Strokes on Canvas
Inside her Laguna Beach, California garage turned art studio, Brenda Bredvik is standing behind her easel, carefully dabbing the final touches of paint on a swimmer’s hand as it enters strikingly blue water. Along the back and shoulders, lighter shades of blue emphasize the curve and gracefulness of the body during the butterfly.
“Water has always been an inspiration for my work,” says the Midwest transplant, who has earned a reputation in the art world for her use of vibrant red and yellow tones in landscape and still life portraits. Her work is displayed in galleries from Malibu to Laguna Beach, including the Los Angeles Museum of Art. Celebrities who own her paintings include Olivia Newton John and Linda Hamilton.
Over the years, a combination of water, the open sky, natural light and cool water have been the focus of her vibrant oil paintings, which feature a combination of intense color and geometric shapes. Her collection ranges in subject from oceans and pools to fruit, vegetables and nudes.
“It felt like a natural transition to paint a swimmer,” says Bredvik, a 1987 graduate of Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y. She got the idea after a friend suggested joining the Master’s swim program last year at the University of California, Irvine. Originally from Ann Arbor, Mich., she took up swimming non-competitively eight years ago as rehabilitation from a ski injury and continued to do laps during recreational swim times at Laguna Beach High School.
“Actually, painting was the last thing on my mind,” admits Bredvik, a terrifically fit woman in her late 30s. “I really just wanted to become a better swimmer, train in a long course pool and meet some new friends.”
But during the early morning practice, she couldn’t help but notice the cool blue and green tones of the pool water reflecting off the shoulders and arms of the swimmers as they glided through the water. Underwater, she was able to see the elongated shape the body formed during the butterfly and freestyle. Eager to capture the beauty of each stroke, she tried transferring downloaded images from the internet, then painting what she saw onto canvas, but was unhappy with the results.
After attending practice for several months, she realized that observing championship swimmers in action would be the key to creating a composition. At UCI, there seemed to be an ample supply of teammates willing to serve as models. “Being competitive athletes, they all wanted me to paint them,” she says with a chuckle. “My goal is to become a better swimmer. That’s the artist in me.”
At the next swim meet, she set up a camera on the deck to photograph the swimmers from the surface and underwater, to capture the full magnitude of the motion of the strokes. Back in her studio, she began to paint from a new perspective—that of a swimmer.
“My goal was to try to have uniqueness. I wanted to have details in a way only a swimmer would understand,” says Bredvik. “Becoming a better swimmer also helped me get the feel for the paintings,” pointing to a larger than life sized canvas featuring a female freestyler, from the perspective of looking up from the pool bottom. Details include the angle at which the fingers enter the water, an elongated arm to emphasize the downward motion, the turbulent water created by the propulsion of the flutter kick and the tension between the lane lines.
Bredvik’s work also caught the eye of fellow UCI teammate Scott Zornig. “I just loved how big she paints with extremely bold colors,” recalls Zornig, who asked Bredvik to paint a portrait of an area he swam every week in Laguna Beach.
“No way,” Bredvik says with a laugh. “I told him I don’t do Main Beach (in Laguna) because it’s already been too overexposed by too many other artists.” But then she began think, “How can I do it so only a swimmer would know?”
In the meantime, Zornig, an accomplished marathon ocean swimmer, urged her to try the ocean as an alternative to the pool. Soon, she was a weekend regular with Zornig and Master’s swimmers Jim Fitzpatrick, Craig Taylor and Dan Sullivan.
While swimming along the scenic coastline, Bredvik realized how to paint the beach—from her own experience, in the water. Using warm colors, such as a bright gold for the sand and intense blues and greens for the chilly Pacific Ocean, Bredvik says she painted what she felt while swimming.
“I think I know what you’re looking for,” Zornig recalls about the day Bredvik surprised him with a 48” x 60” portrait of Main Beach. “I thought it was incredible, with an intense gold-colored sun above the beach, looking from the water. It’s a constant reminder of where I spend my weekends swimming.”
The picture and the experience hooked Bredvik into participating in regular weekend ocean swims along the Southern California coast. She competed in her first 1-mile open water competition in Corona Del Mar, Calif., last Labor Day and a second at the American Mile swim at Salt Creek State Beach in Dana Point.
“I just love swimming,” says Bredvik, who has plans on competing in her first swim meet this winter. She insists that without the help of Master’s swimming, she would have never been able to experience the improvements in her strokes in the water and on the canvas.
-from SWIM magazine, Jan. 2004. by Nan Kappeler