Blenda Tyvoll shares how she became one of the “pioneers of online art” and offers advice for up-and-coming artists
by Auriana Cook
Blenda Tyvoll is a full-time artist based out of Beavercreek, Oregon, where she lives on a farm and creates stunning paintings inspired by her natural surroundings. Since graduating from Marylhurst in 1995 with a B.A. in Art and coursework in interior design, Blenda has found success in the art world, and learned a lot along the way. Now, a few decades post-Marylhurst, she looks back on her education, on how those experiences have shaped her life since, and offers some wisdom to anyone leading a creative life.
Journey to Marylhurst
Like many Marylhurst students, Blenda didn’t embark on her path to degree right out of high school. As a young adult, she took vocational classes and trained as a medical assistant. She did that for a couple of years, and then began raising her family. When her young son and daughter started school, Blenda remembers thinking, “Man, I want to get a formal education.”
This yearning led Blenda to Clackamas Community College, where she took a lot of art and writing classes. She says of starting college, “It was so much fun, I couldn’t believe it! It was so much different from high school. You kind of become an adult. You’re there because you want to be . . . it’s a totally different experience.” The spark was ignited, and as she continued taking classes she thought, “I want to try to go for a degree.”
Choosing the right university can seem daunting, but for Blenda, the decision to attend Marylhurst was easy. “I needed to find some place close to home, because my kids were in high school. I looked at some colleges that were close to home, and Marylhurst was one of them. As soon as I went onto campus, I was in love with that place . . . it just seemed like a fun place to be; it seemed almost like a sanctuary,” she explains.
“I had gone through a divorce right before this had all happened, and I was searching for what I was going to do with my life,” Blenda recalls. “My work was all connected to my marriage and his family farm . . . I just didn’t know where to go, and then when I saw that Marylhurst had this interior design program I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I could make that into a business!’”
Although Blenda enjoyed the interior design portion of her degree, what she connected to the most was art, specifically painting. Her advisers guided her toward an art degree with a concentration in interior design. “I wouldn’t change anything. I loved that I went; it was a great experience,” she says.
Blenda’s Marylhurst experience was so special to her because of the knowledgeable and devoted professors she had, as well as her classmates and the rewarding experiences they shared together. Blenda fondly remembers the late Sister Patricia Stebinger, who taught art history at Marylhurst. “We watched a lot of slides on all of these different paintings from throughout history. It was just such a great experience, and she was so knowledgeable in everything . . . I learned so much. I didn’t know anything about art history. She really opened that whole side of it for me.”
Blenda also looks back on the field trips she attended with art and interior design classes. “We would see these gorgeous architectural buildings, and study them. I loved that part of it. We went to a lot of buildings in Portland; we went up to Mt. Hood, to Timberline. We’d study the whole interior of a building, like how the different parts of the beams went together. We did little sketches of the joints . . . I loved that we had small classes, so we could do cool things like this!”
Blenda savored every minute of her time at Marylhurst, and when she graduated, she was ready to embark into the broader art world. For a whole decade after she earned her degree, Blenda put a lot of effort into getting into galleries, doing art fairs, and the like. “I didn’t have a lot of confidence to do it, because you have to be kind of bold. It was a great experience, but it was kind of discouraging a lot of the time because the competition’s pretty stiff.”
It wasn’t until 2005 that Blenda discovered that having a heavy online presence was the most comfortable and natural method for promoting and selling her art, and one which ended up garnering a lot of success. eBay was gaining popularity at the time, and Blenda had an artist friend who suggested that she try it for selling paintings. Blenda says that she and another artist friend “started selling things on eBay for like $25, and would be so excited when someone bought something. We got to know a bunch of other artists online, through different groups. Now that I look back on it, we were like, the pioneers of online art!”
In 2008, Etsy was becoming the most popular platform for artists to sell their work. Blenda jumped on the bandwagon, but says she didn’t have a single sale during her first six months. By this time, she was a part of a supportive and tight knit group of online artists, and this community is what helped catalyze her online success. They readily shared ideas on how to promote their art with each other, and soon Blenda’s Etsy shop took off. She even ended up on the front page of Etsy, and she now has over 3000 Etsy sales.
Staying inspired, staying motivated
In addition to learning the ins and outs of selling art online, Blenda has learned a lot from her lengthy career about how to keep the creative energy flowing.
“My husband, Joe, and I live on a farm,” Blenda explains, “One of our favorite pastimes is hiking in the woods and being inspired by nature. I know everyone says that, but I think I have a legitimate excuse to say that . . . we live in Oregon where we have all these trees surrounding us . . . I plant a flower garden every year. Looking at the colors and the flowers and that kind of thing, I try to incorporate that into my artwork.”
Blenda says that when she sets out to create a painting, she tries not to get too attached to the original image in her head. “Quite often I have an idea that I want something to turn out a certain way, then I turn back and look at it and it’s like…where the heck did that come from? Most of the time I have no idea!”
Blenda motivates herself to produce new art regularly by organizing two open studio shows per year, one in June and one in October. She opens up her studio space on the farm to the community, so that they can browse and buy paintings. (Anyone interested in these events can follow @blendastudio on social media for updates.)
Marylhurst for Life
Marylhurst continues to hold a special place in Blenda’s heart, and since graduating she has remained involved with the university community. She has participated in alumni gallery shows, as well as holding her own show in Shoen Library’s Streff Gallery in 2014. “I exhibited 20 paintings and filled the whole space. I think it’s great; it’s something you can write about and put on your resume, your bio, that kind of thing,” Blenda says of the experience.
On the topic of how Marylhurst has continued to shape and influence her, Blenda expresses, “It’s just become a part of me. I don’t sit and ponder it, but it’s made me who I am. It gave me a really good foundation to continue. It’s like I’m legit . . . like I am an artist! It really does have this powerful effect. Having a degree is not little!”
The next phase of Blenda’s career is to start licensing her art. “This is where the interior design part of my degree has paid off. I want to work toward putting my designs on home accessories and clothes . . . I want to make some designs that I can use for interiors, to be used in fabrics and such. I have some licensing agreements with some different companies. It’s been good!”
To the next generation of artists
Finally, Blenda offers some words of wisdom to anyone graduating with an art degree, or trying to ‘make it’ in the art world:
“Keep an open mind. When I was starting out, it was like, ‘Oh, you have to get into a gallery!’ . . . That’s one way to be an artist, but there are lots of other ways of being an artist. Be persistent. Be consistent. Don’t give up — it can take a while to really get into a groove. And don’t quit your day job! . . . Don’t feel like it’s beneath you if you are a barista at a coffee shop while you are pursuing your creative side. If you just say, ‘okay, I’m just gonna make it on what I do,’ It can be very stressful and hard and zap all of the good energy out of you . . . Just have fun!”