Life Events

Chris Derbidge

An artistic retirement.

Conner Newbold Sep 1, 2017

Chris Derbidge thinks she’s retired. But what she’s doing bears no resemblance to the puttering-around-with-grandkids, chasing-warm-weather-lifestyle most people imagine retirement to be. In actuality, she simply traded one career for another — her second one as an up-and-coming plein air painter of the Western states. And yet she’d never painted before.

Drawn to Art

Derbidge was always drawn to fine art — she loved her Art 101 class at Utah’s Westminster College — but hadn’t ever seriously pursued it until her first retirement.

“Art piqued my interest, and I did well, but then I got married, had a family, got a job, worked and was busy all my adult life,” Derbidge says.

For decades, art was second priority. When her youngest child was old enough to walk home from school by herself, Derbidge went back to school to get a degree — not in art, but in computer-aided drafting and design. With that degree, she got a job with the Idaho State Highway Department as a highway designer. While “designer” was in the job title, she says, it was an entirely different creative process from painting.

“It was going to work in the morning and solving problems,” she says. “Like putting a puzzle together. It was engineering instead of art.”

Hooked on Oil

She worked there for 20 years, making pencil sketches in front of the TV after work to satisfy her creative urges. Then, in 2011, she retired. Shortly after, a friend saw her pencil sketches and insisted she come to an oil painting class with her.

“So, I went with her one night and painted my first oil painting,” Derbidge says. “And I was hooked. I’ve been painting ever since.”

She describes her style of painting as plein air, which is painting outside on location, from life, as opposed to painting in the studio from a photograph. That translates to spending a lot of time hiking on or standing near trails, overlooks and vistas, painting with a portable kit she brings along.

“I’m an old lady now, so I don’t hike too far,” she says. “There’s a lot of heavy equipment and stuff. But I’ve got it down to a bare minimum. I only bring a canvas, four tubes of paint and a couple brushes, and I’m good to go.”

Inspired by Her Childhood

It’s amazing what Derbidge can capture with such a limited set of tools. Her landscapes feel remote, but still friendly and warm. Derbidge has a knack for capturing the fuzzy nostalgia of a childhood spent wandering the woods, exploring nature with little supervision. Her inspiration, she says, is a mix of her deep love for nature combined with early memories of camping with her family in the Stanley Basin and Sawtooth Valley.

“I see painting as a way to share,” she says. “I do it to relive those fond memories and share those spots with other people.”

Not that she limits herself to her childhood haunts — she’s gone from Idaho to Arizona to Utah and Wyoming and back again, and regularly displays her work in fairs and shows throughout Idaho. Though all of this makes her retirement sound a little tiring, she doesn’t seem to notice.

“I love to go to the beautiful spots where the white clouds are,” she says. “That’s why I love painting.”

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