In the Pocket is the Only Way to Paint

Painter Gayle Paul earned a BFA from Drake University and once worked as an apprentice restoration painter at the Iowa State Capitol. She taught art to middle- and high-school students and moved to Asheville about 13 years ago. Paul is now represented by Contemporaneo Gallery; her pieces have been widely exhibited, including at Asheville Art Museum and Brevard College. 

She’s smiling here, but in general Gayle Paul doesn’t like to be interrupted while she’s in the zone.
Portrait by Rachel Pressley

What tools do you use?

These days [other artists] use encaustics and hair dryers and all kinds of stuff; it’s fascinating. But I just use a brush. My methods are old fashioned, but the interpretations aren’t. 

Because you’re expressing yourself in the present moment?

Yes. Painting abstract feelings and thoughts is where I’m most comfortable.

Many people think of abstract art as improvised, like jazz.

It is … 

It Never Existed

But those great jazz cats have underlying technique.

You learn technique and probably need to know how to mix blue and yellow to get green. But if you do it exactly how the rules say, and if you don’t figure out how to break all those rules, you won’t move forward.

How do you know if it’s working?

The person doing it knows, either exactly or intuitively. Like jazz. They hear it in their head, and it’s a matter of getting it out in the same way they hear it. I usually trust my first instinct the most.

Again Who Are You? 

Do you map paintings out ahead of time?

I usually have an idea where I’m going, and if I have a major color, that really helps. I can get very excited about a tube of paint. I find so much color in black; I use it a lot. But I work entirely from
my head.

Do you primarily use oils?

Oils and graphite. I love to sketch and draw, and I love to paint. Using them together is my way of doing both things I really love .

I Had a Flash back of Something That Never Existed – No.2

How is abstract composition different?

Abstract paintings don’t tell you everything all at once. It might tell you something different from month to month or year to year. 

People often want the artist to tell them what it means.

I had a painting in my studio. People loved it, because they could find some reference points in it. One person saw salt and pepper shakers. Another saw a flock of sheep. Really? (laughter). But I always appreciate people who take the time to look.

Is it hard to teach abstract composition?

No, but it is difficult to learn how to use it. 

Wild Blue Yonder

How do you get it going in your studio?

If I can work intensely for three or four hours I get in a zone, and it’s magic. But if I get interrupted, it can be hard to recapture and that can be very frustrating. I know people who write down their dreams so they don’t forget them. But it’s a wonderful thing to know you have that magic inside.

And if you manage to get the magic out?

It’s very satisfying. I’m not myself when I don’t paint.

Gayle Paul, represented by Contemporaneo Gallery, 4 Biltmore Ave., Asheville, 828-253-0879, For more information, e-mail or visit

Join the Conversation


  1. says: karen Polk

    I was not someone who liked abstract art many years ago. But I so appreciate it now. You might say I really like it. I love how the various colors just kind of bleed into each other. And then there is one particular color I can always focus on. But what I really love is the fact that as the painting works into my mind I can identify what “I think” is the object. Or I am left to interrupt the painting or “name” it as I see it. That makes it personal. I have been around Gayle’s art for many years and the beauty of her paintings have infused into my soul. Like her, the beauty of her work is a magic inside.

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