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Artist Cyn McCurry stood before her canvas and brushed glaze over the image of three huddled young women. At times, her strokes were gentle; sometimes she seemed to pound the wide brush into a corner of the painting.
"The glaze already dried," she said sadly. "The weather is a lot drier here than what I'm used to."
The 45-year-old McCurry is a self-taught artist from much more humid north Texas. She will spend the next few weeks in Thousand Oaks as California Lutheran University's first artist-in-residence, an experience she calls "comfortable."
"This is the first time I've done anything like this," she said. "Normally, painting is a solitary thing for me, but I'm comfortable here."
As McCurry continued brushing glaze on the as-yet untitled painting, she said she got the "art bug" from visiting museums and galleries with her parents when she was a child.
"But art is foreign to my parents," she said with just a hint of a Southern drawl. "It's just a beautiful gift they gave me unintentionally."
But the gift of art is one she has passed on to her five children.
"Forget the smell of fresh baked cookies — my kids' happy home smell is turpentine," she said with a grin.
McCurry's oil paintings are all full of light, filled with haunting images of women. They are all very personal, the artist said.
"All of my paintings are autobiographical. I may not know until a year later what experience the painting comes from, but it's always personal," she said.
Her paintings are often described as deftly telling the tale of a modern woman. She describes her work as intuitive, saying she never knows what will come from her brushes.
"I just let it come out naturally. Ideas never turn out right," she explained.
In the school's Kwan Fong Gallery of Art and Culture, students and visitors can view McCurry's exhibit, as well as watch her paint.
Gallery curator Michael Pearce said he is delighted to have McCurry as the university's first artist-in-residence.
"I've been a fan of her work for some time now," he said.
He called her style "romantic," saying it is reminiscent of master artists like Leonardo da Vinci.
Pearce and McCurry have been good friends for nearly 10 years, although this exhibit is the first time they've met in person. They usually keep in touch via e-mail.
When Pearce heads to England next week to defend his doctorate, McCurry will take over teaching duties in his painting class.
"By the time I come back, I expect all my students will be master painters," he said jokingly.
Pearce implemented the program with the help of Cal Lutheran's Artist and Speaker committee.
Though he's unsure of where funding for next year's artist will come from, he wants to continue the artist-in-residence program.
"I'm working on getting another resident," he said, "but getting grants is a tough gig."
McCurry will be in residence at the Kwan Fong art gallery until Oct. 25. The gallery is open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and McCurry comes and goes during that time.