When Judy Uebelacker of Little Falls, 73, was growing up on a dairy farm between Pierz and Little Falls, she never dreamed she’d be able to make living in art.
It was that mindset that led her to pursue an education in administrative skills, including shorthand.
But a trip to New Orleans, La. in 1978 turned her life upside down as she knew it, when she discovered face painting. Because of the many festivities in the New Orleans area, including the famous Mardi Gras, face painting was huge.
“I made $400 the first day going out. I didn’t even make that much in a week at my other job. New Orleans changed my life completely,” Uebelacker said.
Uebelacker face painted at various festivals, fairs, private events and at businesses. Her new career eventually brought her to Dallas, Texas. Business was booming.
One day when Uebelacker was face painting in an upscale bar, she was approached by a man.
“He wanted to know if I was good with colors,” she said.
That question led to Uebelacker being hired as a textile designer. In addition to the face painting, it added more income. But more importantly, she was doing something she loved, Uebelacker said.
Seeing Uebelacker’s talent, her friend and professional artist Carol Fairlie encouraged her to start painting fine art.
Uebelacker listened to Fairlie’s advice. She also started taking various art classes to learn more and to learn new techniques. Through it, she also discovered what she was more skilled at.
She learned more about how to paint portraits in a workshop with the famous artist, Daniel Green.
“Portrait wasn’t really my expertise. I didn’t really enjoy the pastels all that much,” Uebelacker said.
She also attended some classes on how to paint with water colors by artist Rob Erdie. He was an artist with displays worldwide.
When Erdie traveled to Japan to display some of his artwork, he brought along several pieces painted by his students, including Uebelacker’s, to be displayed.
Uebelacker’s artwork has been displayed at a wide variety of galleries and other exhibits, including Great River Arts in Little Falls.
Even though Uebelacker paints and creates other artwork more for fun, she continues to face paint as a way to make a living still today.
The face painting has also allowed her to travel in her work. Not only across the United States, but also to other countries. In October she will travel to Sweden.
One thing that sets Uebelacker apart as a face painter is that she will not paint copyrighted images, such as Disney.
“I honor copyrighted material. As an artist myself, I would want others to honor mine,” she said.
Instead, when children or (an adult) asks to be painted as a certain hero, such as Spiderman, she asks them to make up their own hero. She believes that not only does it encourage other people to see themselves in a different light, but it also helps their imagination.
Uebelacker compares it to that of an artist simply painting his or her emotions. Many times any feelings that come from viewing paintings is the result of whatever feeling the artist was feeling when he or she painted it.
One time when Uebelacker was exhibiting some of her artwork, she said a man told her that his wife didn’t like one of her paintings.
“I asked him which one and why not. He said she saw pain in the painting. It was something I had painted when I had a sprained ankle and I was in pain,” Uebelacker said.
Uebelacker was introduced to abstract painting by artist Walter Caruth Emerson. She was his student.
“He taught me to expand into abstract painting. I can paint anything I look at, but in abstract work you paint by intuition. You just see something happening in the canvas and you paint it,” she said.
Looking back at her career in painting, Uebelacker is glad she made that trip to New Orleans.
“It changed my life,” she said.