Born in San Diego in 1971, and growing up in the small town atmosphere of Novato, California, Steven Quartly has fond memories of his childhood years. The eldest of two children to Janet and Christopher Quartly, his mother a homemaker and his father owner of a life insurance company and an artist at heart, Steven remembers happy times from his early years, playing in the woods and in the trees on the hillside near their home with his sister Karyn. School was not easy for Steven. In fact, he says, “I was a kid who struggled. I tried, but it was very difficult.” Steven suffers from dyslexia and thus his parents encouraged him in the arts-painting and music. “That was the best thing for me,” he says. “Most people think if kids don’t do well in school, they don’t have a future. But I just learned differently, I learned on a creative level. “
At the age of 13, his parents enrolled him in an oil painting class. It was mostly attended by older women artists. “It was a fun dynamic with the old ladies,” he laughs. “The teacher made an exception, and let me into the adult only class.” He studied there for five years, learning the techniques of a traditional style. A loft space at the family home was converted into a studio and Steven painted pictures for the neighbors of their houses and flowers for his sister. On graduating high school, he admits, “I didn’t have a direction.” He enrolled at Santa Barbara College where he had just enough money for two years of study, taking courses in art. Later he transferred to Azusa Pacific University near Pasadena where he was interested in music, drama, and art. He was in the university choir and also played the guitar and wrote music. He graduated with a B.A. in Fine Art. “It was like my life was filled with a miscellany of hobbies.”
Even though painting was not a priority to him at university, he learned through his studies to connect the emotion that he was seeking to portray in his paintings with technique to communicate a depth of feeling that is evidenced in his work today. Before graduating, he was honored by being asked to paint a 30-foot mural for the university’s Marshburn Memorial Library solarium. Eventually, he decided to pursue a career as an artist although he still loves to write music and sing. He has been painting full-time for about twelve years. Early on it was challenging. He and his wife Natalie, who have been married ten years, lived in an apartment by the beach while Steven worked in a surf shop, a coffee shop, ran deliveries for a frame shop, and even painted mailboxes to make ends meet. Painting was done in his spare time until gradually he got noticed. Describing himself as very much self-taught, Steven focuses on painting scenes, whether they be of a European city, Mediterranean seascape, or California landscape that capture feelings of romance and emotion. His inspiration comes from the joy of life. “I have always enjoyed being a romantic,” he says. Painters that have moved him are Tom Swimm for his use of colors; Rembrandt for his application of light on dark; Charles W. Mundy for the sense of movement in his impressionist plein air works, “mixing on the canvas which is fun and exciting.” He admires the work of Howard Behrens, fellow palette knife artist; and James Coleman for the romance he infuses into his paintings.
He credits his grandfather Eric Quartly, too, for his positive influence and creativity. An engineer for the cities of San Diego and San Francisco, “he was a creative person and very influential.” There was an air of romance to him, perhaps echoed in Steven’s paintings. He met his wife-to-be, Nancy, when she was over here visiting from England. She had come on the sister ship to the Titanic. The two had to wait a year before Nancy’s family gave permission for her to return and marry Eric. Steven has visited his English ancestors’ home in Devon-England is the setting for several of his paintings. The scenes he paints are painted Plein Air, other times recreated from his photographs and sketches, inspired by his travels to Europe as well as England with Natalie. He has now widened his horizons with works set in Hawaii and tropical regions. He attributes Natalie as instrumental to the running of his self-publishing business. It is she who handles the distribution side, working with the galleries that show his oil paintings and hand-embellished giclées on canvas. The artist himself is very involved in the printmaking process. Working with the best ateliers in the US, Steven does the color proofing as well as hand-embellishing, and he also applies the coatings. “I have not been able to find an assistant who can do what I want to the prints. And, in fact, it has proved a great selling point for galleries that I am so involved in the quality,” he says. “The more you remove the artist from the work, the more the meaning is lessened.”
Family life is important to Steven. He and Natalie have four children; their home is in North Tustin, CA, not far from the Pacific Ocean where Steven loves to surf. A few mornings a week he will get up at 5 a.m. and plunge into the waves, alone or with friends. “I have surfed for years. It is my escape. I am healthy mentally and physically when surfing.” By 8 a.m. he is back home, in his studio, a space filled with light that he and Natalie had custom-built on their property. Known for his prolificacy, completing as many as 120 paintings a year, he works until 5 p.m. when he joins the family for dinner, often returning to paint into the night. As he works he listens to music, maybe the classics, Bach or Schubert are his favorites, or the romance of such as Andrea Bocelli. “I do tend to be a melancholy type of personality, so there is a little bit of mystery to my paintings. Yet, I want to convey a happy feeling-joy and hope. There is a lot of negativity in the world and, as an artist; I believe we have a duty to bring hope into people’s lives.” Religion is important to Steven. “We go to church every Sunday, and I try to start each day with a prayer, giving thanks for what God has given me and the joys I experience every day. I am thankful to live where I am, free to do what I love. As much as I enjoy visiting other places, I love coming home.” Quartly’s work is self-published through Quartly Fine Art.