Painting, for Brenda Salyers, is all about the feeling. 

It has to be her feelings, her response, her inspiration. Someone else’s research or photos won’t cut it.

Salyers loves to paint streetscapes. She started in Winchester, painting a scene of Main Street near the Leeds theater.

“My most precious (painting) has to be the Leeds,” she said, remembering her trips to downtown Winchester as a child with her whole family. “I thought that was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.”

Finding the right inspiration, though, was tricky and took several tries to get a photo to match the image in her head. A little bad weather, she said, made all the difference.

“The rain did it,” she said. “It gave the light a bounce.”

Salyers has traveled throughout the state, painting cityscapes and other things. She wants to paint a city from each of the state’s 120 counties.

Some cities are easy, she said. Others, like Sandy Hook, posed more of a challenge.

“I walked around for an hour and a half” without finding the inspiration, she said. After walking to the far end of downtown Sandy Hook, she turned around just as the fog broke and found what she was looking for.

It’s the feeling.

“I have to be in that town and know what I want from it,” she said. “A photo doesn’t have the feeling I need.”

Even with inspiration in hand, Salyers doesn’t paint quickly. She uses the “old master style:” painting in layers, which requires time to dry between sessions.

Sometimes, there is a drive to push through.

Salyers also paints Kentucky Derby winners. American Pharoah was one where she felt the need to complete as quickly as possible. She wasn’t going to sell it, but it went to a person in the horse industry, she said. Then she painted her own copy to replace it. 

Salyers sells her original paintings as a way to fund her artwork. Her frames are made with Kentucky wood by Artisan Frame Works in Morehead. When she paints, she paints and paints. When she needs supplies, she focuses on selling and marketing her work. The two, in her mind, can’t coexist. It’s one or the other.

For every painting, she keeps the copyrights and makes prints.

Art has been a lifelong passion.

“When I was a child, my mother would buy ends of wallpaper,” she said. “I’d use my No. 2 pencil from school and draw on the back of the wallpaper. I’d use black shoe polish for my darks.”

While she worked and raised her children, they took priority but she would still watch anything she could about art. Once she retired in 1999, she started taking art classes at Eastern Kentucky University and also in Florida, where she and husband Wayne spend the winter.

“I’ve painted ever since,” she said. “When I get a ‘wow,’ I’ve done my job.

“All I want to do with my art is to inspire and bring happiness and joy.”

Her art, particularly her cityscapes, are how she sees the world. She consciously doesn’t paint things like utility poles and power lines as they detract from the scene, she said.

“They’re not buying a photograph,” she said. “They’re buying what I see.”

That hasn’t stopped some art enthusiasts. The buyer of her first cityscape wanted the missing poles and power lines added.

“I had to go back and put the ugly telephone poles and wires back in,” she said. “It broke my heart.”

Every painting is something precious. Her work lines the hall in her home.

“Sometimes I need to come down and reminisce,” she said, to re-live the inspiration behind each work. “In each piece, I hide a little piece of me in there that no one else knows about.” §