Renee Kirby can’t imagine her life without art – Baltimore Sun

From powerful abstract expressionist oil paintings to vibrant watercolors for wine labels, Silver Run artist and arts educator Renee Kirby brings meaning to the moment by doing what she was born to do.

“I have to make art because it grounds me and helps me cope with everyday life,” Kirby said. “Art is an outlet. I think I would lose my mind if I couldn’t paint.

Art is in Kirby’s blood. Both of his parents were creative. His late father, a former Westinghouse engineer, was a carpenter who built and flew model airplanes. Her mother used to help in her grandfather’s tailor shop in Brooklyn Park when she was only 7 years old and she continues to customize clothes to this day.

Kirby remembers dying Ukrainian Easter eggs with her mother, and one of her fondest childhood memories was when they drew each other.

“She drew pictures for me to color in,” Kirby said. “I remember a Raggedy Ann that she drew and then I tried to copy it.”

Kirby first realized she had an unusual talent for art in a third-grade art class while sitting under a tree sketching landscapes. When the other students saw his work, they brought him their sketchbooks.

“I did their drawings for them while they were performing,” she said.

At Patapsco Middle School in Howard County, Kirby was invited to join the Gifted and Talented Arts Program.

“I was involved in performing arts and visual arts,” she said. “My work was featured in county art shows. Getting recognition and winning ribbons made me work harder. Back then, I realized I could copy anything from life with incredible detail. It would blow people away.”

In high school, Kirby took art classes every semester.

“My teacher, Mr. Adkins, provided little direction,” she said, “but he was incredibly supportive and encouraging. Under his leadership, I was able to develop a solid and diversified portfolio. One of the pieces was a life-size sculpture like that of artist George Segal. Another student and I took medical plaster to make casts. We wrapped ourselves in molding, let it dry, then cut it and attached the pieces to create human shapes.

Kirby applied to only one college, the Maryland Institute College of Art, and was accepted. MICA was a wake-up call for the developing artist.

Her first year at the institute consisted of five hours of Foundation studio art classes, including painting, drawing, 2D design, color theory, life drawing, clay and metals.

“Although I was good at realism,” Kirby said, “I found it held me back in the exploration process.”

To challenge herself, Kirby majored in general sculpture studies so she could have her hand in everything. She graduated in 1989 with a Bachelor of Arts in Fine Arts.

“After graduating from institute and living in town for a year or two, I moved into a windmill, converted apartment, in Sykesville in 1991.” said Kirby.

Kirby held various creative jobs in Baltimore as a technician at a jewelry manufacturer, visual display coordinator at Macy’s department store, and a muralist for a faux finish painter.

“I got married in 1993. We bought an old log house in Hampstead and spent the next 20 years renovating it,” Kirby said. She painted commissioned works when she could find the time, but when her second daughter was born, Kirby’s priorities were forced to change.

“She was born extremely premature and visually impaired,” Kirby said. “Life was a little chaotic for a while, but over time we were able to find our new normal.”

Once family life settled in, Kirby was able to get back to making art with a passion. She has been actively working, teaching and performing for 10 years.

One of her first exhibitions after her return to painting was a successful open studio at her home. “You realize how many fans you have at events like these,” Kirby said.

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Kirby joined the Carroll County Artists Guild and participated in a few of their group showcases. She was then commissioned to paint an exterior mural at Bud’s at Silver Run, a restaurant in Westminster. This touching memorial to the owner’s son resembles a Carroll County farm landscape.

Last year, the Luann Carra Gallery in Fells Point produced a popular solo exhibition of Kirby’s large Abstract Expressionist paintings. Their colorful and evocative images, often illustrating the complex vitality of nature and family, are drawn from the artist’s life experiences.

Most recently, Kirby was commissioned to paint a series of vibrant watercolor labels for Free Range Flower Winery, an innovative small-batch winery that handcrafts premium wine from organic flowers, not grapes, located in the Livermore Valley, California.

While currently working at McDaniel College, Kirby also teaches virtual art classes through 21st Century Learning, a new online platform that brings together students from around the world with forward-thinking educators in English, humanities, music, in art and nutrition.

Kirby currently sells his art to Innerbloom, a flower shop and gallery in Ocean City and through his website, A portion of sales goes to local animal rescues.

Kirby can be contacted at or via

Lyndi McNulty is the owner of Gizmo’s Art in Westminster. His column, An Eye for Art, appears regularly in Life & Times.

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