Coupeville artist swaps canvas for pumpkins

— Created October 20, 2021 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Ivy Breen loves to paint. The Coupeville artist has painted large-scale, historical murals and she’s painted small pieces from paper grocery bags. But in the fall, her favorite time of year, she paints pumpkins.

In fact, she’s joined in the fun of the annual Haunting of Coupeville by providing 15 painted pumpkins to the Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association, which have been randomly placed around town.  Each pumpkin contains an image from the film “Practical Magic,” which serves as the theme of this year’s Haunting, “It’s Practically Magic.”

“I used to paint on a lot of things,” said Breen, who moved to Coupeville from Idaho five years ago. “I’ve painted gold pans, I’ve painted on furniture. I would even paint underneath and on the back side, I’d paint an original poem. I’d paint the insides of doors and drawers. Art is supposed to move you. It’s interactive. I thought people should have a discovery every time they interacted with a piece of furniture, whether they were opening a door or a drawer, they would discover a new piece of art.”

Breen grew up in an artistic household, she said. Her mother was a painter, her father, a sculptor (in addition to his day job). She did her first oil painting when she was 7. Although she worked as an accountant professionally, art has always been in her life, whether creating it or teaching it. Her goal was to paint full time, which she achieved when she retired 11 years ago.

And, while she paints standard canvases, painting on pumpkins has long been a favorite.

“I got to thinking about how it started,” she said. “I was part of a little community that had a ‘haunted hotel.’ As part of that event, we were having a pumpkin decorating contest. Of course, everyone was thinking carved pumpkins, but I immediately thought ‘fine art on pumpkins.’ When I ran out of pumpkins to paint, I started painting on cans of pumpkin. I even took a frozen pumpkin pie out of the box and then painted on the box. I did all kinds of entries. It was kind of a wacky, crazy thing. After that, I kept on painting.”

That was 25 years ago and she’s still going strong. Breen was on her 26th pumpkin of the year when Whidbey Weekly spoke with her last week.

“It took a while to perfect the process,” Breen shared. “It’s not that easy. The paint doesn’t just stick to a pumpkin, there’s quite a process. It takes longer to prep a pumpkin than to paint a pumpkin.”

For the “Practical Magic” pumpkins, Breen said she watched the movie and snapped pictures of her screen when a scene came on that she thought would work on a pumpkin.

“I knew didn’t want to do portraits,” she said. “It was hard to find paintable scenes.”

Painting so many pumpkins every year is hard work, according to Breen.  

“I love it, but it’s very grueling,” she said. “I’m just exhausted. You hit a wall and it’s like you’re brain dead. I always think this will be my last year, but then when I see the pumpkins ripening in the field, I get a fever.

“I’ve had some wonderful experiences as a result of painting pumpkins,” Breen continued. “One time I brought a small pumpkin to a lady; I had painted it weeks earlier, but it just sat in my garage, ready for me to just put it in the car and take it. So, I took it, knocked on her door, and she came out and was so touched I was there, because that day was the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death. She said she woke up and felt so bad, and then there I was with a pretty painted pumpkin for her. I’ve had some wonderful experiences. It’s like there’s a pumpkin angel that kind of directs me.”

Sharing her talent is something that seems to come naturally to Breen. She’s taught art at the middle and high school level and she currently teaches a weekly class on Mondays at The Center in Oak Harbor. During the pandemic, she said she would shop at the Red Apple in Coupeville and found herself feeling bad for the dedicated grocery workers. So, she found a way to bring art to workers and customers alike to brighten days during a difficult time.

“I sat there looking at the grocery bags and I thought ‘I think I could do something with that,'” she described. “I started doing art – itty bitty little pastels that I would slip into clear, cellophane bags, along with a little note. I brought in 200 of those and gave them to people. I’d have them in my purse – it was my pandemic art, and I’d tell where the sacks came from.”

Breen said she loves everything about this time of year – the colors in particular.

“I think it’s the fun of it all,” she said. “I think orange is a fun color; everything about orange is just fun. I love trick or treating, I love kids coming to the house, even teenagers.”

But perhaps more than anything, Breen loves sharing her love of art.

“I tell people to enjoy the journey,” she said. “Art is a journey. It’s not about the finished piece, it’s the journey to get there. That’s why I do such odd things, I guess. I do traditional things as well, but it keeps me positive and learning. They talk about lifelong learning. I take that seriously.”