This Winding Narrative interview is with my friend and collaborator, Whitney Van Nuis. A lawyer by training, she gave up her profession when she became an expat spouse. Instead, she took up painting. She is now a successful artist who specializes in pet portraits, but also does family portraits, abstracts and illustrated Sam and the Golden Camel and Sue and the Rainbow Dolphin. She explores different mediums from watercolours to wax and acrylic.
Whitney paints family portraits
- When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I have always liked words, so I said I wanted to be an archeologist because I liked the way it sounded. I also enjoyed adults’ reactions. Actually, I was fascinated by codes and spent hours reading about creating and deciphering them. I thought it would be cool to be a spy and work with secret codes.
- How did you enjoy your career as a lawyer?
I went to law school on a whim—the stars aligned and I got in with no idea of what a lawyer actually did or what law school was like. I’d always enjoyed school and thought it would be fun to go to law school at night while I worked full-time. Needless to say, night school was a lot of things but it wasn’t, strictly speaking, fun. I am grateful for the skills I learned there, particularly logical thinking.
I didn’t plan to practice law but after graduating I needed to because of my student debt. I learned a lot during the 11 years I practiced in New Orleans, about myself as well as the law. I am much better suited to relationship building and mediation than to litigation.
- Why did you leave that job?
When I married in 2001, we moved from New Orleans, Louisiana to Jakarta, Indonesia. Eager to start my new life and marriage, I began my greatest adventure as an expat wife. After Indonesia, we returned to Houston for two years, spent nine years in Doha, Qatar and one year in Abu Dhabi, UAE. While I worked part-time at an Indonesian law firm and later, for a firm in Houston, Texas, I never practiced law full-time again.
- How did you enjoy expatriate life?
I remember my 12 years overseas with great fondness. I am grateful that I was able to live in other countries and travel the world and see places and things I could never have imagined. I treasure the fast friendships I made. Other highlights were the Bible studies, the golf and the chance to develop my skills as a painter. The greatest challenge was being apart from my family.
Whitney is best known for her pet portraits
- How did you become an artist?
Being overseas and unemployed for the first time in my adult life gave me the opportunity to explore my creative side. Without this chance, I doubt I would have found out just how much I love to draw and paint .
I have had no formal training, which I used to think was a draw back, but may be a blessing. With formal training comes competition and critiques, and perhaps that would have dampened my creativity. Since I don’t know the rules of art, I happily break them on a regular basis.
Being an artist overseas was wonderful because people bought my paintings of camels and other Middle Eastern fare. I was able to exhibit my art in restaurants and I illustrated two children’s books. Since returning to the U.S., I have yet to find a viable marketplace.
In the Middle East, Whitney became a camel expert—spot the odd one out
- What does the future hold? What are your goals/aspirations?
My goals for the future are to keep creating and trying new things. I started out doing watercolors, then I moved to acrylics and now I have branched out into hot and cold wax painting. With each new medium I learn new things and face new challenges. I always seem to return to painting watercolors, particularly of animals.
Whitney’s wax and acrylic paintings
Next time: back to my Nigerian experience with The Eye of the Tiger