The first painting Michele Gort and her husband of 31 years bought as a couple was a signed Tulip Time poster. When it happened, she never thought that one day, her signature might be branded on the festival's poster.
Yet it is.
Gort is the winning artist of the 2017 Tulip Time Festival Poster Competition. Her piece, "Playful Time," was selected from a total of 108 works by 55 regional artists.
"We were so drawn to this painting," said Susan Zalnis, marketing and public relations manager, Tulip Time. "I think a lot of it was the colors. It had a freshness to it. We're always looking for something different."
Originally a student of business, Gort returned to school when she was 28 years old. With her second child recently born and her husband launching an accounting firm, she took her four-year degree two classes at a time. Eight years later, Gort was a graduate of Kendall College of Art and Design.
"I remember driving past the school and seeing students with their art and thinking: I have to do this," she said. The decision was pivotal—a 180 from all the moments she brushed her passion for art aside because she was afraid of failing.
Upon graduating, Gort worked in interior design, painting in her free time. A friend once told her: "You'll never sell art. It'll just be a hobby."
Gort set out to prove her wrong.
Which wasn't easy.
"As an artist, you have highs and lows," Gort said. "You just have to turn the page and move onto the next thing. When you do get knocked down, use it as energy for the next thing."
Today, Gort's paintings can be found at Lake Effect in Holland, Studio 2 in Montague, Possessions in Douglas and Frames Unlimited in Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor and Ohio. Most recently, Gort and a group of local artists started a working gallery at Zeeland Hardware and Framing, which opens to the public on February 18, 2017.
"Playful Time" will be on display along with the Top 20 original works of the competiiton at the Holland Area Arts Council from May 6 – 13, 2017, and is featured on Tulip Time posters, T-shirts, mugs and more. The merchandise is available for purchase at the Tulip Time office, from the Tulip Time online store, and at area galleries and shops.
Gort found inspiration for her winning piece from the images of dark purple tulips against creamy white tulips she captured by camera. When Gort paints, she likes to move. Rather than using an easel, she positioned the canvas on a table, spinning it as she worked. Always trying new techniques, Gort diluted the paint with thinner. She even got her blow dryer out. "Wrecked that," she said. The result, however, was the playful vibrancy of Tulip Time she strived for. With the indigo petals complemented by soft tones of water, sky and foliage, the peace exudes both joy and tranquility.
"I want people to feel drawn to it," Gort said.
"I love to sell my paintings, because I love to see where they're going."