Artist creates admirers by working in window of her Havre de Grace studio

February 21, 1993|By Nancy Menefee Jackson | Nancy Menefee Jackson,Contributing Writer

Valerie Lloyd practices a most public kind of art: Passers-by can watch her drawing in the window of her studio and gallery on Washington Street in Havre de Grace.

In fact, the artist says she often decides how many prints to make based on the reaction she gets while drawing.

"They'll stop by and watch and do this," she says with a thumbs-up gesture. "When you get that kind of reaction, you know people will like it."

Mrs. Lloyd most often focuses on subjects dear to Harford County residents -- decoy ducks, local carvers, scenes from the Chesapeake Bay.

Her art serves as a sort of preservation of that culture. Take, for example, her series of colored-pencil drawings of decoy carvers and their creations. The drawings and prints are signed not only by the artist, but by the carver, too.

She says local carvers such as Jim Pierce and R. Madison Mitchell, who died Jan. 14, helped her establish herself.

One of her works, a 12- by 72-foot mural of a lighthouse scene on the Chesapeake, covers a wall at the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum.

What pedestrians don't see when they watch the artist's hands is the constant flow of ideas perking beneath her red hair.

A series of drawings on the Chesapeake is available on T-shirts, and she soon will be expanding into note cards. She has ideas for a new line of T-shirts and more Chesapeake-based art, and she hopes to illustrate a children's book based on local stories as well as a how-to book on decoys for kids.

"Just give me another five years," she says.

The last five years have been devoted to establishing herself and her gallery, no easy feat for an ex-Air Force firefighter with little formal art training.

Mrs. Lloyd, the daughter of an air traffic controller who lived all over the country, drew constantly as a child, inspired by an art teacher in California.

After school, Mrs. Lloyd joined the Air Force. While stationed in Colorado Springs, she hoped an assignment with the fire department would lead to a graphic arts position, but she found herself driving a firetruck instead.

During her service stint, she met her husband, Lenny, from Havre de Grace. When she left the service in 1984 as a sergeant, she settled into a new career -- housewife and then mom to Freddy, now 9, and Justin, 5.

Mrs. Lloyd took several art courses at Harford County Community College, and she credits art instructor Nancy Klapp with inspiring and pushing her.

"She told me one time, 'Valerie, you're going to be famous,' and I said, 'Huh?' But it really meant something that somebody believed in me."

In 1986, when she had just three completed drawings to her name, Mrs. Lloyd entered the Havre de Grace art show -- and won.

But, more important than the blue ribbon, several people wanted to buy her drawing of a stone mill and water wheel. She had it printed, and it sold well.

"That's where it started," she says.

She worked out of her house, doing framing along with her artwork, and saved everything she made to put back into the business. She started entering area art shows and developed a mailing list.

Mrs. Lloyd entered a state-sponsored fishing license contest a few years ago, and finished second. But the state used her drawing of a little boy peering off a dock at fish to illustrate a brochure on fishing regulations, giving her work statewide exposure.

"You've got to have talent, but you've got to have luck, too," she says.

The move to the gallery came last summer when she noticed the vacant space, which had housed a gallery.

"I walked past, and thought, 'There's no way I can afford it,' " she recalls.

But she looked inside anyway, and what she thought was a closet turned out to be a nice work room. On July 15 she opened for business.

She keeps her costs down by doing everything herself -- business, secretarial and framing work. "If you're your own boss," she says, "you're your hardest worker."

The key to her success, she says, has been persistence -- even when water starts dripping from the ceiling onto a nearly complete watercolor.

The people who pass the window out front liked the picture of her grandmother's quilt tucked around her sleeping son, and Mrs. Lloyd had planned to enter it in a national contest.

So she picked up her pencil and began again.

Valerie Lloyd's Studio & Gallery at 200 N. Washington St. is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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