In 2003, Celia Wu quit her 20-year career in technology and became an artist. In those 10 years, she has never stopped classes at Saddleback College.
Wu was born in China and worked as an English teacher in Taiwan for eight years before immigrating to the U.S. in 1978. At night, she earned her Bachelor of Science degree California State Long Beach while working full-time during the day at Northrop, Hughes and Parker Hannifin as an IT specialist.
But now, Wu now describes painting as a “way of life,” she said. “I had very good training at Saddleback College.” Beginning students take three levels or training: a painting class including portrait painting, as well as live drawing and live painting.
“I was always working in the studios and taking advantage of the live models,” Wu said. “Even now I am taking live painting.”
Wu also often paints from real life: “I am always outside painting scene scapes, parks … or at the Mission painting the structure of the church,” she said. Wu’s paintings comprise four types: portraiture, finger painting, scenery and still life done in the studio.
Her new lifestyle took many serendipitous twists and turns that led to several opportunities to exhibit her artwork.
One of her Saddleback teachers, Tom Morgan, “believed in me,” she said. “He saw my work and asked me if I wanted to help him with his Flamingo dancing club.”
Every week Wu would paint a member of the Flamingo group, striving to capture movement on her canvas, and as a result, by the end of the semester she had created 20 paintings.
In 2008, Morgan developed a show for her artwork with a cafÃ© called Sacred Heart in San Pedro. As it turned out, the paintings sold successfully there.
In another turn of events, Wu painted a portrait of a father holding a baby and when she put the photo on Facebook, the young boy in the painting contacted her to exhibit her work at the Taiwanese Community Center in San Diego.
And the serendipity hasn’t slowed down for Wu. “Last year I was visiting the farmer’s market in Mission Viejo,” Wu said, and there was a sign to encourage people to show their artwork. “So I sent some of my work with a $20 check, and immediately I got an email from Tina Roberts the Gallery co-coordinator.”
This was the opportunity that led Wu to exhibit her paintings at the Norman P. Murray Center in Mission Viejo. Her exhibition included four types of paintings: portraiture, figure painting, plein air and still life.
Wu said that the response to her exhibition at the Community Center “has been so great. People call me and send me emails, and they are really happy …. I even sold a couple of paintings there.”
Wu believes that it is common for people to want to know the “story” behind each painting. Wu thinks painting involves history and humanity and that story is what draws people to a work of art.
But to be excellent, Wu believes that an artist must master direct and indirect painting as well as the “element, process and principles of art making.” Element includes line, shape, and form, while process is for example, glazing and dry brush, and principle includes rhythm, crescendo and unity.
Wu also says that painting is like editing an article in that it requires problem solving, and that is why she says painting is not just a hobby, but a way of life. Wu’s vision is to offer viewers a different insight on the world by allowing them to see “through my eyes” for a brief moment.
When Wu sees her paintings hanging in someone’s home, she says that is a “happy feeling. I’m blessed, most of the people that own my paintings are happy.”
Her new lifestyle also allows her to connect more with other people. “It’s [painting] my passion. It doesn’t matter how busy I am, I’m going to do it every day; I really enjoy it,” Wu said. “Through paintings I can assure my intimacy with people. Otherwise I would just be by myself. Having a show is so important; I can share my work with other people. It’s also a legacy.”
Although Wu has garnered several awards from competitions in painting, oil and watercolor, she is someone who paints because of her love for it and the way it colors her own life. “Painting opens my eyes,” Wu said and apparently her reward is in the learning.