The art of Mickey La Fave is all about the color

“What attracts me are the super bright colors – what the eye doesn’t actually see,” says artist Mickey La Fave. “Color is all my thing. I couldn’t use a brown to save my life.

La Fave’s paintings use bright colors to accentuate his subjects. She uses hydrus watercolors which come in a glass bottle as they are more saturated in color and more vibrant.

Her specialty is watercolor animal portraits.

“Painting pets and other animals is the most passionate thing for me. I love animals because I connect with them. I can tell when they are happy, angry or curious.

In addition to her watercolors, La Fave creates jewelry and multimedia pieces in her home studio Arvada. She says her style is pervasive but generally fantastical and mystical.

“I can’t stick to one style, despite the advice to stick to one thing. The only consistent thing about my style is that nothing is realistic.

La Fave grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, in Escanaba, near Lake Superior and Canada.

“It’s rural, beautiful and depressed.”

She started making art when she was 5 years old and at 6 she won a first ribbon at the county fair with her portrayal of Paul Bunyan. In high school, she was inspired and trained by local artist John Gustafson. After studying art at Central Michigan University, La Fave left Michigan because there was no work.

“There were no jobs there, except at the stationery.”

She moved to Houston and worked as an insurance adjuster, then as an investigator in the arson and fraud claims unit. She was transferred to Colorado in 1982.

“I haven’t painted for a long time,” she says. “It gnawed at me never to be an artist, which I always wanted.

“What made me paint again was a trip to Santa Fe with friends in 2011. We decided to create original gifts to exchange for Christmas. The idea appealed to me because I needed of a purpose to paint.

“BRILLIANT MOOSE”, WATERCOLOR, 14.5 by 21.5 inches. “A colored glaze technique that I developed for painting animals,” La Fave said. “I’ve done several moose paintings and love how each one comes out so differently.” PHOTO COURTESY OF MICKEY LA FAVE
NECKLACE AND EARRINGS IN RHODOCHROSITE set with golden accents. The necklace is hand-tied with semi-precious rhodochrosite stones. PHOTO COURTESY OF MICKEY LA FAVE

Once she started, she went all out.

“I’ve done tent shows all over the place. I took lessons with watercolourist Janet Nunn in the evenings. Everything I do I learned from Nunn, including using hydrus watercolor paints. She was influential because she’s not about realism, just color.

La Fave moved to Arvada in 2016. She lives with her two cats, her dog Harley, a sheltie and a little parrot named Kanani. She retired in 2018 to become a full-time artist.

She said she relied on six spirit guides to help her with her art.

“I have a team of artist spirit guides working through me, including a great great aunt named Caitlin, an artist who lived in Canada. I had recurring dreams about her three story house until I realized who she was. She is always there to help me.

Another of her spirit guides is Gustafson, her high school teacher, watercolourist and potter.

“I saw him in Michigan in the late 2000s and he asked me, ‘Do you paint?’ I felt bad saying ‘No’ to him because he inspired me so much. After I started painting again, I went back to tell him, but he was dead. I was disappointed because I wanted him to know me and be proud of me. Now he is coaching me from beyond. Now he knows. Every time I paint, I invite my guides and they help me. I imagine them and thank them for their advice.

In addition to his animal subjects, La Fave paints nature scenes, old vehicles and buildings, and some abstracts.

“I love painting old rusty vehicles because I see so many different colors like turquoise, magenta and yellow. I mix them together so they pop, and it makes for a cool painting. I also love old buildings I do a dark background, then a band of colors above the building, there is often a flying witch.

La Fave uses watercolor glazes to paint its colorful skies. With glazing, the colors are applied in thin transparent coats, one at a time, allowing each to dry before adding another coat. Last summer, she gave glazing demonstrations at Art on the Farm, a monthly community event in Neighborhood Gazette Editor Guy Nahmiach’s Wheat Ridge Farm. (Art on the Farm returns this year – for more information or to participate, email [email protected])

Her community involvement also includes her work as President of the Arvada Fine Art Guild and as Director of the Arvada Art Studio Tour.

La Fave is often inspired by photos or other images.

“Images can speak to me, whether they are mine or those of my friends. If something makes me smile, laugh or feel an expression, I want to know the story behind it.

One inspiration was a photo she took in Europe of a bent over woman carrying a load, with many cats following her.

“I painted her because I wanted to know, what is her story – her fight? Why were the cats following her? Did she come from the fish market? I don’t know why, but she filled my heart.

La Fave diversified into jewelry and multimedia because it needed a break from painting. She said her other media was color-focused as well.

“With jewelry, I start with a semi-precious stone as the centerpiece and find colors to complement the stone, to make it stand out.”

For more information see or email him at [email protected]

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