching for Clarity,” her first large scale acrylic waterscape. Despite painting somewhat sporadically, Renay participated in many group shows and had a solo show on Saltspring Island BC in 2009, while working side jobs and cultivating her interests in health and wellness, vegan cooking, running and yoga.
In 2014 Renay moved to Washington USA to marry her long-time love, and they lived inland for a couple of years before deciding to return to the coast. Renay became a certified yoga instructor and gradually resumed painting but hadn’t quite found her stride, experimenting in oils, watercolor and acrylic and painting the odd commission. One day she came across the large scale pastel drawings of water and icebergs by Zaria Forman, and was captivated by the realism Forman achieved and simplicity of process using pigment and paper. Unable to get pastels out of her mind, she finally picked up a half stick starter set of Unison Colour pastel and hasn’t looked back. The immediacy of the process and ability to achieve color gradations and expression that would take much longer with wet paint, has bloomed into adoration of the medium and exploding inspiration.
Renay’s greatest muse – the ocean – reflects both our collective health and lack of stewardship. To paint it in all its forms now has a deeper meaning; it has become a preservation instinct to illustrate its fragility and awesomeness. The creative process begins with her own photo reference, or photos used with permission from talented underwater photographers, often free-divers in intimate contact with the underwater world. She thumbtacks a sheet of paper to the wall, begins with a light pencil sketch of the most basic lines, and then applies pastel with her hands, wearing surgical gloves for protection from the pigment. Sections are completed and the image is created from left to right, top down, so that extra pigment can fall without landing on finished areas. The paper she uses allows for a few layers but once it is saturated there is little room for correction, so it’s a constant lesson to be present for each stroke and let go of some control. Detail is achieved by breaking the pastels to create a sharp edge with which to draw, and blending with her fingertips. The image goal is not only realism but to achieve movement and emotional content, to spark connection and inspire introspection.
Renay resides in Bellingham, Washington with her husband and two rescued Siamese cats. She is currently developing a new body of work under the theme “Everything is Connected.”